Page 1 of 10 Bio for Phi Delta Psi
Dear Jerry Fecht and the Brothers of Phi Delta Psi,
Dear Jerry Fecht and the Brothers of Phi Delta Psi,
It has been over 52 years since I was first introduced to our grand old fraternity, and like all of us who have attained “senior citizen” status, life looks much different from this end. I’ve often thought that life was like standing in line backward: we don’t know where we’re going, but we can see where we’ve been and we have a pretty good idea of the adventures awaiting those behind us. This gives us perspective in understanding our own lives and the lives of others. A part of this perspective is provided by the view of how our lives have unfolded, the choices we’ve made or not made, and the outcomes we’ve experienced. While this reflection may begin as a kind of melancholy, it soon develops its potential to be transformed into wisdom. And so, at this juncture, I look back on my life and want to share it freely with any who are interested, and to interpret the happenings, and what they
Let me begin by making a statement as to what our fraternity meant to me at the time, and how it has stayed with me through life, providing guidance when taking on new manifestations of old and well known themes.
I was never a particularly great student, but I was okay. I did okay in junior high school, but once I started Birmingham High, I fell on my academic face the first semester, but managed to regroup, pull myself up, and build some measure of success. The same pattern repeated in college. I first began at what was then called San Fernando Valley State College in the fall of 1960, the very first year it opened. After a terrible first year, I faltered and cast around without direction, as to what I might do. Like all of our parents, mine had lived through the depression of the ‘30s and had vivid memories, and equally vivid stories. Their one piece of advice to me was to go to college. There was no direction as to how I might use my education, but just to get it. Looking back on it and I wish I might have found a mentor who might have helped me to find this direction. But that was not to be.
In the fall of 1961, I began Pierce College with no real plan or direction but still with my parents’ words ringing in my ear. What I didn’t realize at the time is that I wasn’t going to school for me, but for them. Had I been able to take ownership in my own education, I might have looked ahead, and thought about what I might wish to do with it. This was a setup to fail or flounder yet it worked out well, and from the perspective of these 50 plus years later, college remains one of the most important experiences of my life. There was the academic education that at the time I thought was to sum total of the experience, but today I see how important the social education was, both from the standpoint of social functions, but equally important were the experiences of with dealing with people who were not exactly like me, and whom held different life perspectives.
As a class was getting out one morning soon after I started at Pierce, I per chance ran into an old junior high school acquaintance, Leonard Sangiacomo. I think I still wore the body language of someone who was not making the transition into adulthood, so I really noticed at how Leonard looked me straight in the eye as a confident adult who was welcoming me with acceptance and an honest offer of friendship in whatever form that might take. We chatted for a moment, and then he invited me to an introductory fraternity function. This was held one evening in some public hall where I recall that Don Taggart was the principal speaker, and all the young men I met there were as welcoming and friendly as Leonard. Quite frankly, this was the most I had ever been welcomed into life up to that time, and the impression it made on me was almost beyond communication with words. This introduction was soon followed by invitations to two rush parties, which finally led to being invited to pledge.
Tom Shanley was Pledge Master and while he was a “pain-in-the-ass”, I never doubted his care and concern. As with all pledges we were given abundant encouragement and opportunities to drop out, but as a credit to Tom’s
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leadership, guidance, and his infectious joy in life, as well as the bonds that were forming with the young men of my pledge class, I stuck with it like I had never stuck to anything in my life. Whatever it was that Phi Delta Psi had, I wanted. A college education beyond academics was beginning to take hold.
Some of the things that made a big impact on me, were the policies governing self limitation adopted by the fraternity and the voluntary way that the brothers ascribed to and supported them. These included the policies banning personal servitude, physical harassment, public embarrassment, the drinking of hard liquor in the house, sexual activities in the house, and that in order to be active, we had to have a 2.5 gpa as opposed to the minimal 2.0 of every other fraternal organization. To me, this spoke volumes of maturity and the ability to self-limit behavior, which I correctly intuited would support my transition into adulthood and the kind of person I wanted to be. Again, this was a non-academic component of my education.
As a result of my pledging, I found the road to adulthood almost overnight, not because I acted and imitated adult behavior, but because I knew I must internalize it, and make it my own. This left me free to embark on my maturity while not losing sight of the fact that life was supposed to be fun. Another result that has had a huge impact on the unfolding of my life, was that from that moment on, I became a successful student, and pursued college and education for me, instead of for others.
The fraternity per se, is only a label applied to a collection of brothers, their values, and their behaviors. So it is to these brothers that I own a huge debt of acknowledgement and gratitude, for what was given to me in those years. This thanks can be repaid to those who gave it to me directly, only by words, and these are those words.
Indirectly though, it can be repaid to others who have come later and have had no connection with Phi Delta Psi by name, but through me they can be influenced by it’s essence, in the way I choose to live my life. This is the principle of pay it forward, and should serve as an example of how the organization that was given to us, and protected and nourished by us, is still alive and still issuing influence all these years later. It is a legacy to be proud of.
So, after all these years, we reconnect. Let me now bring those who are interested up to date with what has happened in my life since I last saw you. I should perhaps begin with an outline, and then just share a few stories rom here and there, and some perspectives gained. Like the lives of most people, mine seems to be loosely organized into “chapters” when viewed back over the years.
Life Chapters and
1960 San Fernando Valley Graduation from
Birmingham High School
Fall 1961 San Fernando Valley Pledged our fraternity
1961-1963 San Fernando Valley Piece College and an active
member of Phi Delta Psi
1963-1966 San Jose, California San Jose State College:
undergraduate in wildlife management
I was part of a group of us who went up to SJS (San Jose State University) . That first year, I lived with Bob Marko and Dave Cox, and was neighbors with Don Collins, Kit Slayter, and one other brother. Tom Shanley was there, but didn’t live with us. I graduated with a B.A. degree in 1966.
Interior Alaska I spent the whole summer in the wilderness of central and eastern Alaska.
Going to Alaska had been my dream since I was a small child. I was primarily interested in the lifestyles of the natives and the non-natives who lived in the remote regions of the “bush”.
1966-1968 San Jose, California San Jose State University:
graduate student in biology
I graduated in 1968 with an M.A. in Biological Science.
1968 San Jose, California Married Kathy Dawson I met Kathy while in my last year at SJSU.
1968-1969 Washington, DC US Army: Washington, DC I was assigned as a research technician in experimental surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Steve and Kathy in 2013
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Life Chapters and Milestones Remarks
1969-1971 Japan US Army: 249th General
While in Japan, I attached to the 249th, but still reported to WRAMC. I primarily worked on a project to develop a rapid assessment of the nature and extent of infection in wounds.
Japan Birth of my daughter and only child, Wendy
1971-1973 San Jose, California: Taught high school biology at Campbell High School in the San Jose area. I was successful at this and loved the job, but when the opportunity arose to go to Alaska, I took it. The influence of the hippy movement of the ‘60s left me largely untouched, until that time when I proudly began to think of myself as a part of the counterculture, movement.
1973-1976 Sheenjek River,
Alaska and Wild Lake, Alaska
We began a ten year period of living a subsistence lifestyle. Alaska was the only place in the country where aboriginal people still lived a modern version of the old hunting and gathering culture. We adhered to that lifestyle as much as was practically possible, and lived by hunting, trapping, freighting with dog teams, and a little gold mining.
1976-1983 Timber Creek
Canoe on Timber Creek
Brooks Range Summer
Continued the subsistence lifestyle
We moved from Wild Lake down to Timber Creek and built a cabin, cache, and dog yard. It is difficult to express what these years entailed and what the experience did to us. Suffice it to say, that I experienced life in a way that was simpler and more fundamental satisfying than at any other time.
1978 New Minto, Alaska Plane wreck We blew an engine on a Cessna-206 while in route from the village of Bettles to Nenana, and crashed in the trees outside of the village of New Minto.
1983 Timber Creek, Alaska Kathy and I decided to separate. We were eventually divorced, but have remained friends to this day.
1983-1986 Corvallis, Oregon Oregon State University:
graduate student in horticulture
The plan was to work toward a Ph.D. in vegetable crops horticulture, but I could never develop the level of interest and commitment needed. In retrospect I should have stayed with zoology and evolutionary biology, which were always my first academic loves. The experience did make a nice transition back into the main US culture.
1986-1993 Bonners Ferry, Idaho Working as a counselor at a
private school for the kind of kids that are today referred to as “at risk” As a counselor, I managed the internalization of emotional growth (as opposed to behavior modification), and helped kids
develop functional coping skills. This was not my favorite thing in life, but I was good at it, and learned a lot. I also was the assistant manager of a farm connected with the school, and taught
1988 Bonners Ferry, Idaho Purchased a small 35 acre farm in Idaho
This was the first place I had ever owned. It was and still is lovely land, divided between a hay field, pasture, and forestland, with a stunning view of the mountains.
1993-2012 Summers at Timber Creek, Alaska and winters in Bonners Ferry, Idaho
Living in two worlds In 1993, I returned to the cabin at Timber Creek for the first time in 10 years, and spent the summer. Little did I know at the time, that I would spend every summer there for the next 19 years. Winters were spent on my farm in Idaho. 1999-2013 Timber Creek, Alaska For 14 years, I taught a summer anthropology class on subsistence living through North Idaho College.
2001 Nashville, Indiana I married a second time, to a woman, Regina, that I met at the school in Idaho.
2002 Fairbanks, Alaska A granddaughter, Kirian was born to my daughter.
Camp on Kirian Creek
2004-2006 South central Kentucky
Nursing school Regina who was already a college graduate, went to nursing school, and we lived in her father’s cabin in south central Kentucky, surrounded by the beautiful green, and rich organic variety of the eastern deciduous forest.
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Life Chapters and Milestones Remarks
Steve and Regina
2010 Fairbanks, Alaska Moved back to Alaska We sold the house and five acres of the land in Idaho but retained 30 acres, and returned to Alaska to be nearer the cabin, my daughter, granddaughter, and friends from the old days in the bush.
2012 Fairbanks, Alaska Regina and I separated after 11 years.
Steve Alleman, Regina and Judy
2012-2013 Timber Creek, Alaska Wintered alone back at the old homestead for the first time in 30 years In many ways, it was like I had never left.
Steve with Spruce Hens at Timber Creek
2014 Bonners Ferry, Idaho Return to Idaho As I write this, I’m still in Alaska but am making plans to return to the States in two weeks. My plan is to build a cabin on the land in Idaho and finish out my days by spending summers in the Lower 48 and winters up here.
Well that is a bit more than I originally intended to write. As I look back on my life, there were some choices that worked out as planned and some that didn’t, but really none of them has been a regret. I have learned and gained from the whole of it. Now I would like to share a few thoughts on different things that happened over the years and what they have meant to me.
Cabin at Timber Creek
Roads Not Taken:
As I have said, I have no real regrets, but that isn’t the same thing as saying that if I had it to do over, I wouldn’t make any changes. The primary thing that comes to mind is flying. I have been interested in airplanes since I was a small child near the end of WWII when I witnessed big formations of fighters from the era, flying over our house. Later that interest expanded to include small planes, and at one time I prided myself on knowing most of them. In 1961 the spring before I pledged, I took some flying lessons at Van Nuys Airport, and got right up to the edge of soloing. After that I became distracted by the fraternity and the social life of a young man. I don’t say this with any judgment, but only that my focus was broken. I never went back to it. Later, when I was in the Army, they came around one day and asked for volunteers to go to helicopter pilot school. I said “no” along with everyone else in my BCT company. If I had it to do again, I would have said “yes”. As the rest of my life unfolded, especially during the years in Alaska, I had many more opportunities to learn and to go into aviation. I took none of them, and this is in spite of the fact that I have been around small airplanes most of my adult life, and have had many hundreds of hours in them, mostly in Alaska. This is as much of a regret as I have.
Another endeavor that I didn’t fully pursue was that of a college professor. For that I would have needed a doctorate and at one time that was high on my list of things to do. It might have happened had I remained with zoology instead of switching to horticulture when at OSU. This however is a minor road not taken, and if it had been, I wouldn’t have been able to do other things. Life is always a series of tradeoffs. I have, had the opportunity to teach a number of college classes, but always as an adjunct, and now at 71 this is barely on my radar screen.
In 1968 I married Kathy Dawson and we dissolved that marriage in 1983 for reasons that had less to do with incompatibility then they did with the appearance of incompatibility. It was really a momentary failing of commitment on both our parts, which we acted on. It has turned out well for both of us, but that isn’t the same thing as saying we made the right choice. We made a choice, and have both done very well with it. The good part is
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that we have remained friends all these years, and are still connected by our shared years in the bush and a daughter. I should add here that moving to the bush in 1973 was the riskiest thing I have ever done. I gave up a plum of a school teaching job that I was never going to get again, and ran off in search of a dream that I knew nothing about, and a place that was as remote as any on the planet. Kathy supported me, but became very afraid as the time approached to leave. In the end, she pushed through that fear and supported me in spite of it. That selfless and courageous act remains to this day, the best gift anyone has ever given me, and for both of us it worked out beyond our ability to anticipate. I will always be in her debt for this support.
One last road not taken, came in 2008 when my second wife Regina and I were going to sell the land in Idaho and buy a 240 acre ranch between Republic and Tonasket in north central Washington. This time it was the economic slump and housing market crash that prevented us from selling out in Bonners Ferry without losing a tremendous amount of value. Such are the vagaries of life.
More on the Subsistence Years in Alaska
This is an experience that is next to impossible to describe to someone who has not experienced it, to say nothing of most of you who live far away in a much different land. I can tell stories until the cows come home about things that might seem like fantasy to some folks, and on occasion, particularly if my storytelling has been well lubricated with a little alcohol, it can be a lot of fun. More often though, telling stories from those years, feels more like I’m an imposter holding court. When I’m at the cabin and a dog team pulls in for the night, or a group of bush pilots are sitting around the stove, or here in Fairbanks when I get together with people I knew in those years and have experienced what I have, then the experiences and stories comes alive. I believe the thing most of us seek from life is to live in a way we consider to be authentic, and to be known by others. Each of us individually is the only one who can judge the truth of how we meet this in our own lives. When we feel it down to our core, it is a feeling like no other.
Before 1900, the Nunamiut, which is an inland band of Inupiaq Eskimo, lived a life of full subsistence in the Brooks Range of northern Alaska. They were mostly caribou people but they also depended heavily on sheep, and somewhat fish. There was no modern anything, yet they prospered in land that sees eight months of snow and ice, and temperatures in the period of hard winter that can go to more than 70° below zero. They had no villages, no rifles, no steel tools, no matches, and were nomadic, living out of caribou skin tents, and for most of
the year were spread out across the land as family groups. They didn’t just survive; they prospered. In my experience up here, I have been fortunate enough to have known some of the older of the Nunamiut who were been born in a time before contact with our invading modern culture.
What we lived was a modern version of this, or what I call modern subsistence which in no way can be compared with the full, historical experience in the demands it makes, and the skills it takes to live from the land under these conditions. During the years I lived there, the old Nunamiut were the ones who remembered starvation.
We always had enough, though anyone living that way is always out of something, and you adjust your life to accept seasonal availability. I can say that we lived from the land, but I can’t say we lived off the land. The distinction here is degree of dependence.
We had rifles, steel knives, matches, axes, flour, rice, coffee, books, and many ordinary offerings of
modern life, but we had no electricity, no roads, no machines, and no communication short of letter mail carried by dog team in the winter. The experience was a lot like what might have been expected in the 1920s or ‘30s.
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Our nearest neighbors were 20 miles away at Timber Creek, and 50 miles away on the Sheenjek. Self-sufficiency under these conditions is more than a skill; it’s a mindset and a way of life. The economic equation is how do you affect the best possible solution to any problem, with the time and materials you have to work with, when the alternative can be as severe as death. It does require some skill, but mostly it requires confidence and optimism. By equating this to the presence of death, I don’t mean to make it sound overly dramatic, but only to emphasize that there is no safety net, and that survival, to say nothing of prospering always flows from your own wits. Let me add here that some of you have probably seen the reality TV shows that feature people living in the bush. These are bullshit in their entirety seeking only to entertain with a cheap and ill thought out fantasy. Living by subsistence in the bush is more about a love affair and a relationship with the Land. And yes, I did mean to capitalize Land.
Steve Alleman at Cookie Rock - Up Suckik Creek
I don’t wish to get into the skill side of modern subsistence. What is most important here is how the experience affects you when you have reached a point where you can live comfortably without stress or needless fear. It is living close to the land, on the land’s own terms, being a part of the seasonal rhythms, and the humility that comes from knowing you are not the biggest animal roaming the place you call home. It comes from experiencing things we are sheltered from in town, like the presence of death from accidents, or the kind of hyper-awareness that comes over a person when you are constantly scanning the environment for sounds and sign, or reading your dogs for a heads-up to an unexpected problem. Again, this is not to dramatize, but to highlight the emotional connection to the land that is natural but that we so rarely feel in town.
The War in Vietnam
Like many of us I was in active military service during the war in Vietnam. I was in the US Army, an experience I am very grateful for because of the perspective I gained, but not one I would ever choose to repeat. I am often reluctant to talk about it because I didn’t serve in a combat zone, was never even in Vietnam, and was never at any physical risk. One of the limitations I place on myself, and that I have never really found my peace with, is that because I was never really at risk, what I might have to say has no value. This is silly, but it has been very difficult to let go of.
I was first drafted in September of 1967, but was able to delay it until the following summer because I was teaching some classes for San Jose State. The letter I received from my draft board along with this deferment, was that “come next July, we don’t care what you’re doing, you are being inducted into the United States Army”. And I was.
For those who served, you will relate when I say that Basic Combat Training was a bad dream, but it became less bad as I moved through it. Before induction, I was a supporter of the war, I guess because I had never given it much thought, but just followed the paradigm that was so common in American culture at the time. Our government said that we needed to fight in southeast Asia, our fathers had fought in WWII, so now here was a sense of duty to me as the responsible son. Also, the Army did it’s best to promote the war, and I just went along with it. But, there began a few experiences that slowly began to twist my assumptions and perception, though, I didn’t quite know what to do with them at the time. In BCT, these came mostly from stories personally delivered from our trainers, many of whom were draftees like us, and reluctant grunts recently returned from southeast Asia. The power of what they had to say was mostly in their tones, which tended to be a lot more sober and somber than the official Army line.
Since I had my college degree in biology, when I graduated from BCT, I was asked if I wanted to go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC to participate in a surgical research project. This was by all accounts, dream duty. When my first sergeant gave me my orders, he complained loudly, that “after 30 years in this
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man’s Army, I have never had duty like that!” I had nothing to compare it too, but still I knew on some level, that I had been dealt a break.
As I said above, there were a number of experiences that began to change my perception. I will ignore most of them. The most important and ones I can’t ignore are the feelings that would come over me as I worked around the hospital wards. If the hospital “clientele” had been older, and just looked sick, it might have seemed kind of normal, but when they are virtually all under 30, and instead of being sick, so many were seriously maimed, it gets your attention.
After WRAMC, I was sent to the 249th General Hospital in Japan. The experience was a lot like what I was coming from, but being closer to the source, the wounds were a lot fresher, dirtier, and more severe, and they were coming in by helicopter following transport by C-141, instead of the green buses with the big red cross. The whole experience had a strong resemblance to the M.A.S.H. TV series, but slowed down, with the zany episodes coming at maybe one a month but with accumulating sadness gushing as from a broken main. In some ways, these bouts with insanity are what kept you sane in a world that seemed out of control. I felt a lot like Captain Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, someone who wondered if he was insane because he wasn’t, but was surrounded by a world that was.
The end result of all this is that I came into the Army as someone who trusted his government and was a supporter of the war. During my time in service I had seen literally thousands of severely injured young men like me. Hundreds of them were amputees who had lost one limb, two limbs, three limbs, or in a few cases all four. Mercifully I never saw a quadruple amp that survived. I saw men who had lost their genitals, and their faces. I watched the life drain out of men who had bizarre tropical bacteria living in their blood, men who had fungus diseases that eventually consumed their entire bodies, and men who died in front of their mothers whom the Army, in it’s infinite wisdom, had flown over to Japan, thinking it might help. I watched men die just because staying alive was just too hard, and they gave up.
There was a power in the contrast of being in a very safe place with plenty of everything except home and freedom, and experiencing this parade of death and mutilation, that seemed to be without end, and at that point, even without beginning. It was just the way the world was. This was all 45 years ago. It was not an experience I sought or anticipated, but strangely it is one I’m grateful for, because of how it has changed me. I believe in the power of cooperation, understanding, respect, diplomacy, negotiation, sacrifice, and the sacredness of all peoples, and all things. I stop short of saying that I am a pacifist at all costs, but I am a committed pacifist nonetheless. I have not seen a war in my lifetime that I think was fully necessary, and many that were bogus from start to finish. They all seem to be instruments for furthering the power of some, who see the acquisition of that power as the only thing to feed and justify their existence. Some may disagree, but let him make his case without resort to tired clichés, simple proclamations, and untruths. I heard a line in a movie the other day that really resonated with me: “Nobody has ever won a war”.
Thoughts about Life:
When we were young, we quite commonly, if not naturally, thought we had the whole life game figured out—the arrogance of youth, which we would have vigorously denied back then, but the view from this end of life is quite different, as most of us have discovered. There is a tendency to reminisce, to think of the roads taken that unfolded into a beautiful trip, and the ones taken where the result wasn’t quite as predicted or even ended in a “train wreck”. We also wonder about the roads not taken. For many of these we wonder what might have happened if I had made that particular choice, and in some cases we might mutter something like “thank God I didn’t do that”. We also wonder about the role of courage. What if we had had the courage to follow certain
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pathways at the moment when we needed it. As these kinds of thoughts and feelings tumble around in our minds and we sift them for meaning, we eventually arrive at that elusive quality called wisdom. Wisdom is kind of like a kaleidoscopic shape-shifter when we attempt to view it as an absolute, but really it is an ability to contemplate, to search for meaning and direction by a kind of meditative process that depends heavily on intuition and experience. Not the kind of intuition that is akin to fortunetelling and magic, but an ability to explore our life experiences in ways that are not always the stuff of logic and deliberation.
When I look inward and think about my life, the choices I’ve made or not made, the things I think I’ve learned, and the contemplation of what am I to do with it all, certain things begin to emerge. This might better be discussed over brandy, but let me set a few things down anyway.
Happiness is often the most sought after quality in this life, but for many of us, particularly in our youth, we look for it in the wrong places. We look for it as a result of certain choices, or the acquisition of certain “things”, or the creation of certain circumstances. We often equate happiness with novelty, which for many of us is a drug of choice. Happiness resides in us at all times, and no matter the difficulty of the circumstance, and like all emotions, it is always an active choice we can make. It is never a result. I am happy because I choose to be happy. And that is the end of the story.
Steve and his grand daughter Kirian in 2011
We begin life reaching for some imagined dream, but so often, life seems to have other ideas, and the dream can seem like a constantly receding illusion. Whatever life deals us, the key to how we are going to respond is acceptance. When we are in pain, the natural tendency is to resist, and in that resistance, we give our power away to the pain, and it continues. When we can fully accept the pain, then the importance we have extended to it evaporates and we are free to change our focus to something that works better for us. In practice, this can be very difficult to achieve, particularly in the case of physical pain. It is much easier with emotional pain, and since emotional pain is much more abundant, it is a useful and productive place to practice.
In many ways dreaming about what we might want to do with our lives is the most important attribute of youth, but in practice it follows us all through life, even into very old age. As we age our dreams begin to have more focus to them and less of the pie-in-the-sky quality. The essential quality of a dream that so many of us miss, is that they are active choices. So many people wait around for their dreams to just happen, or begin discussions with “someday I’m going to...” This approach is akin to purchasing a lottery ticket, which almost by definition is a loser, and for the one in a million who do win the lottery, the prize means far less than when you have built it yourself. So when we dream, make a plan, put some energy into it, expect roadblocks, surmount them, and make your dream happen. One more thing: the outcome may not be exactly what you had expected, but so what? Accept the result and enjoy the ride.
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On Giving Advice:
We learn a lot of things as we age. As we accumulate this knowledge, and process it by constantly asking what it means for us, and what exactly we might be learning, this knowledge, like wine, gradually transforms into wisdom. Most of us have a lot more of it than we give ourselves credit for. We have around us people we love and care for, particularly children, spouses, relatives, and friends, but also often people far more removed to include strangers. There always seems to be a temptation to proffer advice or to proselytize our own position, but the reality is that this rarely works very well and more often than not, it results in conflict and resentment. It is far better to just live our lives the best way we can, and let the result of our choices serve as a model. If people like what they see, they will ask for the advice or thoughts or personal reflections.
On Being an Adult:
As I said above, I have worked with young people with dysfunctional coping skills. In an effort to guide them to behaviors that work, I have pondered on exactly what it means to be a functional adult. After years of contemplation, and occasionally realizing that I might be on to something, I developed this list of precepts.
As an adult…
1. I am independent and self-directed.
2. I am responsible for my own happiness. When I am unhappy, I seek ways to change my situation, and do not blame others.
3. I strive to be happy with any given situation. I know happiness is an active choice and not a passive result.
4. I am respectful of the boundaries of others and ask their permission when I wish to cross or crowd them.
5. I apologize and make restitution when my actions cause physical or emotional harm to others.
6. I do not ask permission of others except when it is respectful of a direct or tacit agreement with them.
7. I do what I want and I am accountable for what I do.
8. I do what I say I am going to do whenever possible. When I find I can’t, then I communicate and renegotiate.
9. I can ask for and accept help from others.
10. I am always empowered, and do not give that power away.
11. I don’t blame others for my feelings or misfortunes.
12. I don’t need to control other adults, or make their decisions for them.
13. I understand transference or projection. I accept that I when I am upset it is usually not for the reasons most obvious.
14. I can differentiate between getting what I need and “winning” when dealing with others.
15. I am only responsible for my own feelings and behavior, and never for those of others, even when they are caused by my actions.
16. I can delay my gratification when I choose to.
17. I can plan for the future by learning from the past, but I can only live in the present moment.
18. I accept that falling short of these precepts, suggests direction for growth, and not failure.
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Lastly, I believe that all of us seek something called spiritual perception and growth, but there is a lot of difficulty in knowing what exactly that means. Many of us will choose organized religions that offer easy explanations of some larger spiritual presence. Others will find spiritual experience in nature, or music or art. There isn’t any one place that I know of. Personally I have found it in nature, artwork, music, and the constructs of cosmology and quantum mechanics—any place where the perception of “reality” differs from that I have come to think of as common sense. The important result here is that I’m led into a state of wonder and awe.
The tendency is often to equate this kind of experience with a mystery, which for most of us is then turned into an inquiry, which then leads to a solution, and finally, the mystery is no longer a mystery but something we can explain and “own”. But what about the original wonder and awe? That is where the power was, and when we have an explanation, then we give that power away. I am not saying that I think there is something wrong with solving mysteries and finding explanations. I am saying that as with the wisdom inherent in children, that we should value the knowledge that comes from what which we do not know or understand.
With practice, we can discover questions that are truly penetrating and lead to growth only by their asking. We can seek answers, but hopefully those answers will lead to more penetrating questions. For me, the real power lies in the wrestling with the question. What happens to me when I ponder a mystery? Can I accept paradox? Does knowledge only flow from knowing? Can knowledge flow from perception alone?
This is not meant to be a great treatise, but only to share some of what has happened to me as I have moved through life. I wanted to tell you how I am, and not to answer such an important question with something as trite and meaningless as “fine”. So, let me say hello after all these years, and let me say thank you for the rich gift of your friendship and support of so many years ago, at a time was when I was so much in need of it.
Best wishes to all of you. Always,
Pledge Class of Fall 1961
Pledge Class of Fall 1961