Sunday, October 9, 2016

Impeccable Integrity? (three hours before the Town House Debate)

"Already, some good has come of it," says Morrie Schwartz, and we wait to see what that might be. Well, we have all sorts of discussions going on about 'private parts' now. Between males. Between wives and husbands. Between sisters and brothers. And hopefully, very much around the immature ideas and childish impulses of boys, and girls, and between everyone who thinks about what they're thinking about, let alone what one says. Certainly, CNN news channel does!

Which of us has never been guilty? Which of us has never thought badly of another, or even said something in some derogatory term or other, without sensitivity that they too 'feel'? (Or do we charge people with oversensitivity? Do we simply say you need to develop a thicker skin?)

Political correctness aside, there is now a vulgar word or two not quite readily heard or shared across the news channels of the world. Some countries will delete out the topic altogether. But at least the subject of propriety itself raises the bar, sets a standard for sophistication and sensitivity and awareness and decency. The clarity is now (and was) that some things are undeniably lewd, crude, and rude. And the larger implication is that integrity itself is at stake.

"You are the same person, wherever you go," says Morrie Schwartz (in Tuesdays with Morrie). It is a call not only to act much the same wherever one is, but also to monitor one's own thinking. But we do swear when children are not around. (Or even in front of them.) We wear faces for business purposes. We put on our teacher masks, our professional masks, our dress and garb and accoutrements all to impress and disguise and hide and cloak. At 14 we spend three hours preening in front of the mirror in preparation for meeting an 'other'. At 20 we may spend two. By the time one is 65 our personal preparations may have evolved to no more than ensuring we're clean. We do care about the comfort of others. We do not want to offend.

Impressing others is natural to us all. We use our vehicles, our houses, our clothes, our things and even our voices in the changes of ourselves to suit the occasion. But being authentic is not about using the same voice or wearing the same clothes day in and day out. It is about realizing that we pay deference to funerals, to weddings, to the opera. Being authentic is not about never having a dirty thought or expressing anger or frustration or disappointment or even ruling out showing up in your dressing gown to answer the knocking at the front door. It is not about being (overly) concerned about the cleanliness of your house. Being authentic is about the integrity of being aware of why we're thinking something, why we're doing something, and whether that thing we think or does is harmful to others, to creatures, or to things; let alone to ‘the self’. And that kind of awareness, mostly, takes education. It takes mentoring by our society. It takes the monitoring of oneself. It takes the maturational stages through which we all go in order to become yet more and more mature, insightful, and compassionate. We are always in progress toward getting older and older; at issue is whether we progress, or slip into that seventh age of Shakespearean second childishness, sans eyes (the ability to see), sans teeth (the ability to chew over all that feeds us), sans ears (the ability to discern that which we hear), and mere oblivion. (Just how very many things, around and within us, are we not oblivious to?)

Our world is at a tipping point, yet again, in history. We proved that black children can become the president. We may prove that girls can become one too. And we may prove that fear may continue to trump sensibility. That last point may collectively regress us to a state of shallow-callow xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and the sense of product before people. ("If their work is not up to my expected standard, I do not pay them.") The thing is, perfection is never a long-lived product; it always is a progress. Therein might we have compassion. And therein too, always en route, which of us is impeccable? Yes, already, "some good has come of it," indeed.

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