What Does Matter
(*This piece is from next year’s book, Voices of Reason From the End of the World. It is the lead chapter in a section that pays respect to great teachers and influences. It is dedicated to George Carlin. We’re lucky in America. There have been and still are many comedians that infuse heavy doses of wisdom into their humor, but “Uncle George” was always at the top of that mountain. I, and so may others, give thanks for the fact that he was on Earth—and for the little bits of his brilliance that rubbed off on us.)
Thank you, Mr. Carlin. You brought us laughter, truth, integrity, courage, and conscience—and you did each of them better than most folks do any one of them.
Just so there are no misunderstandings, I would like to officially state something right here at the beginning of this section. Almost none of the people (there are a few exceptions) who are complimented here as teachers and influences actually know, or ever knew me. I’m not trying to make believe that I am in some kind of buddies club with every genius on Earth, or that I have personally met and had social what-to-do with any of these people. I go to lectures, classes, concerts, get the books, and watch them on the computer, HBO specials, or PBS—just like nearly everyone else who has been smart enough to seek them out or lucky enough to stumble across their information.
I have an active imagination. Even video contact can affect me strongly at times, but that’s where the “relationship” ends.
What is the big deal with this meeting-a-famous-person shit, anyway? A few people have become a lot more known than the rest of us. Sometimes this happens because we admire a person’s genius, talent, or merit. Just as often, it happens through no actual accomplishment on the part of the famous person! It often happens because shill marketing and media conglomerates with paper assholes are selling the public an image, and an artificial relationship to it. These media and marketing folks work for corporate pimps that collect big bucks from this artificially manufactured hero-worship. This hero-worship results in bizarre purchasing habits on the part of consumers who have been hypnotized into believing that their imagined connection with the “hero” is concrete, meaningful, and has some connection to the product for sale.
Being famous is no big fucking deal. It is even less of a big deal if your major accomplishment is that you’ve met one of these celebrity heroes, whether they are of the real or artificially manufactured variety. Celebrity itself is often bullshit. Celebrity by association is even more so. There’s no end to the respect I have for the people who are mentioned in this chapter, but I wouldn’t brag about meeting or knowing them personally (if I’d ever done so). Meeting someone means less than a rat’s ass.
Brag about meeting, say, Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama? I don’t think so! I’d brag if I spoke and acted as nobly as Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama!
No, on second thought, I guess I wouldn’t.
Regardless, meeting or knowing someone else doesn’t make you, yourself, an improved or more admirable individual. That happens when you are actually being, doing, or somehow taking part in something admirable.
I feel so strongly about this that the following true story is one of my all time favorite moments in life.
It was a beautiful autumn day in the mid-1980s at Hugo’s bar in scenic Northampton, Massachusetts. After an all day effort to deplete the world’s beer supply, a sudden flash of inspiration came to me. Over the course of the following several months that inspiration developed into a successful statewide charity project. It got a lot of attention and publicity from the press because it involved high-level politicians, famous musicians, major league sports teams, unions, volunteers who didn’t get paid at all, and a hot button issue. Above all, the project went well because none of the money passed through our volunteer group but instead went directly from contributors to very well established and reputable charities. There was no possible question-of-trust factor. (More details are available in the About the Author section or at http://www.fearlesspuppy.org, if you are interested.)
Several months after the project I was back at Hugo’s, again doing my part to help society drain free of its alcohol content. I made this effort many times during the 1980s. A guy (decent sort) who infrequently frequented our watering hole came through the back door. He was known and well liked by one of the regulars at our table. We invited him to join us. Decent-sort-Mike was then introduced to several people who were famous for not being able to remember names.
Mike downed half a beer and suddenly turned wide-eyed. He stared at me for a few very long seconds. It was the kind of stare that made me wonder if he was on some powerful drug and I was showing up as a freshly tapped keg in his hallucination.
That wasn’t it. The mad stare was his sudden recognition of a person whom he knew had experienced the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame.
“You’re that guy from the newspapers. You’re great!” said decent-sort-Mike.
I had to reply, “Don’t be fucking ridiculous. I’m a drunk from Hugo’s, just like you are.”
The light went on in Mike’s more than slightly bloodshot eyes. It was that deeper kind of understanding that rarely happens, even between people who know each other very well. He got it.
A big slow “Wooooow!” came out of his mouth.
Mike suddenly realized that he could have done that charity project, and would have received the same attention from the media if he had. Instant insight told him that anyone could have done it. It was all just about getting up and doing it. I did kick my own drunken ass into the process but that didn’t make me any more of a superman than him. The only difference between us was that I put that situation’s potential to actual use. We bought each other beers and talked for hours after that with no further misunderstandings.
All of us humans have the same potential to be incredible.
Who you’ve met or know doesn’t matter.
Who you choose to be
and what you choose to do with your life
is what does matter.
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