The power of III

Summum ius summa iniuria--More law, less justice

23 February 2011

Keep your feet on the ground, but never be complacent.

This may seem like a non-sequitur from the title above, but this is a classic comedy sketch that helps me to remember an important life concept:

"...Well, I'll do everything humanly possible. Unfortunately, we barbers aren't gods. You know, medicine is not an exact science, but we are learning all the time.

Why, just fifty years ago, they thought a disease like your daughter's was caused by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach."

Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber, as played by Steve Martin, Saturday Night Live, 1977


I put this quote under my photo in my college yearbook.  Lots of people did that to be amusing or profound.

I put it in to remind myself that my knowledge base is limited, and probably always will be.  In other words, I should be humble.  Someone always knows more than you. 

On the other hand, I shouldn't be complacent in what I do know at present, but should always strive to increase my knowledge base.  

Indeed, I believe that the Judeo-Christian ethic of self improvement is obligatory for every person, if we are to be favorably judged by G-d.  Even for atheists, striving for self-improvement gives life real meaning.

I am profoundly(that is, hit over the head) reminded of these concepts from time to time, although they are never far from my consciousness.  

In my profession, I rose to several positions of authority over the past 17 years, and got very positive feedback from peers and colleagues.  Despite my record and my personal conceit that I was an indispensable member of my team, last July I was laid off.  

My sense of security and complacency (professionally and with regard to providing for my wife and kids) was completely shattered. I ended up working for someone who came from a similar background to myself, but has about 12 years more experience than I do.  I have learned so much from my new boss since coming to work for him;  it has been a very humbling experience.  I hope the wisdom of this perspective will stay with me, and I won't ever return to complacency or feel full of myself.

I see every aspect of my life through the same lens: keep your feet on the ground, but never be complacent. For instance:

1. I can never know or learn enough history.  As George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 
I read both sides of an issue to gain insight, or "know [my] enemy."  I never know where my insight may come from: someone on the left, a neocon, or a libertarian. Same for knowledge of economics, same for religious knowledge.

2. Far far from perfect, I can always be a better dad and husband than I was yesterday.
3. I know how to operate an AR and a .308 MBR, but I know I will never win a National Rifle Championship.  That won't stop me from practising to gain muscle memory and tighten my groups, though...;-)

4. In my lifetime, I can never do enough to limit the size of government.

To some of you, this post may seem silly or preachy, so forgive me for that.  I write this blog as much for my kids to read someday as for anyone interested in my posts.


  1. This is neither silly nor preachy. It is truth spoken honestly and accurately. Being interested in learning for the sake of learning will keep your knowledge current while preventing the hubris of "knowing it all."

    As I posted on another blog, being a non-specialist (as described by Robert A. Heinlein) will give you the pleasure of learning new and interesting things while also increasing your skills for dealing with what life throws at you. Having the knowledge to do what must be done to feed, shelter and protect your family under a variety of conditions will give you all the pride you'll ever need.

    "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects!" Robert A. Heinlein

  2. Puts me to mind of what I believe was an original quote I heard from a fellow graduate student decades ago:

    "Life is one long lesson in humility."

    - Dutchy