Corey and Lori's Quest Log

Corey and Lori’s Quest Log

Archive for the ‘Holiday’ Category

A Life Worth Living

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

You are a condemned criminal, convicted of heresy and treason. The judge offers you three choices:
1. You may be exiled, never to return to your home or work.
2. You may recant your teachings and promise to promote the state philosophy.
3. Or you may die.

Two great thinkers were faced with that choice. Each chose differently. How would you choose?

The Socratic Method

IntegrityMost of what we know about Socrates comes from the writings of Plato, since Socrates did not record his own teachings. However, he was a famous philosopher in his own time and lectured at a school in Athens. Socrates felt that we lived in a world of absolutes, and that there were definite standards of Right and Wrong to which everyone should adhere.

Unfortunately, it seems that the authorities had some differences with his theories and manner of teaching. They accused Socrates of “corrupting the young” and of questioning the State religion. He was brought to trial and given the three choices above. Socrates was a proud man and said that he could not take back one word of what he taught because he spoke only absolute Truth. He also refused to leave Athens, because his school was there, and because he would be turning his back on what was Right by leaving.

It was during this trial that Socrates uttered his famous words, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He told the jurors that all assumptions must be questioned and constantly rechecked. If he sometimes made unpopular statements, it was only because he had looked deeper into the matter and found the Truth. He could no more stop speaking it than stop eating or breathing.

While Socrates waited in jail for his execution, a group of friends bribed the guards and came to him with an escape plan. They said that he had much work left to do, and that he could not do it if he let himself be killed. They also appealed to his sense of honor by saying that, if Socrates allowed himself to die, it would reflect badly on his friends. People would say that they did not care enough to save him.

Socrates rejected both arguments. He said that, by the laws of logic, he must stay and allow the execution to take place. Here was his syllogism:
1. One must always do what is Right.
2. We have an implicit contract with the State to obey its laws. To break them (such as by escaping) is Wrong.
3. Therefore he could not escape. To do so would be to repudiate everything he believed in, and life would not be worth living.

Was he crazy? Or was he just very passionate about his beliefs? One thing is certain – Socrates showed an incredible amount of honor and courage by refusing to deny the things he believed in, even if that refusal led to his death.

Where do you draw the line? What degree of honor is important enough that you will sacrifice your life to uphold it? Are your principles enough? Or do you “barter” – Say it is worth giving up your own life if you can save a child… or a family… or a village? If that’s your standard, it may be a good one, but be aware that you’re really doing an economic transaction. You’re setting the price of your own life, and saying that you’re willing to trade it if you can get sufficient value for it, but not otherwise. According to Socrates, that price is Honor. He considered his integrity more important than his own life.

E Pur Si Muove – And Yet It Moves!

TruthMore than two millennia after Socrates made his choice, the great scientist Galileo Galilei was confronted with a similar decision. A century or so earlier, Nicolaus Copernicus had published a revolutionary book suggesting that Earth might not be the center of the Universe. In fact, a lot of his observations made more sense if the Earth revolved around the Sun. Galileo made his own observations, from which he concluded that Copernicus’s “heliocentric” theory was correct and the only sensible explanation for the apparent motion of the Sun and planets.
Scientifically, it made sense. However, Catholic Church officials had decreed that Earth must be the center of the Universe, and any contrary theory contradicted Holy scripture and must be wrong. That seems to us a bit like the state legislature that decided that Pi should equal 3, because it made for more convenient calculations. At the time, Catholics were seriously concerned that the heliocentric theory would shake people’s faith in God. They undoubtedly thought that much more important than a matter of theory concerning distant objects.

By all accounts, Galileo was unlikable and undiplomatic. He made many enemies both in the Church and among his fellow scientists. He considered his theories self-evident and proven by his observations, and could not believe that anyone would deny them without at least looking in the telescope for themselves first. This was the same sense of “I know what is True” that Socrates exhibited, and based on more evidence. However, publicly telling scientists and clergy that they are idiots is a good way to make enemies.

Some of those enemies convinced a Priest to denounce Galileo and the heliocentric theory from the pulpit, and arranged for the Inquisition to arrest Galileo. At first, he agreed to drop his “heretical” research and support the official Church stance that Earth is the center of the Universe. However, a couple of years later, Galileo published another work with additional evidence for the heliocentric theory, and he was arrested again.

Again, the choice was put to Galileo: Recant his theory, be excommunicated from the Catholic Church, or face torture at the hands of the Inquisition. To a devout Catholic, excommunication was equivalent to exile, so these were much the same choices as Socrates faced. Galileo once again recanted, and another ten years passed before he again published “heretical” work.

Galileo was obviously unhappy with this decision. He felt that he had to suppress the truth in order to continue to live and work. Despite publicly renouncing heliocentrism in favor of geocentricism, Galileo is rumored to have muttered “E Pur Si Muove” (“And Yet It Moves”) either on leaving the Inquisition chamber or on his deathbed.

Was Galileo a coward? Was he just being pragmatic? Did he feel that he could do more good for mankind and the cause of science by being free to continue his work, even though he did it in handcuffs? How would you have chosen in his situation? What would you do today if you were working on an important project, but were told to stop work on it because it was a dead end? What if you truly believed that your boss was wrong, but you faced the choice of being fired if you insisted on continuing? How much are you willing to risk for the Truth?

What Price Is Too High?

You might not have to face a choice between death, exile, and supporting a lie; but similar situations occur often. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, German scientists performed eugenics experiments on “subhuman” Jews and other captured prisoners. Today these are rightly considered atrocities, and yet that work was done in the name of Science. The experimenters may truly have believed that their work would benefit many more people than were harmed.

On the side of the Allies, what about the research that led to the atomic bomb? Those scientists were discovering fundamental secrets of the Universe in the fields of chemistry, physics, and engineering. Most of them focused on the science and tried to do it as well as they could. But when the bombs exploded over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, they knew that their work was being used to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. Certainly many of them must have realized what an atomic weapon could do. Should they have stopped work, or obstructed it in some way? Did they believe – as President Truman evidently did – that those deaths were worth the cost? If the war had continued, possibly millions of Japanese and Allies would have died.

What price is too high for the Truth? For Science? For what you believe in? That is a choice which each of us must make every day. How you choose is the measure of your personal integrity and of the price you place on life, freedom, and your beliefs. It is worth spending some time considering scenarios such as Socrates, Galileo, Truman, and the Manhattan Project scientists faced, because someday you may find yourself faced with just as difficult a decision.



Hearts and Heroes

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

February 14 is Valentine’s Day. Cards and flowers, chocolate and everything pink; love is in the Air! But what is Love, and what does it have to do with Heroism?

Heart AttackWhen I was in grade school, we made Valentine’s Cards for everyone in class so that nobody would feel left out. If you love everybody, do you really Love anyone?

The Greeks had five words for love – Eros – passionate, sensual love; Philia – love, respect, and brotherhood with your neighbors and family; Agape – having a close connection with everyone around you, the New Testament Biblical love; Storge – affection for your family; and Thelema – desire for status, possessions, or accomplishment.

Love, Lust, and Longing

“Love Ain’t Nothin’ But Sex Misspelled” – Harlan Ellison

Thelema was popularized by Aleister Crowley in the early 1900’s. Crowley translated Thelema as “Will” and made it the keystone of his system of Magic – “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Crowley was renowned for his dissipated lifestyle of sex and drugs. He believed in Lust, but not particularly in Love.

Still, Crowley made some good points. Much of the time, “I love you” translates as “I want to have sex with you”; or “Let’s go make love,” when there is already a sexual relationship. Much of the ritual of Valentine’s Day, and “courtship” in general, is about trying to establish or strengthen a sensual, sexual relationship. I’m not quite sure about the symbolic grade school orgies implied by kids giving cards to everyone else in the class; I guess it’s actually practice in overcoming shyness in approaching other people… or maybe camouflage for the real relationships that actually go on there. As a kid, I had no clue.

“Dating” has changed a lot over the years, at least the way I see it. “Asking someone out” has always had the sensual, Eros component, but it wasn’t necessarily strictly about sex. You did things together, had a nice meal, watched a movie, or went to the park together to establish a bond of connection and mutual affection, a strengthened Agape. In time, perhaps it would strengthen to Eros, but it was built first on friendship. Advice columns used to be full of questions such as, “Is it ok to kiss on the first date?” I think the usual advice was to wait until at least the third. For women in particular, the advice was to keep a man waiting and wanting more.

Today, dating is a lot different. The “friendship date” is almost non-existent; instead, young people generally go out with a group of friends to do fun activities. They build the same sort of bonds, but it’s with several people, not an exclusive “someone”. When a sensual connection with one person develops, most people skip the long “courtship” stage and move directly into a sexual relationship. “Susan and Dave are dating” usually means they’re sleeping together (or not getting much sleep!) these days.

This isn’t as new as we might think. If anything, the ideas of courtship and romantic love are fairly recent developments – basically, since the early Renaissance. In the Middle Ages, it was often a requirement that a woman “prove herself” by becoming pregnant before she could get married. Many marriages were arranged; sex and friendship were not necessarily thought to be related. The association of Saint Valentine with the idea of romantic love began with Geoffrey Chaucer and other romanticists in the 1300’s.

Hearts? Heroes? What’s Love Got to Do With It?

“What’s Love Got to Do With It?” – Tina Turner

This may all seem unrelated to the ideals of Heroism, but there is actually a strong connection. The romantic ideals of the 14th Century were closely tied to the burgeoning concepts of chivalry. Women were no longer to be treated as chattels (as they had been through most of “civilized” history), but honored, respected, and loved. Knights went to the field of battle carrying the favors (love tokens) of their Ladies and went on great quests to earn favor with fair maidens. While women still held no property in their own name, they had increasing privileges with regard to family possessions and estates.

To be a Hero means to respect men, women, and children of all races and religions. Courtesy and chivalry are part of it. Philia-style Love is another important part. Treating everyone as an individual, and relating to each person on his or her individual merits, is the Heroic way to relate to the people around you. A Hero does not make assumptions about someone just because of race, gender, nationality, or other “group affiliation.” Heroism is person-to-person, one at a time.

When it comes to romantic love, Heroes build relationships based on their partners’ needs first, on their own desires second. Fortunately, the nice thing about love is that the more you give, the more you receive in return. Read “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry, for an amusing and touching take on this. If you just try to “take”, you will very soon find your hands – and your arms – empty. Love is about giving, and so is Valentine’s Day.

Love – A Gift That Keeps On Giving

“Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.”
– Dorothy Parker

When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of gifts, but that’s where the resemblance to Christmas ends. A Valentine card or gift is a very personal present between people who really care about, and are close to each other. They could be lovers or friends looking for a closer friendship.

A Valentine gift is usually something small, but romantic. Flowers and chocolates are always popular. The gift might not be material – A handwritten “gift certificate” for hugs, massages, or (our favorite) D&D sessions can be more appreciated than any physical gift. Cadillacs work too. If you give a physical gift, make sure you include a card with a personal, handwritten message. The gift isn’t really the point; it’s the presentation, the effort you put into choosing it, and the romantic thought behind it that matter.

The point to a Valentine’s Day gift isn’t that it is a bribe to buy your friend’s favor. It is a freely-given present because you care about the other person and want to share something special with her or him. If you are “just friends,” sometimes a Valentine card suggests that you would like a closer relationship; just be careful not to read too much into it. If someone gives you a Cadillac, though, you can probably expect an invitation to the back seat soon after.

A Gift of Gaming?

If you and your loved one are gamers, why not share the gift of gaming? We usually spend our Valentine’s Day (or close enough to it) at DunDraCon, the longest-running role-playing game convention. We don’t actually see much of the convention (although we usually participate in some of the seminars), preferring to spend most of the weekend romantically in our hotel room… along with a half-dozen of our closest gaming friends.

Lori has run several “love-based” RP scenarios at these weekends. In one of them, we had to escort a young Prince to meet the Princess he was destined to marry. Keeping him alive through the journey was only half the problem. Once we got there, we could see that the two were not really meant for each other. The princess was already in love – with a frog (okay, so he was an enchanted frog). Fortunately, our prince fell in love with the princess’s sister, and the frog turned out to be yet another prince – so all’s well that end’s well and they all lived happily ever after. (Or would, if this were a fairy tale… but as a campaign world, well, who knows what will happen next?)

This weekend, we’re all set to do it again, and Valentine’s Day falls on Saturday. I guess that means we should have a Saturnalia. Or maybe just a Sauterne with supper. (Ok, I’m stretching; neither of us drinks… wine.) We’ve been a little too busy lately to think too much about what games we’ll be running, but it’s likely that love will lead the way. Of course, just being there is almost enough – Lori and I met over a D&D table at a convention, so that will always be part of our relationship.

As for sex and D&D, check out Phil Foglio’s What’s New comic strip, in which “Sex and D&D” was a frequent theme when it ran in Dragon Magazine, but it was never quite actually addressed. Eventually, even Phil and his wife Kaja got tired of all the teaser strips and came out with their own X-rated graphic novel series. We’ll leave finding that as an exercise for the adult reader.

Heart and Sole

This Saturday, do something special with the one you love. Go for a long walk together – It’s good for the heart, if a bit wearing on your soles. If you have no one to love right now, love yourself. Think about all the things that make you a valuable, lovable person and indulge yourself just for a day. Learning to love yourself is a vital part of learning to love others.

Get a balloon; visit a place (nearby or far away) where you’ve never been. See the world through new eyes. It’s ok to enjoy a little chocolate while you’re at it. Just don’t overindulge; save that for Easter. Smile a lot; it will make others happier and you’ll probably see a lot of smiles in return. Feel the love!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you from Corey, Lori, Moira, Silvia, Lorenzo, Mombero, Master Dragon, Mrs. E. Gulch, and of course The Famous Adventurer!


Tugging at the Heartstrings

New Year’s Heroes

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Happy New Year from All of Us

New Year’s Eve, a time notorious for two things – wild drunken parties and futile resolutions that are soon broken.

Most people make a New Year’s Resolution to fix mistakes made in the old year. So should we start off the New Year by thinking of all our flaws and the things we need to do better? That’s about as useful and enjoyable as a New Year’s Day hangover – or a drunken Meep.

Instead of concentrating upon how many pounds of fat we need to lose or promising ourselves that we will catch the Gremlins before they get into the computer system again, let’s try something different. Don’t dwell on past mistakes and try to fix them with depressing New Year’s Resolutions. This time. let’s focus on a better future with – ta-da! – New Year Commitments.

Happy New Year from All of Us

Um, So What’s the Difference?

Resolutions focus on what we Need to do – Commitments focus on what we Want to do. Here is a list of our New Year’s Commitments:

  • Every Day an Adventure
  • Life is a Journey
  • Git’er Done
  • Time Enough for Love
  • It Had to be You

Every Day an Adventure

What are you doing today that you have never done before? What have you learned that you never knew? What are you doing differently?
This is a commitment Lori made a long time ago, but it’s always good to re-assert older promises and keep them on track. This one is all about treating each day as an opportunity for exploration and growth.

Life is A Journey – So Where are We Going?

You can’t get where you want to go if you don’t know where you are going. We need to set goals for ourselves. We need to make our own roadmap to the future. If we don’t, the future will be here before we know it and we’ll be run over by it.

Git’er Done

As semi-professional Procrastinators, this one is a hard one for us. We’re experts of thinking of all the things we need to do, getting overwhelmed by them, and then going on to do something else. However, to take a tip from David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” book – if it takes less than two minutes to do – Just Do It! Okay, so Corey says nothing gets done in two minutes, so we’ll stretch it to ten. The point is that putting things off is actually harder than getting things done. The weight of every task put off is the equivalent of carrying around a sack of five Meeps – five struggling Meeps.

Time Enough for Love

In Heinlein’s book, “Time Enough for Love”, Lazurus Long recounts his life and loves of 2300 years. We don’t all have 2300 years (and neither did Heinlein) so we have to remember every day to think about the people you love. Hug your mate… or your parents. Let them know you care. Do some small thing they’ll appreciate. Got a dog? How about taking it for a romp in the yard. Got a cat? How about taking time to give it a skritch under the chin or a string dragged across a floor? Stuck at work? Help someone else with their job. Invite a co-worker to join you for lunch. After all, Love is a tower built from the sum of all the happiness you have with others. Go ahead and build it higher – Just make sure you invite your loved ones to share it with you.

It Had to Be You

You are the one stuck with living your own life. Don’t let it all slip past you as you drift along through your day to day routines. Take time every day to do the things you love to do. Take the time to do the things you want to do. Take the time to do the things you know you need to do. Nobody else is going to do them for you.

Happy New Year from All of Us

Commitments for a Better New Year

None of these Commitments are life-altering or even mind-altering. These are the sort of things we can all do automatically as part of our habits of Heroism. We need the bricks and mortar of new ideas, vision, dedication, love, and joy to build a better future. So from all of us here at the School for Heroes – Happy New Year!”


Dawn of Peace