Church-going types recognize the quote above as Proverbs 29:18. Even way back then, leaders and ordinary people alike, understood that humanity needs goals, plans, and a focused vision to keep things moving in the right direction.
A full 55 years ago, my mom bought a plaque and put it on my bedroom wall. It read, “Life is like a bicycle. You’ve got to keep on pedaling or else you fall over.”
I think there’s a connection between Proverbs 29:18 and my mother’s kick-my-butt plaque. How about, “Without constant work towards uplifting goals, life stalls and falters.”
I can run that statement up the flagpole for any thoughtful Republican, Democrat, Independent, or just mirror-fogging human and get robust agreement. Perhaps stoner types might lazily disagree, but for those who desire to move ahead, we realize that “goals coupled with sustained, focused work equals realized progress.” And most of us want progress in our lives and progress in our communities and country.
The challenge to us humans is the “sustained, focused work” part. We’ve got short attention spans. Many have difficulties staying on-course over long-term projects. We don’t like sacrifice, and we prefer to keep our time and money to ourselves. Willpower to achieve even goals we support can often falter.
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. This adroit summation has also held true for millennia.
My daughter was in town the other day and during one quiet morning she asked, “Dad, do you do goals and resolutions?” Boy, was that a nice, slow pitch right over papa’s plate. My computer was nearby and I quickly opened it up to a file I had just reviewed the previous evening. It is a running list of my annual goals and objectives, organized by year and completion status. 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.
“Check, check, check, still working on that one.” Dozens of goals per year, adding up to perhaps one hundred specific goals and objectives, large and small. Each well-considered, measured, and specified at the start of each year.
Some are fun, like “Go boating to Canada in July.” Some were serious like, “Obtain a General Engineering license.” Some were financial, “Save X amount by December. Others were personal, “Repair and enhance this relationship.” (All completed!)
I look at my goal list about every two weeks and if needed, calendar items for specific action. “See the heart specialist for a full work-up.” I got that done in November of last year. Now I know I have to lose that last 20 pounds. “Repair the pool coping.” “Fix the washer.” “Ride my bike 6 miles every morning, five days a week.”
These goals extend beyond myself. “Convince the City to redesign the McBean/Arroyo Park Drive left hand turn lanes. “Save X-amount for grandkid’s college fund.”
As do many, I believe that life is measured not just in “happiness” but in pushing things forward in a progressive, upward, helpful cause. My Depression-era mom beat it into me: “Do something.” “Help someone.” “Move forward.” “Achieve.”
When we stop pedaling, we falter and fall. An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop. An idle country soon fades.
Thus, it’s frustrating to observe all the necessary work in our country and communities, but for some reason we talk and tax and talk but never seem to achieve.
We know we need substantial national infrastructure investment but still fail to launch specific, funded programs.
We know we have to move the homeless off our streets. This exploding situation degrades everyone’s quality of life. Yet we lack the willpower to physically build appropriate facilities and physically move these folks to sites where they can be helped.
We know we cannot meet our unfunded pension obligations without staving the rest of our state and nation but we lack guts to wrestle the matter, head on.
We know we cannot forever fight wars all over the globe, often for the benefit of energy concerns, and still maintain moral authority and global respect.
We cannot forever run trillion-dollar budgets — now with more mega-giveaways to the super rich — but still, we persist in profligacy.
We cannot sustain a dysfunction, ad-hoc immigration policy, yet we continue to line up as combatants instead of improving our immigration and border security opportunities once and for all. (Yes, immigration is an opportunity, not a problem.)
We know we have smog and pollution and yes, climate change, still, we refuse to launch a viable national response – even as we witness the poison fruits of carbon pollution, local and global.
This widespread stasis of governance cannot be suffered much longer without significant degradation of internal and international stature. We either pedal forward towards meaningful progress or remain stuck in neutral or reverse – while others pass us by here a little and there some more.
As for ourselves, the challenge for Americans in all this is the “sustained, focused work” part. Americans today have short attention spans. Many have difficulties staying on-course over long-term projects. We don’t like sacrifice, and we prefer to keep our time and money to ourselves. Willpower to achieve even goals we support can often falter.
Not shockingly, we have met the enemy to progress and it’s us. While I’m confident my daughter will increase her practice of purposeful goal attainment I can only hopefully wish the same for our county, state, and country.
Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.