As some long time readers know, I grew up poor in a small, rural, north Mississippi farming community. Far from being ashamed of it, I am proud to have grown up in a family of two strong parents, close to an extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles and perhaps the greatest influences in my life outside my parents, my grandparents, Baker Thompson and Evie Goodwin, and my uncle Samuel Eason Goodwin (the whole Goodwin clan – my mother’s side – lived within a 30 minute radius).
If you lived in rural Mississippi in the 50’s and 60’s, it is a good possibility that economic disadvantage was your stock and trade, as it was in my case, but my family was rich beyond my wildest dreams in other things. As with many aspects of life, the only way to truly understand how lucky you were is through reflection as you add rings to the tree trunk. I can see now that there are just so many experiences that were served up to me then that put me on the path that I have been fortunate to walk.
They set me on a path based on faith in God, honesty, truth, understanding the value of a true friend, knowing that situations come and go but family is forever, that there is no question without an answer if we just look hard enough, that I wasn’t owed a damn thing from life but could earn everything I ever wanted and that no one but me had a right to determine my future.
I went to a public college, working my way through. I had what one might call an inauspicious university academic career. I was directionless during my first three years and I really didn’t get focused until my senior year, producing the only 4.0 semesters of my 4 years at Mississippi State University. I toyed with the idea of law school, taking the LSAT and getting accepted at the University of Mississippi Law School…but I was so sick of eating peanut butter as a main course that I got a job and one thing lead to the next and I never found the time to go back to school.
I’m not especially smart, of average looks and there is nothing particularly special about
me. I’ve failed in my life…and spectacularly so, but in essence, I’m John Q. Public – an average Joe. And I am truly lucky…I have a 40 year high school reunion coming up next year and had someone asked me in 1977 where I would be in 40 years, I would never have guessed that I would have travelled the world and seen the marvelous things I have. Yet, here I am, a barefoot Mississippi redneck who has had a career that has been both financially and intellectually rewarding and that career has taken me to over 80 countries, I have worked extensively in China, India, the Middle East and SE Asia, lived in Mississippi, Utah, Michigan, Colorado, Arizona, South Carolina, Florida and abroad in Scotland.
One of my young engineers once asked me how I got to where I am. My answer surprised me a bit and over the years, I have thought about it a lot. It sort of ties in with the question I have been asked about what makes me a conservative and why I believe what I do. My answer to my young protégé was this – I had no real plan, that none of this was mapped out when I left school, that I didn’t see any of this coming. What I did have was confidence in myself and a belief that I would be successful at whatever I did – the basic ingredients of which I can trace back to those hot summer days spent tramping around the creek banks and red clay hills of north Mississippi.
My grandfather taught me that I would fail and that I would fall, because all men do, some just more spectacularly than others. He told me that the measure of a man was taken, not during times of success, but during periods of failure because it takes more character and perseverance to overcome failure than it did to enjoy success. He also taught me that fate favors the bold, that opportunity waits for no man and if I wasn’t prepared to accept the opportunities that life would show me – I would miss them and they might never come again. He believed that success breeds success and opportunity follows opportunity. The more that you take on, the more you will get.
My plan, such as it was, was (and is) to simply be prepared to accept the opportunities that life presents. Sometimes overt but often covert, opportunities do come to everybody, even the Occupy Wall Street/#feelthebern crowd. The difference is that some people are able to recognize them and capitalize on them, some are simply colorblind to opportunity – success and failure appear to be the same, so fear of failure causes them to miss the opportunity.
I said that I believed that being a classical liberal means having the freedom to secure for me and my posterity the blessings of liberty, in a manner of my own choosing, one only limited by how much I am able to achieve. Translated into my life, it means that I can freely prepare myself to accept any and all the opportunities that life provides. I believe that classical liberalism is the only ideology compatible with that degree of freedom. I simply cannot accept that all outcomes must be leveled out because to create “equality” of outcomes supposes that you can actually take an “average” on life, forcing everyone to be the same somehow – that the strong must be made weak, the prepared must be punished to the benefit of the unprepared and opportunity must be “managed.”
It says that we must all be made colorblind to opportunity – all the leaves are brown no matter the season.
I just can’t accept that. I refuse to.
I am the eternal optimist. That is another classical liberal trait – where the “progressives” see doom and hardship, I simply see another hurdle that must be jumped, another Rubicon to be crossed. Think about it – even Obama’s soaring hope and change rhetoric was always laced with the direness of failure, of “safety nets” of “protection” and of “income equality”. Listening to it now reveals in retrospect how incredibly patronizing it really was.
I believe that true classical liberals are the last line of defense against that loss of opportunity, the last, best hope to turn back the assaults on the guarantees of life, liberty and the (free) pursuit of happiness. We are about protecting an environment where opportunities are plentiful for everyone. Not everyone will get everything they want – not everyone will succeed. Some will have difficulty, some simply aren’t willing to pay the personal price required to prepare. Some just prepare the wrong way for the wrong things…but for those who are ready, success still awaits – but there are those who are willing to give up the chance to experience the incredible journey I have traveled and for what? To settle for what might be called “safety” by having limitations put on them and me? By what right can anyone say to his fellow citizen that the cost of his illusory feelings of safety and security should be paid for by my future or the future of my children? How is that even morally possible?
The true lesson is this: if I can achieve the moderate success that I have given the way I started, anyone can. The brass ring is still there, it just takes perseverance, preparation and hard work. It always has – there are no such thing as overnight success for most of us. It is usually blood, sweat and tears…oft times accompanied by hard work and drudgery – but it is worth it. That is why I will fight to my last breath to give my daughter and my two sons the tools to see opportunity, to never be limited by anything but their own skills and desires and to put them on that red clay path to independence and success.
I love my life. I worked for it. I’ve suffered failure for it. I’m living it.
That’s all I want for you.