I think my parents, particularly my mother, once thought that I was destined to live a dissolute life. After a certain age while attending public school, I became rather ambivalent about pursuing academic excellence. I was content to stay in my bedroom all day long reading and playing board games.
It drove my folks to utter distraction. They insisted I participate in sports, for which I had little talent or interest. As far as academics went, I rarely ever studied and got by with B’s.
I can even remember being called out of class by teachers and asked what accounted for my dogged indifference to school.
“All of us are talking about it after school and we just can’t understand why a reasonably intelligent kid from a good family is so disengaged,” I recall a couple of teachers relating to me.
Something – I really can’t say what – shook me out of my lethargy after high school graduation. It finally occurred to me that I had one shot at life – one attempt to earn a decent living and to give something back to a society that had treated me reasonably well.
I enrolled in my local state university and applied myself. I not only attended class but also took meticulous notes and read all the assigned reading. I began turning in lots of A’s.
I also got engaged in a number of extracurricular activities – notably the college debate team, which turned out to be one the most rewarding and enlightening experiences of my life.
My parents were a bit incredulous. Yet, I really came to enjoy school. And I developed a keen sense of appreciation for the handful of professors who discerned in me a modicum of talent and began offering encouragement.
I became so caught up in school that I stayed an extra year to earn a second B.A. and then enrolled at another state university to complete my master’s degree.
I ended up finishing a 29-year career as a communications professional at a another public research university reporting on research findings and writing things such as opinion columns for faculty and annual organizational reports for state legislators and other stakeholders. I retired early so that I could return to my real passion: deep reading, which I strive to supplement each day with several hours of disciplined writing.
I will never be rich or famous, but I am quite content and, most of all, I derive a great deal of satisfaction reflecting on how my own hard work and persistence got me to this point.
Not conventionally religious, I am a true believer in something that bestselling author and New York Times columnist David Brooks once observed: that the measure of a person’s life is how easily one in the final days or months of life can lie peacefully and contentedly in one’s sick bed and reflect back on one’s legacy.
That advice was seared into my consciousness and not a day passes without my reflecting on how important it is to make every day count – to prepare for the period of life when I will be confronted this reality.
Yet, I am also reminded of how far I have come – how fortunate I was to shake off the ambivalence and lethargy of my youth. And, yet, when I read accounts such as this about the socialist legacy, I am reminded of how little removed many people are from the dissolute inclinations of my youth.
I recall the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe as if it were yesterday. Moreover, I can still vividly recall the accounts of the gray, shabby drabness that characterized most lives in the former Soviet client states of Eastern Europe.
Yet, the most remarkable thing of all is that there are plenty of people in this country who would be perfectly content to live in such a social order, providing it involved less work but provided a measure of the material goods to which they are accustomed.
I know, because I have succumbed to the same temptation a time or two in my own life. This sort of mediocrity appeals to something deeply embedded in the human psyche. And that, I think, is why socialism possesses such resilience, despite all of its shortcomings and its appalling historical legacy.