Over the past four months, the various Qube Books questions I have pondered, studied and written about have taken me on a personal journey. Starting with these questions, I have posed further questions to myself and to you. With your help, I have formulated the beginnings of answers and have asserted some things that I believe to be true. Particularly, in our discussion of the last question, I wrapped up the idea of success in the metaphor of growth; success being right or straight growth, which requires us to live in accordance with truth. So during this week, I’ve been wondering, “how successful am I?” In the course of this blog, I have called many things true; but do I live like these are true?
I rather quickly saw my own personal chasm—between my knowledge of the good and my embodying of it—widen and deepen, looming very large, indeed. And just at this point, I made a near fatal mistake. I embraced pessimism. The dictionary defines pessimism as: the doctrine that the existing world is the worst of all possible worlds, or that all things naturally tend to evil. In other words, pessimism makes its home in the molten rock at the very bottom of the chasm; it does not acknowledge true good nor does it take any notice of me, clinging to the opposite canyon wall as I search and reach for virtue. My own small “descent into hell” found expression in an Email of Great Despair which I sent to my friend, who thankfully didn’t tolerate my rant and effectively shut me up. Ironically, frustration over my failure to live in accordance with truth had led me to further perjure myself by behaving as if evil were stronger than good or as if ugliness could trump beauty. I said my mistake was a near fatal one, but that is only because I have a very good friend. Pessimism, unchecked, is always fatal to thought and progress.
It is helpful to take a periodic moral inventory of ourselves; doing so can expose not only where our actions fail to reflect truth but where, perhaps we have misjudged something to be true and are unable to act in accordance with it because it contradicts the truth about us and our world. I can deny gravity until I'm blue in the face, but I will continue to set my water glass securely on the table. Or—more relevantly—I can profess pessimism concerning my actions but at the end of the day, I still kiss my sons and sing them a lullaby.
To be human is to be dignified as moral agents in this world. With this distinction, comes the responsibility to live as if we really are moral agents. On our drive to school a few mornings ago, my ten year old and I explored his breakfast table unkindness toward his brother. He said, “I don’t want to be mean to him, but it’s so much easier to do bad than it is to do good.” And in a way, it is. Life requires maintenance, in addition to advancement, if we are ever to hold or incarnate the truths we unearth. I think this is where habit training comes in; if we lay the tracks of habit, we ease our moral engine maintenance effort considerably.
In this sense, we can be “living successfully” in a way that is roughly consistent with our professed beliefs. But in another sense, there is no single moment in which we personify perfection or even success. We aren’t static beings. No matter how far we progress or how far we regress, we are always standing at the moment of reckoning; we are perpetually facing the chasm between ourselves and what is good and at any moment, any one of us may widen or narrow the gap.
Along these lines, I intend to conduct a little experiment over the next two weeks. I’m going to ask myself the double-sided question, “Do I live like that’s true?”, examining both my behavior and my assertions for short-comings. I’ll let you know what I come up with. Let me know what you think about this question and join in my experiment, if you dare.