Riding a Bicycle in Circles

Here are a couple of questions for you:

  • Are we fundamentally BAD people?
  • Are we fundamentally GOOD people ?

 This bicycle has been raising those questions for me recently and I wonder what you think?

Read on for some context:


Imagine a 9-year-old girl riding her bicycle around and around a circular driveway in front of her school every day instead of going to class. 

According to A. S. Neill, that happened at the unique private school he started called Summerhill. Unlike other schools, Summerhill doesn’t have rules that say you have to be in class at a certain time or that you have to study the alphabet in first grade and biology in 10th grade. You could follow your passions and the students there are surprisingly successful in life. 

The girl on the bike had come from a more traditional school with strict, top-down rules.  She had heard that Summerhill was different so, on the first day of school, she got on her bike and rode it instead of going to class. She did that day after day for a couple of months and then one day, she didn’t get on her bike. She went to class instead.

I read Neill’s book many years ago. I had a hard time imagining a school like that.  I went to a school where the principal and the teachers made the rules and the kids obeyed them. We operated on a strict schedule controlled by the clock and bells. If it was 10:15, I was to be sitting in my seat in Mrs. Barber’s Geometry class or else.

I carried this discipline to college and graduate school and into my adult life. It was useful and it made me useful. It also oriented me. I always knew when it was Tuesday morning because I had a  meeting every Monday night.

One of the things that terrified me about retirement was that it has no structure and no rules. I feared that if I didn’t have some kind of discipline imposed by external obligations, I would start drinking Jack Daniels for breakfast, become addicted to “Days of Our Lives”, and play solitaire ’til dawn with a deck of 51.

So, shortly after I retired, I started a blog called “The Second Half”. It got its name from this quotation from Carl Jung:

“Wholly unprepared, we embark upon the second half of life. . . . we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.

Apparently, I did not read my own blog.

We bought bicycles a few weeks ago, and I admit that I’ve been riding my bicycle instead of writing a blog; feeling guilty at first, and then  . . .not so much.

Oddly, I’ve gone back to writing in the past few days. Not sure how often I will be publishing  posts to The Second Half, but I’m knocking out a lot of words for some other projects.

The purpose of this is not to fill you in on  exciting developments in my glamorous lifestyle. It’s to raise deeper questions about human nature.

Do you need disciplines imposed from the outside so that your inner urges and impulses don’t make you run amuck? 

Do you have an inner compass that points toward “true north” that  gets knocked off course by the magnetic attraction of trying to please others or when those more powerful than you are take the wheel of your life? 

What is your experience?

8 thoughts on “Riding a Bicycle in Circles

  1. Hi Roger, good to see you posting again. I’ve been struggling with self discipline and social media and how much is enough to assuage loneliness and how much is too much and has narrowed the scope of my thoughts and enslaved me to what I see on a screen instead of what God is really up to. I’m really good at self-flagellation (especially at 2 a.m.) but I don’t think guilt is the way to get back to work. Not retired, but wondering where discipline comes from if not from guilt – the way I’ve lived most of my life. There must be a better way.

    1. In retrospect, I can see a beginning point for me has been meditation and physical exercise. These are things I do in a disciplined way, but I don’t have to “discipline” myself to do them. I think they help me get in touch with my original goodness, which is more original than original sin. Note that God pronounces the human beings “very good” before the Fall. I KNOW you have some of these disciplines that come out of the desires of your heart. Sit with them.

  2. WHOA! That’s quite a question. It seems like an eon since I pledged all my talents, skills and energy to serve God and my church in a foreign country. Since then, I have followed that “tack” in ordering my priorities, though I. often stray from the discipline when plain ole inertia sets in and my goals get sidetracked. Also, the constraints connected with aging take their toll and as my mantra goes, “Aging ain’t for wimps.” My response to the query “how’s it going?” is usually “I’m still chuggin’.” It’s a blessing to still be actively mobile and mentally alert when so many are dealing with serious handicaps. That gives me the energy to keep moving and the feeling that God still has a purpose for my life.

  3. I know I am wasting way too much time with checking out Facebook and playing Words with Friends. But I am trying to learn better ways. I’m reading an inspiring book about mindfulness and I think you would like it too. It is Wherever You Go There You Are. The author is Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder and director of the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

  4. I have been yearning [better than “urine”ing] for a Roger fix all this week and lo and behold SHA-ZAMM! Thank you kind sir ,,, you have, yet again, given me MUCH to think about. Our best to you AND Mrs. Cutie Face too 😉

  5. Roger, yes and yes! Yes I would/do run amuck until I hear my own inner voice-my compass- ask ‘is this how you want to live?’ And the longer I live the sooner I am able to hear that voice and act on it. Or not ? It’s a definite flux and flow for me.

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