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Commentaries and observations about the conflicting moral beliefs and psychological issues facing our culture.
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27 May, 2020
Honoring Truth, Wisdom’s Price
I once consulted with a corporate executive who was a technical whiz and a shrewd decision-maker, but - alas - she was a wretched communicator, disliked by her associates, distrusted by her employees.
Because once she found a person’s vulnerable spot, she belittled and demeaned with scalding one-liners, scathing tirades and humorless put-downs.
Her technical “smarts” did not compensate for her intemperate communication, her lack of empathy for the human condition and for the missing qualities-of-character which Wisdom grants.
Yes, she was intelligent, but her mind was tightly closed, her heart embittered and unmoved – and others paid a painful price.
What’s It For ?
She did not understand that we are given the beneficial gift of communication so we may strive for three benevolent outcomes: 1) to clarify our intentions and facilitate degrees of mutual transparency; 2) to seek and share the best means to achieve worthy ends; 3) to bolster respect for each person’s dignity, even in strife and disagreement.
I realize this sounds idealistic. But when Wisdom prevails, these outcomes actually are human nature’s proper goals, the ultimate ends for which we are created.
Often (not always, but often) these qualities are most evident in a solid family, a marriage of mutual commitment and the balanced raising of children. In a loving family we are most likely to find appropriate expressions of mutual love and intimacy, collective friendship and fidelity, and respect for everyone’s dignity as hallmarks … even in strife and disagreement.
Other communication goals exist, of course: getting a job done well, the delights of civil conversation, emotional relief afforded by wit and humor, factual reportage, learning in a variety of contexts, defending ourselves against injustice, sharing secrets with our Beloved … on and on.
But above all else, not only in family but in all reaches of society, the gift of communication is given to us for clarity and understanding with one another, to reduce confusion and to reveal each person’s individuality.
Effective communication guides us through a plethora of relationships, with everyone’s dignity intact. And, once in a great while, precious intimacy may be shared with those rare few we come to trust as “true friends.”
The Gift Of Communication
Some communication is fleeting because the encounter is superficial and ephemeral, soon forgotten. But some relationships are so significant and so life-giving that they define us.
Some communication is stressful, even abrasive. No life is without crises and injuries; pain is inevitable. But some communication brings peace to the soul and joy to the heart, sometimes without a word being said, sometimes by the simple touch of hands or the glimpse of smiling eyes.
Whatever the circumstances, our gift of communication is not meant to be abused or “weaponized” nor meant to harm or demean others while elevating ourselves.
But beyond social and moral reasons for using our gift of communication with virtuous consistency, the proper goal of communication is Truth.
We are born to seek Truth and we are restless to know Truth about God, about ourselves and about life.
That’s why lies are offensive to us and deception is so disconcerting to the soul and psyche: they violate the deepest value which defines human nature, namely, our unquenchable need for Truth.
The power of Truth is magnetic to the soul.
So, when we say that we must monitor our own communication, this really means we must moderate ourselves. Why is this so essential? In the eyes of others, what we say (in our tone and our gestures, as well as in our words) is who we are and what we are. We cannot forever conceal the Truth about ourselves.
That’s why is it most unwise to violate boundaries of mutual respect or to demean human dignity (which underscore the moral responsibilities we have to one another, even to strangers).
And how do we monitor ourselves?
By honoring objective standards of self-control, prudence, good judgment, empathy --- and a host of other attitudes and skills which are called virtues (from “virtus” which in Latin means “strength”).
These virtues - these “strengths” - are the contents of our character which guide us (or should) throughout life. These virtues come alive in the way we think and how we act. They regulate our thoughts and behavior.
But these standards - these virtues - are not merely subjective principles or merely personal; we do not make them up. They are universal standards; they apply to everyone. Cultural variations appear, of course, but the underlying principles are based on human nature’s innate need for Truth.
Of course, some people have their own personal versions of “the truth.” Indeed, we all see and interpret “reality” according to our own mode of receiving and processing information. But in the last analysis, Truth is not merely a personal “reality” filtered through our five senses.
Truth is instilled into human nature by God and is, therefore, available for our comprehension and reverence provided we seek Truth humbly, with good will and an open heart, ready to go beyond the distracting illusions of resistant ego.
Truth carries profound weight in human affairs, even though it is so often stretched and mangled in the barrage of unsavory accusations and shallow harangue which constitute much of today’s public discourse.
What’s involved in honoring Truth? Let’s look at some basics.
Truth Has Consequences
For starters, Truth tells us that the world does not exist solely for us; other people matter. Truth reminds us that we share this world with others, like them or not.
Truth often requires us to make difficult decisions and endure suffering in ways which afford us little consolation or logic. And when we are thrust into painful circumstances, Truth tells us that gratitude rather than self-pitying victimhood is the wiser course.
Truth does not indulge in posturing or pretense. Simplicity of spirit is easier on the soul … and on the sensibilities of others.
Truth resists abusive language inspired by sophistic ideology or a preening ego. It abhors “virtue signaling,” i.e., that prissy, addictive rush of smug self-righteousness which alibis the offensive use of false accusations and foppish rhetoric.
Truth requires humility, with its abiding distaste for falsehood, manipulation and deception. Some self-absorbed persons find Truth an alienating burden. Nonetheless, Truth necessitates acceptance of our limitations and our strengths – and that sort of candor takes humility.
Dignity And Responsibility
Even more testily, Truth demands that we do our best to respect the dignity of others. But such respect does not mean we ignore or excuse the irresponsible actions of others. We do not adapt moral laxity. We do not overlook our own responsibility to speak up when avoidable harm is done and deliberate pain is inflicted.
Respect for others does not mean we are morally neutral. It does not mean we subscribe to the moral fallacy that we can do anything we please, as long as no harm comes to others.
We do not accept the principle of moral anarchy, which says, “I can do what I please in private….”
For example, some critics argue for “unlimited freedom.” They contend that watching pornography or taking drugs is a private matter. No one is harmed, so what’s the big deal?
The Truth is that extraordinary harm is directly associated with the production and distribution of porn. In addition, the destruction of countless lives and unspeakable violence is inherent in the production and distribution of so-called “recreational” drugs.
The Truth is that even remote support for these evils is still support for evil and for its indefensible outcomes -- no matter how strenuously one argues for specious “personal freedoms” or for so-called “civil rights” which are, so often, “uncivil wrongs.”
The Truth is that we do not exist in a moral vacuum. First, we are given a relationship with God, then born into a human community in which reasonable laws and expectations already exist.
The Truth is that we are bound, first of all, by our responsibilities to God and to one another. Rights come later, after we learn to be responsible persons, who uphold our part of those relationships.
But Truth also recognizes that we are fallible creatures, capable of grave error under the banners of false “freedoms.” Some of our mistakes can be fatal, which emphasizes the fact that we cannot live solely for ourselves, carelessly strewing insult and imposing injury as we pass.
We are all responsible to others for what we say and do. This mutual dependence is the foundation of our moral life and of our responsibilities to God and to other persons.
The Truth is that we are bound - first and foremost - by laws God has given us. These laws coalesce in the greatest of all Truths, the command to do what often seems impossible: to (gulp) love one another (including children unborn and being-born) as we are loved … and that can be quite a chore.
We can ignore these Truths and deny these standards and reject these virtues … and, in the process, severely mis-manage our freedoms. We can abuse others - even fatally - with righteous anger or acidic cynicism or delusional appeals to non-existing “rights.” But we thereby risk enabling cultural dis-eases and extending the umbra of moral darkness throughout our culture.
Moral darkness fuels hostility and chaos, futility and depression, revenge and schadenfreude, as it unleashes the fallen angels of our nature, whose power should never be underestimated.
The Wages Of Moral Darkness
Moral darkness banishes God and stiff-arms moral acuity. It extinguishes our respect for one another, and for life itself. Truth is eradicated. Rhetoric becomes “weaponized.” Evidence is ridiculed. Accusations, exaggerations and deceptions abound. Facts are blithely dismissed. Moral darkness spawns the denial of science. It rejects solid tradition and fosters deliberate lies.
Common sense and our own experience surely tell us that unbridled urges and itchy egos must be brought into sync with standards of Truth. Maturity demands virtue from all of us, as individuals and as a nation. No matter how righteously we try, we cannot sanitize bad behavior nor ennoble harmful choices.
Wisdom is chastened by history’s hardest lessons … but it is also aware of the high price human nature continues to pay for our repetitive propensity to ignore those lessons. That is why our cultural, moral and historical traditions matter. They are crucial to our nation’s survival.
Today, more than ever, caution is essential, especially in public discourse, because so many people thoughtlessly jettison the moral foundations of our national identity. God forbid we should lose (as Reagan called it) “the will and moral courage” to keep us a free people.
A Word To The Wise
Fidelity to Truth eventually begets Wisdom beyond intelligence. In turn, Wisdom embraces both worldly knowledge and spiritual discernment, both Faith and Reason.
Wisdom is seasoned by humility and prudence, earned through painful exposure of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and by acceptance of one’s vulnerabilities. And Wisdom is always alert to the unintended consequences of its own inclinations and choices.
Wisdom eschews shallow excuses, fatuous fads and trendy superficiality. But Wisdom is not quickly nor painlessly gained, because it demands internal discipline from us to do the right thing – and the impulse to the contrary is ofttimes unquenchable.
Wisdom distrusts artificial displays of frothy emotionality and feigned sentimentality. Wisdom attends to the stability of our souls and the consistency of our intentions. It weighs the long-term outcomes of our actions because it knows that an undisciplined ego leads immature persons (of any age) into avoidable error.
Wisdom eventually imparts to us a sense of wonderment which is far more than curiosity. It is a sense of awe, acknowledgement of creation’s mysteries which are beyond human understanding or control in their origin and outcome.
This sense of wonderment eventually blossoms into reverence, which is the foundation upon which God’s revelation rests.
Wisdom, Rights And Responsibilities
Because fallen human nature can get pushy and ego-flated, the exercise of our rights is always limited, codified first by God, Our Creator, then by the State, the family, our culture and society.
Thus, as we age (and, hopefully, mature) we are expected to gradually assume certain responsibilities. As stated above, only then may we legitimately exercise limited rights. Responsibilities come first; then rights … and never one without the other.
Furthermore, Wisdom insists we do not possess unrestricted rights or wide-open personal freedom. Our rights unfold only when we first accept prior responsibilities and obligations. But even then, our rights are never unlimited or without restrictions, boundaries and moral consequences.
To demand one’s rights without honoring one’s responsibilities is to live only for oneself. This is the nadir of immaturity. It speeds destruction of family, culture and society.
Responsibilities And Rights Are Inseparable
The Truth is that our rights cannot be separated from our responsibilities. Rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same hand; they are inseparable … but responsibilities come first.
Thus, Wisdom tell us that we are NOT given freedom to do as we please. We are given freedom so we may first fulfill our responsibilities to God and to others in our community.
This principle of mutual concern is the basis of community life. It’s fundamental to healthy parenting, to a secure family, to a healthy and lawful society. And (as our Founding Fathers knew when they risked their lives for this principle) it is essential to the health of our nation which, as John Adams said, relies on a moral citizenry for survival.
The Practical Value Of Truth
To sum up, Truth and Wisdom require of us and bestow upon us:
- intellectual clarity (i.e., learned ability to reason factually, correctly and logically) and the humility to admit our ignorance;
- emotional stability (i.e., prudence, self-knowledge and self-restraint) and the strength to delay personal gratification;
- the moral strength to speak and act according to various principles which we call “virtues,” both civic and spiritual.
- The gift of wonderment and hopeful awe, which open the heart, move the spirit and calm the soul … even in adversity and travail, trusting that God is both “out there somewhere” and yet deeply within our needy selves.
Truth neither denies evidence nor exaggerates reality. Rather, Truth understands that all knowledge and virtue, all hope and love, begin with our humble admission of how little we really know about life … and about ourselves and, therefore, how much sense it truly does make when we honor the Reality of God’s Presence in our world.
Truth looks life’s mysteries directly in the eye and recognizes the folly of denial and self-adulation -- and gladly says “Yes” to Faith and “Yes” the reassurance of belief.
Truth brings us to the threshold of Wisdom, which is, after all, the threshold of God’s own grace-filled embrace.
Finally, then, let us pray kindly for one another -- that our desire for Truth and our sense of wonderment and our respect for one another will continue to move our hearts and abide within each of us and all of us … all the days of our lives …