Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Patience & Frustration

Stories now abound concerning the backlog at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; and as has been often stated by the undersigned attorney, if the old adage that “patience is a virtue” is truly a truism, then Federal and Postal employees must indeed be the most virtuous of individuals in any given society, because the long wait in order to obtain a decision — favorable or otherwise (and, if the latter, then at least the Federal or Postal worker can assert his or his reconsideration or appeal rights in the matter) — on a Federal Disability Retirement application certainly tests the outer limits of one’s moral character.

The inverse emotional reaction to the moral character of virtue, is the expression of frustration.  Such an expression is the release of irritation, anger, and an overwhelming sense of angst at a system and administrative procedure which follows no rules, acknowledges no time lines, and concedes no boundaries of what a “reasonable” length of time would be defined as.

Then, of course, one always hears of “stories” about individual X who filed and got a decision within a month of a case being assigned; or that individual Y went into bankruptcy while waiting for OPM to make a decision.  It is best to refrain from comparative analyses; such stories, in whatever form and to what extent of truth is contained, will only increase the level of frustration, and further test the moral fibre of virtue.

While there is no single answer to the long waiting period which OPM has imposed upon the process, this much is true:  Approvals are being issued; decisions are being made on a daily basis; it is simply a matter of time.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, this period of waiting must be “factored in”.  But when such factoring has occurred, the actual period of waiting is indeed a frustrating part of the administrative process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Fourth Parable and Lessons: Job Owned, but He Was Not Owned

One cannot, of course, improve upon the Book of Job; how Job’s wealth was vast and plentiful; where he was surrounded by his wife, seven sons and three daughters; the company of his friends, a reputation as a man who was blameless and upright; and in an instant, everything was lost.  Yet, when his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity?  Curse God and die!”

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks.  Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”  In all this Job did not sin with his lips.  Job 2:9-10.

It was Job who had great wealth, vast possessions; but upon losing his material wealth, he remained steadfast in his faith and joy.  For Job owned, but was not owned.  We mistake sometimes, and think that by not owning, we show virtue; but virtue is the ability to remain faithful upon a test; if the test is forever avoided, one may never know whether your virtue was real, or merely the butterfly’s dream.

Lessons from these four parables:

We must always be able to discern between the real and the absurd; to see beyond words; for words must match deeds; words must not merely be a playground of conceptual potentialities, though such conceptual frameworks sometimes have their value and place in the world of humanity.  Yes, a mud puddle could potentially drown a child, but the reality of such an event is remote, and must be viewed as such.  The test of a man may one day come; one must always be prepared for such a test.  And so the sword of a samurai must be ready to be unsheathed; but ever remaining in its sheath, if never used; yet, ready to be used, when called upon.  And virtue cannot be true where no test is ever encountered; un-ness is not a virtue when it is embraced; the virtue of un-ness is in the having, not in the vanity of viewing the Koishu Gardens, and thinking that by not owning, you have grasped the serenity of life.

Third Parable: Kitaro and the Blind Beggar Boy

Kitaro was a Monk of the Fifth Order; he was ranked by the Society of Elders to be “other-worldly”.  He had lived through the Purge of the Daiku Shogunate; he had survived through the Winter of Three Famines.  He was known throughout the Kinshu Province as The Wise One.  Wisdom was spoken without words; strength was displayed through a stare; Kitaro was visited by princes and royalties from the world over; he owned nothing – but a teapot and two teacups.

On this beautiful morning, with the sparrows chirping in the blossom of the radiant rock garden of Koishu Gardens, where the gravel had been carefully swept in symmetrical flowing waters around the moss-covered boulders, Kitaro was about to sit down for his morning tea.

The morning had seen many beggars wandering about, asking the Monastery for some rice.  One such beggar had been a child of ten who was blind from birth.  What irritated Kitaro – well, perhaps ‘irritated’ was too strong a word, for he had shown no such emotion – was that the boy was, in his opinion, slovenly as well as being blind.  A man can shut out the world with total darkness, Kitaro had thought to himself; but the world still sees such a man.

He prepared to sit down for a cup of tea; he could smell the sweet aroma of the boiling tea in the teapot; he stood just a foot away from the table upon which he sat each morning; and as he customarily did, he turned to the Koishu Gardens to survey the meditative serenity, so that when he would sit, he need not turn to the garden for further refreshment; his mind’s eye would already hold the butterfly’s dream, to enjoy along with the taste of his morning tea.

As he surveyed the beauty of the garden’s lack, he marveled at how beauty is not in the abundance, but in the un-ness; that life was not to be discovered in possessions, but rather in the joy of less-ness; and these life-lessons he had learned well, for he owned nothing – but for the teapot and the two cups, of course – and his joy was not found in material wealth, but rather the simple chirp of a sparrow landing upon the twig of a decaying tree, unbeknownst to the world, as decay is merely the lifespring of age, both of the soul, as well as of the body.

The material world had no hold upon Kitaro, and Kitaro had long ago renounced the materiality of the world around him.  By owning nothing – except for the teapot and the two cups – matter could not matter to him.  As he surveyed the vast desolation of the beauty of the Koishu Gardens, the right side of his lips curled ever so slightly, as if to scoff at the world around him; for the butterfly’s dream was the world he embraced; the material world had no hold upon him; the serenity of un-ness was the world he sat on top of; the rampant greed, and world of capitalism, the vulgarity of consumerism, and the unhappiness of the surrounding universe – he had conquered it all.

Kitaro embraced the serenity of the moment; the moment was as a grain of sand, its quiet beauty as uncomplicated as his own soul; the smallness as significant, as relevant, as existential importance, as man himself.  Kitaro felt no emotion; felt only oneness with the grain of sand, with the peace of the Koishu Gardens.

Suddenly, the serenity of the Koishu Gardens was shattered by a loud crash.  Kitaro turned.  Before him, just a foot away, was the stupid blind beggar boy.  Beside the stupid blind beggar boy were the remnants of what used to be Kitaro’s teapot and two cups, the sole possession of the Monk of the Fifth Order.  “Bakka!” Kitaro shouted, his face turning a crimson radiance.  “Bakka!”  The Koishu Gardens, with their serenity of un-ness, remained unmoved.  The upheaval of the world around never witnessed this episode.  The sudden heaving; the blind fury directed at the beggar boy who was blind from birth, but who committed the unforgivable sin of being stupid, and showing that stupidity by shattering the sole material possession of the Monk of the Fifth Order, revealing how such a small matter, indeed, mattered to Kitaro.

Virtue and Being

What does it mean to define something? At a minimum, it means to set it apart from others; for if x is to be defined, it must be defined as distinguished from y; otherwise, it remains subsumed and indistinguishable; for if in discussing x, you are unable to make heads or tails out of whether I am discussing either x or y, I have failed to set a boundary around the word, the subject, or concept about which I am discussing. I have failed to define my terms.

When taking on a partner in a business venture; accepting employment with a company or firm; interviewing a potential job candidate; considering a friendship; considering marriage; do we ever ask the question, Does he/she possess virtue? Or, What virtues (pluralizing the concept) does he/she possess? Is he/she virtuous (i.e., does that person’s essence or personhood contain the characteristics of virtue)? Are such questions so culturally irrelevant and anachronistic that they are no longer considered (is it similar to asking, how far must I travel before I fall off the edge of the earth?) Culturally, of course, it is interesting in this Post-modern Age that our language is dominated by purely emotive-injected adrenaline. Do I like him/do I love him/does he excite me/does he care for me? Virtue is without meaning; not because it cannot be defined, for certainly anyone can turn to a dictionary and verbalize the definition; rather, it has no meaning because it has no cultural relevance; it is a vacuous concept; it has fallen off the edge of the earth.

But can a truth exist without a mind to embrace it? Can virtue escape the historical relativity to which it has been relegated? And, moreover, how does one attain virtue? How can virtue retain a significance when the concept itself has been subsumed into relative vacuity? In Book II, Chapter 1, (1103b 21, following), Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle provides the key:

After noting that “moral virtue comes about as a result of habit,” he states: Thus, in one word, states of character arise out of like activities. This is why the activities we exhibit must be of a certain kind; it is because the states of character correspond to the differences between these. It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.

Thus, the conceptual vacuity of a concept like virtue need not remain so; truth unembraced and unacknowledged need not be perennially forgotten in the temple of meaninglessness; Aristotle’s point is that virtue, properly understood, has nothing to do with conceptual existence or non-existence; it has to do with the habit of acting in such manner as the consistency of actions brings about a state of character – of being virtuous. Just as one becomes a murderer by murdering; one is dishonest by acting dishonestly; so, one becomes virtuous by acting in a virtuous manner. Simplicity is often the subtle voice of profundity, and Aristotle is the master craftsman. In the cultural void of modern day; where chivalry, manners, being a ‘gentleman’; indignation at moral inappropriateness; embarrassment at lewd conduct; one may still define virtue, simply by being virtuous. And that is certainly how it should be – for words are cheap; a man can claim to be virtuous but act in ways which clearly define him differently; yet, consider the opposite: a man who acts virtuous, remains virtuous despite private thoughts to the contrary, for virtue is not defined by thoughts; it is defined by actions.

And so it is; we may recapture virtue, by being so. Let those who speak meaninglessness sound the hollow sounds of vacuity; those of substance, let his actions reveal the true Being of Virtue.