top of page


Last week I went to the doctor and the nurse who checked me in asked those questions they ask now, including, “Have you felt sad or depressed in the last two weeks?”

I said, “Well, I’ve been watching the news.”

She laughed - a little - and tried again. “Okay, have you been sadder and more depressed than all the rest of us?”

No, I don’t think so, but that’s not setting the bar very high.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time the past couple months watching what’s going on in Washington DC. It’s enough to give ambition a bad name.

I’m reasonably ambitious myself. I take my work seriously. Whenever I start feeling like someone is getting a leg up on me, I get cranky. Yet, while I’ll do a lot of things to succeed, there’s a longer list of things I won’t do. And I think that’s where many of the folks in Washington have gone astray. I read an interview with Kevin McCarthy who was finally elected Speaker of the House after he surrendered a world of concessions to win the role. He said, in part, “Now people understand that I’ll never quit.”

We put a lot of effort into teaching kids not to quit, but I’m not sure that’s always a virtue. I’ve given up a couple of times in my life and it was the best thing for me to do. A few decades ago, we were trying to get a barbecued pork business up and running, and after sinking all the money I had and could borrow into it, we pulled the plug. Maybe with one little push we could have succeeded, but I doubt it. I’d made too many mistakes, along with being far too naïve about how the world of big business operates. It took a few years to work our way out of that hole and when we were well on the way to prosperity, we decided to quit farming. About a dozen reasons factored into the decision to quit, but we knew we were giving up a lot of financial security. We were right, but I’ve never regretted either decision, because a saying I’ve always kept close to hand is, “...the one thing you can't give up for your heart’s desire is your heart.”

That’s what the people in Washington have forgotten. If winning is the only thing, then anything goes. But if anything goes, nothing matters.

If anything goes, nothing matters.

A moral compass is not supposed to be a weathervane, shifting and turning with every vagary of breeze.

When I’m calibrating my own moral compass, I don’t pay much attention to Aristotle, Descartes or any of the other heavyweights in the philosophy biz. I just try to picture myself explaining my actions to my parents, my wife, my children and grandchildren, and John Wesley. If I think all those people would sign off, I’m good to go.

I know I’m not a very sophisticated guy. I know there are a few ladders where I’m going to be stuck on the bottom few rungs the rest of my life, and I know that will always bother me.

But I still have my heart. So, there’s that.

Copyright 2023 Brent Olson

bottom of page