Thursday, March 03, 2005

Honesty of character.

I am having difficulty discerning people's actions from their intentions. A person seems to have the best of intentions, yet his actions are garbage; this is one issue. Another issue involves the consistency between one's beliefs and one's actions; I respect a person who believes something is right and acts in accordance with that manner. I do not respect a person who acts contrary to their value system.

It is too often that a person will claim to have one intent, but his act portrays a different message. To reconcile the discrepancy, I believe the mitigating factor between an intention and an act is the imposition of the honesty trait. When these two balancing forces (intent and action) are in alignment with this trait, there is harmony between the resulting message received and the intended message sent. When honesty is not present in either the formation of the intent or in the method of conveying the action, the result becomes discordant.

For example, when a person stands in another's way while claiming that she is helping him to move forward, that person is not being honest. To her credit, she may have misunderstood her desire for self-gain and might have cloaked her selfish intent with mendacities to be consistent with her values or to achieve her misplaced noble results; or, she might have actually wanted to help the other, but it is completely possible that her method or her approach might have been flawed from the onset, thus messing up her results. In both of these scenarios, she strives to be consistent with her value system, yet her results are discordant because of failings in the formation or the carrying out of the intent. Although I believe this raises a duty of introspection, I can understand how one can go wrong in this manner.

The problem, or shall I say the psychosis arises when the person lies not only to the other about her intent, but she lies to herself as well. She convinces herself that her intent is honest and true, yet her actions portray the opposite. When the other responds with disdain or disrespect because he has been harmed by her, she then feels hurt and misunderstood. The irony is that people actually understand her as the monster that she is. It is her ego that causes her to hallucinate good intentions because she thinks she is greater than the garbage she really is.

This is a sad problem to have, and the only way to remedy this is through honesty. There was a point in my life where I was being nice and kind to people, yet the results I was getting mirrored back to me were disdain and disinterest. Frustrated with this result, I once asked a rabbi at small farbrengen why people were reacting negatively towards me, and he snapped back "because you don't really care". I almost fell off my chair from the shock of his answer. It seemed so false, but after introspection I realized that it was true; I didn't care. Coming to terms with the truth that I was a cold, heartless person, the ugly truth was exposed.

Since then, I have been working on my character, and I have developed some warmth which people now tell me they feel, even when I feel as if I am acting unfriendly; yet, they mirror this warmth back to me. This is a good indication that I am on the right track. I still have much to grow in this area, among other areas, but the important thing is that while it is sometimes difficult to see beyond the ego, I try to be honest with myself about my shortcomings, and I take steps to change my character whenever I see the opportunity. I think this point should be a lesson for those who often feel misunderstood; perhaps they are understood, and are seen exactly the way they are. The only way to remedy the discord is through being honest about one's true intentions and one's true character traits that form the intent. If what you see is ugly, then instead of putting on makeup to hide the blemishes, take steps to change for the better.

This brings me to my second point, which deserves more depth than I'll give to it on this blog entry. I can respect a villain who does evil openly because he acts in accordance with his beliefs and values. While I believe his acts to be wrong, nevertheless they are consistent. As he commits crime after crime, he knows he is a villain and he does not try to fool himself into thinking he is something other than the evil person he is. And there is honor to his evil because he is true to his beliefs and is consistent with his values.

I cannot respect a person who believes himself to be one way, and yet he acts contradictory to his belief and value systems. I see one who acts contrary to his beliefs as being the lowest animal out there; he is lower than the murderous beast, the worm or the lowly fly -- all which act according to their respective natures. So too with a person who claims he is righteous and yet he acts immorally; I cannot respect this because his character is fraught with inconsistencies.

This is often why I am so hard on myself. I portray the religious person, yet while being chassidic is my goal, I have not yet reached the point where I am 100% consistent. It is difficult to go from secular to religious and to obliterate the selfish character traits or the desires for the empty pleasures of the secular world. I feel it would be false and that I would be lying if I ever claimed that I could and that I have eliminated the secular aspects of my personality, although I never quit trying. I realize there is a proper way to act, and rather than transforming myself into a righteous person, I have laid a burden on myself as one lays a yolk on an ox to force it to do the master's will.

Someone asked me yesterday if I still have the desires of secular life, and I answered honestly that I do; I just consciously distract myself most of the time or I keep myself busy so that the issues do not occupy the dominant thoughts of my mind long enough to significantly affect my actions. This is most of the time; the goal is to make it all the time. I am far from holy, nor would I ever claim to be. But the value that I see in this character trait of always moving forward is that a person should be on the right path and should never lie about where he really is holding.

Similar to a diet, if one falls off the path for a moment and indulges in a bucket of creamy ice cream and cookies, the goal is to get back on track and to be consistent with the goals he or she set before the overindulgence. With yiddishkeit, G-d forbid one break Shabbos, or eat traif, or do something that is forbidden. But every person is on his or her own level, and if that is their challenge, then like the ice cream example, the goal is to adjust and get back on track. We all have our challenges, and I also have mine. As long as we push ourselves to act outside of our comfort level, we will grow strong in our habits and in our characters. That way, we can be consistent when we serve our Creator.


kermitt10 said...

"I cannot respect a person who believes himself to be one way, and yet he acts contradictory to his belief and value systems. I see one who acts contrary to his beliefs as being the lowest animal out there...So too with a person who claims he is righteous and yet he acts immorally; I cannot respect this because his character is fraught with inconsistencies."

Two distinct points:
1. especially when looking at others, to try and discern what a persons actions, intents, challenges, etc. are is an impossible task - I think it's wrong to ever try to judge someone else (on a personal level) unless we've been in their shoes. However, since we don't know at all what circumstances they're dealing with, as a practical matter we should never judge a person.
Sure we can and must judge a person's acts. Civilization demands that we punish acts which are depraved and reward acts which are deserving. But never the person as a person.

2. Even when judging ourselves -
a) sometimes WE're just as much of a stranger to ourselves, as others are to us. and so my point of the above also applies.
b) I once heard a speech by Rabbi Manis Freidman from which I derived the following lesson (I don't want to say he taught it, lest I accidentally misquote him)

in discussing the intimate life of an elderly couple, the man said of his wife, "we don't do such intimate things"
now, here they are in their 80's with many children, how could they not have done those acts?
the truth is, they have done them, may do them again, but they're so intimate that they can't say that they "do them."
So too in life we've all done certain things that we are or are not proud of, and we may do those same things in the future, but that does not necessarily mean that we "do them." We may sin, but that does not make us sinners. we may do righteous acts, but that does not necessarily make us righteous people.

We should not condemn those who "have acted" contrary to who they are, even if they "have acted" that way repeatedly; we should not condemn them because we can't necessarily say that "they act that way" only that "they have acted that way" Furthermore, we should not condemn THEM but we can and probably should condemn their acts.

Zoe Strickman said...

Hey, you're in my personal files. What happened to having a set of files for public view, and then a set of files for private view?

At the risk of blowing my anonimity, as if it hasn't already been destroyed, wasn't it you that told me that I should keep two blogs; one for all to see, where I post neutral things for my friends to see, and the other to put my most secret thoughts that shouldn't be seen by my friends or my family? Aren't you included in one of those categories? :)

I think it was you that said that some things shouldn't be made public, meaning that I should keep a strictly anonymous blog where I can voice my thoughts without fears of reprocussions from those who know me or fears that I might have offended people close to me by my untempered thoughts.

I removed all my contact information, my e-mail address, my picture, and I even changed the name of the blog for the sole purpose of shielding my identity from those who I invited to my old blog. How did *you* find this blog anyway? I took all steps to make it invisible. If you found it, then it is possible that everyone else found it too.

One thing I do have to comment and ask. You have always been on the inside track of my life. You knew me when I was a child, you knew me when I was in college, and you know me now. And now you are and will be privy to some of my most secret thoughts, which carries a responsibility on your end. Some things are going on in my life that I prefer to keep private from those we know in common, whereas I am dealing with a few questions, issues, and decisions that need resolving, and I am using this anonymous blog as a sounding board for my inner conflicts. There are things going on that I don't understand, and that I am not yet comfortable facing. Yet I am addressing these thoughts on this blog as a first step in understanding what I am feeling.

If I were married, I suppose these are things I would discuss with my wife, but since I have not been afforded that luxury, and since I no longer date secularly like I once would have, it is difficult for me to discuss these issues with those in my immediate surroundings. So since you have my trust and you somehow have stumbled onto my personal notes, I ask that you keep this blog anonymous from those we know, as anonimity is my liberating force in addressing the topics I am discussing.