I just finished the book of that name by David Guterson, and it’s main theme is resonating with me. What is the more noble path in life- to accept the hypocrisy, compromise, and lies we all tell ourselves as part of the deal of being a functioning, thriving human in society, or to be ideologically and intellectually pure and follow that ideal to its end, even if it ultimately leads to withdrawing from society and premature death? Is the victory in remaining true to yourself to the bitter end, or in deciding to continue pushing forward in the face of all that moral ambiguity? Have you achieved self-actualization if you’ve killed yourself in the process? Have you lost who you are thru the dissembling of your core self as you navigate through your life? Which is worse? Which is better?
I’m not good at compromise. I don’t think I’m belligerent, but I have a definite internal moral compass and personal sense of justice and fairness. I will accept a well thought out counter-argument if I feel it is based in truth and good faith, but I hold tightly to my sense of right and wrong. And with all that said, I still know I lie to myself 100 times a day. We all do. Our survival mechanism is stronger than any personal integrity we may claim to have. It’s the price of being human and living among other humans. It’s just that for some of us, all that rationalization and negotiation with ourselves feels like a slow hollowing out of our essential being.
There is more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans now, yet I gladly participate in the disposable society we’ve created. Every time I fill my car’s gas tank, I am contributing to the climate change effects we all are feeling more and more- yet I continue to drive it wherever I go. When I shop at Wal-Mart, I know I am in my own small way contributing to the death knell of our local Main Streets, and also giving a wink and nod to the child labor that helps keep those prices so conveniently low for the American consumer. All these things are very important to me in the abstract, yet I alway act in my own self-interest. The day to day decisions I make are in direct conflict with my worldview, and I think in small, subtle ways that diminishes me- yet I know I’m not going to change, because “that’s life.”
But is it really a victory to just raise my hands in disgust and drop out of modern society? To wave the white flag and surrender to the purity of my ideals and go live in a cave somewhere? Or is the victory in accepting that life- a REAL life- is compromise, and that the only way to effect any changes is to stay in the game and have my voice be heard?
I’m not sure I have a complete answer to that right now. I know I’m not going to go native anytime soon, but there is a part of me that is drawn to that single-minded pursuit of one’s personal code of ethics. But another part of me sees the immaturity and naivete in such thinking. A fully-formed adult accepts the messiness of life, and does his best to hold onto his integrity IN SPITE of all the hypocrisy that he will inevitably have to wade through. It’s a conversation I wish more of us had with ourselves- that much I’m certain of. Is there more to this capitalistic life we live than just mass consumption? Am I an actual person or just a consumer to be marketed to by the all-powerful commerce machine? How many THINGS does it take to make one happy, or are we all asking ourselves the wrong questions? And is it really possible to find the true self in this monstrous modern world we’ve created?
Last updated June 03, 2018