The older I get the more I understand that truth tends to be better shown than spoken, though it goes without saying that words still have their place. The power of action is greater than words. For instance, recently a man talked my ear off about how much he treats people with respect, and maybe that would have meant something to me when I was younger—but now, as more seasons pass, I feel less impact over mere words. He could say whatever he wanted, I could say whatever I wanted, but unless what one says turns into what one does, the power of proclamation disappears. It becomes empty. I had barely known the man, I wasn’t about to go sound a gong and continue his proclamation for him. All I did was nod politely.
When you live a certain way and claim you live another way, what you create in your head is cognitive dissonance. This gives you a pervading state of shame, insecurity, and low confidence. It makes you a hypocrite and nobody likes a hypocrite—not even hypocrites! (but I guess you’d expect that kind of behaviour from a hypocrite).
So, the noble goal in life is consistency. Some people keep this goal but they do it in the wrong way. These are the people who walk around wearing their failures and poor character as if it was some kind of achievement. In their failings they identify. Think of the man at work who jokes about all the pornography he watches, think of the woman who says how bad of a mother she is for doing nothing but staring at Netflix with her kids all day. We are all these people at one time or another because it is pretty natural to respond to shame in this way. It’s why smoking teenagers seek out other kids their age and convince them to smoke. This is not just a stereotype, it is true. People justify their behaviour if others are accepting of it, or even better, participatory in it. If I say, boisterously to a coworker perhaps, that I’m absolutely hooked on caffeine, that I need two energy drinks a day to keep going, what I’m creating is the opportunity for said coworker to justify my conscience. After all, how many of your coworkers would reply openly with something along the lines of, “Sounds like a powerful addiction and I feel sorry for you. That must negatively affect your life in multiple ways, most of all your physical health.”
No, most people are polite. They say something like, “That’s crazy, man. You must be pretty busy.” Or, “Well hell, whatever works for ya, Jim-Bob.” These sort of comments return to ones ear smoother than Jazz. It justifies what you’re doing, it lets us think to ourselves that what we’re doing is okay, that it is perfectly good behaviour. Admittedly this is a pretty mild example. I’ll let you fill in the more extreme examples from your one experience.
Here’s the thing: the better person is the one who refuses to wear their bad behaviour as a badge of honor. A better person recognizes his bad behaviour, of course, and may even talk about it openly, but the key difference is that he does not identify with it. He knows his weakness and so he is constantly trying to turn it into a strength. He may say that he has too many energy drinks but he will follow up by saying that it is unhealthy and he would like to control himself better. Or, he will say nothing at all and keep trying to be better. Like I said before, the older you get the more you realize how much stronger actions are than words.
So what I’m saying is that it is okay to have weakness like your fellow human being, the caveat being that you use your weakness for good. You learn from your mistakes, again and again and again. Admit them quickly, but move on to actively not repeating them. We are all human, we all know that we are not perfect, that we are fallible in nature, but some of us seek to bring the rest of reality down to ourselves to justify doing what we know is wrong. These people are what we call tyrants. Others seek to to ascend their knowledge and behaviour to a positive consistency. These people aspire to be the kind of people who say what they mean and mean what they say, as well as to mean and say noble things. They fight the good fight, they are good soldiers. These people aspire to be better and through human effort, they gradually do get better. Life is a battlefield and good soldiers are the ones who are actually fighting the enemies of apathy and evil.
The other people, the ones who do nothing but try to justify their own behaviour? They will frag their own comrades so long as it makes them feel better.
In the movie The Dark Knight, Alfred says to Bruce Wayne that “some men just want to watch the world burn.” These men do this because they are already burning inside. What they want is for the world to be reduced to their level. Life is a battlefield and these tyrants are prepared to engage in friendly fire.
Truthfully, there are times in life where we have qualities of both these kinds of people. We are all soldiers and tyrants; sometimes we want the world to burn with us and other times we want to raise ourselves up and become better than before, charging onward with our fellow soldiers and acting with virtue. Unfortunately, we are all at times susceptible to acting out our emotional statuses. The human condition is complicated and full of nothing but contradictions.
The difference between the tyrant and good soldier is not often what he feels though. You see, they look at the world and feel the same disparity, the have the same frustrations; the difference is in not in what they feel but rather what they do. Their actions make the difference.
So today, so long as you are sitting there and reading these mere words, I ask you—
Today, will you fight well? Today, will you be a good soldier?