No Paine, No Gain: How To Withstand Criticism, Beat The Odds, and Achieve Your Potential
By David Metcalfe
November 15, 2017
Consider this question: what does it mean to have a good life?
Around midnight on Sunday night, as I sat in a car by myself, parked behind a Taco Bueno in Colorado Springs, this thought of “what is a good life?” ran through my head. I had just been on the greatest trip of my life; I went to California, lived in a 5 million-dollar mansion, and spoke to thousands of people about culture and philosophy. I’m not making this up, people. Here is a picture of the mansion I was staying at, and another of me speaking at a high school.
But when I returned to my home in Colorado, I was given an eviction notice by my host family that I had to leave. All of my stuff was already packed in my car, since I had just come from a trip, so I literally just said, “Ok, bye!”, turned around, and walked out. I went to a Starbucks to use their wi-fi and think about what I should do. I had no place to live, almost no money, and was borrowing someone else’s car. I then checked my email to see one from my editor, threatening to fire me from the writing project we were doing.
That’s when I realized: oh crap! I’m homeless, might lose my job, and my visa is going to expire in a couple months.
Oddly enough, I was not scared at all. In fact, I was, in a way, happy to be in such a predicament. There are certain principles and ideals that I aspire to. They are the reason that I got an amazing job in Colorado, have spoken to thousands of people all over America, and have written articles that have been published in huge newspapers and journals. They are also the reason that I have no money, am hated by many people, have fractured relationships, and am now homeless.
I would like to share those principles with you. In doing so, I hope to answer the question of “what does it mean to have a good life?”.
1) Always Be Hated
Everyone who has ever done anything great in the world was at some point hated for it:
The Church vs Galileo
Galileo Galilei has been called by many, “The Father of Modern Science”. He was a genius, and at least one hundred years ahead of his time. His contributions led to amazing advancements in science and philosophy. His most controversial work was on the heliocentric universe. Everyone at that time simply assumed that the earth was the center of the universe. Galileo, inspired by the writings of Copernicus (who was also hated) had come up with a theory, with incredible evidence for it, that the earth actually orbited around the Sun. The Roman Inquisition investigated his theory and said his work was heretical, and never to be published.
Instead of caving and doing what he was told, he wrote back a refutation to defend his theory, called “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”. Although he was simply trying to think honestly and critically, the Catholic Church took it as an attack on them. He was then forced to recant, and was put under house arrest for the rest of his life. Once again, far from giving up, he continued to write, and published one of his finest works, called “Two New Sciences”. Nearly 300 years later, it would go on to have a significant influence on Albert Einstein. (Finocchiaro, 2010).
As I read through the incredible stories of Paul of Tarsus, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, etc. I am continually inspired by these amazing people and their contributions to the world. And all of them have suffered hatred from people who did not agree with them. Paul was put under house arrest, and then in prison for two years. Far from giving up, while in prison he wrote 4 letters, which made it into the Bible and are widely regarded as fantastic works of literature. Martin Luther was excommunicated and deemed an outlaw by the Catholic Church. Abraham Lincoln was, of course, murdered by a pro-slavery advocate named John Wilkes Booth. In fact, can you think of any great individual who was not hated?
No Paine, No Gain
I’d like to close this section by talking about my favourite author of all time, at least when it comes to political thought. Thomas Paine lived in England, and worked as a tax officer. In 1772, while witnessing him and his fellow workers not being treated properly, as well as a series of problems with the way taxes were done, he wrote a 21-page article called “The Case of the Officers of Excise”. Although well-written and very reasonable, Paine was fired from his position. Although impoverished, he found a group of intellectuals who admired his work. One of which was Benjamin Franklin.
After being very impressed with Paine’s intelligence and passion despite hardship, Franklin gave Paine a free trip to America, and a job as a political writer. It was at this time that Paine wrote an incredible work called, “On African Slavery” (1775) in which he denounced the slave trade. His most influential work, “Common Sense” (1776) was the pamphlet that caused America to separate from Britain, and begin a new nation based on the principles of equality, justice, and freedom. Paine received $3,000 (at a time when the average wage was about $1/day, to put it in perspective (US Bureau of The Census, 1975)) for his service to America, and for a short time, was considered an American hero. At this time, he was mainly just hated by pro-slavery advocates, and the people of Britain. But the hatred would not stop there.
In 1791, as the French Revolution was starting, Paine wrote an amazing work called “The Rights of Man”. He defended the French Revolution, and was charged with treason, punishable by death, in Britain. Knowing to never return to Britain, Paine settled in France, and was made an honorary citizen. However, things quickly turned when Maximilien Robespierre took over, and being a power hungry, guillotine wielding maniac, hated Paine, and threw him in prison. While in prison, Paine wrote “The Age of Reason” which would go on to influence many of the things in the American constitution in place to this day. He was freed thanks to help from James Monroe, and returned to America. However, because of his controversial views on separation of church and state, his criticisms of George Washington, and refusal to accept the norms dictated by society, he was hated universally in America. He died on June 8, 1809, and only 6 people attended his funeral. The obituary notice in the New York Evening Post read, “He had lived long, did some good, and much harm.” (Appleby, 2005).
Let me utter once again this question: what does it mean to have a good life? Did Thomas Paine have a good life? What about Galileo, Paul, Luther, or Lincoln?
Jesus Christ was actually hated more than any of these people, and still is today. He once said, in the Gospel of John,
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.” (John 15:18).
Being hated is actually a good thing…in the right context. Adolf Hitler is hated, does that mean he was a good person? Of course not! It’s about why you are hated. You’ll notice that all of these great people were hated, not for doing evil, but for pursuing truth. Galileo said, “Hey! The sun is at the center!”, Lincoln said, “Hey! Black people deserve equal rights!”, Paine said, “We need to affirm freedom of conscience to every individual”, and Jesus said, “Hey! I am the Son of God”. And there’s always some morons trying to hate on them; whether it’s the Catholic Church, racists, the British Monarchy, or Pharisees.
I think the first principle to finding purpose in life is being hated for pursuing truth.
2) Never, Ever Apologize For Anything
There are only three instances in which someone will want an apology from you: when you are right, when you are wrong, and when no one really knows whether you’re wrong or right. None of these instances warrant you to say an apology. Let’s go through each of these scenarios.
You Are Right
If you are right, you should never back down from your convictions. Even if there’s no way to tell if you are objectively correct, if you believe in something, you should uphold it. Galileo really believed that the sun was the center, Jesus really believed he was the Son of God, etc. Do you think these people would have done anything great if they had apologized? Imagine Abraham Lincoln, seeing John Wilkes Booth about to shoot him, and saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry, if you let me live I’ll put slavery back, I promise!”. Ummm…no, he would have been remembered as a pathetic loser. Of course, you should always be open to the possibility of being wrong, but when you truly believe something, and rationality is on your side, you should do what you can to uphold it when it is attacked.
You Are Wrong
When you are wrong, I think it is best to give a rationale for why you did the things you did, explain how you came to realize that you were wrong, and then follow through on your newly formed beliefs practically. Saying, “Oh, I’m sorry” is the most useless garbage that people say, and I’m from Canada, where people say it all the time. Now, as a polite cultural gesture, whatevs, that’s fine. However, when you have actually wronged someone, or held an incorrect belief, you saying “I’m sorry” means nothing.
Now, you might say, “But David, you’re a Christian, and isn’t a central tenant to apologize to God to get forgiveness?”. No, it is not. God does not give a rat’s crap whether you say, “I’m sorry”. What God calls us to is repentance. It means “to turn away”. We are to turn away from our wrongdoing or incorrect beliefs, and live according to what is right. So, if you wrong someone, you should communicate it to them to let them know, but ultimately, you need to live it.
No One Really Knows Who’s Right
This happens pretty often, unfortunately. Life is very rarely black and white, and we will often find ourselves in grey areas. I love what the great philosopher David Hume said about belief:
“A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence”
Absolutely! It’s why I very strongly believe that 2+2=4, but I am not so sure that the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl. However much the weighing of evidence supports a conclusion, the more strongly you should believe it. When the evidence does not strongly support one side over the other, we will inevitably find ourselves in a grey area.
Many times, people will view things from different perspectives, and the same evidence will result in different conclusions. It’s based on our priorities. It’s like how in the O.J. Simpson case of 1994, it essentially became a case of woman’s rights versus black rights. Black rights won, much to the chagrin of the integrity of the criminal justice system. But it was a grey area case, and people will need to decide what to prioritize in those instances, and that’s where the conflict occurs.
Still though, there is no reason to apologize. The great lawyer who prosecuted O.J. Simpson, Marcia Clark, would never apologize for her position. It’s what she thought was right, and she stuck to it. However, in those instances, we often need to make sacrifices. When the verdict was read, Marcia Clark was not happy about it, but she accepted the due process that was entitled to O.J. Sometimes, when there’s not a clear answer, but a decision has to be made, we have to be accepting of the result. But it would still never warrant an apology.
3) The Grind Behind The Glory
On June 14, 1998, Michael Jordan had one of the greatest games in NBA history. He scored 45 points, and the final one was one of the greatest shots ever made. The Bulls were down 86-85, and Jordan had the ball with 5 seconds left. He dribbled up quickly, and pulled back so fast, his defender lost balance and fell over. He went up for the shot and drilled it to win the NBA championship.
While people always notice the glory, they often forget about the grind behind it. That’s not the first time Jordan has done that pull back move. It’s probably the 10,000th time. The vast majority of these were in some sweaty, quiet gym, with no fans cheering. It was in those moments when he was tired, didn’t feel like practicing, but kept doing that move over and over again every day that he eventually became amazing at it.
We often think of Thomas Edison as inventing the light bulb in his 30’s. I believe he invented it as a teenager. He had a job working on the trains running from Port Huron to Detroit, and he would sell newspapers and candy. Most kids would just sell the newspapers and candy, then sit and wait out the remainder of the trip. Thomas was not most kids. He would conduct elaborate experiments on the train, gathering whatever materials he could from around the stations. It was in that grind that he eventually found glory.
That’s how glory is always achieved. It’s never glamorous until afterwards. It’s when Paul and Thomas Paine are writing in prison, when Jordan is in the sweaty, old gym, and when Edison is a kid on the train.
That’s why the third principle is to work hard, and pursue your passions with excellence even when you are not being rewarded for it.
4) Believe In Something Greater Than Yourself
If Thomas Paine was merely a man like all other men, no one would be talking about him today. It’s because he pursued a belief that he eventually became great. It’s the same with all of the people I’ve mentioned.
People all die, but ideas can live forever. I love what Thomas Paine said about times of hardship:
“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”
As I sat in Starbucks, utterly dejected at the recognition of my current state, I gleaned hope from the writings of Thomas Paine. I think the greatest goal of humanity should be to establish good principles and pursue them. We need to have thoughtful reflection and debate, and when we come to ideas of how things should be, we commit to enacting them. But where do we get these principles from? There are all kinds of different moral philosophies out there. I myself subscribe to the moral teachings of Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel of John, while talking to his disciples, Jesus said,
“Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 14:12-13)
Love really is amazing. And not romantic love like the culture obsessively glorifies, but authentic, meaningful caring for another person and wanting what’s best for them. What if we had that kind of love for everyone? The world would be an amazing place. I believe that the greatest achievements for humanity are actually done out of a place of love.
I really believe, that although Thomas Paine was very harsh and critical towards people, he genuinely cared for them. He wanted society to be better so that we would not have to suffer injustices at the hands of government or each other.
I think love, as an over-arching goal, is a fantastic principle for us to aspire to. Principles from that will include things like equality, justice, and freedom, and society will do much better as a result. We need more people in the world who love others, and give their whole lives to pursuing that purpose.
5) Find Your Passion
Once you’ve decided to pursue truth, be strong in your convictions, work hard, and love others, you need to find your specific way of doing that practically. For me it’s become writing and speaking. I can’t get enough of it. I read and write for hours every day. It’s like cocaine or something sometimes. If I haven’t written or spoken about any big ideas in a while, I just get annoyed at life. I don’t like writing because I enjoy pressing my fingers on a keyboard, or seeing a bunch of words on a screen, I love it because of the meaning of the ideas being presented. I love the prospect of someone reading it, and critically thinking through the ideas that I’m putting forth. I hope, ultimately with my writing, to inspire people to want to meet the needs of the poor and the destitute.
I’m not sure what your thing is, but I’m sure you can find meaning in it. Can you use it to express truth and love? Can you exemplify good principles? Can you benefit the lives of others with it?
I believe that each one of us has amazing talents for a specific reason. You may not know what yours is yet, but it may be something you didn’t expect. My encouragement is to do what you enjoy, and pursue it passionately, and see where it leads you.
I may very well get fired from my writing job in Colorado, I may have gotten kicked out of my host home, and I may have no money, but all of that stuff is fleeting in the grand scheme of things. I will always passionately pursue my right to free speech and speaking truth. I will never say something incorrectly or that I don’t sincerely believe. I will never act a different way just because culture or some contrived authority figure says so, or because that’s “just the way it’s done”. I will never sell out my ideals for worldly gain.
I believe that some day, if I continue to pursue my principles, that I will find my “Ben Franklin” and I will write my “Common Sense”. I also believe that, in the process, I will have to get fired from my “tax officer job” and spend time in a “French Prison”. I hope that more than 6 people will show up to my funeral, but if that’s what it takes to live a truly purposeful life, then I’m ok with that.
I think if I pursue truth, never apologize, work hard, believe in love above all else, and live with passion, I will have lived a good life. In the meantime, I’m in the grind. Every now and then, I get small snippets of glory: the applause of an audience, an article in a big paper, a gift from a wealthy benefactor, etc. But honestly, I don’t really care about that kind of glory. When I seek to glorify myself, it leaves me feeling empty. That’s why that fourth point, “living for something greater than yourself” is so valuable. I don’t always, but I should, shift my focus to glorifying God in what I do. When I do that, it is humbling, yet oddly fulfilling in a unique way.
Thomas Paine relentlessly pursued truth, and here are my favorite quotes of his, concerning truth:
“It is an affront to treat falsehood with compliance.”
“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”
“When men yield the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.”
“An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.” (Thomas Paine Quotes).
Although Thomas Paine had to go through a lot of pain due to the haters that tried to hold him back, he ushered in a new era of thought that formed America, and continues to influence our society today. I want to go through pain like that, not for the sake of the pain itself, but for the amazing gain that ultimately comes when you honestly pursue your principles with passion.
P.S. I’m no longer homeless, as I have been given a small, decrepit shack to live in.
Appleby, J. (2005). The World of Paine and His Writings. Common Sense and Other Writings.
Thomas Paine Quotes. Brainy Quote. Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/thomas_paine
Finocchiaro, M. (2010). Defending Copernicus and Galileo: critical reasoning in the two affairs. Springer Science and Business Media. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=mY3WG5NpjEgC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false
US Bureau of The Census. (1975). Historical statistics of the United States, colonial times to 1970, bicentennial edition, part 2. p. 163. Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112104053548;view=1up;seq=4