“If you could put any message on a billboard that millions of people would see, what would it be?” Tim Ferriss asks this of his podcast guests, and it’s got me thinking: What would I want to say?
Any message worth putting up would have to be one that folks wouldn’t get elsewhere–why else go to all the trouble to get the billboard if you’re not saying something interesting?
So, here are some ideas that I don’t think you’d see anywhere else.
Anything Worth Having Comes With a Cost
I talked about this billboard option earlier today in my Sunday sermon. I’ve been racking my brain, and I can’t think of a single contrary example. Even things that are free to me still cost other people. The reason this is an important message is that it reminds us that when we face difficulty in learning Spanish or getting in shape or becoming sober or raising kids or being married, we should persevere: that the cost should be expected, and it’s worth it.
Human Nature Doesn’t Change
We think we are so advanced: we have the iPhone and the jumbo jet and the electric toothbrush. And, when it comes to our technology, we are advanced. But, technological advances don’t change human nature: our biggest problem is within, and it has been forever. How do we best use all this technology? That’s where wisdom is required. People have been the same everywhere: we’re just as jealous, petty, brave, murderous, kind, etc., as we ever were. Technology doesn’t change human nature, which means we need to learn the exact same lessons of our ancestors: how to forgive, how to face our fears, how to have a flourishing family. Those lessons take time. All the technological advances in the world are useless at best and dangerous at worst if we don’t take the time to learn from what the people before us learned. (This is why, by the way, the liberal arts are more important than ever. Sure, I have an iPhone, but that won’t help me have a great marriage. I can fly around the world, but what does it take to raise my kids well? Homer and Dostoevsky, et al, have something to teach us here.)
Progress Is An Illusion
Human nature doesn’t change (see above). So, it seems to me that the more advanced we get, the more ways we find to kill each other. Now, I’m grateful for our advances in medical technology, for example–I can’t imagine living in a time without modern dentistry–but life is still difficult, and sin has a way of ruining everything. Take the internet, for example–it’s brought lots of good things, but it has also made pornography available to children–something that no society has ever had to deal with before. I believe that we should always be striving to improve and develop our civilization, but I also believe that there are no problem-free situations, and that everything this side of heaven comes with unintended consequences. (This is what Tolkien called “the long defeat.”) Neither human nature nor the world in general is perfectible (this fact is why I’m not a progressive), and though it is possible to make advances in this or that area, Progress will always be out of reach.
Catch a Common Theme?
I believe suffering and difficulty are part of life and that human nature is not perfectible. If ever there were a people who needed to be reminded of those inconvenient truths, it is modern Americans. That might sound harsh, but I actually find those messages to be helpful! When things get hard for me, I shouldn’t be surprised–it’s just the way life works. But, if the three billboards above seem too negative, here’s one more:
In the End, Everything Will Be Okay; If It’s Not Okay, Then It’s Not the End
I think that message is basically the best news that’s ever been given, and one you can’t hear too often. Keep going!
What about you? What would your billboard say?