“I did all the right things. I touched all the bases in exactly the right order and I was highly rewarded for it. If you had done what I did, you would have been rewarded, too.”
Abel didn’t say it, but Cain heard it. And in his rage, Cain sent his brother to the other side of that open door through which we all must exit.
Do you remember the Nashville man who blew himself up inside his motorhome in front of the telephone building on Christmas morning? The final report released by the FBI said, “Anthony Quinn Warner chose the location and timing so that the explosion would be impactful while still minimizing the likelihood of undue injury.” And it went on to say that Warner was driven in part by, “the loss of stabilizing anchors and deteriorating interpersonal relationships.”
When otherwise normal people become violent and begin killing random strangers, we usually dismiss them as “crazy and evil” and that’s the end of our discussion.
Jordan B. Peterson1 says,
“We make our sacrifices in the present, and we assume that by doing so, the benevolence of the world will be manifested to us. That’s why we’re willing to forego gratification and to work. In doing these things, we sacrifice.”
“So Cain sacrifices, but God rejects his sacrifice. And that ancient story is brilliantly ambivalent about why you can work diligently and make the proper sacrifices and yet fail, which means that despite all that work and all that foregone gratification, an implicit covenant has been broken. And Cain responds to that with tremendous anger. He raises his fist against the sky and shakes it and says, ‘This should not be!’ And then he takes revenge. He says, ‘I will destroy what is most valuable to you.'”
“So he goes after Abel, who is an ideal person whose sacrifices are welcomed by God and he kills him. And then all hell breaks loose in the aftermath. The more I delved into that story, the more it shocked me. I couldn’t believe that much information could be packed into what’s essentially 12 lines.”
“We see the suffering and the horror of our lives, the vulnerability and the mortality of everything that we love and cherish, and we see our failure, and that turns us against being. But there is another part of us that maintains faith and strives forward.”
A great many people have quietly spoken to me about the unfairness of their lives. And each of them had a valid point. If we lived in an organized universe where hard work and good intentions were always rewarded, and laziness and dishonest manipulation were always punished, the list of winners and losers in this life would look radically different.
This idea of winners and losers becomes particularly thorny when you throw God into the mix. Kate Bowler writes,
“Blessed is a loaded term because it blurs the distinction between two very different categories: gift and reward. It can be a term of pure gratitude. ‘Thank you, God. I could not have secured this for myself.’ But it can also imply that it was deserved. ‘Thank you, me. For being the kind of person who gets it right.’ It is a perfect word for an American society that says it believes the American dream is based on hard work, not luck.”
Twenty years ago, David Brooks wrote a book called Bobos in Paradise, and then a few weeks ago he wrote an update called, How the Bobos Broke America. The following is from that update.
“The Bobos didn’t necessarily come from money, and they were proud of that; they had secured their places in selective universities and in the job market through drive and intelligence exhibited from an early age, they believed. They were – as the classic Apple commercial had it – ‘the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers.’ But by 2000, the information economy and the tech boom were showering the highly educated with cash. They had to find ways of spending their gobs of money while showing they didn’t care for material things. So they developed an elaborate code of financial correctness to display their superior sensibility. Spending lots of money on any room formerly used by the servants was socially defensible: A $7,000 crystal chandelier in the living room was vulgar, but a $10,000, 59-inch AGA stove in the kitchen was acceptable, a sign of your foodie expertise. When it came to aesthetics, smoothness was artificial, but texture was authentic. The new elite distressed their furniture, used refurbished factory floorboards in their great rooms, and wore nubby sweaters made by formerly oppressed peoples from Peru.”
“‘The educated class is in no danger of becoming a self-contained caste,’ I wrote in 2000. ‘Anybody with the right degree, job, and cultural competencies can join.’ That turned out to be one of the most naive sentences I have ever written.”
An enormous number of people are angry about injustice today. They feel that they are doing the right things and obeying the rules, but the rewards are being handed to someone else.
I see this to my left and to my right.
Jordan B. Peterson concludes his discussion of Cain and Abel by saying,
“I ended my last book with a chapter, Be Grateful in Spite of Your Suffering, I put it at the end as the culmination, the final moral rule. Because that’s the antidote to Cain, and I take Cain’s argument seriously: ‘Are things so terrible that they shouldn’t exist at all?’ You can accrue a fair bit of evidence in favor of that hypothesis. But it doesn’t lead to the right place; it makes everything worse as far as I can tell. I haven’t encountered a situation where gratitude wasn’t better than its alternative. Resentment is the opposite of gratitude, and it is unbelievably destructive.”
My friend Richard Exley taught me 40 years ago to “celebrate the ordinary.” It was some of the most wonderful advice I have ever been given.
Happiness does not lead to gratitude. Gratitude leads to happiness.
Joy is a function of gratitude — and gratitude is a function of perspective.
I say to the unhappy people I love, “Change your perspective. Or, you can remain angry, frustrated, and outraged; I will not say that you are wrong, or that your outrage is misplaced. I will say only that you are likely to remain unhappy.”
This has been a longer-than-usual memo and you, good friend, have stayed with me until the end! Allow me now to show my appreciation by giving you this benediction:
My deepest hope for you today is that you will be able to experience gratitude and joy for the tiniest of reasons. I want you to have hair-trigger happiness, the kind that leaps onto your lap like an excited puppy. May you be quick with your encouragements and slow with your corrections, and may you discover the wondrous gift of being able to celebrate the ordinary.
Roy H. Williams
Rob Cornilles was given the task of selling season tickets to the Los Angeles Clippers, which at the time was the most forlorn franchise in the NBA. Who wanted to go to a Clippers game, when L.A. also had the Lakers? But Rob figured out how to attract sports fans so incredibly well that has how trained the sales forces of more than 300 other sports teams, a whopping total of 50,000 sales leaders and executives! Rob says, “Whether or not you think you’re in sales, you are.” Are you ready? It’s almost time for the tip-off at MondayMorningRadio.com.
1 Jordan B. Peterson is a highly controversial clinical psychologist and psychology professor. Journalist James Marriott wrote, “Ideas that flit and glimmer in Peterson’s videos look bloated and dead when strapped to the page.” I do not judge Peterson nearly so harshly as Marriott did, but I did take the liberty to edit the word-cluttered transcript of Peterson’s talk down to those few lines you read today. In the interest of accuracy, Indy Beagle put Peterson’s original recordings in the rabbit hole for you. – RHW