Posted from Wimbledon, England
Monday was a Bank Holiday here in England and together with my son and his boys we visited the Hampton Court Palace of Henry VIII. It is a pastoral residence of sorts on the Thames in Richmond. After visiting other monarchical haunts in Russia and France this was somewhat tame.Gaudy Gold is not a primary color in GB and the brick and stone compliment each other beautifully.
Make no mistake it is huge but one gets the feeling of flow and utility. Successive monarchs have added their own touch but you could not help but have the sense they got most things right. The sculpted gardens and hedges were just as they seemed five hundred years ago. But nothing lasts forever. Just ask the Tsars, Marie Antoinette and of course Anne Boleyn.
I got to thinking of life in general and how over the centuries we have gone from one extreme to another. The explosion of the Renaissance must have knocked people off their chairs and out of the Dark Ages. The British Empire? Prognosticators of all sorts lay out the blueprint of life as we will know it. But just when we think we have it figured out, life throws us curveball.
Pendulums can be cultural. Today is emblematic of the evolution or revolution if you will from Victorian puritanism to what some might consider today’s hedonism. I laugh to think of the shock of parents in my adolescence to what is considered childhood entertainment of today. A song called “Short Shorts” was banned from the airwaves because of its suggestive lyrics in the 1950’s. How retro we were and yet we thought we were the cat’s meow.
The world of business has had its array of successes and failures from tulips to Edsels. Companies like Sony and Motorola ruled the tech world for a time and today they struggle for relevance. Railroads and ships lost sight of the fact they were in the transportation business and gave away their dominant position to the airlines. Who knows where we will be 50 years from now?
Some want to retain our way of life just as it is or even better go back to the good old days. Freeze the moment in time but it doesn’t quite work that way. There are two forces at work here, ourselves and the world. We constantly strive to accomplish. We want a better life in the form of money and material things. Look at the houses of just 40-50 years ago. Four bedrooms and two and a half baths were the ultimate. Formica was the counter of choice and bell bottoms or madras made us worthy of any social scene.
Fast forward and now our much larger homes need a bath in every bedroom along with family rooms, home theaters, saunas and hot tubs. Our wardrobes are no longer adequate when they fit into a normal size closet. We need walk in caverns to house the arsenal. Granite counter tops are close to being passe`and who would be seen with a three year old American made car. It’s partially our desire for bigger better faster but also a world that says if you fall behind you are an abject failure.
But as we think we are getting nearer and nearer to Nirvana there is something amiss. Instead of feeling the euphoria on a long gradual climb there seems to be some element of emptiness that the good life can’t fill. Maybe I will build a bigger monument to me? Hmm, I might find that elusive perfect bottle of wine or savor a meal by the world’s most celebrated chef? Perhaps it is my Ford 350 or a week at the Fat Farm at Canyon Ranch or front row seats to Kenny Chesney?
You mean there are other things? I believe there are. The reason the pendulum goes from one extreme to the other is because no matter what we have, life is a struggle. Not always in an onerous sense but more of a pulled muscle that won’t heal. An itch you can’t scratch. An enigma you can’t solve. Not fatal but chronic. As I travel down life’s highway there are certain things I can’t put to rest. I can work on them but it’s downright impossible to get it perfect. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a celebration of our humanity but also our frailty.
I have just read David Brooks’, “The Road to Character”. Probably what I write is at least subliminally what I read in his piece. He does a masterful job of describing the Resume Virtue and the Eulogy Virtue. On the one hand what I have accomplished in life and on the other how I would like to be remembered. Sure I was the CEO of a billion dollar company but will I be regarded as a decent person after I am gone? Was I kind and caring or ruthless and overbearing? How would YOU like to be remembered?
The struggle gets deep at this point. To see the “eulogy you” it is necessary to divorce yourself from everyday life. Scores are kept on a totally different spreadsheet. You start digging down and the floor opens up. Instead of finding the answer another level is revealed and you are forced to dig deeper and deeper. Aha, I have found my soul! Sorry Charlie, you are just getting started.
Enter self improvement books of all sorts. Shrinks, gurus and swamis will show you the way. Travel to buddhist temples burn incense and play funny music. Probably helpful but this is a trip you have to make for yourself. Now some will think I am crazy. So be it. Some will get tired and depressed and say it is not for them. But some will say this is kind of cool.
At least for me I don’t think for a moment I will ever get it figured out. When I get to the point I do, something will happen that will put me back to square one or at least three or four. If one of the books espousing the ultimate answer were true do you think we will still have title after title being published?
Like David Brooks I am writing because I am verbalizing my own part in the puzzle of life. Going back to that whole idea of pendulum I don’t see quandary but energy. The arcing motion gives its share of twists and turns but also new insights. If the weight at the end of the line should come to rest I don’t think it would be triumphant but tragic. It would mean that life, at least intellectually is over. I’m not ready for that yet.
Ted The Great
Hampton Court Palace was considered modern and sophisticated when it was built in Tudor times. It had bowling greens, a 36,000 square foot kitchen and a toilet area that could seat 30 people.
There are thousands of palaces throughout the world in over 90 countries. There 16 in Mexico and over 50 in Italy. Amazingly there are even larger numbers in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil. When a new monarch assumed the throne in various countries predictably the new BMOC had to add onto an existing palace or build a new one that was bigger and better than the old one. Good for employment in the region.
Of the hundreds upon hundreds of self help books of the top ten in 2014, 9 were spiritual in nature and the top one was financial by Tony Robbins.
Google Ngrams measure the usage of certain words in the media. Over the past few decades references to self and I have soared and community, share and united have fallen drastically. Economics and business up and morality and character building down. Bravery, humbleness, and gratitude are down over 50%.