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What’s Your House Built Upon?

We are all born with gifts; genetic hand me downs from generations past. Physical enrichments of one sort or another – you might be a very fast runner or good at running distances, eagle eyesight, acute hearing, extremely strong or powerful, flexible or agile, funny or witty – those sorts of things. Gifts from those gone before you. And often those gifts rise to the surface and are quickly noticed by those around you; you become known as “the <blank>” one, just insert your gift into the quote.

We are all also handed genetic gifts that identify us; hair color – curly or straight, eye color and shape, muscularity for a man and curviness for a woman, and the ever elusive beauty gene – that which makes a woman beautiful or a man handsome. The undefinable characteristics that combine to make the “wow factor”.  And please pause before branding me a chauvinist; I infuse all my thoughts and ideas from my 60+ years on earth of being a male and from reading countless thoughts and ideas from people spanning thousands of years; not all are immediately applicable to this specific date in time. So do not jump to the conclusion that I think a man needs be muscular, or a woman need be curvy, to be considered attractive……I am speaking in generalities here dear reader; please finish reading to see if I am able to weave this into a more cohesive and cogent thought.

These genetic physical traits that separate each of us from the next snowflake really have nothing to do with us. They are not of our crafting, effort, or creation; we’d could have just as easily been born with any of a thousand brains, souls, or spirits and still look exactly as we do. Rather than basking in our “greatness” for our physical gifts, we should be giving thanks to our ancestors for the gifts! They have little to do with what we’ve done….

Yet so many people miss all of this; they swagger and strut and pose in their physical “magnificence” and revel in the adulation of others. Certainly these gifts should be enjoyed and relished – used and celebrated. But too many people build their lives around these gifts, forgetting (or not realizing) that they are, essentially, hollow and trite in the grand scheme of things, and that they are indubitably transient. Age will and does erase all of them; speed slows, strength wanes, beauty fades, eyes fail, hearing fails, hair grays and thins, life and time erode. It is incomprehensible at 18 but keenly apparent by middle age.

My point is that these genetic traits, being transitory, are poor choices for building the foundation of one’s existence. Imagine building a house on a foundation that disintegrates in 25 years? Building the walls with timber that deteriorate in 30 years? Imagine your surgeon installing your heart valve with sutures that dissolve in 5 years!!! A sound thinking person would never do anything of the sort! Yet so many people build their persona, themselves, upon physical genetic attributes that will not serve them for their entire lives; in fact typically, only a small part of their lives. I think we all can picture the sad image of a 30+ year old still wearing his high school varsity football jacket in a feeble attempt to hold onto what they chose with which to define themselves?

Most of us are not born with wisdom or patience or honor. These traits and others such as honesty, empathy, sympathy, altruism, philanthropy, and selflessness are all learned; developed, chosen, and crafted through life. They are traits greatly deserving of respect and admiration. These are traits of the soul and spirit; they carry value and worth and are a true outward reflection of who resides within the physical shell. Unlike physical traits, these develop, grow, strengthen and deepen throughout our lives. These then, are the wise choices upon which to build our foundations. 

While so many opt to define themselves by “what” they are; strong, fast, handsome/beautiful, tanned, etc., we should all really strive to choose and nurture “who” we are: caring, responsible, honest, trustworthy, or selfless instead. With choices such as these traits, we are building our foundations on sure and solid principles from which we can grow tall without fear of the foundation collapsing in later years from the ravages of time. Yet it still so tragically sad to see people tenaciously trying to hold on tightly to what they once were, but no longer can be.

What makes this so difficult for so many is that we generally begin constructing our foundations early in life, in our teens, long before we’ve had adequate life experience to fully understand different value systems or to have the depth of capacity to understand our choices. The easy ones, for a guy, are the athletic ones – speed, strength, agility – followed by physical attributes such as one’s build or hair or tan. Certainly honesty enters our lives at an early age and many people incorporate that into their personal foundation. But it is just all too easy to latch onto the obvious ones, and it is the rare teen indeed that recognizes that gifts such as being able to throw a baseball or long curly hair will last their entire life.

The beauty of life though, is that it is constantly renewing itself; with each new sunrise comes a chance to start over. Literally a cosmic reset button. It is never too late to repair and rebuild your foundation dear reader, be you 16 or 60. We can always redefine ourselves; in fact this is a tenet of life, to examine ourselves, our principles, our beliefs, and our goals to better ourselves. As Socrates stated, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. To grow we need two things: a baseline assessment of where we are and a goal for where we want to go. Wait – three things – we also need to have the desire to grow. This then, is yet another lesson of life.

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