Phil Friedman

8 years ago · 5 min. reading time · ~10 ·

Phil blog
Do Not Mistake What Is For What Should Be

Do Not Mistake What Is For What Should Be

Do Not Mistake What Is For What Should Berey



Preface: This is the fourth in a series of literary and philosophical self-indulgences, which I have dubbed The Road Chronicles, because they use the concept of a highway as a central organizing metaphor. This particular installment came together during a season of reflection, as the New Year approaches, and as I considered something for #BigIdeas2016.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating that I am not a fan of Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer.  Because, to my mind, the refrain de facto supplies an excuse for doing nothing about what is wrong in this world. This so-called prayer, you will remember, goes as follows:

O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

Which, I suppose, might be okay — if you ignore the all too common human foibles of ethical and moral inertia, not to mention the natural human tendency to self-protective timidity.

When I was a philosophy graduate student, I wrote a paper arguing that the central issue of ethics and morals is not whether to do what's right, but rather to figure out what is right to do. My central thesis was, and in fact remains, that people (except possibly true sociopaths) universally want to do that which is right; they just differ in what they perceive to be right.

That, I suggest, is why some of the most heinous figures in human history have gone to great lengths to dehumanize the victims of their acts. Because even the depraved more often than not feel the need to do what's right and, therefore, justified. We're simply hard-wired that way.

And being hard-wired to do what's right, it is essential that we develop and exercise our ability to sort out what's right from what's not... and to not mistake what is for what should be...

As we head into 2016, there is no shortage of things that are wrong in the world, in our nation, and indeed in our immediate vicinity of work and home. There are wars ongoing and more and more terrorism brewing on the world scene. There remain racial and economic disparities in the U.S., which can by no stretch of the imagination be justified on the basis that things could not be any better.  And there are day-to-day incidents of ethnic, sexual, and age discrimination and injustices, which by all reasonable measures should have been eliminated a decade or two ago.

Yet, instead of seeing a growing unrest and impatience with respect to righting the wrongs, and healing the ills of society, we are actually seeing more and more personal reluctance and social inertia growing up against doing anything about any of it. Even just to the extent of speaking out against injustices and social ills.

A prime example is what occurred running up to, and in the aftermath of the bubble-burst in the U.S. residential real estate market. What we saw during the years 2007 to 2010 was the largest single transfer of wealth from the many to the few, in the history of this nation. Do not kid yourself, while many lost most of their savings for the future, a relative few walked away with millions, indeed billions of dollars. And yet amid the economic terrorism and slaughter, few, if any voices were raised against allowing the venal and greedy progenitors of the collapse to profit hugely from their outright dishonesty and corruption.

If you are not fully aware of events leading to the failure of the U.S. real estate market, and don't have the wherewithal to wade through the dry tomes of facts that have been published by researchers and academics, at least go to see the movie, "The Big Short."

What is striking in this case is the relative quiet about the injustices perpetrated not only by the players in the collapse, but by the government in its aftermath. Even the normally nattering ninnies of the national press were relatively quiet when it came to the event and the bail-out that followed, as the government struggled with taxpayer money to forestall collapse of the nation's economic system and possibly that of the world.

The reason for the relative silence was, I submit, the lack of a clear idea as to what was right to do in the situation. If some of the banks and fellow travelers were "too big to fail," then wasn't the government just doing what it had to do? If you put a lot of the top-level perpetrators in jail for their dishonesty and malfeasance, who would be left with sufficient knowledge and skill to run the system?  Wasn't it just better to accept a situation that could not be changed without potentially making it worse, and so wasn't the right thing to do, to do nothing? For if you can't really do anything about the problem, isn't it wiser just to accept the situation?

Thank you, Reinhold Niebuhr. For nothing.

Where, I ask you, have all the "angry men (and women)" gone? Where are the marchers who braved injury and death in the service of bringing a measure of racial and social justice to this nation? Where are the protesters who forced a president not to run for re-election, and who ultimately stopped a war of U.S. adventurism, for which we are all, including our now largely-ignored military veterans, still paying. Curled up with a copy of Reinhold Niebuhr's collective works, thank you.

This is not a political rant. It is a lament for the return of the days when it was thought important to have a moral and ethical compass ... when it was thought important to have and foster a sense of righteous outrage and its expression in the face of what is, but should not be.

My personal hope is that 2016 will usher in a new era of activism, at the very least, an era of greatly increased vocalism. One in which it is again held legitimate to openly criticize injustices and call out wrong-doers, be they high-born or low. Be they members of government or Big Business, or war mongers and terrorists. For speaking out in these ways is the best means for ensuring that, as a society, we do not mistake what is for what should be. — Phil Friedman

Author's Notes:  As noted above, this post is part of my series, The Road Chronicles, in which I give expression to some of the more literary and philosophical thoughts I normally keep suppressed. Your comments and criticisms are invited and appreciated. They will be treated with respect and answered. If you found the reading worthwhile, you may want also to take a look at the other installments in the series:

"LinkedIn Is a Highway, Not a Destination"

"Cynicism Can Be the Final Refuge of Idealism"

"Reaching Beyond Me"

If you'd  like to receive notifications of my writings on a regular basis, click the [FOLLOW] button on my beBee profile. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.

Feel free to "like" and "share" this post and my other LinkedIn articles — whether on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. I ask only that you credit me properly as the author, and include a live link to the original work. A couple of my other articles are

"Three Points of Advice to My Teenage Daughter"

"Conversation Isn't Just Waiting Politely to Speak"

About me, Phil Friedman:  With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boatbuilder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.

-- Fair winds and safe harbors...


Text Copyright © 2016 by Phil Friedman — All Rights Reserved
Images Credits:  the Author,, and Google Images


Phil Friedman

4 years ago #16

You know, Jerry Fletcher, for me the bottom line is that, except for Tricky Dick and his deep Spiro "Bagman" Agnew, this is the only time in my lifetime I've felt that I would not even shake a US presidents hand if we met in person. I've disagreed strongly, even viscerally with many of our elected officials but I've never before seen someone in the White House as dangerous to the Nation as this guy. Cheers!

Jerry Fletcher

4 years ago #15

Phil, nice to see what happens when you dust off an oldie but goodie. The thing that stick in my craw is that it is three years later and things are worse, not better ethically. And if my daughter who lives in DC is right, the A -team, B-team and a bunch of C-teamers have left the building. And so it goes.

Phil Friedman

4 years ago #14

This piece seems to have grown new legs. Greetings to all my good and old friends out ther... and to my new friends and followers. I hope you are all well. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

4 years ago #13

To answer your question, Fay, I stopped posting actively on beBee a while ago for several reasons: . 1) I came not to trust the "distribution" numbers (views) and began to feel that my efforts were better concentrated elsewhere. . 2) Although I have come over the years and many exchanges to feel great affection for and closeness to a couple dozen people on beBee, I felt the engagement with my non-business articles was limited, for the most part, to "the usual suspects", which confirmed my suspicion that the distribution numbers were artificially inflated. . 3) The response to my business-oriented articles (which grow out of my own business activities as a marine industry consultant) continued to be virtually nil. For example, I received professional notice in a recent WSJ article on yachting and retirement. And as a result have received numerous contacts through its appearance on other social media platforms, but not a single contact due to a notice of the piece that was posted on beBee. My general conclusion is that although there is a lot of talk on beBee about being an entrepreneur and running one's own business, it's almost all just talk, with there being very few, if any genuine business people on the platform. So, again, it seems better for me personally to direct my efforts elsewhere. . That said, I remain a beBee booster -- especially now that the beBee-backed promotion of Crapto-currency has died away. And my heatfelt hope is that beBee ownership and management will begin to truly understand the next necessary step in the evolution of social media networking platforms. Thanks for asking and cheers!

Fay Vietmeier

4 years ago #12

Phil~ So much of life is a sowing and reaping. "As-if" we believe "As-if" we perceive "As-if" we act It is true that possessing a "moral or ethical compass" is like a planted seed. Unless it is nurtured and lived out it will produce very little. Which brings to mind: The parable of the four soils (Matthew 13) & Listening & doing: James 1:19-24 FYI: I mentioned this post in: In you don't mind me asking why: I think I saw mentioned in a comment that you are not posting on beBee ... I'm enjoying your Road Chronicles Blessings back ;~)

Phil Friedman

4 years ago #11

Thank you, Fay Vietmeier, for reading and commenting. I understand what you are saying, but would point out that having a "moral or ethical compass" does not in itself suffice, if one lacks the gumption to follow it. Cheers!

Fay Vietmeier

4 years ago #10

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the late Nobel prize-winner was once asked, “Doctor, what is wrong with men today?” The great doctor was silent a few moments, and then said: “Men simply do not think.” "How Fortunate for Leaders That Men Do Not Think"~ Adolph Hitler Too many people have become mentally lazy … probably because they are too busy being entertained to act responsively & responsibly to the unfolding reality … for years I have had the thought that the worst thing you could do to someone in our culture is take away their recliner, their remote and their affections ;~) How can we “figure out what is right to do” … How can we experience “a return of the days when it was thought important to have a moral and ethical compass”… Outcomes are determined by understanding & actions. We are guided by our focus, our thought-compass & our heart-attitude This is NOT fake news: Human beings are not the source or standard of knowledge & TRUTH … which determines “right & wrong” There is ONE Source of knowledge & One Standard of Truth … God Almighty People may think they are “right” … even when they are falling off a precipice “There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death.” ~ Proverbs 14:12 That is why we are admonished: “lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledge him (The Lord) and he will make your paths straight” Proverbs 3 Self-leaning is human opinion. Your opinion & my opinion is just that … opinion (opinion: a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge) Right-thinking produces right actions and good outcomes Wrong-thinking produces wrong actions & poor outcomes This principle is as sure as gravity

Fay Vietmeier

4 years ago #9

Phil~ the 1st thing that came to my mind while reading your buzz-lament Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the late Nobel prize-winner was once asked, “Doctor, what is wrong with men today?” The great doctor was silent a few moments, and then said: “Men simply do not think.” "How Fortunate for Leaders That Men Do Not Think"~ Adolph Hitler The 2nd is that too many people have become mentally lazy … probably because they are too busy being entertained to act responsively & responsibly to the unfolding reality … for years I have had the thought that the worst thing you could do to someone in our culture is take away their recliner, their remote and their affections ;~)

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #8

From musical impresario Alan Geller over at LinkedIn: "It's with great pleasure that the LinkedIn World Driving Committee has selected Phil Friedman ROAD STAR OF THE DAY - Wednesday, August 30th, 2017. Phil is the author of a series of philosophical reflections appropriately titled THE ROAD CHRONICLES

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #7

Thank you, Kevin Pashuk, for taking a few minutes to comment at the risk of offending the Tyrant of Urgency. Your views are always welcome and refreshingly to the point. I agree entirely The best metaphor (or simile) I can think of is that the Mind is like a muscle: it has to be exercised regularly in order to remain strong and supple. Keeping it shut off for too long may bring you peace, but that peace is the sleep of the lotus-eater. To my mind, serenity is never a goal in itself. Calmness and a self-confidence of action and engagement in the world are proper goals. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #6

Okay, Kevin, I now understand what you are saying -- although I wonder why you are focusing so much on the title. I didn't spend that much time on choosing it, but as usual, spent the bulk of my time and effort on writing the copy for the article. I am moved to point out, moreover, that, contrary to common practice on social media, my articles tend to focus outwardly on the world, not inwardly on oneself or one's person. And this piece is not an exception. I am talking about the dialectic between the state of affairs in the world (what is) and our vision of how we might change it for the better (what should be). And my main point is to reject the idea that one should simply accept the world as it is because to try to change it is too vexing personally. To my mind, one must always try to make things better, even if one's efforts are only composed of speaking out against the evils and ills of the world. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #5

Thank you, Larry Boyer, \ud83d\udc1d Brand Ambassador, for reading and commenting. I agree that this piece is more relevant today than ever before, as I perceive that we are entering a new era of professed helplessness when it comes to world events.

Kevin Pashuk

6 years ago #4

Thanks for the call out Phil... These days I have been quiet on this platform... not by will, but from what Stephen Covey most effectively described as 'the tyranny of the urgent'. I would much rather have an honest conversation with someone I disagree with than a milquetoast rehash of unproven ideas. (Which is why I love the beezers - too much agreement with each other may risk one's membership). Gold is refined in fire, and so are ideas. Too bad many people aren't willing to put their ideas into the crucible.

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #3

Kevin, I think I might agree if I understood what you're saying here. Cheers!

Larry Boyer

6 years ago #2

Perhaps more relevant today than ever. Thanks for resurrecting this one Phil Friedman

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #1

I am resurrecting this one for Jim Murray.

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