A Personal Note

This may turn out to be a slightly more personal post than I’m inclined to produce. Not that I’m experiencing a quandary in my personal life — in fact, I’m not even sure I have a personal life — but that I’m experiencing a quandary in my spiritual life.  It’s a quandary that I’m inclined to share.

A strange conflict is taking place between desire be positive and optimistic in life, and my moral obligation to assume responsibility for my choices.

It may seem at first that the two are unrelated.  How would a sense of obligation to assume responsibility for my choice conflict with a desire to remain positive?   Aren’t the most happy people the ones who do assume responsibility for their personal choices, rather than blame their misfortunes on others?

Happiest People Meme (2)

Apparently, this is the case.  So let me explain what I mean.

I am a very introspective person who is continually examining his behavior.  I often find great fault in my choices.  Then I feel guilty for having made the wrong choice.   The more wrong choices I make, the more guilty I feel.   When I feel sufficiently guilty, I find myself despairing.  I believe that my personality is impossible — that it will never become any better than it is today, and like-as-not worsen with age.

Today I happen to  be in a very good mood.   I slept a good six hours and had a nice two and a half mile run in the morning.  A good night’s sleep followed by a good run tends to lift my spirits.   So, while I’m feeling good, I’d like to examine this dynamic.

First off, it is possible that some of the choices over which I feel guilty are not actually wrong.   For example, I felt guilty for not being there for my daughter last night when she wanted critique on some of her work.  But was it actually wrong that I was unavailable?   Not really.  I was simply unavailable.  Not everything that one feels guilty about is an indicator that one has done something wrong.

Secondly, it’s possible that I am forgetting that Jesus died for all of my bad choices, and that I am cleansed from my former sins.   I almost hesitate to include this part.   We’ve probably all met believers who rationalize all kinds of immoral behavior on the basis of having been “forgiven.”  For these people, the words of St. Paul in Romans Six are lost:

Shall we then sin that grace my abound?  God forbid!   — Romans 6:1

But I don’t think I fit that modus operandi.  I’m a lot more uptight about my personal peccadilloes than many believers.  Often, people tell me I’m “too hard on myself.”  While that may be true, I don’t think it ought to be a justification for moral laxity.

For example, I sometimes don’t exercise due restraint in social situations, or over email.   I feel as though I am spewing my overactive mind upon innocent recipients of email replies.  Then, I have to apologize for the behavior, which leads to an unwanted discussion with said recipients.  I feel as though I am often having to “put out fires” that I myself have started.

So now you see how my desire to be fully accountable for my actions can make a dent in my positive spirit.  What is tempting – and what I try not to do — is to base my positive feelings on a comparison between myself and others.   Suppose I say: “Well, at least I’m better than John Doe.   At least I don’t try to pull that kind of stuff.”  If I do so, how is this any different than refusing to look at my own actions?

Not much, I fear.   Or am I only being hard on myself?

Maybe you know.   Until recently, when someone said — yet again – that I am “too hard on myself,” I honestly had no idea what they were talking about.  In my world, if anything, I’m too lax.

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Tuesday Tuneup 98

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Self-doubt.

Q. Isn’t that a good thing?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Well, why should you have any faith in yourself?

A. Why should I not?

Q. Are you not completely flawed far beyond your capacity even to know it?

A. That’s what the Bible says, yes.  But still, I think in practical reality, it somehow doesn’t help for me to grasp how completely incapable I am.

Q. But isn’t God fully capable?

A. Well sure He is.  But so what?   God’s not going to come down and tie my shoe for me.  There are some things a person just has to do for themselves.

Q. How many times has God come down and helped you find a missing item?

A. Many times.  Sometimes I just shout out: “Where’s my glasses?” Then I find myself looking straight at them.   But He still won’t help me tie my shoe.

Q. Are you having a problem tying your shoes?

A. Not anymore.  Not since I’m no longer being ridiculed about the way I tie them.

Q. Who used to ridicule you?

A. Oh, the kids on the playground.

Q. Wasn’t that a long time ago?

A. Yeah, but it stuck with me.

Q. So what did the kids say when they ridiculed you?

A. Apparently, I’m throwing some kind of extra movement into the tying of the shoe that doesn’t need to be there.  They laughed because I don’t tie my shoes the right way.   I only tie them my way.

Q. But your way still works, doesn’t it?

A. More-or-less.  I do notice I have to bend down and retie them a lot.

Q. And what else do you notice?

A. Sometimes I forget to tie them entirely.  I just go about walking with them untied.

Q. Then what happens?

A. Depends on whether I’m alone or with another person.  If I’m alone, I just wait until there’s a logical place to tie my shoe without having to bend down all the way to the ground.  Like, you know, a fire hydrant.  Then I tie my shoe using the hydrant.

Q. What if there’s another person with you?

A. Usually, they notice that my shoe isn’t tied, and they tell me to tie my shoe.

Q. What do you do then?

A. Well, I certainly don’t tie it just because they told me to!   I usually respond with an expletive, adding that I’ll tie my shoe when I’m good and ready.   

Q. Do you have issues with authority?

A. I have issues with people issuing direct imperatives, yes.   Especially if they are not an authority, but an equal.

Q. Are authorities not equals?

A. I suppose they are.  They just don’t act like it.

Q. So you dislike not being treated as an equal?

A.  Dislike doesn’t say it.  I despise it.  We’re all equals and no one has the right to treat someone as a subordinate.  Unless, of course, you’re in the military or some other form of hierarchical structure to which you’ve signed on.  And in such a case, you asked for it.

Q. You did?  What if you got drafted?

A. Good point.   I’d have escaped to Canada, myself.

Q. Might you still?

A. Might I still what?

Q. Escape to Canada?

A. At this point, that would hardly be an escape.  More like a practical maneuver.  But I doubt they’d let me in.  I think I have to marry someone there, or something like that.

Q. Would you like to marry someone from Canada?

A. Sounds pretty romantic, but probably unlikely.    

Q. What about a marriage of convenience?

A. I wouldn’t know anything about those.  I’ve only been in a marriage of inconvenience.

Q. What was inconvenient about it?

A. Uh — conflict of lifestyles.   But aren’t we getting off the subject?

Q. What was the subject?

A. Something about equality and authority.

Q. Ah yes, how could I forget?

A. I have no idea.

Q. So — as I was saying, do you dislike being treated as an unequal?

A. Of course!  Who likes to be treated with condescension?  

Q. Why is this on your mind?

A. Something disturbing that happened a few days ago.   An unpleasant interaction with an old friend of mine.

Q. Who did not treat you as an equal?

A. Well – triggered the memory thereof.  The memory of —  almost never being regarded as an equal.  A time in my life when I just accepted the uneasy fact that most people looked down on me, as though I were despicable.

Q. Why would you have been despicable?

A. Uh — homeless — and homeless in the Big City.   It’s cold enough in the Big City to begin with.  When you become homeless, you find out just how cold it can be.

Q. But you’re not homeless now, are you?

A. No I’m not.

Q. Why are you so hung up on the past?

A. That, sir, might be the most important question you have ever asked me.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Tuesday Tuneup 25

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater integrity.

Q. What makes you think you lack integrity?

A. Hypocrisy.

Q. What makes you a hypocrite?

A. I say things for effect.  I don’t speak my truth.  I say things that I think will entertain the person I’m with.  Or, if not entertain them, in some way impress or please them.  I’m a hypocrite, kinda like a politician.  

Q. But don’t you value your integrity?

A. That I do.

Q. Then surely, doesn’t this come through in your interactions with others?

A. Perhaps.  But I think it’s far clouded over by the entertainer aspect.

Q. Are you saying that you don’t think people take you seriously?

A. Exactly.  That’s what it is.  They don’t take me seriously, because even my truth is obscured by all the entertainer tactics.

Q. Tactics?

A. You know — making them laugh, making them smile, making them cheer, making them clap.

Q. Won’t it help you in your cause to get them on your side?

A. Sure.  But it’s not really my side that I get them on.  I only get them on the side of the entertainer.

Q. And who is the entertainer?

A. The entertainer is a guy who has been trained to try to take people’s mind off of their troubles.

Q. And how does this conflict with your truth?

A. My truth ought to actually remind them of their troubles, and get them to want to do something about them.

Q. So your truth and your entertainer are in conflict?

A. You could put it that way.

Q. Which is more important?

A. My truth.

Q. Then why not ditch the entertainer?

A. Old habits die hard.  

Q. Can’t you try?

A. I can.

Q. Will you?

A. Give me three weeks.

Q. What will happen then?

A. You’ll come back and check, and see how I’m doing.  Say, around Tuesday Tuneup 28.

Q. May I be excused then?

A. You may.

The Questioner is silent. 

 

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Anything Helps – God Bless!