Hit and Run Blogging
Colin is doing a great job, but I want to put some thoughts out there before they expire.
It's an essay-topic that's knocking around my head, wanting to be written so I can better articulate it for myself, and just not getting done: balance. I haven't trained at the Aikido dojo in a while, but man, that idea keeps popping up even when you leave. Like the balance between consistency and effort.
I was talking about this with Rishi the other night, on the phone, and his comment brought it back up. Consistency is really important in the law. It's really important in being fair. It's really important in assessing any kind of evidence objectively. We use it to assess other people's and our own sincerity--the extent to which we do and say things out of a respect for what is true and good, and not just because we are selfish beasts needing to be seen as true and good so we can be liked. We use it to assess our own and other people's laziness. We use it to sniff out the difference between show-business and the real deal. It's the moral analyst's first tool.
But then there is the notion that the perfect is the enemy of the good. The hobgoblin of little minds. How is that not just an excuse for obvious failings, obvious self-righteousness and moral dishonesty? These days I have constantly pressing on my mind that life can be hard. We are frail creatures. We aren't principled robots that can be programmed with principled software and be expected to run on mathematical rules of moral instruction. (Hell, as far as a I can tell even computers can't be consistent.) Sometimes, when you put too much of an emphasis on consistency, on avoiding looking like a hypocrite, you end up not doing what you want to do at all. If people's ideals count for nothing, then their goals soon become worthless as well, and if their goals become worthless, their energy gets sapped. Why even try, if trying to be a little better, do a little more good, stake out a slightly more moral habit for yourself, is only going to make you an inconsistent hypocrite?
Of course, it would be best if we do good and be good without touting our own horns, but like I said, we are frail. We need people to pat us on the back even when we don't deserve it, we need to shout, "I'm going to climb that mountain!" and we need people to clap and cheer us up the mountain, even if we don't make it all the way. We need to reassure ourselves that we're good. But then again the road to hell is paved with good intentions, people are best at lying at themselves, pride is the greatest enemy, etc. etc. . .
And so some people ruthlessly, relentlessly self-examine and criticize others, hacking away at energy and enthusiasm with self doubt and cynicism and negativity, while other people drown their character and their ability to help the world in a self-indugent stew of forgiveness and cheap As for effort. The oppression of the dichotomy. Ah, back to Aikido.
It's all about balance. And balance can't be predetermined, programmed in. It has to be dynamically achieved, self-correcting at every moment. It's sort of what's great and awful about being human and alive. We have to constantly watch ourselves, be deliberate and willful about our actions, adjust our attitudes and then readjust. And also ready to reach out and help a friend if they start to stumble.
Part of these thoughts were inspired by a link Ruchira told me about--the phenomena of do-gooder derogation, which she found on the webpage of Stanford psychologist Benoit Monin
. The example he picks is how people love, love, love to make fun of vegetarians and to find their inconsistencies. This is something I am so intimately acquainted with that it almost feels like water and air. I'm glad someone finally put a name to the gotcha-mentality that has plagued me my whole conversational life. As a journalist, I know quite well that there's often no substitute for a good game of gotcha. The gotcha games of some of my friends have made me a better vegetarian. But in real life and among friends, it's got to be tempered with compassion and kindness. Balanced.