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 Saturday, 01 January 2005
Saturday, 01 January 2005 11:58:33 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) ( )

Welcome to 2005!

 

Last night we had a New Years party with many of our friends and it was a great time! You can get a full rundown on my wife’s blog, Anomalous Data.

 

At the start of a new year, most people do some level of soul-searching. It is a common time to evaluate the past year (or so) and to plan for the next year.

 

In fact, this time of year is pretty convenient that way. There’s the Winter Solstice, Yule, Christmas and New Years (at least). All of these holiday events (religious, secular or both) are about endings and beginnings. It makes for a pretty thematic period of reflection for a large group of people around a fair part of the world.

 

Like most people, I engage is some level of reflection. I try to live life in a deliberative fashion. While I believe there is a higher power of some sort, I think that our free will as individuals is absolute. This means that anything we do is a choice we make, and thus we are accountable for it and any consequences.

 

This is a relatively complex worldview, since it means looking at life in general like a chess game. Any move you make will have consequences, and those consequences will have consequences. By making that original move, you assume responsibility (in whole or part) for all those consequences. Much like a ripple effect in water caused by a stone you threw.

 

Obviously your responsibility diminishes with each generation of consequence. This occurs because of interactions with the actions and consequences of others.

 

The basic concept here has been understood for a very long time. It is reflected in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths where the sins of the father carry forward in to the third or fourth generations. The idea exists in traditional Japanese culture, where mistakes are carried like burdens. Perhaps in its most pure form it is the Buddhist idea of karma.

 

Though some of these examples discuss carrying forward “sin” through generations, they can be viewed more practically as metaphors for the fact that we must take responsibility for our actions and the subsequent results.

 

To understand the complexity, an example often helps. Take for instance, the idea of giving money to a panhandler/beggar on the street. On the surface this seems like a simple choice, you either do or don’t give money. But it is actually much deeper, and making a deliberative choice requires more thought.

 

Most beggars aren’t there “by choice”, but rather are there due to the consequences of their previous choices. They are there due to indirect choice. Also, most beggars are addicts. Yes, I realize that some aren’t, and I’ve had friends who were homeless for a time and did some begging while in that position. And I realize that there are street performers who aren’t homeless druggies. But the fact is that the majority of beggars are addicted to booze or drugs or both.

 

But that has nothing to do with you or I - at least not directly. But it does put us in an interesting position where we must choose to give or not give the beggar some money.

 

If we give them nothing, we are much like Pontius Pilate in that we effectively wash our hands of the whole thing. We are opting to leave this person in their pitiful state without aid.  By withholding money, we are depriving the person of the option to make a good or bad choice as to how the money would have been used.

 

On the other hand, if we give them money then we are giving them the opportunity to make a good choice (or a bad one). Money is convertible to almost anything – food, clothing, booze or drugs. What the beggar does with our money is their choice.

 

But here’s where the ripple effect comes in.

 

By giving the beggar money we might say that we enable their poor choices. After all, they are there due to prior choices and it is a good bet that any money they receive will be used to enable subsequent poor choices. It is unfortunate, but it is reality.

 

If they make a poor choice and use our money to purchase booze or drugs then we have just one level of indirection between our act of “kindness” and their further descent into hopelessness. Effectively we become an enabler.

 

Enabler: A person (often a relative, spouse or life partner) who, without malicious intent, helps to support the abusive behavior of the person who uses alcohol or drugs.

 

Fortunately there’s a third option. We can give a beggar something that is less convertible than money. This might include food (I’ve given food to people on the street numerous times), or donations to a food shelf or shelter. This type of giving directly benefits the beggar, without being directly convertible to booze or drugs.

 

And now the ripple effect gets more complex.

 

By giving the beggar food we allow them to use any other monies they receive to more efficiently purchase booze or drugs. They don’t need to “waste” any money on food.

 

But ultimately we are not responsible for the beggar’s choices. They are responsible for their choices. We are, at best, responsible for giving them the option to even make the choice in the first place. By giving food, rather than money, we limit their choices to some degree, forcing at least some beneficial outcome in that they certainly get some food or shelter. The likelihood that we’ve indirectly allowed the beggar to more efficiently convert money to booze/drugs doesn’t negate the benefit of the food.

 

So there are three major choices. Give nothing, washing our hands and preserving the status quo, which is ill. Give money, which may be directly used for good or ill. Or give food/shelter, which is directly good, but may indirectly enable ill.

 

Which option you choose depends on your worldview. How much faith do you invest in your fellow man (the beggar)? Is your fellow man your concern at all? Are you your brother’s keeper?

 

Of course “worldview” is just another set of choices we make as to how we want to act in the world. These choices too should be deliberative. The choices you make in defining your worldview directly impact how you choose to interact with a beggar, and thus whether you ultimately help or harm that person.

 

When you realize that your view on life, the world and other people are choices, then you really start to see the impact of being deliberative. While a lot of people disliked the second (and third) Matrix movies, I really enjoyed them. One central theme of Reloaded is choice and the importance of understanding the choices we make. Here’s a link to a good discussion of this theme.

 

So at this time of year when we tend to evaluate the past year, I suggest evaluating it based on your choices. Were you deliberative? Did you decide your fate, or did you choose to give that power to others? Either way, you bear the responsibility for the results – good or bad.

 

And looking forward into the next year, I suggest being deliberative. Consider the consequences of your choices out into the third and fourth generations. The karmic implications of each choice are unavoidable, and the better thought out each decision, the more likely it is that the results will be positive.

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