I feel like I’m inside a cloud. It’s dark, gray, chilly, and I can see very little definition in the clouds in the sky. Drizzle taps lightly on the roof in a slow, repetitive pattern, and the lake is calm other than an occasional ripple from the loons, who are packing their bags in preparation for their southern journey.
Hot lemon and sage tea fills my old metal camping cup as I snuggle with the dogs and an old green-and-red-striped Pendleton blanket. I hope sunshine and warmth return for just a few more weeks before my artists’ retreat here in the Adirondacks and our return to Texas.
Flashbacks have frequented my frontal cortex because of the huge number of old photos I found when emptying my dad’s place, which is now officially someone else’s summer home. I had forgotten how much I forgot, including a picture of me at the FBI.
A Visit to the FBI
As a kid about 12 or 13, I wanted nothing more than to become an FBI agent, which was glorified by the TV show called The FBI with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. My friend Randy and I started our own FBI club (there were just the two of us as members). We were even on local TV talking about our crime-solving club. Because I worked at my dad’s printing press in the summer, I printed my own stationery with the words “FBI, Jr.” at the top. And on that stationery, I’d write letters to J. Edgar Hoover, the true hero at the FBI (at the time no one was aware of his alleged “other life”). I always received signed replies (including a request to stop using the stationery), and I still have them somewhere.
One summer my dad announced we were taking a vacation to Washington, D.C. So I fired off another letter, got an invite, and showed up on the day and time suggested at the invitation of Mr. Hoover. But when we got there, the agent who greeted us said, “Mr. Hoover isn’t here today; he was called away on an important case.” But he added, “I’ve been told to give you a VIP tour.” So we toured everywhere behind the scenes. They even took us down to the FBI gun range, fired some machine guns, and gave my brothers and me the targets. (I’ll post a photo on my Instagram @Ericrhoads of me at the FBI.)
Though my dream of joining the FBI was broken when I was told I had to be a lawyer or an accountant to become an agent, I never gave up my passion for doing the right thing. I’ve always been the guy who likes to follow the letter of the law, even when no one would ever know.
In hindsight, I’m far too creative to have spent my time looking at someone’s books for fraud, but I love the idea of law-following (though not rule-following, which is another story for another day).
Most of us are law followers. But I often ask myself, what if I were guaranteed no one would ever know, no one would ever find out — would I break the law then?
My answer to that question is very clear to me. But then I ask, what if there were no accountability, no God? How would I behave if I knew there would be no repercussions? What about you?
Is law-breaking ever justified?
I can honestly say I’ve never hated anyone in my life — except that one kid who sat behind me in 7th grade math. I was his punching bag; he never stopped bullying and abusing me. And at that age I could not process it logically, only emotionally. And though I never would have gone so far as to get violent, I sure would not have minded if he was suddenly abducted by aliens.
What about you? Did you ever hate someone so much that you start thinking the end justifies the means?
Have you ever searched your soul? I’ve put together a few scenarios to consider.
Take the test now.
- Let’s say a doctor gives you the wrong medication, and it causes you a lifetime illness. You’re convinced he did it knowingly, so you have him arrested. You are certain he wronged you, and he ends up going to prison. But later, you find out it was not him, but someone else who was responsible for the error. Would you let that doctor sit in prison and rot? Or would you come to his rescue even though you’ve been injured for life?
- Or let’s say there’s a candidate for mayor you strongly oppose. You don’t like her personality or her politics. So you vote against her, and, happily, she loses the election. But you later discover the election was rigged in favor of her opponent. You are the only person who knows, and you have conclusive evidence. Your choice is to reveal the truth, or keep quiet because you can’t stand the idea of her becoming mayor. Would you hide what you know, even though she legally won? Or would you want the law followed to maintain the integrity of elections?
- What if there was a Sunday School teacher you loved? You get to know him, have him over to your house dozens of times, and think he’s the world’s greatest and most high-integrity guy. But then you find powerful evidence that there is something truly evil about him, something unforgivable. Would you reveal what you know? Or would you tell yourself it can’t be real and continue to believe in him despite everything?
- You have a favorite cousin, one who can do no wrong, one you adore. Suddenly you find out he’s been molesting the neighbors’ kids for years. No one knows but you. Would you turn in the cousin you love?
- You run a business and find out your product is harming people — maybe even killing them. But you’re making a huge amount of money selling that product. Again, no one will ever know what you’ve learned. Would you sweep it under the rug? Or would you confess, knowing you could be sued and probably put out of business?
Life is filled with ethical dilemmas. And what we say we will do and what we really do when we’re faced with them are often two different things.
Anticipate Your Decisions
A wise friend once told me that you need to answer the tough questions before you face them. There is no clarity when we’re faced with emotional dilemmas and our judgment is clouded by hatred, love, the prospect of financial gain or loss, or potentially hurting someone we love or ourselves.
Once you’ve crossed the line between good and evil, it will affect you forever. Even if you ultimately change, you’ve got to live with your decisions for the rest of your life.
Sometimes if feels like anything goes, that evil is excusable because everyone else is doing it. But do you want to be that person?
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” — Mark 8:36
There is a lot of anger in our world today, driven by the state of the world, by politics, and by health concerns. A natural instinct is to want to get even, to make “them” pay and to right all the wrongs. Knowing where you stand on the issues will offer you clarity when you’re faced with needing to make up your mind about difficult challenges.
Remember, the high road is always the right road.
Laurie and I (mostly Laurie) have spent 120 days working daily on getting my dad’s property ready to sell, which resulted in 12 tons from 42 dump runs. Now the house is empty, sold, and happily, we can move on.
As you may know, I was supposed to be in Russia at this time, but it, and our fall fine art trip was cancelled. Since we’ve not had a summer vacation, and since I would have been gone anyway, I’m taking some time off to enjoy what’s left. I’ll be back on my daily show after Fall Color Week and the drive home.
Fall Color Week is happening, and there are close to 100 of us gathering to paint outdoors daily. There is still room for you. It’s really a lot of fun.
My next virtual online art convention promises to be amazing, with a world-class lineup of the finest artists on earth. It’s in November, when most of us will be indoors anyway. If you want to learn to paint, or take your art to a higher level, this is your chance. Check it out.