by: Douglas Giddens
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By Rev. Douglas Giddens, New Hampshire, USA
I WILL ALWAYS BE TRUE TO MYSELF.
“This above all, - to thine own self be true; And it must follow, as night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene II)
This sounds like such a simple statement, but what does it really mean? What is it to be true to oneself?
It’s amazing how often we lie to ourselves. It’s as if we think, or we hope, that by ignoring what we perceive to be our flaws, or pretending we are something we aren’t, these “flaws” will cease to exist. We may even overcompensate in an attempt to make others believe we do not have this or that “flaw”. But we can never really excel if we aren’t honest with ourselves, nor can we really be honest with others when we are lying to ourselves.
I am a selfish man. I do not believe true altruism exists. I recognize the benefits of reciprocated altruism, but that’s not really altruism. I will happily do something nice for you, expecting that, in the future, you will do something nice for me. This is a sound and selfish principle. I may also do something nice for someone, simply because it makes me feel good to do it, but, if I’m honest with myself, I will admit that, while someone else may benefit from it, I’m doing it for myself, because it makes me feel good. I assure you; I don’t have an altruistic bone in my body.
I used to deny my selfishness. I believed – because others said – that being selfish is bad. I didn’t want to be bad, or to be seen as bad by others, so I did things that I didn’t really want to do to try to convince myself and those around me that I was a selfless giving man.
Some might ask, “What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with being nice?”
Nothing, as long as we are honest with ourselves. I can decide to be nice for whatever reason I want, as long as I can admit to myself that I’m doing it for the right reason, and not in an attempt to convince myself I’m something that I’m not.
Being honest with myself is paramount.
In our politically correct world, racism is to be shunned. Racism and bigotry are not the same. I do not believe that my race is superior to any other. If I’m honest, however, I must admit that I prefer to interact with others of my own race. I can’t say why exactly and, when put in a position to deal with others races, I’m honest and fair. I wish them no ill will and, indeed, have many close associates of other races, and I like some people of other races better than many people of my own race. I simply feel more comfortable with those who are, in appearance, like me.
There was a time when I felt this was bad and felt guilty. I did things so no one would know this of me, and so I could tell myself it wasn’t true: If I were a racist, I wouldn’t be being nice to him. But I was being dishonest with others and with myself.
We are incapable of being honest with others if we are dishonest with ourselves. How can I tell anyone that grass is green if I’m swearing to myself that it’s florescent orange?
Most often, what we perceive in ourselves to be character flaws are not flaws at all. Some may be eccentricities or idiosyncracies, but most are normal behaviors that we have been conditioned to believe are flaws. By accepting this p. c. bullshit, we are allowing others to think for us; we are giving up our reason and sense of self to win the approval of others.
Go into any high school and you will find the students dividing themselves by hobby (jocks, nerds, skateboarders, etc.) and by race (black, white, latino, etc.).
Ask any child why he does something and he’ll tell you honestly, “I gave her the doll because I wanted the ball she was playing with.” We have to learn to lie, and most often, the first ones we learn to lie to are ourselves.
Why do we lie – to ourselves and to others?
Usually we lie to others for acceptance. We want people to like us, so we do what we think they want us to do. We chose our words and actions carefully, so as not to offend anyone.
And, more often than not, we lie to ourselves to convince ourselves that we are what others have convinced us we should want to be. It is only by recognizing that we are capable of thinking for ourselves, and accepting ourselves, that we can take a searching look at ourselves and be honest. Once we are honest with ourselves, shedding the false faces we wear for others to see, we can finally be true to ourselves and act as our reason dictates.
We will learn things about ourselves that we do not like or that make us feel uncomfortable. But this is how we grow. There are some things that, if we choose to, we can change; others we must simply accept, but we can’t know which are which as long as we deny to ourselves that they exist at all.
To be true to oneself is to recognize and set aside the conditioning of society and to allow ourselves to be guided in all things by our own conscience and reason.
I WILL BE HONEST AND HONORABLE;
IF THE TWO ARE AT ODDS, I WILL BE HONORABLE.
We are always told that honesty is the best policy, and under most circumstances, this is true. Those who are known as liars are usually not believed whether being truthful or not. Those who are known as cheats receive little business from honest men because they cannot be trusted.
Liars, cheats, and dishonest men of all sorts are never considered to be honorable. To be honorable, one must be able to be trusted and respected; his promises must come to fruition; his word must be accepted without reservation; his integrity must be above reproach: unsoiled, and unsoilable.
There are times, however, when an honorable man must be dishonest. During instances of ethnic cleansing, some brave men and women provided safe havens for the hunted, who if caught, would have been killed. When asked if they had seen any of those deemed undesirable, an honest response would get someone killed, so the honorable thing to do was to lie and protect those who were depending on them.
The instances where honor and honesty are at odds are the exception. We may never encounter such a situation. Unfortunately, sometimes the decision isn’t as cut and dry as the example above. We may struggle with whether honesty or dishonesty is the right or honorable course of action. If faced with this decision, we must allow our conscience and our reason to be our guide.
I WILL ALWAYS ACT, NEVER REACT. I WILL NEVER ACT ON IMPULSE,
BUT WILL LET REASON BE MY GUIDE.
We are human, and we are bound to make mistakes, to do things that in hindsight we wish we hadn’t. Thankfully, most of our folly can be attributed to our own impulsiveness: instances when, instead of thinking things through and taking deliberate action, we merely react to another’s action. As long as we think things through, not acting emotionally, but allowing reason to be our guide, we are able to make conscious and rational decisions.
It’s easy to act on emotion: to run when we’re scared, lash out when we’re angry, celebrate when we’re happy. In the heat of the moment, we often find that we react before taking the moment necessary to think the situation through. Unfortunately, the split decision it takes to react impulsively may have disastrous, or even life-changing, consequences. Words may be said that cannot be taken back, actions once done can rarely be undone. Most murder is not premeditated or thoughtfully reasoned, but is an impulsive reaction with life-changing ramifications for all parties involved as well as for their friends and families.
Murder is, of course, an extreme example. Most instances of impulsive reaction will be less severe, but a cruel word to a loved one, or even a careless celebratory indiscretion may have long-lasting consequences.
That is not to say that we won’t make reasoned and deliberate bad decisions; we will. Simon Bolivar said, “Judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” (Simon Bolivar. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc,) Making poor decisions is how we grow, and true growth is demonstrated by our ability not to make a similar mistake twice. A bad investment, a failed relationship, or a speeding ticket is not a waste as long as we learn from our mistake.
I WLL NEVER SACRIFICE MY REASON ON THE ALTAR OF FAITH
What is faith, but a suspension of reason? It is a conscious act to ignore the evidence of our faculties, the reality of what we see, hear, and feel, and the conclusions we can rationally draw from them, and to rely instead on superstition or on what we might wish for.
As children, we all had imaginary friends, someone to talk to when we were alone or scared, someone to accompany us on fantastic adventures, someone who would listen to us when we needed an ear. But as we grew up, we outgrew our imaginary friend; we learned to face the world and reality as it is, not as we would like it to be.
Maybe it’s true that we lost something along the way, maybe we lost that innocence, but it was a fair exchange because what we received was a discerning spirit: we received the ability to reason. Reason is the ability to observe the world, weigh the evidence, and draw rational conclusions.
Ironically, the Bible expresses this sentiment perfectly.: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Cor. 13:11) We left our imaginary friend behind with our childhood, just as we left behind Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. So why would anyone, as an adult with the ability to reason, willingly choose to revert to that same childish naiveté to rely on irrational religious superstition?
The faithful can hope and pray for what they want; they can offer sacrifices to their chosen god or gods and sit back, waiting to receive their bountiful blessings. If, somehow, they get what they want, they can thank their god; if they don’t, they can accept that their prayers were denied for their own good because their god knows best.
As for myself, I will never sacrifice my reason on the altar of faith. I will not pray and hope for what I want but will actively pursue it. I will look at and consider circumstances as they are, and, to the best of my ability, I will reason out a course of action that will best bring my desires to fruition.
I have no need of childish superstitions. I have the ability to reason.
I WILL USE FORCE ONLY WHEN REASON AND INTELLECT FAIL.
I am not one of those who believes that violence is never the answer. There are times when force and violence are the only appropriate response. Such a response, however, should always be a last resort.
In most situations, we can find solutions to our problems through reason, through open dialog and compromise. If we can’t, most times we can simply agree to disagree and the problem is resolved.
It would be a boring world if we all agreed on everything; thankfully we don’t. We disagree, and we argue. Passions can become enflamed, and arguments may grow loud and heated. Most often, this is the time to stop, to step back and cool off, because this is when reason is often lost and people cling to their position, not because their position is correct, but because they want to be right.
Even in heated arguments, positions can be swayed and progress can be made. The surest sign that reason has failed, and that no progress can be made, is that one party abandons intellect for insults and name-calling. At this point, the dialog, whether calm or heated, has failed. It’s time to walk away.
But what if you aren’t allowed to walk away? What if someone puts his hands on you? With these, your reason and intellect will find no place; violence is all they understand. At this point, the only reasonable response is force: the force necessary to extricate yourself from the situation. Some people are barbaric and don’t have the mental faculties for reason; their first reaction is violence.
I WILL ALWAYS THINK FOR MYSELF, NEVER AS OTHERS DICTATE.
While this Oath may seem to be included in the Oath to be true to myself, it deserves some special attention.
It’s easy to get caught up with the crowd, to be swept away by the ideas of those around us. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re just going with the flow until it’s too late, and we have done something we shouldn’t have. Maybe it’s something as seemingly innocuous as teasing the new girl with braces, or something that is for someone’s own good, like condemning smokers. Other times, it’s more profound, like gay bashing.
What we perceive to be harmless teasing can be a compounding factor, like the straw that broke the camel’s back, resulting in disastrous consequences. Condemning smokers leads to alienation and discrimination; and gay bashing can result in murder. We often hear people say, after the fact, “I don’t know why I did that; I’m not that kind of person.” Usually, it’s because he they got caught up in a crowd mentality and stopped thinking for himself themselves.
The desire to fit in and to be liked by our peers can lead us to act in a manner in which we would not otherwise act. The same is true, in fact especially so, when the ideas of the crowd are so uncompromising and inflexible as those held by organized religions. Judging and condemning those unlike themselves seems to be a favorite pastime of the faithful. It’s easy to feel justified in criticizing others when you have millions like you cheering you on and supporting your intolerance.
It’s easy to allow others to do our thinking for us; it’s much harder to be a voice of reason and moderation, to think for ourselves and be guided by our reason and conscience.
I WILL KEEP EVERY PROMISE I MAKE,
AND NEVER MAKE A PROMISE I CANNOT KEEP.
We hear promises thrown around carelessly today. “I’m never going to let you get hurt again, I promise.” “I’ll never be late with my child support again, I promise.” “I’m not going to get into an accident, I promise.” These are unrealistic promises. I may promise to do my best to prevent you from coming to any harm, but I can’t promise you won’t get hurt. Nor can I realistically promise that problems won’t arise to prevent my timely payment. And accidents are called “accidents” because they are accidental. I have no control over the poor driving skills of others.
A promise is something to be taken seriously. It is a personal guarantee and ought not to be offered lightly. If your promises can’t be believed and depended on, then you cannot be trusted.
I WILL BE RUTHLESS WHEN I MUST, MERCIFUL WHEN I CAN,
BUT NEVER NAÏVE.
Where the safety of my loved ones is concerned, I will do whatever I feel I must to defend and protect them. I will accept the consequences for my actions when it is over, but at the time, I will resort to any measures I deem necessary, without pity and without mercy.
When the danger is passed, or where no threat to my loved ones exists, I will always be merciful. I will not forget, but I easily forgive. I know full well that people make mistakes. I’ve made more than my fair share, and I know that we live in a society of pitiless retribution where poor decisions and childish antics can easily result in years or decades of prison. When I am wronged, or one I love is wronged, I am quick to forgive. I think how I would feel if the shoe were on the other foot, if it were one of my loved ones who had made the mistake. In this way, it’s easy to see the other’s humanity; it’s easy to forgive.
Although I am quick to forgive and let bygones be bygones, I’m not naïve. If you borrowed my car to be a designated driver and got busted for DUI, I’m not going to loan you my car again. I will not forget your mistake, and I will not provide the catalyst for a repeat mistake. I try very hard not to hold a grudge. I want to give you a chance to demonstrate growth, but trust is not given; it’s earned.
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