Siege Diaries 4/12/2021


Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt:  What’s the truth about so-called “honors” and “riches”?

While I was at Ohio State, I was inducted into two honour societies (as opposed to the one I joined specifically for history, which was an active group open to anyone, sponsoring conferences and the like.). One of them was the famed Phi Beta Kappa, which has been around since 1776.   It cost me nothing.  The only thing I had to pay for was regalia (a pin or charm) if I wanted one.   University faculty clearly were involved in the nomination process and the ceremony, which took place just a couple of days before graduation.  Since that time, I’ve continued to receive the group’s newsletters, notification of speakers and sponsored scholars, and advocacy for the liberal arts–all without ever paying a penny.  (If I wanted to subscribe to their magazine or journal, that would be an additional charge).  If you live in the US, chances are you know what Phi Beta Kappa is and that is the highest honour an undergrad in liberal arts can attain.

The other I will not name, but it was clear that they had a different model.  There was a fee for induction (and a fairly significant one at that, especially for 30 years ago).  The ceremony was kind of a cattle call.  I never heard anything from them afterwards, and I certainly never used them on my resume (not after I was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, at least).  This was clearly an honour designed mostly for show.  I Googled them to see if they were still around, and they are, but not at Ohio State.  They now are focused on scholarships and networking opportunities–less a true honorary, and more a means to an end.

So:  Phi Beta Kappa:  Cost me nothing, still proud of it to this day.  (I mean, I’m in a group all these people were/are part of!)  Was based on my actual achievements.  The other one?  Wasn’t.   Honours are great if they actually recognize something that you’ve achieved, and don’t come with unexpected (usually monetary) obligations.   And even when they recognize something significant, they’re not an end-all.  I moved to Canada. Phi Beta Kappa means almost nothing here;  in fact, it’s been mistaken for a fraternity or sorority.  And any honour gets old quickly when it’s paraded around like a tiara.   There’s also this:  That was thirty years ago. That was a particular achievement for a particular point in time.  It has nothing much to do with the longer-term arc of my life.  Take it away, and I would still be who I am.  And that applies for just about every honour–that is, a thing bestowed on me that’s been out of my direct control (such as my SCA awards, or contests I have won)–what matters is the underlying effort and what it taught me, not so much the actual honour itself.  That is not to say that these honours are meaningless–quite the contrary, in fact–but they just need to be put into context.  They are a nice validation of one’s work, but they aren’t the thing themselves.

Riches, on the other hand:  That’s just money.  Having money is not an honour or an achievement. It is not a value judgement (or at least, it shouldn’t be).  It’s not something to be proud of.  Sure, if you earned that money, be proud of what you did to earn it, but the fact that you have it and someone else doesn’t says nothing about which of you are “better” in any sense of the word.  I think this was one of the greatest indirect teachings of my parents.  They had started their lives in poverty (my father even more than my mother), being children during the great Depression.  They knew what it was to be worried about where the money was coming from.  But that meant they came of age during the post-war boom and seized on the opportunities that came out of the organizational skills he had learned in the military, along with a resourcefulness that came from growing up in poverty.  And though my father built a very successful business alongside his brother, and eventually moved to an affluent suburb, that was a means to an end (schooling for me) rather than an attempt to impress.  My parents could have afforded a bigger house, more expensive cars, a country club membership.  They chose none of these things.  They paid cash for everything–even houses–throughout their entire life.  They didn’t have credit cards until into the 1980s.  There was never an attempt to have things to demonstrate wealth, or to use wealth as a way to feel better than someone else. I never knew how much money my dad made a year.  That was not an achievement.  The achievement was the business he helped build and the people it employed, along with ensuring his family was taken care of (and I’m not just talking about my mother and me).

I have started cutting out the pieces for the vest the cat embroideries will go onto. In fact, I got as far as getting the two front pieces on each side sewn together so that I can mount the pieces before assembling the vest–which is not going to take a long time to put together.  But then I hit a glitch–I seem to be short on Heat n’ Bond, which I use to stick down the embroidery (and secure the stitching before hand sewing around the borders.  Bad news:  Can’t just run out to Fabricland.  Good news:  Amazon has it, and it will be here on Wednesday.  That does mean tomorrow I’ll start on part one of my Shostakovich diptych–I got it sketched out on the fabric tonight and mounted up in the frame.

Not a bad day today.  Ran another iteration of my “speaking on your feet” workshop/webinar for ACCES again, listened to a Reddit friend’s symphony (played electronically) with running commentary from him, and it looks like our fridge strategy has paid off–after defrosting, it seems to be happily refrigerating again.

And it’s good to have good news, because once again our provincial government is having to scramble.  They’re finally closing schools.  With the daily case count over 4000 today, it’s clear they’re in panic mode, and once again everyone is wondering why they willfully refused to see this coming.