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Preface & Reader Response

Friendship is not for sale. When it goes on sale, it is no longer friendship: it is extortion.




by Jerry Murley

Though unlikely, this essay could be interesting – to somebody. If it were, it would cost the reader nothing. I did not compose it so much as capture it in flight. I had only to focus on what has been before my face for life by setting it in type. It simply portrays values central to everything.

* * *

In this economy of ours, we are consumed by price. But what is the cost of price? We have all known people who do wondrous things on a daily basis, who do not need additional income to continue in their marvelous pattern of life, yet who view themselves as not as worthy because they are not earning money – or enough money – for what they do and love.

In my area of the world, there are families in firm possession of jewels of family farms, though the farming aspect may be dysfunctional or defunct. Neighbors and friends, or more likely clueless passersby, will casually remark, "This place is probably worth a million dollars." Or they reckon that it could be if a well-situated farm were sold. It would be worth even more if it were chopped up and developed into housing tracts or a shopping center. The more pertinent question, however, is, "What is a million dollars worth?"

Have you ever stood alone for a period of time in late afternoon in an old barn? You look at the piles of old moldy binding twine, long removed from hay bales at feeding time. You look at the worn, multi-colored yellow stones at the foundation and the effaced gray wood that no longer has the hard edges that issued from the sawmill. Can you recall the steamy breathing of cows as they jostle for position and feed, the motes of dust of the just-scattered hay, the strong contrasts of light and shadow in the late afternoon, the day in and day out devotion of the herdsman to the process of maintaining his herd, the magnificent earthen space of what appears a personal concert hall? The experience cannot be bought and is not for sale. God's gifts are not to be reconciled in a ledger.

Or on a sunny early autumn or late spring day, with huge ships of white clouds floating overhead and a breeze sweeping the air clean, have you ever sat astride a tall tractor mowing high on a hillside, looking out over a valley where grass stands up to your chest, gently dancing with the wind. And before your unbelieving eyes are small homesteads sparsely inhabiting the hills and creek sides beyond like toy fixtures in a realer-than-real panorama. You know the refrain: it's difficult to account for it, it is not to be bought or sold.

* * *

In 1999, two years after my chemotherapy and two years before 9/11 and my wife's tougher battle with leukemia, my family took a three-week driving tour around south England and Normandy, France. My son was sixteen and had been studying English literature and French. We booked bed-and-breakfast-type accommodations all along our route, which was determined in part by place names about which we were vaguely familiar from friends or reading or seeing them in movies. We really did not plan the details of what we would do in each place or what we would do en route from one destination to another.

The trip was completely magical. The places and events that we discovered along the way, often by happenstance, left us radiant with wonder. Most cost little and were barely advertised in eccentric travel brochures if at all. And the same thing happened multiple times on the same day, day after day.

My fondest memories are of the hardy, inexpensive lunches that we shared in out-of-the-way pubs that we found by chance. They seemed to appear out of nowhere at just the right time. Each pub offered a quiet corner with a window onto the scenic countryside or a quaint town street. Each pub was unique in its own way, uncrowded, without the veneer of profitability, but an entirely consistent afternoon dining experience and respite from travel.

Though I usually sampled a pint from the local tap, there was no theme to the pub, so coffee, juice, hot tea – all were appropriate fare. There was no checking age at the door, so the environment was just as suitable for a child as for an adult. There were no blaring television shows or music, just the quiet of tinkling glassware and utensils and subdued conversation. In each there was an atmosphere rich with dark-wood decor bathed in a high-contrast light near the windows. We could not have afforded such luxury if we had been asked to pay for its worth.

Weekly, on my way to the dump, as I drive through the crowds of parked cars and people on the main road in Leiper's Fork, I ask the heavens why there is no off-track pub within walking distance of the many residences, galleries, and antique shops. One supposes that such a venture – besides challenging the courage and imagination of area entrepreneurs – would first ponder the money, then the wholesomeness, then the local draw, and then the potential highway liability. Given the Dollywood-topped corn-pork-and-hokum veneer of Leiper's Fork, with its adherence to a curious brew of Mayberry and aging-black-clad-biker values, one wonders if an ecumenical establishment such as a pub, even if fortified by the authenticity of finely restored old neighborhood houses, could survive in what passes for rural community life in the South.

* * *

Frequently I think of our friends and family and how much they mean to our lives. Recently one friend, a poet, visited late on a Sunday afternoon. With a glass of red wine each, we listened to a recording that she had made that day of her reading one of her poems. I could mention in comparison, as well, the past pleasures visiting with friends who have collected or made drawings, paintings, pottery, sculpture, furniture, books, stories, meals, or gardens that are intimately and personally presented in their own modest homes. On this day, that poem, like those other offerings of our friends, freely and generously given, was not for sale. It was not for sale when it was written; it was not for sale when it was recorded; it was not for sale when it was listened to. Yet its value far surpasses much of what is for sale, for which many of us consume our lives saving, shopping, protecting, and storing, until one of our descendants finally takes it to the dump or Goodwill or tosses it out on the lawn at a garage sale.

Friendship is not for sale. When it goes on sale, it is no longer friendship: it is extortion.

* * *

I do not argue that commerce is not required, because it is. But I find that people with a passion that cannot be contained by sales price are the people who live a pattern of life and produce things and have things and live ways that are of the most value to them and to me. To do something and offer it to one's small world without consideration of price to the recipient is an action that leads to the creation of things, relationships, experiences, and memories of high value at minimal cost to the planet.

Sometimes the best memories of a lifetime cost nothing but the luck and the willingness to be present, pay attention, and reflect on the whole of the experience. But things must happen and happening cannot rely or wait on commerce.

* * *

So much political energy is expended nowadays trying to keep other people from pursuing what they value. As a consequence we all, everyone of us and our descendants, suffer the irreparable loss of things and experiences that cannot be bought. The central questions one might ask about political activities in regards to truth is: one, is this intended to stop other people from pursuing personal values that are no danger to others; two, does this position expand human freedom, dignity, and the pursuit of happiness; and three, is this activity part of a packaged deal sold secretively on the market, or is it an organic outgrowth of individuals sharing their bountiful talents, generosity, and inclusive caring with their brethren and strangers alike? These three questions help me to determine truth, fairness, justice, and right – not the captured words of beings from former times taken at face value without contemporary discernment and critical consideration. Practicality is another chief consideration, but these three basic questions truly shape the inquiry.

Truth is not for sale. Generosity, compassion, mercy, decency, beauty, exquisite interaction between people who are and always will be different, vulnerable, and of wondrous variety and creative ability – all these things are not for sale, either.

* * *

Principles are not for sale. When they are, the seller is not principled. Compromise, however, is another matter. Compromise recognizes that there are multiple principles in life and society and that some have priority over others, in part because they make other principles possible. Some principles undoubtedly conflict with others and raise doubt about whether they should be pursued with purity at the expense of equally convincing principles held by other respected men and women who are not so clearly less good than oneself.

One such set of preeminent principles in a democratic society, ostensibly based on the Judeo-Christian values of charity and self-sacrifice, responsibility and accountability, would be those pertaining to fairness, justice, and the adjustment of intense minority scruples and prejudices in order to meet the exigencies of the day, the circumstances and the needs of a larger society of respected, or at least admirably enduring, men and women bound together at a particular point of human development, whether at a community, national, or world level.

* * *

Aberrant political activists today seek to battle over values: scorning civil results, they assert that they alone possess values and principles. Their views and motivations alone, they claim, represent morality, reality, and cherished values. They can play at this ruse all they like, but the proposition is an unhealthy obfuscation meant to deny a serious conversation about values and principles, about priorities. Such simplicity and deception cannot govern because constant appraisal is demanded of responsible citizens and of free men.

I cannot speak for other sides and have no intention of doing so: they have enough air time – and shout too loudly – already. I can speak only from my view of myself as a proud moderate and liberal and pragmatist. This meager essay is a moment in my constant appraisal of what is not for sale in personal and social spheres.

No liberal favors turning his or her hard-earned income over willy-nilly to any government entity. Nor do they favor giving governments carte blanche to use public money ineffectively or corruptly. Liberals do not want to give more than their fair share to government. And they want their own and all tax contributions managed responsibly, allocated proportionately toward the priorities of federal, state, and local expenses aimed at achieving essential services, inhibition of abusive practices, environmental conservation, and growth investments in infrastructure. The main difference among liberals, as between liberals and conservatives, is as always about deciding priorities involving multiple worthy but competing interests.

Liberals don't think that fighting for taxpayer-funded abortion is a principle upon which all others should be sacrificed, including productive jobs for those who want and can do needed work and health care for children and adults who are unable to obtain adequate care because of cost. Wedge issues disguised as principle, cynically advanced to sunder civil society for political ends, are repulsive and an absolute evil in a democracy. But there are natural wedge issues that turn elections and the tide of history. Moderates had best bridle the overreach of their own extreme wings (their outliers) if they intend to keep their incremental gains in principle – and achievements in standards of living. But bitter gains effected by quasi-religious crusades intended to unfairly harm minority rights and interests, or degrade majority stability, do not deserve to stand. Plans to increase constitutional bans on individual rights will bring liberals out of their factories, shops, offices, art galleries, bookstores, libraries, coffee houses, and studios and into voting booths where fanatical dreams of domination through a hyper-activist Supreme Court will be stopped cold and reversed.

There is common ground aplenty. To underscore the nuances of principles, one need only ask if extreme anti-reproductive-rights factions would sing an entirely different tune if the state were to attempt to force women to have more or fewer children. On this count, they would be in complete accord with moderate and liberal reproductive-rights supporters. Why would not anti-abortion extremists apply an equal measure of compassion, resources, and effort in nurturing existing children and adults of all varieties, in assisting women in preventing unwanted or dangerous pregnancies, or in teaching children about how variations of life, including human beings, evolved in a naturalistic world.

Liberals will sacrifice threads of personal liberty to strengthen the fabric of civil society, but by name and by nature they consider personal freedoms as a primary interest of both the individual and civil society. Principles of independence belong as much to liberals as they do to adherents of an extreme right. Of late, one could question whether the principles of fairness, equality, and responsibility, as well as the bill of principles embedded in the Constitution, are as high in radical conservative priorities as they could be.

Most liberals are willing to negotiate positions in order to overcome obstacles to practical solutions. But it is not and should never be the right of every individual to carry concealed firearms into schools, churches, legislative halls, and restaurants. They will not abandon the essentials of reproductive rights and freedom from fear in a society whose public square is rife with vigilantes and unregulated firearms. Most liberals are willing to budge in bartering bits of lawless liberty for advancement of a demonstrable social good. Most liberals would concede that there is a respectful argument to be made for restraining late-term and state-funded abortions that are unrelated to the mother's health or the crimes of rape and incest. But most will not relinquish principle for legislative and judicial aggression favoring state or corporate or church infringement on or abridgement of individual rights and protections long written in law and established in precedent and American custom. State laws, folkways, and fly-by-night constitutional amendments cannot diminish human rights in the United States for long. Minority activists cannot impose on a majority an extreme exclusivity that curbs basic individual rights. Carrying guns in public, concealed or not, is not one of those basic rights: it is, or should be, a rare, highly regulated privilege.

There is room on all sides for concessions that do not sacrifice personal principle, abrogate established individual rights, or violate the mechanisms developed for social governance and personal liberty in our democracy. But sensible compromise to accommodate a calibrated, constructive relationship of principles based on priorities is not the same as the abandonment of principle and honorable values. Compromise is not a sell out but a buy in, an investment of principles in a solution. Conservatives of all stripes don't come near to prevailing over liberals when it comes to balancing many principles and values for the good of one and all.

Henceforth, I will refer to moderates and liberals as mod-libs, for our poet friend has proclaimed, in fulfillment of prophesy, that there is no radical left remaining in the United States of America. At this date, there is no significant difference between a liberal and a moderate. There are mod-libs and then there is a minority of radical, snake-charming literalists. In our perverse two-party system, that minority is suppressing the practical policies of the middle and the majority. A system based on concentration on a single principle or two is not a principled system. It has sold its principles and its values to the highest bidders.

* * *

In the principled individual, principles are always discussing, arguing, vying for ascendence and claiming absolute clarity and dominance. Within the principled individual, and among his circle, principles are constantly negotiating for reasonable application to satisfy all claimants to truth in accordance with the demands of decency and practicality and the comity of men.

Principled individuals do not sell bunches of competing principles to satisfy one, aborting their proper mental and moral functioning. Single issue campaigns and ideologies of governance are not so much principled as fanatical and suicidal, burning down the house to save an ornamental flower bed. Single issue radicalism would sell civil society, charity, practicality, good governance – our way of life – for one egotistical construct.

For those in the middle, fearing they do not have or display sufficient passion, be consoled. You have not sold your principles or your soul to a single idea, but rather you hold your principles so highly as to respect the truth in each and to discipline them to use their inside voices and settle differences with mutual respect and dignity and a modicum of common sense.

What higher ground do we want for our children than that they will stand and proclaim, "This is not for sale! My community is not for sale! My heritage is not for sale! My principles and my values are not for sale! My peace of mind is not for sale! I am not for sale!"


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