We have noted, in times past, that saying you are one thing, doesn’t necessarily make you that thing. In the olden days, when someone professed a deep religiosity, or an avocation in the priesthood, it was generally assumed that that person had morals above the station of ordinary citizens. Today, we know that is not true. Enough atrocities undertaken by the religious have assured us that, despite the good intentions, a person of faith is just as capable of being an embodiment of evil as anyone else, and some would argue more so, as their assumption of unquestioned personal virtue becomes a set of moral blinders.
For some reason, we seem unable to extend this pattern to people of the current day who now gran themselves virtue by nature of their political affiliation, psychological bent, or philosophical proclivity.
I will admit to being just as shaken as most, when the granting of virtue backfires and I must relate this story as happened to a friend of mine. Let’s call him Brother V. Brother V had, for most of the time I’d known him, been prone to bouts of solitude and philosophical speculation. So much so that it would render him to the point of paralysis. Every moment presenting so many different moral conundrums with far-reaching short and long-term consequences that he would often languish for an entire day, head in hand in a state of utter despair.
I cannot take credit for his recovery, but must, reluctantly, give the credit to his disposition. His tirelessly whirring brain took him often to new websites, bloggers, YouTube ‘opinioners’ (I don’t want to call them ‘commenters’ because that is a totally different type of beast, but you know what I mean). At any rate, he began to change. He offered favors, for one, if someone was in a bit of jam. Simple things, that he could accomplish that very day that would make another’s life that much easier. He also started asking personal questions of others. Nothing probing or inappropriate. People who had not known of his previous habitual dreariness assumed he had always been polite and courteous, but I knew something was up. I brought it up one day as off-handedly as I could, and his face palled with the knowledge that this day would come. Backing off, I vehemently explained that I had not meant insult or complaint and that I was thrilled that he seemed to be less morose and taking an interest in the world.
Once he calmed down a bit, we went out for coffee and he showed me a blog, one prone to few entries but each one was long and in-depth, and a few YouTube channels that he had been watching due to this blog that made him rethink his former philosophies, or at least, his behavior in the world. He said that behavioral change was what made him snap out of it. He always thought that nice and kind people were naturally that way, and even enjoyed it. But lately he had entertained the suggestion that the qualities one admired in others could be worked upon in oneself and that it would take time. Having a naturally wandering philosophical mind, he decided to give it a go. The object is not to change your beliefs in order to conform with some Pollyana-ish notion of bribing your way into heaven, but to behave in a way that makes others lives easier without surrendering your own well-being in the process. Much of the resistance to new ideas comes from the human instinct to set itself in patterns and keep itself there. In other words, when challenged, we immediately take the arguments of our opponents and abstract them to the most absurd conclusion we can, and then imprint that opinion onto our opponent, rather than grant our opponent a shred of human common sense.
The next step in Brother V’s evolution was to work harder at his current vocation. His plight, like many, was that his vocation was not what he felt his true calling to be. He dreamed of completing a book of philosophy, but didn’t quite know what that was. He had plenty of ideas and material but had yet to find the thread that would bring it all together to make an engaging and enlightening read. He was, thankfully, familiar with the tedious bore that many philosophy books (popular and academic) end up as, and he didn’t want to rehash those old mistakes. He bore not bitterness to those already published and knew that he was just lacking the final cement and that, with time and effort, it would come. So his day job landed him in food service where he was a waiter. One of his new changes was referring to himself as a server. His job was to serve people what they wanted, and he got paid for it. Simple enough on paper, but we have such a tendency to take customer dissatisfaction at a personal level, and his next project for himself was to be less hassled by this inevitability of the service industry.
A spiteful customer can return as a memory years later, which is an insane amount of resentment to spend on someone who you’ll never see again. It’s very likely that this person does not remember you, and even if they do, it means they have negative spite problems of their own which you have no power to control or correct. Brother V wanted to be less concerned over things that were not under his control. The world is unfair and full of suffering and malevolence. This is not under his control, but he can help alleviate the effects of this state of being.
This simple change of attitude and behavior quickly made it apparent that he could do more than serve at these low-end hipstery joints. Brother V procured a job interview at the coveted Shiloh Grove. An extraordinarily high-paying position, even not counting the tips. Government officials and politicians from around the world regularly held meetings in the conference rooms and even ate there casually while vacationing in the vicinity. It was adjacent to a luxury hotel and almost served as an extension of the hotel’s kitchen, although it was an unspoken rule that casual stayers at the hotel did not eat at the Shiloh Grove.
Although politicians can be picky, they generally have things on their mind and it was their aides and assistants who had the reputation as being the hellcat customers. The ‘do-you-know-who-I-work-for?’ types. The answer being, ‘yes, but does the person you work for even know your name?’ was a common enough fantasized response to that question.
In order to even get the interview at the Shiloh Grove, Brother V had to pass a psychological and physical examination. In this, he was lucky enough (at the time) to be assigned to . . . we will call him Doctor Brun. Brun was world-renowned in the field of mental health and philanthropy. His videos on personal responsibility were always highlights on the news and the web, as well as his work with those with severe psychological problems and re-adapting them to society. Severe schizophrenics who became doctors themselves, violent criminals becoming fitness instructors or meditation counsellors. His ability to see a gem of good in what society deemed a totally spoiled individual and then polish it to near sainthood was legendary. When was his book coming out? - was a common question. He, like Brother V, was on the lookout for the glue to make his method into something empirically useable. Society, he declared, was very bad at figuring out what people are good at and letting them do that. The best he could explain was that he would let the person be themselves, and give them opportunities that their previous lifestyle or condition had denied them. His main regret was that those who went though his programs versus those who still needed to, made his ‘Brun Effect’ less likely than even winning the lottery. He claimed to be plagued by guilt for not having a book out but he could not, in all honesty release something which was lacking and incomplete.