“Be sure of the foundation of your life. Know why you live as you do. Be ready to give a reason for it. Do not, in such a matter as life, build an opinion or custom on what you guess is true” (Thomas Starr King).
IF WE’RE SERIOUS ABOUT IMPROVING OUR LIVES AND MAKING PROGRESS, WE NEED TO PAY PRIMARY ATTENTION TO THE FOUNDATIONS UPON WHICH WE LIVE. Whatever we try to build in the year ahead, it can be no better than the quality of our most basic principles. And if we tolerate flaws in our foundations, we doom ourselves to an inevitable collapse, in the long run if not in the short.
Solid foundations require hard work. Foundational work often seems unexciting, and so we’re tempted to spend as little time on it as possible. The result is a life built on principles haphazardly cobbled together from whatever materials lay at hand. Too often, the concepts that guide our conduct are little more than those we’ve picked up from entertainers and advertisers. But lasting foundations require a bit more effort. It takes real work to think things through carefully.
The dangers of a weak foundation may not be outwardly obvious. Even the most serious defects in a person’s principles may not show up until the structure of that person’s life is seriously tested. Indeed, it may not be until the very end that it becomes apparent that an individual’s life has been founded on a faulty basis. So it’s important to look beyond the present circumstances of our lifestyle. Our house of cards may not have collapsed yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.
Trends and fads can’t be counted on to tell us what our principles should be. What is “in” today will be “out” this time next year. When we’re laying the foundations of our lives, it is much better to consult the time-tested wisdom of many generations. This wisdom may be counterintuitive. What our great-great-grandparents learned through long experience may be scorned by today’s common sense, and the best strength in the world may be mocked as weakness by the popular culture. Yet as J. R. R. Tolkien reminded us, “All that is gold does not glitter, and all who wander are not lost.” It is often true with principles as well as with people: the first shall be last, and the last first.
“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that shall pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility” (Augustine of Hippo).