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Commentaries and observations about the conflicting moral beliefs and psychological issues facing our culture.
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"AWAY WITH WORDS"
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30 May 2019
Through Decades Past
When we are young, time is timeless, the passage of years meaningless, the future endless as life enviably awaits. Somewhere along that rosy continuum as years tick by, a limit gradually arises and the shadowed future comes upon us with hovering presence. Then does one’s focus re-align; priorities evolve, and the uncluttered past becomes the present, precious reality.
At some moment, we are brought to realize that we are subject to the vagaries of time and the ebb of aging … that we are not immune to the quirks of Nature’s relentless nudge.
Hopefully, the inevitable accumulation of our elder years teaches us a smidgen of Wisdom which reveals to us how endearing life can be, how blessed each day truly is, how irreplaceable each moment becomes.
If, as we age, we are honest with ourselves, our elder’s Wisdom (which is really a gift from God) will relish the simplest delights of life … the sunrise, the feel of rain, the silence of night, the smell of flowers, the giggles of giddy children, the grace of love given and love received, the amazing sounds of birds, the sigh of a freshening wind, the taste of warm bread and butter, the embrace of sleep to the weary soul, the redeeming touch of the Beloved’s hand in times of glee and grief.
Life’s Meandering Ways
Each day, our elder’s Wisdom leads us to relish anew all that life offers and all that Creation so generously provides … even as we quietly cope with the precarious edges of Nature’s unpredictable moods.
Our elder’s Wisdom often brings consoling insight, and ushers us into a place of Humility as we accept the fact that we have no idea what God has in store for us ... and we also smile as we admit that ambiguity has always been the underlying reality of our lifetimes all along.
However, without the gifts of Wisdom and Humility and Faith and Hope, the passage of one’s latter years can be intimidating – especially when one’s elder days and nights are shadowed with the caustic residue of stubborn nihilism and grudging denial. Then does self-pity infect that portion of our souls wherein simple Faith and Humility and Hope should now abide.
Indeed, Wisdom now says to us elders that Humility and Faith and Hope are the logical paths onto which our length of days should lead us. And Wisdom infuses us with confidence that all is surely well, for we have always – from the beginning of life -- been headed here, to be sure.
The Most Important Question
A precocious - and inquisitive - child asked me recently what I have learned in my lifetime. After my decades of countless mistakes and revisions, that question opens many doors for me. What do I believe about life and people? What First Principles have I learned which guide my thoughts and actions? What values do I hold?
As I ponder, I am moved to share some -- some -- of what I have learned and what I believe. Some people will disagree with me, I am sure. If so, I welcome critique -- but here, I seek only clarity, not agreement.
To Seek Truth
1) First of all, I believe the human mind seeks to know truth with clarity -- and the heart seeks communication and union with the Other. It is for these two goals that we are given the gift of life, and it is these goals which define our human nature. All else rests on these two natural ends.
Unfortunately, our culture is o’erladen with the deliberate abuse of language and the calculated obfuscation of reality, with fallacious double-speak and verbal cosmetics intended to deprive us of truth and clarity, of common sense and awareness that self-restraint is essential for true freedom.
2) Human beings are born into a moral context. Right and wrong do exist; moral good and moral evil do exist – and we are capable of both because human nature is flawed and prone to error. We are -- all of us -- flawed human beings, driven to satisfy and defend ourselves. We become confused and we confuse others, so we must struggle for truth and clarity. That is why we have the power to choose, the gift of free will and the innate desire to know.
3) When we become confused and off-track, we forget that freedom does not mean we can do as we please. True freedom means we have the right and the obligation to pursue truth freely, without intrusion or coercion, without obstruction or interference of outside agents, such as government or persecutors or those who manipulate language to deny us clarity. We are free to seek and do goodness, not to promote evil or wrongdoing.
4) Because of our inherent flaws, we need a source of truth beyond ourselves. Knowledge of truth and unity, goodness and love, flow from a source above and beyond us, beyond our limited, subjective humanity. That’s where God, our Creator, is our first and best resource.
5) Most people (but not all) are born with the gifts of altruism and empathy. But these redeeming qualities, like all positive qualities, must be nurtured all our lives. Their absence (either by Nature or by choice) is the foundation of pathology. And these qualities are best realized within the traditional family of one man and one woman who, together, supply mental, emotional and moral balance with truth and clarity … as God and Nature intend.
Parents, Maturity and Learning
6) Parents are the primary educators of their children. Parents set the intellectual and moral standards for behavior and belief. Parents model the rules of character and self-restraint, of truth and clarity … with maturity and constancy. They provide the right kind of love, even when difficult … for loving is a lifetime work of art.
7) Maturity requires A] a moral compass based on objective standards, not individual whims or popular fads, and B] an intellectual framework or cognitive map by which we direct our lives, accept responsibility, maintain mutual accountability, refine our moral character, make just and prudent decisions in light of the impact on others, and humbly admit when we are wrong.
8) "Moral" in this context means that human interactions are not neutral or without some impact.
Many people see morality as hindrance and restriction of their freedom and liberty. But, in fact, moral principles (i.e., the virtues) are actually guidelines for behavior in the family and the community.
Morality and virtue are essential for human freedom and flourishing. They are mutual protections against the anarchy of radical individualism which floods our culture, resulting in the denial of life itself and the destruction of our culture’s noblest traditions.
9) “Moral” means our behavior has consequences on self and others for good or for evil, for right or for wrong, depending on what choices we make. Much of what we say and do may seem unimportant, but we influence the thoughts, emotions, reactions, perceptions and standards of other persons, especially in family and in educational settings. And the virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, for starters) are behavioral markers along the path of moral goodness and community stability.
Everyone can exert influence for good … but we must guard against indifference, arrogance and cynicism which are so sadly evident in our world today.
10) Painful experiences are essential if we are to learn the harmful outcomes of doing wrong and the necessity to seek truth and clarity – and, thus, do what is right. Pain is the best route to understanding ourselves. Pain is the most persuasive teacher when we confront our weaknesses and accept our responsibilities.
The Gift Of Wisdom
11) Wisdom is radically different from all other forms of knowledge, including academic, technical and intuitive street-smarts. A person can be an academic or a financial achiever and still be unwise in his choices and immature in his personal life and behavior.
12) Wisdom gives insight into the nuances and subtleties of human nature’s motives and temptations, foibles and folly, and the impact we have on one another.
13) Wisdom has no illusions about how human beings delude themselves when we are imprudent, self-serving, crassly selfish and thoughtless. Wisdom perceives the truth in unvarnished clarity, and foresees outcomes which may be ignored by choice or obscured by inexperience.
14) Wisdom is best learned when we face hard realities, confront our errors and are stripped (voluntarily or not) of our ego’s excessive defenses and puffed-up pretenses.
15) Thus, Wisdom reveals truths which one attempts (sometimes for a lifetime) to hide from self and others to preserve, protect and defend one's rickety ego.
To Thine Own Self Be True . . .
Like it or not, life is meant for sacrifice and generosity. No truth or clarity can be found in this life without personal sacrifice. It is a hard saying, but pleasure is not the goal of living, nor is happiness the high point. Giving one’s self to others and for others is the goal, the grandest of all paths we can pursue.
We live in a zone of choice between the possibility of evil and the bright promise of goodness. It is a zone made precarious by our weaknesses and flaws. Avoidance and denial, narcissism and aggrieved victimhood, resentment and hubris are hurdles to truth and clarity, to sacrifice and loving generosity, to humility and candor, all of which are Wisdom’s pre-requisites and rewards.
Our self-protective cocoons of denial and self-delusion are rooted in distortions we have about ourselves. Facing candid truth about one’s self is always painful and requires the assistance of others. But truth and clarity are the healthiest routes to sanity, stability - and Wisdom.
Finding others who are trustworthy and who possess fidelity and loyalty is difficult. Such persons are true friends --- and they are truly rare.
Our Need For Friendship
A true friend - especially the friend we marry - learns how to love us selflessly, how to risk our rejection, how to gain our trust by telling us the truth, sometimes painfully so.
Such loving friendship is characterized by sacrifice and the struggle for truth and clarity. Without truth, there is no friendship. A true friend does not collaborate in our subterfuge nor abet the cozy, ego-easing lies we may tell ourselves.
Such a friend sees us clearly and does not back away when our defenses rise or our ego flees. That friend perseveres in seeking our best interests … even if doing so is exquisitely painful for us both … for truth is a costly sacrifice which the love of friendship willingly endures.
A Source Of Truth And Clarity
Here’s a big question: Where do we find the truths and the clarity -- the working principles -- which bring us to Wisdom’s threshold? What is the best source of truth and clarity – at least as far as we can know them in this life?
For me, that path has been – and remains -- the Catholic world-view, the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, the life of Faith which (as Dr. Jordan Peterson says) “…is as sane as it gets...”
Why the Catholic path?
Because it makes more sense than any other path. The First Principles of Catholic thought and their grasp of human nature most clearly define the problems of our existence and offer a pathway through the errors of which we are capable as individuals and as a race.
Its teachings -- when courageously and rightly lived -- offer no gimmicks or excuses or avoidant techniques, no cosmetic cover-ups or pockets of comfy deception, no accommodation to the flight from truth and denials of clarity in which our culture indulges.
The fact that some of its practitioners are evildoers does not detract from the clarity or truth that goodness is a personal choice, as is evil. The ageless principles are clearly explained …. and the individual is the responsible agent of choice.
Finally . . .
These few principles above are merely a beginning, but they seem (at least to me) to offer the best explanation of:
- what our lives are all about,
- what path to take to get where we are heading,
- to what goals we should apply ourselves,
- for what purpose we are brought into family and community and friendship,
- toward what higher goals we should mightily strive,
- how best to weather the travail and misfortunes we surely encounter,
- where to find the solace and gumption for all this….
… in short, why God has put us here in the first place and what to do with our lives.
And let us make no mistake: God is behind all of this. God is here. God is God – and we are not.
Clarity? Truth? One has only to step into the night and look up into the darkened sky filled with a billion universes … or have one’s finger held tightly in the grasp of a newborn baby … and then be still -- and know.