Saturday, August 20, 2016

No Conscience, part II

Hudson River Highlands, New York

In the midst of serious adversity which effectively unmasks the lowest motives and intentions in the persons and institutions (and let us remember that the institutions are always nothing more than the people who compose their membership) one can be thrown under the bus. Such actions may be profoundly unjust and stand out as remarkable, even in a lifetime of similar events. 

When this has happened to me, it often turns out that everyone involved is willing to turn their back on me and not speak out on my behalf, even though it could be objectively proven that I've not done anything wrong—in point of fact, even in cases where I was the one person in the train wreck who had done everything right. Perhaps readers will recognize this from similar experiences of their own. Those who try to do right are too often punished for it.

Such situations anger me immensely, and I immediately fall back into old and well-established habits, which in my own case consist mostly of elaborate revenge fantasies.

I am (at least in my own eyes) a masterful plotter and one of the world's great experts in finely crafted revenge. Yet I never take revenge on people; and I've noticed this over and over again throughout the course of my life. I'm great at thinking out revenge; but there is something in me that simply refuses to carry it out. It reminds me of what Viktor Frankl says in MSFM; it is never right to do wrong to another, even if they have first done wrong to you.  It's my lifelong practice to walk away from wrongs done to me. no matter how angry I am and how much outward bluster I project.

One needs, I think, to have an inherent instinct for such sobriety— restraint— that's connected, at its deepest point, to conscience; and conscience is tied at its root to the manifestation of that divine spark of Being which has its origins in the Lord. 

We lose that connection at our peril; for if conscience and its partner compassion don't ultimately inform our actions, what then of our humanity? 

Is it the betrayal that disturbs us most about the thirty pieces of silver—or is it, at its root, the contempt for the value of an entire human life and all it represents? The measured distance between betrayal and death is formidable; they may go together from time to time, but one is, I think we can agree, much worse than the other. In Judas' action, it's the sanctity of human life that's violated; hence the only repayment can be in kind.

Our willingness to judge others needs to be tempered by an inner sobriety, if we have it: "there but for the grace of God go I," as it's said in AA. I may say that in an outer way, but the phrase is different once I taste it in an inner way; it demands a sensitivity towards others that has to measure itself against my anger and judgement, and prevail. 

There is always a struggle in this area; there can be no real value, even in conscience itself, without the testing of it. Our whole lives become, in one capacity or another, a constant testing of us; and I can't discover what I am without experiencing the lowest and least appealing parts of myself and learning to go against them.

The unexpected depths of my own anger and reaction in the midst of adversity never cease to astonish me; I am, at such times, always strongly divided between an untouchable inner Self and an outer one which is not just toiled by, but completely at the mercy of, my outer circumstances. 

My awareness stands between these two forces, and I have to choose. It's between the quiet truth of my inner resources and the bluster and bravado of my outer impulses that I have to choose; and isn't it always thus in the midst of confrontation? It's easy to pick the path of serenity when all is well arranged and calm; but it's what happens in the storm that shows me to myself for what I really am.

Inwardly, it's all about my lack. I end up feeling ashamed for my base impulses; wishing I had a less reactionary attitude; questioning the balance between my inner and forces. I have a pretty good moral compass, overall, so I suppose I ought not complain too much; once I quit drinking I've managed to largely avoid doing too many things to others, I think, which are objectively wrong. I've had to walk some thin lines and navigate some gray areas, to be sure; no hands come through this life we deliver to one another completely clean. 

At the very least, during those times, a real question about what is right and wrong has stayed in front of me; and I have not forgotten my words to my late friend Rohan, to whom I said, the last time I saw him, that the most ethical course of action is always the one that does the least harm.

We forget this, collectively, at our peril; yet it seems to be forgotten all too often.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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