Today, is my 3rd anniversary.
Last night, I turned to my wife, “Yasmin, we’ve been married three years. We made it.” She replied, “I guess this is still better than when you told me that only three months after our wedding!” Those who know me, know that this kind of relationship has never been an area of particular success, and I’m quite proud of the progress I’ve had over the last few years, even if they’ve been baby steps. What accounts for my improved results in being in a relationship? (This has been my longest relationship by far!)
But one thing that helped me a lot is calibrating my perspective
It isn’t that the situations our relationship finds itself in are incredibly amazing. In many ways, on paper, you’d be forgiven for thinking our situation is quite complex, even very complex. For starters, I’ve never been successful in any of my past relationships. Yasmin is divorced. We have incredibly different backgrounds and personalities given our cultural differences, upbringing differences, and seven year age gap. We have a twenty year old son (from her previous marriage) and a one year old son. Both our parents live in far away cities (mine in Singapore and Yasmin’s in London), meaning we take care of most things ourselves. While work has been rewarding and is extremely exciting, my businesses, particularly the startup social impact company Bridge, demand a lot of time and financial investment, meaning very long hours for me at work and Yasmin holding the fort at home, as well as, super tight budgets.
Just a few days ago, Yasmin, was telling me of how her friend has nearly double the grocery budget we have with less mouths to feed. I replied with, “They’re also fatter than us and obviously not thinking about university in England!” Seeing only double the food budget may make us feel like someone has it better than us, but when we change our perspective, based on our own realities, meaning the realities of life, the realities of our specific situation, and realities of our own goals, we find that there’s no reason to compare, because even if we did, we don’t share the same financial realities (they have more spending power than we do), we don’t view life’s realities the same (we don’t think quality of life is about being able to acquire and experience things), and we don’t share the goals (such as the same health goals and the same educational goals), so we allocate resources differently.
It’s very important to constantly be calibrating our perspective A lot of what we think are actual are usually our perceptions, which are usually incomplete perceptions. Just like the grocery budget example. On one hand, relative to her friend, we have a smaller budget. Viewed from that perspective, we would feel poorer. Viewed from someone with a budget smaller than ours, we would feel richer. Viewed from someone who values low-cost spending, we would be viewed as thrift. Viewed from someone who values amazing eating experiences, we would be viewed as missing-out, or even cheap. Viewed from someone into achieving low body fat, we would be viewed as healthy. So what are we? Are we poor? Are we rich? Are we thrift? Are we cheap? Are we missing-out? Are we healthy? What are we?
We are all of them and we are neither of them. The perspective changes the reality. If you listen to everyone’s perspective on you, to everyone’s opinion on who you should be, what you should be doing, and what you should not be doing, you will get lost, you will go nuts, you will fail to win any of their approval, and you will end up a failure and discouraged. I see this all the time. People bench-marking the quality of their lives, their relationships, their careers, their experiences against the realities of other people, and finding themselves failures and discouraged.
But, of course. You took your reality and judged it by someone else’s reality. You judged the soccer math by how low-scoring it is compared to a basketball game. You were aiming for a high score not realising you’re playing golf (where low scores are better).
To help you clarify your view of realities, I suggest reflecting on these questions:
The Tale of the Rose
There’s a famous scene from The Little Prince where the Prince says:
“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty…One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.”
What he was saying was, in the surface, while all roses may look alike, it’s the rose that you cared for that is most special, not so much because it’s superior to the others, but it’s the one you poured your heart into.
I think two of the most dangerous things destroying our success and satisfaction today are an inability to understand the reality of our specific situation and an inability to appreciate the unique beauty of our specific situation. We keep benchmarking our Rose against other roses. We keep forgetting that all the amazing qualities of all the roses in the world will pale in comparison to the one quality our Rose already has, that it is the rose that’s ours.
Funnily enough, The Little Prince was written by a notorious adulterer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. His life story is an amazing read. (I have a soft spot for risk-taking, unconventional, creatives artists.) But his marriage was tumultuous. Both he and his wife, Consuelo, were free spirits, both artists, both unfaithful, and ultimately both hurt over and over. But Saint-Exupéry’s conclusion is incredibly insightful, just like Solomon, after partaking of much of what the world has to offer, he realized that what made Consuelo special was that she was his. He immortalised his realisation in his book, The Little Prince.
Despite their tumultuous relationship, Antoine kept Consuelo close to his heart. She is the likely inspiration of the major character in The Little Prince, the prince’s ‘flower’, identified as The Rose, whom he protects under glass and with a windscreen on his tiny planet which is named Asteroid B-612.
The Prince’s home asteroid also possesses three tiny volcanoes, likely inspired by Consuelo’s home country El Salvador, i.e. by the three volcanoes in the Cordillera de Apaneca volcanic range complex, which are directly visible from Consuelo’s home town. The two active volcanoes were inspired by Santa Ana Volcano and the famous conical shaped Izalco (volcano), which at the time was active spewing ash and lava when Antoine visited Consuelo’s small town in El Salvador, the dormant volcano is Cerro Verde.
Saint-Exupéry’s infidelity and doubts about his marriage are symbolised by the field of roses the Prince encounters during his visit to Earth. In the novella, The Fox tells The Prince that his Rose is unique and special, because she is the one whom he loves.
Because It’s Mine
I don’t know how many times I’ve questioned myself, asking things like, “Why is my life so hard?” Or “Why am I still in this marriage?” Or “Why is this other person’s situation always better?” Or “Why are our finances so tight?” Or “Should I be taking this much risk?” Or a thousand other questions that don’t really sit for an answer but just weigh my soul. But like a giant broom that sweeps away all those doubts, I remind myself, “David, this is your life. This is your mission. This is your wife. This is your son. This is your team. This is your reality. These are all yours. That’s why they’re special. Now go treat them as they should be, as incomparably special.”
The most beautiful things in life, the most beautiful relationships, the most beautiful careers, the most beautiful achievements don’t begin with auspicious signs and everything in order. One just needs to read about pretty much every successful person to know they many times started with the opposite conditions. The common denominator in all success stories is an extreme level of ownership, that what I have, no matter how small it is right now, no matter how unimpressive, is special because it is mine.
A few times last year, I wrote and spoke of the real and imminent dangers facing us today. While some of the things I share may be applicable to other countries, my thoughts are for a Philippine context. These thoughts came from a question I was asked once while on a panel about what issues I think the country needs to focus on. While many would have said the economy, and poverty specifically, and others may have said the environment, or corruption, or education, all of which are massively critical, as I thought about that question from before, and about my audience then, mostly people drowning in these issues themselves, I remembered an often quoted line from The Gulag Archipelago:
“But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
I realized what my answer would have been. (I forget what my answer then was.) The most pressing issue for you, me, all of us today, is for you, me, all of us, to confront the evil in our personal selves.
I identified some particularly widespread “evils” we can easily observe today:
I’m adding two more: Externalizing Evil masked as Social Justice, which has led to today’s Call-Out Culture, and Materialism masked as Progress.
It is more important than ever, in an age of mob-rule, groupthink, and populism, in a time of fake news, biased news, and click-bait, for individuals to grow in mental and spiritual depth, which basically mean to grow in a wisdom that cuts through shallow thinking and in commitment to a life purpose that dwarfs natural pettiness.
To the entitled person, a post of someone having a great vacation, or driving a nice car, or buying a house elicits an “I should have that too.” A wise person doesn’t react that way. He or she responds, “I COULD have that too.” And an even wiser person would respond, “Will that really bring me joy?” And even wiser will identify, “Is this aligned with my own life’s purpose?” Do the posts of others trigger feelings of entitlement or reflection?
To a vain person, the path to Self-Esteem, is through external validation. It’s someone liking us, sharing us, praising us, acknowledging us, worshiping us, noticing us, and attention isn’t revived, the vain person feels rejected, unimportant, not special. But a wise person knows that one can never achieve self-esteem through external validation. No amount of outside praise can fill the black hole of an empty heart. So it doesn’t rely on it for fulfillment. It knows that all this outside attention is junk food, that may make us feel full, for a moment, but then leaves us unhealthy in the end. Instead, they develop self-reliance, the ability to stand securely independent of others, and for the things beyond their control, they develop personal perspectives.
To the Superstitious, any word said from their “god”, may he or she be a preacher, a shaman, a politician, an actor, an influencer, a pundit, an expert, an author, a professor, or a witch doctor, is taken as divine truth. Any word and every word. We think that steadfastly clinging to all the words of a man or woman makes us more pure, when purity does not come, cannot come, from other impure men and women like the rest of us. Humans are too inclined to bias, to personal agenda. It’s true for me. It’s true for you. It’s true for your hero. So the wise set up external tools, tools that defend themselves against themselves, tools such Opposable Thinking, Divergent Thinking, counting before responding, reading contextual work, empathy, gratefulness, open experiences, and more tools available to us to expand us. Does your hero narrow you? Or does your hero expand you? Does your hero narrow the world’s problems to someone else’s mistakes? Or does your hero lead you to the infinite work of eternal value within you?
To the Impatient, every new technology, new practice, Life Hacks they’re called, every new productivity idea needs to be immediately harnessed, and the results need to be immediately visible. But the wise person knows that success is more like a fruitful tree than a fast food drive through. You don’t simply drive up and order success from a menu. You cultivate your life towards the goals you have set for yourself, and fruits of that cultivated life, hopefully, are the fruits you want. This is actually a beautiful thing, because it means that there’s no one kind of success, that success can come in many different ways. What a beautiful picture it is to imagine millions of different, unique, special success stories, each, in their own chosen ways, contributing, not comparing, their voice to a grand symphony.
Unreasonableness, usually masked as Political Correctness, usually pretending to be commitment to an ideal, is self-deceiving. To the Unreasonable, there is no considering of alternative views, no considering that “maybe my view is wrong”, or, “maybe my view is incomplete”, or, “maybe I don’t know enough”. The Unreasonable person is usually emotionally attached to an idea, not an intellectual master of the subject matter. An Unreasonable person usually clings on to a narrow set of information from a narrow set of voices. The wise person admits the limits of what one can know and so values other perspectives and other approaches, even if those perspectives and approaches differ from his. He knows that we are all easily trapped by our biases. He knows that the more something resonates with us the more we should question the principle behind it, not just the resonance. He knows that the more an idea offends the more he should try to understand if there’s a valuable principle behind it. The wise person seeks understanding not validation.
To the Irresponsible, the fans of YOLO, those who are too cowardly to take on the burden and risk of accountability, they’ve found ideas and philosophies to rationalize the lack of accountability to others and to himself or herself. This lack of accountability masks as freedom but is really a prison of our own making. The wise person knows that a higher level of freedom exists for the one who defines himself or herself. When your existence has no definition, you will be subject to current definitions of the world around you. You will be unstable. But when you choose to excel in your responsibilities and, when you choose to cultivate long term relationships, when you choose for yourself what will define you, limiting yourself instead of doing whatever, you will find identity. When you know who you are, when you find your identity, you truly become free.
These “evils”, and they are evil because it sucks out beauty, life, and love, are easy to find for they humble and honest. They are inside everyone of us. I don’t need to look far for an example these things. I just need to close my eyes and recall my thoughts. But because I’ve been trained to reflect, to look transparently at the state of my soul, I’m able to recognize how prevalent these evils are in me, and so able to deal with them, and see myself improve in my ability to defeat them. But too many don’t even realize that these evils are inside them, and the reason why most of us are blind to our own darkness, is that we are distracted by the two evils I have added above:
The Externalizing of Evil means we are quick to recognize and attack the evil in the world and the evil in others, instead of admitting the great evil inside us, the evil we are actually accountable for and able to deal with. It is easier and more immediately satisfying to play Social Justice Warrior than it is to humbly and patiently mature one’s soul.
The Externalizing of Evil, the belief that the evils of this world exist outside me, and to fight them means to fight other evil people, makes us feel as if we are doing something about the general problem of evil without being accountable to addressing the evil inside of us. It’s easier to say, “I hate the pollution these big businesses are causing!” than it is to admit that it is our collective overconsumption and materialism that is powering the economies of these big businesses. It’s easy to say “Governments should make sure everyone has something to eat!” than it is to admit, “I over eat” or “My home wastes a lot of food”. It is easier to say, “Rapists should be castrated!” than it is to castrate, to cut off, our own objectification of people. The wise know and admit, “The Evil I need to be dealing with is in my heart. That part of me needs to be cut-off. It needs to die.” This shows us that wisdom requires much more than knowledge. It also requires the humility to admit personal evil, the courage to face, and the will to follow-through. Externalizing Evil requires none of that. In fact, it’s usually marked by the opposites: self-righteous pride of not being guilty, the cowardly attacking with keyboards behind social media and with mobs, and lack of follow-through. How many missile attacks have triggered us, have “moved” us, how much of our salaries have we donated to those causes? How much of our salaries went to milk tea? How many bullying events have triggered us into righteous indignation? How many times have we caught ourselves gossiping badly about another person? How many times have we called that gossip “concern” or “just venting”? Is there a rule somewhere that just because more socially unacceptable evils exist in others that we are now innocent of evils we and others have learned to live with?
Personally, I’ve written much about how I struggle with this dissonance, how I’m no longer surprised by the great evils in the world because I recognize the seeds, the roots, the stems, the branches, even the fruits, of great evil in my self. And even with just the garden of good and evil inside me, where I am too busy cultivating the good and burning the bad, I find that I have very little time to police others, to go calling-out, to lynch, physically and digitally, and to cowardly pretend. My heart is my garden, your heart is yours, and I want people to enjoy the fruit of my garden, and I want to connect with people who have cultivated themselves with beautiful things to share as well. I don’t know how that can be achieved if we spend so much time attacking another life while our own remains untended.
Materialism defined online is:
“Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental aspects and consciousness, are results of material interactions.”
Let me simplify it for you: Materialism is the valuing of material things above all else. A simple way to check for Materialism in our own lives is to honestly reflect on what is capturing our attention and is driving us. Many times, I catch myself working very hard (as usual) for material reasons, not necessarily bad reasons (it’s not evil to want a new car or a nicer home), but temporal things. In my head, I tell myself, “If I could only earn enough to afford this/that life would be much better.” When I see others have it and I don’t, I sense envy and impatience in me start to grow. Especially when I see “corrupt” people having the good life, I sense bitter resentment mixed in. When the material things become most valuable to me, it screws my ability to look at the world clearly. It makes me angry at those who have, proud when I have, insecure when I don’t have enough, and mistakenly secure – for a short moment – while I still have enough. Materialism, the valuing having over being, makes us proud, insecure, artificially secure, envious, and impatient at the same time.
I think a lot of the ills I mentioned above come from a heart that is primarily Materialist.
Feelings of Entitlement surface when others have things what we feel we should also have. If we truly valued virtue more, things like love, joy, and peace, would there be any reason to feel entitled to what someone has? Isn’t there more love, joy, and peace for all of us when we celebrate what others have instead of feel like we’re unfairly treated? I have friends much richer and much poorer than me, and I treat them the same. I value love, joy, and peace, true riches in my opinion, and there’s enough those to go around. In a material world, scarcity is a reality. In many ways, the limitedness of something, it’s finiteness, impacts its value. But in the world of virtue, the value of the virtue has nothing to do with with its exclusivity. You aren’t more special or more valuable because you have more virtue. The value of the virtue is in the beauty the virtue begets. I think a virtuous approach to a material world is to focus more on the lasting beauty and lasting good the material generates, not simply the having of the material itself.
Do the things you have make you more productive? Or are they distracting you from being a better person?
Do the things you have make you more loving? Or do they make you more proud or insecure?
Do the things you have make you more joyful? Or do they make you more envious or boastful?
I know I am far off from the right path when I find I am more concerned with having than being. When my lack makes me worried instead of determined, when my abundance makes me proud or wasteful instead of generous, I know that society’s materialism is choking my heart.
I was shooting hoops with a friend of mine last Saturday. I’ve known him for a while and have consistently encouraged him to remove distractions and put his many talents to good use. We were chatting about work when he said something very insightful:
“It used to be that when people saw money or success, what people appreciated and respected was the hard work and the great effort that went into the achievement. People used to say, “If you’re that successful, you must be someone to respect.” It seems these days, and I really see it in the Philippines, that people don’t care so much about the character behind the money, but they’re really attracted to the things, the lifestyle, the money can buy. They don’t care if the person never worked a day in his life and simply inherited it. What matters is that he’s rich. They don’t care if the person is corrupt and stole the money. What matters is that he can afford nice things.”
I thought about what he said as I walked home. My friend, himself a “rich kid”, and himself trying to reconcile this very material world with the person he knows he can be, described very succinctly what’s wrong with society.
“…people don’t care so much about the character behind the money, but they’re really attracted to the things, the lifestyle, the money can buy.”
You can change the word ‘money’ for ‘fame’, ‘attention’, ‘likes’, ‘acceptance’, etc. People don’t care about the character behind these things anymore. They only care about what these things can attain.
In a world where people stop caring about a person’s character, and mostly obsessed with what can attain, don’t be surprised if society is filled with darkness. We traded away the being for the having, the life for the material, and beauty for attention.
Then you wonder why you’re not happy. You shouldn’t wonder anymore. You now know exactly why. I explained it to you in this article.
Now let me give you an alternative life. It’s the life I fight to live out. Sometimes, I fail in my attempts, but then I just start again the next day. In my experience, while there are many ways to lose joy, there are only a few things a person needs to do to regain it. For me, my time to regain or refresh joy in my life is in the morning, right before I attack the day. It’s my time of devotions, which is made up of the following:
This practice does not magically zap my problems away nor mystically make me a better person. What they do is they correct my perspective. Instead of being entitled, vain, superstitious, impatient, unreasonable, and irresponsible, I become grateful, deep, wise, patient, understanding, and responsive. Instead of externalising evil and blaming others for my situation, I am forced to work on my own very obvious inner evil. Instead of starting with the material, instead of jumping into the rat race of having, I immerse in the water of being.
This isn’t an easy practice. It also isn’t the most elegant for me. I use alarm clocks, reminders, and my notes reveal a struggle, not only to remain consistent, but to fight my own very real entitlement. But, lately, one thought has really helped me. It’s the thought of my son, Elijah. Whenever I think about what I’m most grateful for, my thoughts always turn to him. Whenever I think about what I need most wisdom for, they also turn to him. (Especially, now that he’s become very wilful!) When I think about my limitations, how small I truly am, and how big a challenge I need to conquer, I think about my role as a father to Elijah.
But I also think about the joy he is to me and his mother. Elijah, for all the concerns and responsibilities he brings with him, brings us unspeakable joy. I’ve never seen anyone so excited to see me. I’ve never felt so much hope and excitement for anyone. The cost of having him, the time, money, energy, and opportunity cost (babies are high maintenance!) are nothing compared to the joy he brings.
Joy has a cost. It has a time cost. It has an energy cost. It sometimes has a money cost. But what it really has is an attention cost. When I move my attention away from the things I don’t have, from the things I think I deserve, from the things I’m wishing I had, to the people already in my life and the person I am and becoming, I find joy.
There’s a beautiful story in the Bible that goes like this:
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
I wrote about it before in a post called Cast the First Love. I’m bringing it up again in light of today’s Call Out Culture or Outrage Culture, which is defined as:
Call-out culture (also known as outrage culture) is a term for the social phenomenon of publicly denouncing perceived racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry. Denunciation (“call-outs”) can happen in person or online.
A good example of this were the recent events surrounding a horrific bullying video that came from a prominent high school in the Philippines. I’m not going to talk about what happened in the video. I know what I saw (and it looks bad), but I also know that I am many times deceived by what I see, either through not seeing the full picture or seeing things wrongly. This leads me to my first issue with Call Out Culture:
As seen in the definition, it is publicly denouncing perceivedevil acts.
There’s a big difference between publicly denouncing evil acts and publicly denouncing perceived evil acts.
A good example of this was given by the author Stephen Covey:
“I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.
Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what do think, and I guess they don’t know who to handle it either.”
Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.”
His paradigm, his perception of the man and the situation, changed when he found out about the bigger story. At first perception, he felt justified to correct the man. With a clarified perception, a view that included the man’s pain, not only his own inconvenience, his righteous indignation turned to compassion. This leads me to my next issue with Call Out Culture:
Call Out Culture shrinks the humanity of both the offender and the offended to the pain and the offense, and this isn’t good for both of them. When a person is narrowed to their pain, they become a victim, and victimhood isn’t healthy at all, no matter how deserved it seems. When a person is narrowed to their offence, they become evil, they are stripped of the other elements of their humanity, which makes restitution not just unlikely but impossible, for who wants to be restored to evil.
What do the top coaches and psychologists make their patients who were victims of other people’s bad behaviour? They don’t shrink the person into the pain. They expand the person by making him or her realize that while the pain is real, he or she is much much more than the pain, and this helps them admit the pain, to come to terms with the pain, to master the pain. When a person’s identity is to tied-up to the pain they feel, it’s very unlikely they will ever enjoy freedom from that pain.
What do the some of the most eminent writers who suffered through inconceivable suffering, such as Viktor Frankl and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, say about evil?
“The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp.”
– Viktor Frankl
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
After suffering immensely from the evil actions of others, after witnessing the evil acts of others, their conclusion wasn’t “Kill evil people!” or even “Pay me back for the pain you caused me!” Instead, it caused them to reflect, and to honestly reflect, on the reality that evil is in all of us, including them! What amazing self-awareness leads you to that conclusion in the midst of your own suffering?
I find myself reading and rereading this particular text from The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
“It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience; how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil.
Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”
This brings me to my third issue with call-out culture: It distracts us from dealing with the evil in our own selves, even more, it causes us to legitimize our own atrocious behaviour with our pain. Again, we can turn to Viktor Frankl who puts it very simply:
“No one has the right to do wrong, even if wrong has been done to them.”
– Viktor Frankl
Even before Frankl, the Bible in 1 Peter 3 says
9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
When we are too busy repaying evil with evil by participating in the bullying of the bullies, isolating the isolated, shaming the shameful, and attacking the attackers, we fail to acknowledge and address the evil inside of us, and worse, we justify doing evil back, and so propagates a longer cycle of evil.
I once read somewhere that people are more consistent with giving their pets their vitamins than taking their own. It’s probably true. We are better at diagnosing and dealing with the problems of others than facing our own. It makes sense. Dealing with my own problems is painful, humbling, and with slow reward. Dealing with someone else’s issue has no risks, makes me feel righteous, makes me feel valuable, and those feelings come relatively quickly. But the quick satisfaction of feeling justified, of feeling part of a cause, goes just as quickly, and we are left with the reality of who we are without the causes, without the anger, without the rallies, without the latest outcry, and if don’t deal with our own evil, that evil will still be there at the end of the day, even as we cried for justice.
Focusing on our own demons, fighting them, is harder, less satisfying in the short-run, but more valuable in the long run. The point of life isn’t to make your world a better place, but to mature your soul (again, from Solzhenitsyn), and a world of mature souls is a better place.
Reacting to perceptions, especially impulse and incomplete perceptions, is not the mark of a mature soul.
Shrinking other people, other souls, to their pain or offences is not the mark of a mature soul.
Attacking the evil in others without dealing with the evil we can control within ourselves is not the mark of a mature soul.
I, personally, want to mature my soul. And I, personally, know, know without doubt, know with proof, that there is great darkness inside me. My spirituality isn’t from a man who has always loved to do good, but from a man who is willing to admit a great inclination for doing what’s wrong, so daily prays for strength. My insights, if you find them deep, aren’t from a wellspring of wisdom, but from the mining of a dark soul, looking for a glimmer of something valuable. And any success I may have achieved is not without its scars, painful lessons, and regrets. It’s all part of life, and it’s magnified when you try to live beyond yourself.
I have no doubt someone will call me out in the future for some past, present, or future mistake I’ve done or will do, some thing I wrote (or tweeted!), some action that offended others. I’ve done way too much, I do way too much, and I interface with way too many people, many of whom I’ve inconvenienced or wronged. But even more than what others may think and say, I know myself. I know myself better than ever. And I’m no longer shocked at the darkness I see in others because I face the darkness in me. If anything, I think I’ve become more understanding. But before you think I’m defending or rationalising bad behaviour, let me end the post with this:
When you wrestle with the reality of yourself, with not just the slightly imperfect, but the incredibly dark, dark, dark, darkness inside you, yet wake-up to try, even just try, with all your heart, mustering all the courage you can muster to do something greater in the world, knowing full well that you will fail at times, knowing full well that the crowds will stone you if you do, knowing full well that those closest to you will run for cover, knowing full well those who hate you will use it against you, knowing full well that the odds are against you, knowing all of that, and still doing the necessary inner work to achieve greater goals, I think that’s what makes a great man.
I hope, if you read this, you won’t join the mob calling for yet another public crucifixion. I hope, instead, you will choose to be great.