The wisdom of “still deciding”

In my previous posts on “Still Deciding,” I tried to describe this virtue as a kind of intellectual courage to keep oneself from sheer indecision on one hand and shameless dogmatism on another. Still deciding, then, is actually a positive excellence, that helps to integrate and enrich the value of a person’s style of life.

Like moral courage, to which I suppose it is strongly related, still deciding is a form of practice—far more so than either indecision or dogmatism, which are both ways of ceding oneself to circumstance. Thus, still deciding takes practice. If we want its form to in-form the shape of our daily decisions, we must exercise ourselves, cultivate in ourselves a capacity to hold alternatives in contrast, entertain various ways in which we might resolve the alternatives, estimate the relative worths of each resolution, and then decide, attentive to both what we are choosing and what not.

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“Make a living… not a killing”

James Michener’s epic novel on the settlement of Hawaii contains an ominous warning for would-be settlers planning to scratch out a living on some of the world’s youngest, still-forming land.  Just before telling the story of the first Polynesians and their unprecedented sea voyage in the 700’s to discover the Hawaiian Islands, Michener sets the stage for his entire book with two brilliant paragraphs:

Image result for michener hawaii imagesTherefore, men of Polynesia and Boston and China and Mount Fuji and the barrios of the Phillippines, do not come to these islands empty-handed, or craven in spirit, or afraid to starve.  There is no food here.  In these islands there is no certainty.  Bring your own food, your own gods, your own flowers and fruits and concepts.  For if you come without resources to these islands you will perish.

But if you come with growing things, and good foods and better ideas, if you come with gods that will sustain you, and if you are willing to work until the swimming head and aching arms can stand no more, then you can gain entrance into this miraculous crucible where the units of nature are free to develop according to their own capacities and desires.

On these harsh terms the islands waited.

Harsh terms, indeed!  But as I was reading this book during a recent two-week family vacation to Hawaii, I couldn’t help but chuckle at how easy our own journey had been compared to those endured by Michener’s characters.  Delta’s non-stop flight from Atlanta to Honolulu isn’t quite the same as doubling Cape Horn on a six-month journey from Boston in the 1820’s on an 80-foot brig.  And the thought of leaping from the “miraculous crucible” of the academy into any other sort of crucible wasn’t resonating either.  All I wanted to do was catch a few waves on Waikiki Beach and spend some unhurried time with my family.  Continue reading