Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Not How Much, But How

... that's why I encourage my children to read the biographies of those who overcame hardships and excelled in life.

I've struggled getting one of our sons to read biographies. In fact, biography, singular. As I'm a bit slow-witted, it's taken me a long time to figure out just why I feel that such books are important. Trying to see it from his point of view, I could see why reading the biography of a great man might be intimidating. How could he, how could any of us, equal the achievements of unique, historical figures?

Equaling them isn't the point. Finding out how they did it is. Jordan Peterson's 4th rule for life points the way.

"Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today (or was yesteryear)."

When things are bleak, when life has you down, I think it helps to have an inspirational figure or three that make you want to try to do better. For me, Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson are my heroes.

Something happened recently that has given me an opportunity to ask him again to read a biography or three. Here are the ones I'm going to recommend.

  1. Once a Marine by Nick Popaditch
  2. Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
  3. Standing Like a Stone Wall by James Robertson
If you've got a favorite, let us know in the comments.

It's hard to complain about your life when you've read about his.


Ohioan@Heart said...

I'm not a fan of biographies, but I've read a few.

The two I would recommend are "An American Journey" which is about Jerry Coleman. As every San Diegan should know, Jerry Coleman was a player for the New York Yankees, CBS television baseball broadcaster and the voice of the San Diego Padres for years and years. He is also the only major leaguer to see combat in both World War II and Korea (Ted Williams flew combat in Korea, but he played baseball for Uncle Sam during WWII). He was also a very unassuming and gentlemanly gentleman. The perfect story to sum him up is on pages 6 and 7 of the book. (Short version: on the day he returned to the Yankees after the Korean war, as the Yankees honored him with Jerry Coleman Day he spent the morning talking to the widow of one of his Korean flying partners, Major Max Harper. During a mission, then Capt. Jerry Coleman, USMC, watched helplessly as Major Harper died in a crash. He recounts that he had to describe it to her as "she wouldn't accept it from anyone but me.") Another wonderful insight into his personality is that he describes his service as, "I simply did my duty." That duty involved 120 combat missions over WWII and Korea, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Air Medals, and three navy citations. Yeah, just doing his duty.

The other biography that I recommend is "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong". Everyone knows the main story, but the other parts of his life were completely unknown to me (a bit better generally known after the recent movie). Still a great read about an American Hero who preferred to retire from the spotlight and simply live his life.

tim eisele said...

What you say about biographies of people who got so much stuff done that other people find it intimidating, reminds me of something one of my friends said years ago:

"People at work always ask me how I find the time to do all of the things that I do. And then they are surprised that I don't know who Ally McBeale is. But they don't see the connection."

Foxfier said...

Wanting to do better hasn't been a problem, for me-- so the "look, someone else had it worse" line of encouragement falls flat.

What does help is reading about how they dealt with problems, and what kind of problems the solutions caused.

Also stuff like "badass of the week" stories of "oh, wow, they are amazing!" can pull me higher. (Yeah, the guy curses like a kid that's still impressed to know the words, and the historical assumptions are painfully dumb. But hard to beat Mad Jack taking out Nazis with a longbow while wearing a kilt.)