What Are We Sowing?

Originally published as The Sentinel newsletter by The Cause of Liberty

Our modern world is infatuated with the ends we have in our sight, the goals we want to accomplish, and the changes we want to see. Most people have the same needs and desires: liberty, happiness, security, prosperity, and peace. Why do we consistently find ourselves so far from where we want to be? The problem is two-fold: 1) we mistakenly believe that if we focus on the end we will attain it; and 2) we are using means that are inconsistent with those ends.

History is essentially the account of the means societies have chosen to achieve their ends. France of 1789 wanted “liberty, equality, fraternity.” Because they chose means inconsistent with those ends (“The Reign of Terror”) they reaped a dictatorship. The putative “means” (in the Treaty of Versailles) chosen by Great Britain and France to punish and weaken Germany after World War I accomplished the opposite. The terms of the treaty helped create the environment that allowed Adolf Hitler to rise to power.

The great modern philosopher, Jack Johnson, asks: “Where’d all the good people go?” and then answers his own question: “We’ve got heaps and heaps of what we sow.” There exists a natural law of the harvest: What we sow, that too shall we reap. Others may describe it as the law of cause and effect: we cannot act (the cause) in a certain manner without a specific consequence (the effect) naturally following that action. To believe otherwise is either naïve or insane.

For whatever reason, most of us attempt to defy these laws of the harvest or cause-and-effect. In my family I desire to raise freely obedient children who choose to do good for its inherent goodness; but I often resort to punishments, promises of rewards, or force in order to accomplish that goal. If I persist in these means, I will fail to achieve my end. Most desire to have a home filled with love, kindness, patience, and peace; but how often do we resort to yelling, arguing, blaming, sarcasm, belittling, verbal and sometimes physical abuse in what will be an impossible attempt to achieve our goal?

As a society, we have chosen to be ends-based and goal-oriented, asking ourselves the wrong question (what do we want to accomplish?) instead of asking ourselves the right question: How must I live my life in order to achieve the right ends? If we focus on means instead of ends, our planting will naturally bring us the desired harvest: true means will take us to true ends.

Consider foreign policy for a moment. What do the citizens of nations want? We want food and shelter for our families, peace, freedom, and protection of life. What are the means that will bring these into being? Protectionism, nationalism, war, exploitation, racism, ethnic cleansing, and imperialism? No!

Louis Fischer, in his wonderful short biography of Mohandas K. Gandhi writes: “Gandhi contended that to act while renouncing interest in the fruits of action is the best road to success”.

He who is ever brooding over result often loses nerve in the performance of duty. He becomes impatient and then gives vent to anger and begins to do unworthy things; he jumps from action to action, never remaining faithful to any. He who broods over results is like a man given to the objects of senses; he is ever-distracted, he says good-bye to all scruples, everything is right in his estimation and he therefore resorts to means fair and foul to attain his end.

Living life by the right means, on the other hand, assures us that we will enjoy the fruits of our true labor. This method is diametrically opposed to the pragmatism and expediency that rule the day in modernism; it takes time and a generational view of the world. We must approach it understanding that our means, be they right or wrong, will have consequences many generations into the future. If we choose to use foul means, we will reap foul fruit.

This is the law of the harvest. We cannot expect to reap peace if we sow war. We cannot expect to reap love when we sow hatred. Our means are the sowing and fruits are the ends. One cannot choose to sow corn and expect to grow wheat. Thus our means are the determining factor of the fruit. To act otherwise is illogical, unwise, and doomed to failure.

Consider from literature the means of the Bishop of Digne, the transient, yet omnipresent (because of his impact), initial character in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Jean Valjean, a released convict who had seeds of hatred and humiliation sown in his heart by the criminal “justice” system or penal system, arrives on the doorstep of the bishop, filled with bad intentions. Although not a bad man when initially imprisoned, Valjean responds to the means used to “reform” or punish him for stealing a loaf a bread to feed his sister’s children by becoming filled with contempt, rancor, distrust, and evil designs. These are the natural ends of the means society employs in its effort to achieve justice. The bishop had chosen a different path. He loved Valjean, responding to his query “You knew my name?” thus: “Yes. Your name is ‘my brother’”, with utmost kindness and forgiveness, giving Valjean his silver candlesticks after the convict had just stolen the other silver in the house. This act of kindness, trust, forgiveness, and love sows a seed of the same, which society eventually reaps, as Valjean becomes a wonderful, kind, giving, and patient man. The impact of the means used by the Bishop of Digne is widespread and powerful, changing the lives of many.

If liberty, prosperity, peace, and the pursuit of happiness are the ends we seek, we must daily, hourly, vigilantly check our means to assure that they are completely consistent with these ends. Look around you. See what means we are using in education, families, religion, business, government, communities, foreign policy, and media and decide if what we are planting will give us the desired harvest. Recognize that we are, in all facets of our lives, reaping in abundance what we have sown. We must sow differently.

4 Replies to “What Are We Sowing?”

  1. I fully agree with each of your premises, as I’m sure most “normal” individuals would.

    The difficulty is really in the implementation. Not that we don’t need the consistent and constant reminder. How do we become the person that can freely give as the Bishop of Digne did? There are those that say “just do it”, Nike and myself included. But that’s much easier said than done.

    I would love to be that type of man, but when the moment arrives, I don’t know that I can “cast off the natural man” and immediately forgive as the Bishop did.

    The one issue I have with a lot of the great philosophers is that they deal in concepts rather than implementation. I’m an action person. Tell me what I need to do to become that person (the daily steps) and I can work on that. The abstract concepts are often exactly that… too abstract for most people.

  2. I’m not sure what you are asking, Dan. Of course implementation is the hardest part and we don’t magically become the Bishop of Digne just because we wish to. All these things are incredibly difficult, but the point is that choosing the easy way will not fix the situation. Choosing the easy way just perpetuates the problems. Conservatives understand this when it comes to economics (at least they say they want to control spending when they’re not in charge), but not when it comes to the environment or education or fighting terrorism. Violence and force is a cop-out and only generates more of the same. We reap what we sow. If want to continue to reap the same stuff, let’s just say “it’s too hard” and continue on our merry way.

    I know you’re not saying that, it’s just that this stuff isn’t abstract at all. It is the only real thing there is. C.S. Lewis states: “He [Christ] never talked vague, idealistic gas. When He said, ‘Be perfect,’ He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder – in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

    We can call Christ an idealistic philosopher if we want, but it doesn’t change the fact that we have been given instructions and injunctions and only be working at them and seeking His grace daily will we accomplish those things. We’ve been told how to implement them: Love God, Love thy neighbor, Love thine enemy, Trust God (and not in the arm of the flesh), Don’t Judge, Forgive 70 time 7, “of you it is required to forgive all men”. We must constantly be putting forth our efforts to these things instead of what we spend most of our time doing.

    If we keep waiting for the perfect twelve-step program to get us to become perfect, we won’t get there. I’ll keep talking about the “abstract” (as you call it) because it is the only reality there is and these discussions are what help me become the change I want to see in the world.

  3. I guess what I’m saying is that if we just throw up our hands saying: “I can’t forgive like the Bishop of Digne”, then we’ve missed the whole point. He didn’t magically get there. He learned to be that forgiving over a lifetime of trying to love the un-lovable. He worked hard at it because he understood it was the only way to get where he wanted to be. It must be the same for us. As Eliza Snow stated: “It requires a constant labor all His precepts to obey. If I truly love my neighbor I am in the narrow way.” It’s not easy and many won’t follow that “narrow” path, but we are instructed to do so.

  4. I understand what you are saying and perhaps I am just hoping for that “perfect 12-step program.” I suppose it’s just the frustration of not being even close to what kind of person I need/want to be.

    I’ll admit it, I’m looking for an easier solution. Sometimes I get frustrated with all the ideology that seems so out of reach.

    I suppose that’s why I need to continue to tell myself that it’s the journey that gets me to the end. But I so want to just jump right to the end.

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