Monday, November 14, 2011

Self-Discipline: No More Kicking the Can Down the Road

“Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want 
to do.”     --Mark Twain

Tomorrow.  Yea…that’s when I’ll get it done.  Rake the lawn. Start the diet.  Clean the house.  Go to the gym.  Visit the dentist.  Do the homework.  Reign in my credit card spending.  But tomorrow, ok?  No rush, right?

It’s the oldest of human temptations: to put off to the future what could be done, even should be done, in the present.  To procrastinate.  Kick the can down the road. Avoid a hard decision. Delay a painful or onerous choice.  Punt. Why do today what can be put off until tomorrow?

That’s the conundrum Uncle Sam faces with a huge deadline just six days away, November 23rd.  To recap: last summer as a part of raising the federal government’s debt ceiling, Congress and the President created a 12 member bi-partisan Congressional Super Committee and charged it with agreeing upon a formula of spending cuts and tax increases to slice $1.2 trillion from the federal budget.  If no agreement is reached automatic cuts of the same amount will be triggered, in everything from national security and defense to a wide array of domestic programs. Entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) will be spared, at least for now.  

And guess what?  After working for almost three and half months the group seems no closer to agreement than when it began.  In a CNN article, Republican panel co-chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, “…acknowledged the committee may be forced to punt its most difficult decisions on tax and entitlement reform into next year.”

We live in times when our leaders seem frozen in their ability to make hard political choices in the now.  To do something today in order to save tomorrow.  The European Union dawdles on making difficult fiscal choices, to bail out Greece and Italy, and the markets rock. President Obama puts off until after the 2012 elections a decision on a controversial tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. and angers both the left and the right.  If the feds do nothing, Medicare will run out of money by 2024 and Social Security by 2036. 

What’s missing in this equation is the old fashioned virtue of self-discipline, doing a hard and right thing today for a greater good tomorrow.  Facing into short term pain for long term gain.  Sucking it up and just doing what needs to be done.  A sobering word, “discipline”.  It can mean punishment but it also denotes training, regimen, rigor and behavior in accord with certain rules and a code of conduct.  Discipline is hard, yes, but almost always it pays off.  

We get this as individuals.  How does the marathoner run 26.2 miles? By getting up every morning and running in the rain and snow and cold with self-discipline, knowledge that victory is won by daily facing into the hard things.  How does an addict stay sober?  By going to AA regularly and saying “no” to substances one day at a time.  How are some folks successful in this life while others seem to perpetually tread water? Through discipline, by each day forging ahead and having courage when it comes time to make the difficult decisions and doing what needs to be done in order to move ahead. How does a person of faith stay connected to God? Through the discipline of daily prayer, reaching out when God is answering and when God is silent. It’s not rocket science. Self-discipline is simply about grit and not finesse, determination instead of instant gratification. 

So Uncle Sam, if I may be so blunt: it is time for some self-discipline, time to suck it up.  Time to be less focused on re-election this year and more focused on what’s best for the whole country in the potentially perilous or prosperous years ahead.  It is time to confront us, the citizenry and tell us about the hard choices all of us have to make together.  It is time for a little pain in the now, yes, but gains in the future, one which will only be bright if we all have the courage to not procrastinate anymore. Decisions must be made now.

No more kicking the can down the road.  We can’t afford to play that childhood game anymore.

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