This I Believe

Gregory - Gaysville, Vermont
Entered on September 1, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: morality

Most who are chosen to articulate their beliefs in this series are exemplary individuals, pillars of their communities who are devoted to worthy causes, which is as it should be. There are, however, others who can offer wisdom won the hard way, knowledge earned by making incredibly stupid mistakes while blundering through life like a bull in a china shop. I am their king.

Some foolish faux pas can be chalked up to youthful exuberance, some are the result of a failure to engage the brain before putting the mouth in gear; but the mistakes I regret most are those that were motivated by selfishness. We are born hardwired to be selfish; it’s a survival mechanism. But, because we are highly evolved social beings, we are supposed to adopt essential learned behaviors that enable us to function as members of society.

So, I learned to make all the appropriate noises, but way down deep inside I was still a greedy little monkey. I wanted everything, but I didn’t want to do anything to deserve it. Unfortunately, while our institutions tried to teach me empathy, our consumer-oriented economy bombarded me with relentless messages telling me it’s OK to be selfish. Indeed, selfishness is the very engine of commerce, now. The glib platitude, Caveat Emptor, implies that it’s permissible to be a liar, a cheat, and a thief as long as I’m making money. It’s business, nothing personal. Besides, it’s in Latin! It MUST be true! Small wonder it took me a while to figure out what a diseased out look this philosophy represents. There was no epiphany, I simply bumbled down enough wrong paths that I finally came upon one that made sense to me.

Now, I’m no Mother Theresa, and I never will be, but I try a lot harder to complete the circle. In other words, I believe that society should be built on principles designed to protect the interests of the individual, and that individuals should conduct their affairs in a manner that protects the interests of society.

Sometimes I fail miserably, but at least now I try to define the success of my days not by the petty cruelties inflicted to further my own interests, but by the honor with which I pursue those interests, because I have, at last, developed the strength of character to do so.