Doing Right

Greg Swann over at Splendor Quest is celebrating humanity.  I figured I would share some of a recent blog post because it is a great reminder to focus on the positive!


It suits my ends to poke around in the trash can inside your brain, but I’m not doing it to be mean — nor to induce you to feel bad about yourself. I know a whole lot about the interior mental processes that motivate the pursuit of values and disvalues — and about the subsequent and secondary consequences of those mental processes — but it’s not as if I can actually read your mind.

So how do I know so much about how your mind works? I don’t, not by any means except inference. What I know about is how my mind works. We are alike as things — we are ontological equals — so I know that your mind works the same way mine does — no less than and for the same reasons that your heart works the same way mine does. Moreover, I can look you in the eye and tell you the truth of your life in excruciating detail, working from nothing other than past experience with myself and other people. Our differences make us unique and beautiful, but our similarities make us comprehensible to each other.

We all tell lies, the worst of them to ourselves. We all shirk our responsibilities, crafting sullen silent soliloquies to justify our laziness. We all hurt other people, and we are all hurt by them. We all do things we know are wrong when we’re doing them, and we all live with the pain of those errors forever — silently, in a stolid solitude, but forever.

The things you have done that are wrong are not to be dismissed, shrugged off. They can’t be, no matter how much you might wish they could. But redemption is egoism in action. There are limits to how much of the past damage you have done to your self you can undo, but we redeem our errors not by penance and not by renunciation but by acts of splendor.

All you need is an idle moment to catch your self doing something wrong — in the past. What you need instead is to catch your self doing something right — right now.

You are too much aware of your past sins and failures because you have too little greatness in your life — too little splendor — to be conscious of instead.

Do you see? Your self is your life, and your awareness of your self is the source and the sink of every other awareness you have ever had. Your relationship with your self is primary and paramount in any other relationship you might have with other people or with things outside your mind. Every purposive action you take is taken first by your self upon your self, and there is nothing you can think, say, do or experience that is not felt first, most and always by your self.

Your self is the star of every scene of every act in the drama of your life. So here’s an interesting question: When your self takes the stage, what do you see?

The same thing I see, for what that’s worth. Your body is the physical expression of your self, and your every triumph, your every disaster and your every delight and terror is written on your face, on your skin, in your posture, in your movements and in your speech for any observant person to see. But the self of the mind, your true self, is visible only to you. I can see how your past has inscribed itself into the cells of your body, but only you can see the self you would have and could have and should have become.

This is the dirty little secret I know about you, the one I refuse to keep quiet about: I know you’ve betrayed the self of your imagination in just about every way possible. I know there are things you are burning, burning, burning to do — and yet you talked yourself out of doing them, again and again. I know there are things you want desperately to have achieved — but not desperately enough to dig in and do them. I know you have been pressured, again and again, into doing things you knew were wrong when you did them, and I know you have done other things you knew were wrong purely out of spite, frustrating yourself more than anyone else.

I know that when you were four or five years old, you imagined for yourself a glorious self, a thing of illimitable goodness. And I know you have smudged and smeared and soiled and sullied and chipped and chopped away at that image of your self ever since. I know that you’ve never stopped mourning what is in fact a gradual and persistent and ultimately fatal self-annihilation, and I know that you hate your own self-abnegation so much that you would do almost anything to make it stop — except stop doing it.

I’ve understood everything I’m talking about at progressively higher levels of abstraction since I was very young, but that doesn’t mean that I have been spared the horrifying and mentally-permanent spectacle of self-induced error. Too much the contrary, alas, and with less of the self-serving self-righteous self-justification other people might lay claim to. But still more importantly, self-destruction does not matter, except to the extent that one must learn to stop doing it. What truly matters, all that truly matters is self-construction, realizing — making real — that image of your self you crafted for yourself when you were four or five years old.

What is it that you want to do? What is it that you want to have accomplished? You have to do those things. You have to see yourself doing those things. When you feel pressure to betray your self, from other people or from some doctrine of self-annihilation, you have to stand up to that pressure — you have to be the hero you loved to imagine for your self when you were young.

You have the power to choose who you will be,  remain conscious as a living human being. You cannot love who you are without behaving lovably in the actions of your existence.

That much is remarkable: The more greatness you see in your own real-time and remembered behavior, the more greatness you will see in your self.


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