Humbled by the H.U.?

This is True’s Honorary Unsubscribe has long been a reader favorite. Sometimes it’s hard to not compare yourself to them.

Doug in Ontario, Canada, who has been a Premium subscriber for a dozen years, writes: “I’ve found I enjoy reading the Honorary Unsubscribe. I find them humbling when the deceased has achieved so much. The question I ask myself is, ‘What have I done with my life?’ I’m almost 70, so my days are getting fewer, but I wish I’d considered that question as a younger man. Perhaps teachers would bring the HUs into their classrooms and encourage their students to make lasting achievements. A worthwhile goal, I think.”

Virginia Norwood at the Storm Detector Radar Set at the Army Signal Corps Laboratories in New Jersey in 1948. (NASA photo)

Yes, the best time to start was 50 years ago. The next best time is now. After all, 70 is the new 50 — on average our life expectancies are 20 years longer than when we were kids. Saying “Oh well” is giving up: you have plenty of time, especially since having a purpose improves lifespan. Plus, I’m guessing you’ve done some interesting things already. You’ve set your goal, so work toward it instead of playing games, watching TV, or wherever else you waste time. Making progress beats making none.

People in the Honorary Unsubscribe didn’t go from “stupid kid” to “great” overnight: all of them learned by trial and error, and trying again. They used mentors and books and research and collaboration to make things happen. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t reach your goal immediately. Pretty much, no one does.

Seth in Oregon

Seth offered a worthy reply too: “While there was certainly nothing wrong about your response to Doug, I don’t feel one needs to have newsworthy accomplishments to have a life well led. Thinking that is the bar one has to clear will lead to disappointment for the vast majority of people. I ask myself two questions: 1. Did you strive to make a positive impact on those around you? 2. Did you strive to always behave in an honorable fashion? If the answers are yes, then I would say mission accomplished.”

Indeed so. I’m sure some, maybe even most, did things they later decided were not up to their own bar of conduct, even “dishonorable” — we’re all human, after all — and then strove to conduct themselves in a way to make up for that. And perhaps that is what made them worthy of the honor they received later.

Rob in North Carolina

“I’m all for notable accomplishments, but I’d like to add to Seth-in-Oregon’s input: I’m good at what I do, and I like knowing that I add value to the lives of my family and friends and to the work of my employers. But the most important thing I could have added to the world is my children.

“I’m proud of my children, of their character, and of the children they in turn are raising. One of my several sons would put it more strongly: Couples who haven’t yet had children are barely human, he sometimes says, just taking up space. We are not denigrating those who can’t for various reasons, of course. But raising children is what creates adults, in many important ways.

“This argument is often trotted out in defense of women who choose to raise a family rather than rise to the top of corporate America. But it’s just as true about fathers.”

Indeed so. The bottom line: there is no one best answer: there are a lot of paths to making a positive mark on the world. It just takes a little thought.

For future input, please use the comments below, and thanks!

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7 Comments on “Humbled by the H.U.?

  1. Referring to the last commenter in your blog, I ventured twice into the marriage ring because I wanted to pass on my memes and genes. But my genetic inheritance blocked that way and the two I married blocked my growth (as perhaps I blocked theirs). What to do with roadblocks? There are various strategies; mine was to continue my higher ed and eventually head overseas where in 14 years I had thousands of undergrad students and some dozens of grad students, many still in communication, all of whom I’m glad to have taken along the path of critical analysis. Through those overseas years, Randy, as you know your Honorary Unsubscribes encouraged me. Life is a spiral of supporting.

    That’s a fantastic way to get around a roadblock! You planted thousands of seeds to make the world a better place. -rc

  2. I disagree with the comment from Rob in North Carolina, where he implies that people who choose to remain childless are “barely human”. There are many reasons why people may choose not to procreate despite being physically able to do so. Raising children isn’t cheap, so those unable to afford to feed, clothe, and educate offspring are opting not to force one or more children through a hardscrabble life. Raising children isn’t easy, and people who are self-aware enough to realize that they would not make good patents — perhaps having had lousy parents themselves — choose not to inflict another generation with abusive behavior. Raising children does strain the resources of an already overpopulated world, so some couples choose to not add to the burden of life in an increasingly depleted and changing world.

    To label childless couples as somehow being subhuman and “just taking up space” does not speak well of one’s own upbringing. Instead, it reveals a lack of empathy for others and a marked intolerance for differences that contribute to the deterioration of society and mistreatment of the environment. Raising children with such traits doesn’t reflect well on the ideology of parenthood.

    • I concur: Being a genetic farm is hardly idealistic. If you are unable to provide for the positive upbringing of your offspring, maybe you shouldn’t have offspring? I believe the goal should be to ‘raise your children to be better off than you.’

      Children are expensive: Monetarily and temporally (i.e. costs time (to teach and raise)), plus probably other debits as well. Depositing protoplasm sacks on the street does no one any good. I believe that is an ingredient to breaking the destructive poverty loop: being able to afford your choices.

  3. “Couples who haven’t yet had children are barely human”?! WTF?!

    Clearly some don’t believe the bottom line: that there is no one best answer.

    Yeah, that one seems to have missed the point. There are a LOT of different ways to contribute to making the world a better place. -rc

  4. One of these days, I’m going to finish writing an essay I started 10(?) years ago, called “Have you written your obituary yet?”

    The point of the essay is that if we decide at 15, 20, 30, etc what we want to see in our obituary, then we can work towards it.

    My epiphany came when I was 30-ish and had just left the military. I was unemployed, with no idea what I would do next with my life, and a college friend slightly younger had just been named “Woman of the Year” by her hometown. I did a lot of thinking that night, and worked out what counted as “success” for me, which took a lot of stress out of my life because I wasn’t chasing society’s definition.

    At 45-50, I realized that if I were going to have a tombstone (I’ll be cremated instead), I just wanted it to say “She lived love.” So from that point forward, my guiding light has been “am I living love?”

    More recently, I expanded that to the 3 things that I want to do with the rest of my life: live love, encourage others, and make a difference.

    That difference can be as simple as helping someone find their smile when they’ve lost it (think “HeroicStories” and “co-conspirator to make the world a better place” — side note: Randy, HeroicStories helped shape my life goals, and I still take shopping carts from the parking lot back into the store, almost 30 years after you published that story).

    Back to my original point: decide NOW what you want to be remembered for, and live to make it a reality.

    VERY wise words, Mary. If you’d like, when you finish your essay I will publish it here as a guest post. I particularly like the decision to reduce stress by not chasing society’s definition of success, especially since that sense isn’t exactly consistent. Last, “Co-conspirator to make the world a better place” was the HeroicStories unofficial motto, and I think still is: it’s still being published by a different publisher, who also publishes Not All News is Bad and my favorite, 7 Takeaways. -rc

  5. Denigrating those who chose not to procreate seems to be an elitist attitude. Yes, parenthood can teach very important lessons but only if the parent is open to expansive change, otherwise the parent is merely a sperm donor or womb. Acknowledging one’s abilities, limits, and desires is an important human trait.

    Being a parent and seeing my daughter develop into an adult and mother enjoying her chosen career enhances my self-image but I also respect those who, based on their own self-knowledge and comfort, decide they are unwilling or emotionally unable to become a parent.

    Deeming procreation to be the primary basis for existence (a) promotes the evils of eugenics and (b) leads to declaring those individuals incapable of reproducing to be worthless: a burden on society. This biological argument ignores the myriad factors that have formed humanity and the concomitant social contracts, cultural norms, and the historical, institutional and functional knowledge that compose the communities in which humans thrive.

  6. I’m with the responders to the question of worth associated with leaving children as out legacy to the world. We’re certainly not helping our world to keep adding to the population. A response I made to a Washington Post article recently, entirely heartfelt:

    There is NO good news in population increase — in India, China, or anywhere else in this world with a population of 7.888 billion (2021)! We, the human race, are the virus that is killing our beautiful planet, and we are doing far too little to stop the damage (let alone reverse it). If we fell back to a ‘mere’ 4B world population, we would still have the dangerous capacity to destroy any chance of planetary survival by the end of this century. We passed that mark less than 50 years ago — 4.07 billion (1975)! FWIW, George Brunner’s dystopian “Stand on Zanzibar” (1968) was so titled because he was captivated by the idea that the entire world’s population then could stand on that island nation at once.

    FWIW, current count as I write this: 8,035,341,558, and climbing so fast the final digits are a blur.

    I have little doubt the world will survive until the sun swallows it. The survival of the human race, however, is quite a bit more iffy, and sadly it’s our own damned fault. -rc


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