Monday, February 27, 2012

Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da

How does your history shape your views?

I generally do not spend a lot of time talking about myself, I prefer the Don Draper approach.  And while I will admit a lot of my "finely tuned" policy comes from reading books and cruising the Internet, my most deep seeded beliefs come from my experiences of the last 35 years.  Yes, my history is a huge factor in my future choices, and I'm sure that most of you are the same way.  Therefore, I think sharing a tiny bit about some of those experiences can give some good insights into why I have come to believe so passionately in the power and strength of the individual over the warm embrace of big government dependence. 

I grew up in a typical family.  My dad was an accountant and my mom a retired kindergarten teacher and homemaker, a regular slice of American pie.  We had pizza night on Saturdays and I lived for my older brother's high school football games.  That all changed when I was eight years old, my dad died.  The situation was immediate and ominous.  How was my mom going to make a living and care for four boys at the same time?  How was she going to get out of bed with a tidal wave of reality waiting to crash down on her? 

My dad left us with a life insurance policy, a paid off house, some rental income and investments.  While we were no where near easy street, he did leave us with a solid fighting chance.  My mom, kicked to the dirt, was left with two options.  Pick herself up, dust herself off and move forward, or checkout and hope someone else would step in and care for us.  The funny thing is I don't think that my mom ever considered giving up as an option, its just not in her DNA.  So, my mom found a job, worked all day everyday, and found a way to provide for us.

So, what is the lesson?  Its quite simple.  You take care of your obligations.  Period.  My father made sure he left us without the noose of debt hanging around our necks as he understood the importance of financial security, and my mom showed me that no matter the circumstances, you find a way to support those who depend on you.  If I am ever able to say I provided the same level of care for my kids as my parents did for me, I will have been a great father.

So how did we turn out?  My brothers are all successful on any scale, and this is no small tribute to the traits I admire in each of them.  I have one brother who succeeds through sheer drive and force of will, another through entrepreneurial spirit and risk taking, and a third through an overwhelming combination of intelligence and personality.  They have different means to a similar end, which is their ability to provide for themselves and their families through their own choices.  Me?  I am the the perfect amalgam of all of them.  Not really, but I am doing just fine.

Now before we finish singing the praises of the human spirit over adversity, I should note that we are not exactly what you would consider a well adjusted family.  In some ways, we are all bat-shit crazy and have made plenty of wrong turns.  Holiday reunions and family weddings are both joyous and highly volatile affairs.  But I do think that even with the emotional scars we all carry, it is probably a tribute to my mom's example of perseverance that we could overcome these things and end up good providers and productive members of society. 

I was born and raised in a small town in Appalachia.  God Bless the "Burg." This is a town so small that I was a football team captain, valedictorian, and lead in the class play without exceeding size, speed, or intelligence while certainly lacking any artistic ability.  I mention this mostly to brag about my glory days, but also to illustrate that I was in a town where everyone participated in everything, because there wasn't a whole lot else going on, and thus everyone knew everyone else.

The point is there was little ability to totally homogenize your interactions.  I live in a neighborhood now where everyone is a professional and most work for some huge corporation or have their own small business.  Where I grew up, my friends parents were dentists, mechanics, teachers, laborers, small business owners, union members, etc.  You knew everyone and they were from all walks.  When a business closed, you knew who was affected. And in rural southern Ohio, businesses were always closing, rarely opening or growing.

I got to observe first hand the affects of economic decline on people, where over the last 80 years dying industry is slowly giving way to reliance on service and government funded jobs.  The results of which have been crippling as the area increasingly deals with high unemployment, rampant drug use, and abject poverty.  My home is testament to what happens when industry is replaced with government, and why people, families, and communities are better off when private industry is coveted and cultivated.

My college days were pretty typical, but one of my classmates and best friends had a big effect on my outlook.  He was a fellow electrical engineering nerd and we took virtually all of our classes together.  What I noticed about him as he aced class after class (blowing curve after curve), was that he consistently drove to find solutions, didn't search for easy angles, never looked for any special treatment or favoritism from professors, and always put in the work to succeed.  Ultimately, he got a masters degree and went on to design communication systems for a defense contractor.  I will always admire his self-reliance and motivation to succeed.  Oh yeah, he's deaf.    

The bottom line is that my views of self-reliance, meeting your obligations, and the force of private enterprise are laced throughout my experiences, and help me greatly when deliberating about how I would like to see my family, community, and nation proceed.  I have seen people put in extraordinarily difficult circumstances and find ways to survive and thrive through their own determination, as I am sure all of you have as well.

I encourage you to reflect on your past when trying to chart the course for your future.  These experiences have shaped you whether you realize it or not, understanding the lessons of these experiences will give you a lot of clarity.  In a political season where 90% of what you hear is total BS, its good to know your ideals and understand their origins.


K. Mertes said...


Howie said...

Always enjoy your blog posts. My retorting question: does such personal experience also provide a derogatory lens at times when charting the future? Personally, I could answer "yes" and "no" simultaneously, but I believe both sides of the phenomenon exist.

Andrew Blankenship said...

Very True Howie. You can certainly shape your views with experiences that guide you on what NOT to do. However, I believe the more powerful lessons are where you are able to get behind a course of action, not just down vote the ones you have seen fail.

Brian Scott said...

Great post Andy. I am always interested how the environment shapes your outlook. What do you think about the nature vs. nurture argument? I.e. that some people are just predisposed to believe a certain value set, regardless of upbringing?

Andrew Blankenship said...

Hey Brian, I have not given much study to which one (nature or nurture) is the dominant force. I do believe that both are powerful influences. However, I guess my view is that we have very little influence over the nature piece of the equation. So, I think the focus on the environmental piece becomes that much more important.

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