The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.
This quote is from J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” I didn’t much care for the book in general, but that quote stuck with me. In fact, it was the subject of discussion in a college English class. It made me surprisingly indignant; I suppose because it belittled as immature things that I supposed to be heroism — going out in a blaze of glory, and all of that. Oddly, I felt like something was being taken away from me even though I had no immediate plans in that direction. In retrospect, I was (as Krusty said of Sideshow Raheem) an angry, angry young man.
The emotional fires of adolescence have cooled, so it’s easier for me to regard this vision of maturity in a positive way. The most recent massacre in Florida is what brought this to mind again. But, it has broader application outside of the gun debate. As a culture, we seem to celebrate dying nobly a whole lot more than we celebrate living humbly even though the latter is generally more beneficial to society over the long term. It’s tough to live humbly though. There’s no particular glory in it. It means grinding out small gains over the long term in a universe that is vast, apathetic, and frequently arbitrary. That certainly does not have the emotional punch of being the bright star of a short but exciting story where you are heroically battling the evil arrayed against you — or at least taking decisive revenge against those who have wronged you. But, ultimately, living humbly is the right thing to do. We should make more of an effort to value and celebrate those who do it well.