Republishing this post from 2/19/07:
[Full disclosure: I kifed this book from John’s pile this morning. And I am ‘stealing’ one of its ideas for this post.]
Are you good? Are you bad? A host of consequences hangs on the answer. Yet, a brief experiment can easily convince you that the question, so grave in appearance, has little foundation.
Consider how you spent yesterday. Retrace the main events, how one led to the next, and, as far as possible, reconstruct the thoughts that went with them hour after hour.
From this reconstruction, consider your attitude. Not objectively. In a partial, exagerated, and tendentious way. Note first the extreme magnanimity of your smallest actions. Be a benevolent judge of your innermost thoughts. Look how devoted you have been, how attentive, altruistic, sympathetic, humane, supportive, charitable, etc
And then do exactly the reverse. Force yourself to discern, in your acts and thoughts during that day, the obvious signs of perversity, your ability to harm, your taste for destruction, your fundamental wickedness…
And then, if you have carried this out completely enough, try believing in moral judgements and the searchings of conscience. What have you learned?
A bit of my experience (note: somewhat sanitized to avoid speaking of particular interactions w/people who might be reading my blog):
In worship yesterday I felt lightness, love, goodness. A closeness with the spirit. I reached out to newcomers after Meeting. I ate lunch with friends and enjoyed their thoughts and their humor. I ate a divinely-tasty egg salad sandwich. I spent time interacting with my kids and John in the afternoon. I did the family’s laundry rather than spending time on my own tasks. Assembled a favorite salad to share with friends at dinnertime. Was gracious to Friends for their hospitality, etc, etc.
Slept in and was grumpy in the morning, as usual. Was testy with John and the kids because I was ready for Meeting before they were. Got to church late, despite having arranged to meet newcomers there beforehand. Resented some disruptions during worship. Had difficulty quieting my mind. Thought mostly of myself and all I want to/need to do. After meeting, left fellowship early to spend time with my friends. Ate egg salad sandwich for lunch w/no remorse about consuming animal protein. After dinner, poked fun of 50s movie and traditional Quakers. Tried to be funnier to impress friends. Thought more about how I was feeling than about others. Didn’t reach out to those I didn’t know well.
More than ever I agree with C.S. Lewis that:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
It seems to me that we are, all of us, both gods and devils simultaneously. We are selfish and selfless in the same moment. And as such, we should be gentle with judging ourselves, and also with judging others.