Thursday, June 17, 2010

Putting Choices In Perspective

"You have nobody to blame but yourself". In this day and age, is that advice still considered wise counsel?

A small confession. I possess a bad habit that I particularly regret, yet it's a bad habit that I've never been able to shake: I tend to talk over people after I've asked them a question, stepping on their answer instead of being patient and polite enough to wait my turn to listen and learn.

It's a natural problem I have. As frustrating as it is to admit, it seems to be in my nature to behave this way.

An admission that leads to this observation: just because something comes naturally, that does not make it welcome, that does ennoble it as "good". Shouldn't it be a sign of maturity, that we can grow to recognize how much the ability to do something is in itself not the justification for actually doing it..? Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should... even if it's something that comes naturally to us.

If we're truly committed to survival through self-improvement, shouldn't we search for when and where it makes sense to place ourselves at odds with our own nature? Could we not say, that the most worthwhile self-improvement can most readily come to us when we are at war with nature?

What is the true result of our natural behavior; for any individual aspiring to a more righteous life, this would be one of the hardest answers to perceive, requiring as it does a full measure of honesty, humility, and patience... qualities that tend to come rather unnaturally to the human species.

Looking back over a mis-spent life, I can see now, with painful clarity, how so many of my natural habits have hurt me. Was this an insight that needed so much time to come into focus?

The honest answer is no. But for too many years, I was at war with reality instead of being at war with nature. The real reason for my finding myself in my present situation can be found... in my mirror: in the accumulation of habits I've nurtured, and in the ones I've denied myself.

Can this be one of the dividing lines between the conflicting worldviews imperfectly labeled "left" and "right"? Does being "on the right" mean that I am now at war with nature, as when I used to be "on the left" meant that I was at war with reality?

When someone allows themselves the false belief that bad habits should produce good results, what happens when reality contradicts them? They either look inward, towards the history of their behavior, to perceive which of their chosen reactions, which of their natural habits, deserves the blame. Through this insight we can come to see the need for a second nature, a renewal of ourselves through the adoption of more fruitful behavior.

Or: they may deflect their gaze outward, where the only conclusion remaining in sight is to look to fix the blame upon the habits and behaviors of others. They are then looking for a scapegoat, an excuse that will enable them to engage in a false conflict, rather than the necessary one to be waged against their own inner nature.

So much for honesty. So much for humility. So much for reality.

As we review our reactions to the circumstances that life has dealt us, as we trace a line to connect the results that have arisen from our choices, which direction does the search lead us, where do we find ourselves looking: to a destination within, or without?

When we find ourselves soaking wet, can it really be someone else's fault that we chose to take a long walk off a short pier..?

1 comment:

truepeers said...

Thought-provoking post.

So nature is not the same thing as reality? I think the problem most of us have in finding a shared truth that is beyond each of us alone lies in our inability to grasp how our biological natures are at odds with this shared, transcendent, human reality. But even then, I don't think that is the end of it. Human reality is such that even when we truly accept its challenges and begin really to understand it and its difference from nature, it doesn't provide us with easy ways out of the dilemmas and conflicts that are an inevitable part of being human.

Yes, there is no good in blaming scapegoats, but I think we sometimes are too keen to blame ourselves, to serve as the substitute scapegoat. Reality confounds us because ultimately is is not about temporary winners and losers and any leg up we get in respecting reality today might just make for a freer tomorrow that is yet more complicated and confounding.

But saying that to some degree we cannot but be trapped in dilemmas, paradoxes, and conflicts, is not to offer a license for giving up. People who struggle on in good faith and in respect for reality can live in hope that things will work out, that we will be somehow redeemed, that our lives will become turned towards the good of others in a way that goes beyond the kind of human sacrifice that is scapegoating or idolatry. But if there were guarantees, what would be the point - we'd all know the right formula to use by now.