Let's Get Off Our Buts

Part Three:

Social and Political

A cardinal rule of politics never get caught in bed with a live man or a dead woman.


If the sentence, "I love humanity, it's people I can't stand," fits you, perhaps you should consider a life of social change and political action.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil," Edmund Burke wrote two hundred years ago, "is for good men to do nothing." The world has any number of good people right now, with the dream to make changes for the better deep in their hearts. The problem is not that they're doing nothing; the problem is that they're doing something else.

People who are naturally drawn toward social action or politics are often repelled by its name. "Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation," Henry Kissinger said. Here is an area of activity where the reputation is worse than the reality --a sort of reverse glamour.

"I used to say that politics was the second oldest profession," said Ronald Reagan in 1979, "and I have come to know that it bears a gross similarity to the first." The following year he won the presidency.

"Nobody could sleep with Dick," Pat Nixon revealed. "He wakes up during the night, switches on the lights, speaks into his tape recorder, or takes notes--it's impossible." John Updike had this explanation for the inconsistency of our leaders: "A leader is one who, out of madness or goodness, volunteers to take upon himself the woe of the people. There are few men so foolish, hence the erratic quality of leadership in the world."

I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much.


And yet, with all the bad things written about it, some do have a few good words for and about the art of politics.

"True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers," wrote Robert Townsend in Up the Organization, "not the enrichment of the leaders." Townsend was speaking of the business world, but it applies to the political world as well.

You may not always be popular, even among those you are helping. Harry Truman asked, "How far would Moses have gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt?"

"Public life is regarded as the crown of a career, and to young men it is the worthiest ambition," said John Buchan. "Politics is still the greatest and the most honorable adventure."

"Politics," Gore Vidal wrote, with his own enticing twist on Buchan, "is the grim jockeying for position, the ceaseless trading, the deliberate use of words not for communication but to screen intention. In short, a splendidly exciting game for those who play it."

"If you're going to play the game properly," cautioned Barbara Jordan, "you'd better know every rule."

The great social causes that capture the hearts of men and women do not necessarily involve politics. They do, however, involve courage, sacrifice, commitment, and selfless giving--the worst of marriage and career combined.

There are, however, inner benefits. "The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it," William James wrote.

And make no mistake about it: we make social changes because, over time, it makes us feel better. We may not appreciate the day-to-day tilting at windmills, but we prefer that to day-by-day observing a condition we know we could somehow make better, get worse.

A pessimist is one who builds dungeons in the air.


The little entourage of friends and relatives whom she completely dominated was fond of saying, "Becky would give you the shirt off her back." And it was true. The only trouble was that she neglected to take it off first, and what you found on your back was not only Becky's shirt but Becky too.


People often think a social problem is too great and they are too small. I suggest: If drawn to do it, do it. "What one has to do," Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out, "usually can be done."

The reward is the joy of giving, the satisfaction of following your heart's desire, and, perhaps, someone will say of you what Clare Boothe Luce said of Eleanor Roosevelt, "No woman has ever so comforted the distressed--or distressed the comfortable."

Religious and Spiritual

I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.


Here I tread softly. In LIFE 101, I put all the religious and spiritual beliefs--from Anglicanism to agnosticism to atheism to Catholicism--in an area I called The Gap. The contents of anyone's Gap is between the individual and the contents of his or her Gap. I don't get involved with the Gap in these books because the tools I discuss work regardless of what's in anyone's Gap, just as a cookbook or car repair manual works for Baptist and Buddhist alike.

In discussing the areas of life's activity, however, I must touch on an area some people are strongly drawn to--religion and spirit.

There is an interesting ambivalence to religion and spirituality in our culture. On one hand, if people have no beliefs, they are thought odd. On the other hand, if they devote all their time to the understanding and worship of God, they, too, are thought odd.

As with politics, people may hesitate pursuing spirit full time because religion has been so, well, shall I say (tap, tap, tap) has made God to look, uh, um (tap, tap, tap--that's me tap dancing while arriving at a diplomatic, nonjudgmental way of saying this), perhaps some people's behavior has not cast the Deity in the best possible light.

For example, the chief executive of Coca-Cola said, "It's a religion as well as a business." (By the way, do you know that the taste of cola is a combination of three familiar flavors? Which three? If you want to guess, I'll wait for a bit before telling you.)

We live very close together. So, our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them.


Others seem to use God as some great bellhop in the sky--"give me this, send me that, take this away." Dorothy Parker parodied these people when she wrote, "Oh God, in the name of Thine only beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, let him phone me now."

All of this--and I haven't even mentioned televangelists and their traumas--may have made traditional religion seem a little strange, even to those who feel a calling. My advice, as always: follow your heart.

Of course, there are those who think they should spend all their time worshiping God because, after all, God is God and isn't that what I'm supposed to do? And, even though these people are off pursuing a goal in another area of life, they feel guilty for not praying more--as though God were an overanxious mother who hasn't had a phone call in a month. (Although, if that is your image of God, far be it from me to de-Deify you.) Might I suggest to these people that they let their good works in whatever field they choose glorify God? (Cola, by the way, is made up of these three flavors: citrus [lemon or lime], vanilla, and cinnamon.)

And for those who are feeling the Ultimate Unworthiness--not worthy to serve God--I offer you this from Phyllis McGinley:

The wonderful thing about saints is that they were human. They lost their tempers, scolded God, were egotistical or testy or impatient in their turns, made mistakes and regretted them. Still they went on doggedly blundering toward heaven.

Let's Not Forget Fun and Recreation

I can think of nothing less pleasurable than a life devoted to pleasure.


I'm not sure whether all work and no play made Jack a dull boy, or whether Jack was a dull boy to begin with, so, dullard that he was, he worked too much. Either way, fun and recreation are a necessary part of an undull life.

When I say recreation, I mean it in the lighter sense of recreation (tennis, boating, going to the movies), as well as in the deeper sense--re-creation. What do you do to "recreate" yourself? This might include meditation, retreats (re-treats), prayer, spiritual work, rest, pilgrimages, massage, silent time--whatever activities recharge your batteries in a deep and powerful way.

I didn't include Fun/Recreation in the other areas of life because I assume this is an area people will want to enjoy no matter what other area they choose. To use the battery analogy, Fun/Recreation charges the batteries; Marriage/Family, Career/Professional, Social/Political, and Religious/Spiritual are the ways in which the batteries are used.

A Code of Honor

Never approach a friend's girlfriend or wife with mischief as your goal. There are just too many women in the world to justify that sort of dishonorable behavior. Unless she's really attractive.


Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.


It's important to realize, however, that the endless pursuit of fun and recreation in and of themselves is not very fulfilling. In fact, it's something of a curse. When one pursues pleasure all the time, the pursuit of pleasure becomes work--it's a job. If pleasure is one's job, then where does one go to recharge the batteries for more work? The pleasure is the work. Hence, perhaps, the old saying about not mixing business with pleasure.

Fun and recreation form a stable base for fulfilling one's dreams--they're just not a very good dream all by themselves.


Basically my wife was immature. I'd be at home in the bath and she'd come in and sink my boats.


Please don't think from the tone of the last few chapters that the only way to pursue a dream other than marriage and family is to become a hermit. Far from it.

Relationships are essential to the pursuit of almost any goal. In successfully pursuing a goal, however, it is important to understand the different types of relationships that are available. When you do, you can see which types of relationships can best help you pursue your dream.

Before exploring the types of relationships humans tend to have, here are two essential points about relationships in general. First, all relationships are with yourself--and sometimes they involve other people. Second, the most important relationship in your life--the one you'll have, like it or not, until the day you die--is with yourself.

That said, let's look at the various types of relationships.

Recreational Relationships: These are the people we enjoy being with simply because we enjoy being with them. What we do together is not as important as that we are together.

These are the people we generally call "friends." We love them in a nonpossessive way. "Love without attachment is light," wrote Norman O. Brown. We see people in recreational relationships for what they are. "We don't love qualities," Jacques Maritain explained; "we love a person; sometimes by reason of their defects as well as their qualities."

Again, the word recreational should not be misread as "always superficial." These can be some of the most re-creative and nurturing relationships in our lives.

Since I was twenty-four there never was any vagueness in my plans or ideas as to what God's work was for me.


Among the many things that can (although usually doesn't) take place in a recreational relationship is sex. This won't destroy the relationship, as long as neither person sees the other as "the one and only."

Romantic Relationships: Here, sex--or sexual desire--combines with a feeling of, "you are the only one for me," and "if you don't love me, I'm miserable and worthless." We don't have to like--or even know-- the "love object." Some say ignorance is a prerequisite for romantic love. "Of course it is possible to love a human being," wrote Charles Bukowski, "if you don't know them too well."

Romantic love is the most popularized of all relationships. Just about every movie, TV show, novel, and popular song features romantic interaction. It's called the "love interest." It seemingly must be worked into every plot, no matter how silly or tortured.

Why? Because romantic love is a fundamental cultural myth. As George Lucas explained to Steven Spielberg (these are the two who somehow squeezed a "love interest" into all of those Indiana Jones movies), "If the boy and girl walk off in the sunset hand-in-hand in the last scene, it adds ten million to the box office."

I call romantic love ("If only I could find the right person to love, I would live happily ever after") a myth because no other human endeavor has failed so miserably, so often--yet continues to have such "good press."

Not everyone, of course, believes "the press." "I can understand companionship," said Gore Vidal, "I can understand purchased sex in the afternoon. I cannot understand the love affair." Margaret Anderson explained, "In real love you want the other person's good. In romantic love you want the other person."

Some people "fall in love" rather than deal with the guilt often associated with sex. "If we love each other, sex is okay," the logic goes. "Love is the drug," wrote Germaine Greer, "which makes sexuality palatable in popular mythology."

The consuming desire of most human beings is deliberately to plant their whole life in the hands of some other person. I would describe this method of searching for happiness as immature. Development of character consists solely in moving toward self-sufficiency.


Romantic love is a primary distraction to the pursuit of any goal, including Marriage/Family. I should say especially Marriage/Family. The illusion of "falling in love" can blind one to the suitability of a partner for a venture as delicate, intricate, and important as getting married and raising children. (Or even getting married and raising orchids.)

"Many a man has fallen in love with a girl," Maurice Chevalier observed, "in light so dim he would not have chosen a suit by it." And, many a person has chosen a mate in a light of reason dimmer than that.

In addition, the lack of romantic love is hardly sufficient reason to eliminate another otherwise-qualified candidate from a list of potential spouses--and yet it's done all the time. People say, "He/she'd be a wonderful husband/wife, but I don't really love him/her." You might as well use romantic love as a criterion for going into business, or any other significant partnership.

It is this blindness, as much as anything else, that accounts for the many failures in the pursuit of a successful marriage. If you think running a house and raising children isn't a business, you've never run a house and raised children.

"Love is an ideal thing;" said Goethe, "marriage is a real thing. A confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished."

Contractual Relationships: In a contractual relationship, something is exchanged for something else. The "something" could be anything--a product, a service, an experience. Usually the culturally agreed upon symbol for energy--money--is involved in the transaction.

When we pay someone for something, or to do something for us, that is a contractual relationship. It could be as basic as buying a box of cough drops at the store (even such a simple transaction involves entering into a contract), or as elaborate as a fifty-year partnership--including marriage.

In a contractual relationship, we are "in relationship" primarily because of the exchange. We can enjoy each other's company or not. If so, that's an extra plus. If not, too bad--we're in it for something else.

"Almost all of our relationships begin," observed W. H. Auden, "and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both parties run out of goods."

Saddle your dreams afore you ride 'em.


Common-Goal Relationships: Here people share a common goal, and that goal is the primary reason they relate. This is often the source of work-based relationships. The common goal may be a company goal, a personal goal fulfilled by the company, or, simply, as Sir Noel Coward put it, "your pay packet at the end of the week."

It might be a service goal--relating to fellow Red Cross volunteers, for example. It might be a religious or spiritual goal--the people you know in church, or who pursue the same spiritual dreams as you.

The marriages that continue "for the sake of the children" are also examples of common-goal relationships--the raising of the children being the common goal. "The value of marriage," said Peter De Vries, "is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults."

Power-Point Relationships: This is a specific form of common-goal relationship. Here one person becomes the "power point." A group feeds its energy (power) to the power-point person, and through this power point, the entire group can fulfill its common goal.

An example is the Olympic athlete training for an event. Power from many people is invested in this one person. The "power" may be in the form of information, encouragement, money, time--anything the athlete needs to meet the goal. A trainer, coach, corporate sponsor, masseur, doctor, nutritionist--and many others--channel their power (in the form of individual specialties) to the athlete. They all have the same goal--winning the event--and send power to a single point so that the goal can be fulfilled.

Think of the point-person as the point of the arrow. The point is the portion of the arrow that "does the work," but the shaft, feathers, bow, and archer are equally important to hitting the target.

The point person never needs to return any energy to those giving it. The point person need only do his or her best in the event--the common goal. In so doing--win or lose--the investment of power is "paid back."

If the point is sharp, and the arrow is swift, it can pierce through the dust no matter how thick.


In addition to sports, power-point relationships are often seen in politics, the arts, spiritual groups, and, less frequently, in business and marriage. In a marriage, a power-point relationship can work as long as it is understood that partner A's success is the goal of both partner A and partner B--and that partner A's success in and of itself is sufficient for partner B. If partner B wants something more from partner A or partner A's success, then it's a contract or common-goal relationship.

In relationships--as in all human activity--there is a lot of room for negotiation. As the saying goes, "You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate."

Let's say someone with whom you have a recreational relationship calls you up and asks you out. Although it would be fun to go out, you have committed four hours to stuffing envelopes, the result of which could further your goal. Rather than automatically saying, "No, I can't make it," present the situation to your friend and see if he or she (let's say he) has any creative solutions.

Maybe he'll offer to come over and chat with you as you stuff. This will still take four hours, but it might be more fun. Maybe he will come over and help you get the work done in two hours, which leaves two newly freed hours for other pursuits. Maybe he will hire someone to stuff all the envelopes, and you are free for the whole evening. The solutions are endless, and creating them is part of relating.

There are few "pure" relationships--most cross lines, combining one type of relationship with another. Relationships also change over time, evolving--or deteriorating--from one type to another.

It's obvious that--far from being a "loner" as you pursue your goal--you will be relating with lots of people for lots of reasons. In fact, you may well be interacting with far more people than you currently are.

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