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Donald - a Dialogue on Moral Actions

July 21st, 2007 | 8 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

Dramatis Personae

Donald - a lead guitarist for a successful rock band
Nat - an inquisitive college student


Have I improved? Be frank with me, Don.

I might say you've gone from terrible to merely very bad....if I was being frank. But silly man, what are you doing writing music?

What, you don't like my song?

It sounds like you should stick to singing in the shower, my friend. Don't you hear the dogs barking?

Ah well, you oughtn't make fun of the weak. Do to others what you would have them do to you, as they say. I'm practicing at writing, and singing music, because I'm so bad at it.
Well, I can't say you don't need the practice, but why don't you continue practicing your drawing and sculpting arts... you are quite good at that, aren't you?
I have improved some some in those skills, yes, though I have quite a ways to go there as well.

But singing and skillfully using the breath and vocal chords, there is a challenge! New territory, you know.
I don't get you. There are many things that are "new territory" for me that I don't go intentionally seeking out so I can fail at them!
Failure is the first step towards success, of course, but tell me. Do you think skill in music is
important to have?
Important in what sense?
Important for your development as a human being... Important for your health and well-being.
Well, playing guitar for the band is my job, obviously, and so I would not have the life I have, I would not have any money at all, without my musical skill.
But in addition to that, I suppose I would say, now that you mention it, that it contributes to my sense of well being.
No, no, my friend, not your sense of well being, but your well being itself! Does having some skill with the guitar increase your real well-being. Your happiness.
My happiness?! I enjoy it, definitely!
I'm not asking about your enjoyment, necessarily.

What are you asking about!

I'm asking about your purpose as a human being. If I asked you why you eat fruits and vegetables, you would say, correct me if I'm wrong, because they are healthy for your body...

Yes, something like that.

And if I asked you why you work out, and if you weren't playing around and saying, "so that I can break down the muscle-fibers in my arms," or "so that I can keep my heart beating at one hundred and thirty beats per minute for thirty minutes a day," but if you really answered you would say, "to keep my body strong and healthy," would you not?

I would.

And if I went on to ask you why you keep good grooming habits, and keep your home clean and your car clean and so on, you would respond the same way, would you not? That is, all these things are for the sake of your bodily health.


And what is bodily health? Is it the functioning of the body, as a whole and in all its parts, to sustain life?

That's a fair summary.

So all of the various parts of the body have to be considered and their needs assessed, so that the proper nutrition and exercise can be provided, right? Food, and the right kinds of foods, in the right proportions, must be provided as the raw material for the re-building and functioning of the cells and cell-systems. Exercise of the heart and each of the major muscle groups must be engaged in to promote their life, strength, and longevity.

Yes, and you should probably stretch too, to keep flexibility along side with strength and endurance.

Good point. So this is the real end motivation for each of your very vigilant exercise habits, of which I know you are so fond.

Well, yes, but I also enjoy working out, and running. It is very calming for me.

Calming? Didn't you tell me you like working out because it allows you to release pent-up aggression, and to become emotionally excited, and feel the release of all of that anger, and other extreme kinds of energy?

Well, yes, if I'm in an angry mood. But if I'm in a calmer mood, then working out soothes me, or if I am sad, working out allows me to vent my sadness.

So would you say it depends upon your emotional state as to what effect the exercise has, but that the exercise expresses various emotions?


Is there any emotion the physical activity does not express?

Not that comes to mind.

Well then, the point of my inquiry was to find out, as we have, whether or not you have a guiding principle or motive in your bodily health habits, which you have said you do. But we also have come across, suprisingly, some connection between the health of your very self, your emotional world, and your work out habits. And this is just the question I want to address. Isn't there an overall health for the consciousness, as well as for the body? We need proper nutritional intake for our minds and hearts, as well as proper exercise, both in the right proportions and of the right kinds.

That seems fair. I don't think I'd thought of it quite like that before; There aren't any "Self Health" section in Borders.

Isn't there? All of the philosophy, religious literature, self-help books as they are called, and even the novels and biographies etc. feed a hunger that is certainly not bodily. So that's what I'm asking about. But to return to my question, do you think that your guitar playing feeds some hunger in your consciousness?

Sure, if I haven't played in awhile, I miss it, and I get a craving to just sit down and jam.

Very good! Do you get the craving to learn new chords, new scales, new songs that you have never played?

Sure, sometimes.

Do you indulge the craving?

If I have the time and the motivation... learning new chords can be hard, and I don't practice "scales," anymore, not since I first started with lessons. I pick up new songs pretty regularly.

Can I ask you another question?

Of course.

Do you ever get a similar sort of craving to pick up, not a new song on the guitar, but a new instrument altogether?

Silly man, why would I want to do that? It was hard enough becoming proficient at guitar... you want me to go learn drums, and base, and piano, and violen and viola to boot?

I want nothing, my friend, I'm asking if you ever want to pick up some one or other instrument. Do tell me.

Sometimes I think it'd be cool to play the violin, which is not totally dissimilar to guitar, but then again is a different animal.

So you do feel the urge sometimes to learn a new instrument.


But you haven't indulged it?

Not with the violin, no. I play around on the bass, because my good friend plays guitar, and we'll jam together, him on guitar, me on bass.

I see. If playing the musical instrument exercises some part of your brain and consciousness, it seems healthy for you, over all, to do so, does it not?


And if healthy, then all the more healthy to exercise fully that part of your consciousness, the musical part?

All the more healthy, sure.

And further, it is even more healthy, to exercise the other parts of your consciousness along with the musical part, with all of its varieties?

Yes, that would make you a well-rounded human being.

Which is certainly better than being a well-rounded body!

That is true. That takes a lot of not-exercising and not-eating well.

Well, I have been exercising the faculty that is involved with drawing two-dimensional images of what I see or imagine, and I have been left with a craving to exercise the musical faculty, or that related to music.

I'm sorry, but it just seems that you should stick to what you're good at, and you're not great at music.

Were you great at guitar when you started?

Certainly not.

Yet you persisted, and through practice you became more and more proficient, yes?

Then so shall I, at least as high as my natural talent allows me.
How long have you been practicing, Nat.
About two years now.

How high your natural talent must be!
O, there you go again, mocking me just because I am not at your level of expertise. Can not us
little guys have our place in the world too?
You can have your place, if you don't mind fighting a losing battle, my friend! If you take my advice, you'll find a field that's fruitful, and start tilling it. You cannot till every field on the earth, nor receive the rewards of fruit from it, so find your lot, and be content within it! Do not always be rushing off from what you have just begun to master into an entirely new field so as to remain perpetually a beginner, not only in the new field, but, in having abandoned it, in the old one as

Sound advice from a sound friend, but I must ask you... Shall I go hungry then?
What do you mean? Shall you not satisfy your hunger for new fields?
Well, Nat, you must understand your limitations. Beware of self-pride, and never commit yourself to become someone you are not, or do something that it is not in your nature to do. Not only will you fail to become that person, or do that thing, but you will harm yourself, and maybe even, if you persist, ruin yourself and all the talent you do have, in pursuit of what you do not, and cannot have.

I don't suppose I can contradict you, for your theory-in-practice has produced someone who makes his living, and a fairly decent one at that, playing the guitar for teaming crowds of fans. But you have succeeded in putting me back into a quandry that --God help me! -- I thought I had escaped.

What quandry?

Well, you urge me to find my place and stay put. With this urging I cannot disagree. You agree with the ancient god in that, in saying, basically "Know yourself." But on the other hand, the God of my fathers urges me to find my resources and invest them. That is, if I take the talents, money, and resources I have, and save them but do not turn a profit, he to whom I owe all that I have will be angry with me. And not having the benefit, as you must have, of knowing exactly what my place is or what my talents are, I feel compelled to seek out my place and never stay put until I have found it. These urges war within me and create such a pitch of intensity that sometimes I sweat and tremble and cannot sleep. I fear, on the one hand, that I am sitting still wasting what the God has given me, and, on the other, that I am bustling about and ignoring that small patch of land where I ought to plant my seed, as you so eloquently analogized.
But playing guitar or not playing guitar is not an issue of morality, my friend. Find your place, yes, and by all means, search it out if you have not quite found it yet, but surely the god of your fathers would not be angry with you for failing to pick up the mandolin, as well as the recorder and the oboe to boot!
That is easy for you to say, not only because of your great skill at the guitar, which seems to be the instrument for you, but also because you do not know this god. He is a very exacting master, and demands the service of my whole body, my whole consciousness, for he tells me my body is to be a living sacrafice and that my whole life and movement and being are to be directed towards him in love and service. I am not afraid that he will say, "Why have you tried to play the guitar and failed? But rather "Why have you failed to use that which I gave you?"
But what else might he have given you? Must you be on the goose chase, and try your hand at fencing, and rock-climbing, and scientific research, and all the rest? Surely there is some limit, some boundary.
Alas, my friend, there must be, but until I find it, and am sure I have found it and am not just excusing myself, then I must not leave any rock unturned, as the saying goes.
Madness! And this for your god?
Thus I am his slave.
Well, I am glad for my freedom, and I wish you the best in your search. I have to go practice for a show this weekend. Just wanted to stop by to see what all the racket was.

And thanks for doing so. I must continue with my lesson. I appreciate your advice.

I will admit, it is less terrible than before.