Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The Capacity for Happiness and Respectability
Humans are liable to experience a variety of afflictions, but they are commonly endowed with a capacity for happiness and respectability. There is no guarantee, however, that they will exercise this capacity at all times and to the maximum, whatever happens. Depression and shame remain a possibility, which increases with the severity of their afflictions and the difficulty of living up to the values that are necessary for their happiness and respectability: courage, efficiency, wisdom, and nobility. Living up to these values is never easy, even under extremely favorable circumstances. It requires an effort of will. To make or not to make this effort is the question, central to the human existence. This question is difficult in proportion to the weight of suffering that bears on humans, while their dignity hangs in the balance. The more burdensome this weight, the more tempting it is for them to take the easy way out. The fear of losing their dignity, however, is a strong deterrent. There is no greater loss than that of dignity, save the loss of life itself. Yet, the easy way out is a very powerful temptation in extremely unfavorable circumstances. Giving up instead of living up to the values mentioned above is then deplorable but understandable. Excruciating circumstances are extenuating ones. Amazingly enough, despite the burden of suffering that is oppressive to many, the incidence of moral collapse – in the form of errant ways like carelessness, vagrancy, and crime, often accompanied by alcohol or drug abuse to fuddle the conscience – is small in comparison with the incidence of worthy behavior. Furthermore, a moral collapse is remediable, except when the person concerned shows an inveterate or congenital weakness, or a mental illness that is beyond cure. On the whole, dignity can be lost and regained. As for those who resist quitting the struggle for worthiness, they rarely do their best. In many instances their spirit is tainted with some degree of indulgence in laziness, cowardliness, ineffectiveness, foolishness, selfishness, and meanness. It has the grayness of dawn. Even those who shine like a late morning sun have a shadow of imperfection at their heels. In short, humanity has yet to fulfill its potential. While there is much courage, efficiency, wisdom, and nobility in the world, much happiness and respectability, there could be a whole lot more. The key to this rise is an effort of will.