“Foolish is the man, and there are many such men, who would rid himself or his fellows of discomfort by setting the world right, by waging war on the evils around him, while he neglects that integral part of the world where lies his business, his first business, namely, his own character and conduct.”
It is futile to attempt to change the world while remaining as we are. In a previous post, Raising Rebels, we discussed the need to rebel against our culture as it spurns traditional morality. Does this conflict with the above statement on the need to focus on our own wickedness before attempting to change the world? Not when the rebellion we seek is deeply personal, an individual refusal to yield to the calls of pleasure-seeking and moral compromise. There will be no successful rebellion if the rebels are themselves subverting the cause by supplying the opposition with ammunition. Hypocritical Christians are horrible recruiters; they have repelled many. In order to bring about the world we desire, we must live that world in our own relationships and in our own choices.
“…Were it possible – an absurd supposition – that the world should thus be righted from the outside, it would yet be impossible for the man who had contributed to the work, remaining what he was, ever to enjoy the perfection of the result; himself not in tune with the organ he has tuned, he must imagine it still a distracted, jarring instrument.”
In order to be worthy of the world we desire, we must begin to build it in ourselves. This requires a humble and introspective nature and the ability to follow our conscience, no matter where it may lead. Recently, in trying to apply these profound words of George MacDonald, I pondered and prayed to discover what I could transform in myself. Shockingly quickly, the answer came – almost as if God has a long list of faults he is waiting to reveal, I only need ask. Luckily He restricted the answer to just one; He knows my pace is slow. I perceived that I need to stop complaining. Of late I have been quite negative about where we live. I would rather live in the country and nearer to family. I have been moaning quite regularly to my husband and as I pondered this fact, I could see that my negativity had been a burden on my family. I am still doing what I can to change my situation, but I am attempting to be more positive and joyful.
The Power of One
We hear many calls to serve and give consideration to a particular group – whether it be a certain race, gender, nationality, or sexuality. These pleas for assistance may be well-meaning. However, any efforts to serve groups must be primarily concerned with helping the individuals that comprise that group. Transformation occurs one person at a time.
“…The philanthropist who regards the wrong as in the race, forgetting that the race is made up of conscious and wrong individuals, forgets also that wrong is always generated in and done by an individual; that the wrongness exists in the individual, and by him is passed over, as tendency, to the race; and that no evil can be cured in the human race, except by its being cured by its individuals.”
It is fortunate that change is wrought at the same level that love is also given, and received; the individual. You may say you love dogs, but you transmit that love to your own particular dog. Your dog receives that love and returns it to you, he is obedient to his loving master.
“…There is no way of making three men right but by making right each one of the three; but a cure in one man who repents and turns, is a beginning of the cure of the whole human race.”All quotes above: George MacDonald (The Hope of the Gospel)
O’ What may man within him hide, though angel on the outward side!William Shakespeare
The burden of responsibility which accompanies self-improvement is rejected by many. In exchange, they opt for virtue signalling and hypocrisy, or as Jordan Peterson says, “an abdication of personal responsibility with the mask of social virtue.” These are the people marching for climate change in the street, then after proclaiming their disgust for an uncaring society, drive home in their gas-guzzling cars. These would find it difficult to live in the car-less world they hope to create. We cannot ask others to climb a mountain while relaxing at base-camp.
“You don’t change the world by going and waving signs at people that you have defined as more evil than you. The probability that they are more evil than you is actually quite low because evil though they may be, you are in the same boat. If you have divided the world up conveniently so you can define the oppressor and oppressed and you are in the positive category, then the probability that you are part of the solution and not part of the problem is zero.”Jordan Peterson
As I said in the last post, we see the world collapsing around us and we can’t just stand idly by; yet we also see that we have to transform ourselves before we can help. We all have gifts and passions given to us for the betterment of the world. We often feel a call to help others in a certain way. Wouldn’t it be a waste to sit on our gifts and passions until we reach unreachable perfection? How can we harmonize these two seemingly contradictory truths: we should use our gifts and love to help others, we must get “our own house in order before advising the world”?
When Christ was asked what are the most important commandments He said,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”Matthew 22
The first and great commandment is intensely personal, love God. Christ tells us exactly how we love God, “if ye love me, keep my commandments.” This requires action, not words. We must live out the moral life we desire to see in the world. This is our rebellion – refusing to live as the world demands, living instead as our conscience directs. This is “setting our house in order.” We must prioritize this above all else – on a daily basis and in our own perspective.
However, we are also given a second commandment, to love our neighbor. It does not say to change thy neighbor, rather, as Thomas Aquinas described, it is “ to will the good of our neighbor”. We want good things for others, as we want them for ourselves. This love is often found as we journey up the mountain. We gain empathy when we fall, we gain faith when we succeed. We see the world more clearly as we gain the elevation of personal progression.
Don’t climb mountains so that people can see you. Climb mountains so that you can see the world.David McCullough Jr.
Charitable love is generally not directed at large societal groups. It is shown in the love and concern we share for a friend, or stranger. In this form of love, known as Agape, the highest form of love, the power of transformation is found. Agape is not judgmental or disapproving, it authenticity calls others to truth and light.
“You should not trust people’s whose primary goal when trying to change the world is to change other people.”Jordan Peterson
As we strive upwards in our own quest for perfection, we can share our struggles and successes with those around us. We can share our gifts and knowledge with the a hope that in so doing they too can improve.
When to Speak and When to Shut-up
But when are we exhibiting genuine love and concern for others and when is it instead a presumptuous and judgmental attempt to change others? I have personally thought a lot about this. Who am I to write a blog? What gives me the right? I am certainly not perfect and many are wiser and more qualified than myself. For years my husband told me I should write about the ideas I discussed with him. I thought his idea smacked of self-promotion.
However, I continued to hear the call. I was particularly concerned as I saw many young women casting aside motherhood without proper consideration. I wanted to provide more knowledge and insight to these women, gathered from great thinkers. Finally one day, after finishing a book by Andrew Klavan, The Great Good Thing, I decided to just do it. He had used his gift and passion to spread truth to millions. I trusted that he was doing it for the right reasons, perhaps I could as well.
However, I remained double-minded about the proposition. I had also spent hundreds of hours listening to Dr. Peterson’s lectures, so his voice rang in my head – warning me of the dangers of “unearned wisdom” and virtue signalling. I worried I was stepping into the hypocritical zone.
I decided to proceed with caution, understanding my many weaknesses. In my writing, I try to be completely honest about my own experience and imperfections. I often check my motivations. Am I trying to impress? Am I here to share truth and hope, or to gain praise? Am I speaking genuinely?
These answers have not always been yes. A few months ago I decided I wanted to write a piece on women’s feelings of inadequacy. I have known many women plagued with low self-worth and it seemed like a topic worth discussing. I found lots of good material and finally finished the post. I read it aloud to myself. Something felt off. I knew I was not the person to write it – I did not have the empathy or experience required for the topic. I decided it was better to chuck the whole thing and seek out a guest-blogger who could genuinely share wisdom gained.
“For knowledge to be yours, you have to see how it applies to your own case and then have a story to tell about how that’s the case. You associate it with the unique particularities of your own experience, you have acted out the ideas and tested them in the world. That’s how you make knowledge your own. ”Jordan Peterson
If we share wisdom we have not lived, our words will be unpersuasive and inauthentic. We each have insights to share, but let’s resist the urge to pretend expertise on everything. Tiger Woods can write a book on golf, not on marriage. This is not to say that we can not have opinions on things we have not experienced. However, the most powerful art comes from artists who reveal truth discovered in their own personal journey up the mountain.
“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”Leonardo Di Vinci
In endeavoring to inspire others on their journey we want to utilize our creative gifts. If we are motivated by agape, the art we create can be transformative. If we instead seek our own glory, beauty will fail.
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.”Alexander Solzhenitsyn
As we seek our Rebellion against a degenerate culture, we must first commence a personal rebellion; against our own immorality, our own tendency towards hypocrisy and “unearned moral superiority”. As we seek our own perfection, we will increase in love for our fellow-man. We will want to share our gifts and earned-wisdom with others as we journey uphill together.
If you enjoyed this article, please follow us on Instagram @thephilosophyofmotherhood and Facebook.
This piece is a follow-up to a previous post, Raising Rebels https://philosophyofmotherhood.com/2019/10/08/raising-rebels/
On Agape: The Four Loves and Our Ascent to God https://catholicexchange.com/four-loves-ascent-god
C.S. Lewis on Agape https://youtu.be/gaVaGGpeQKM
*If you enjoy the work of C.S. Lewis or GK Chesterton I highly recommend checking out their “master” George MacDonald. The most profound writer I have ever encountered.