The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the category “morality”

The Path to Power

imam-zanzibar

New Post!

Mus

I will tell you the story of how I,  a man of little substance or deep knowledge, came to great power.

When I was a boy,  I was not well-accepted by the others.  I did not have the talents necessary to make friends. I had a birth defect that made my body weak on one side. I could not kick a ball.  I was serious-minded and dull,  with little sense of play and no sense of humor.  At best, the other children ignored me.  At worse, they physically abused me.  Even many adults regarded me as dim-witted because of my infirmity.

I found my protection by becoming the errand boy to the village imam.  I was happy to fetch him tea, or deliver papers for him, or sweep his small study.   Under his aegis, I was safe. The other boys dared not bother me.

I quickly learned to make myself indispensable.  Certainly, I was obsequious and flattering, and assiduously followed the studies the imam set out for me. But more importantly, I was efficient.  I learned to anticipate his needs.  Once my basic schooling was finished,  he kept me on as his assistant and secretary.  I became his gatekeeper.  Nobody got in to see the great man without my permission.

He took me under his wing, and allowed me to sit in on many of his meetings – consultations with people in the village who had personal or spiritual problems, legal proceedings which required his judgment or seal, the issuing of decrees which became local law.

He had no living male children, so he groomed me to one day take over his position.  He taught me the book and he taught me the law.

He was a good and wise man, but there were many times when I felt his decisions were too lenient.  I believed in stricter punishment for those whose morals strayed too far.

Eventually,  my teacher passed on.  He was an old man.  I was only in my forties.   And I immediately took over the role of village imam.  Nobody objected.  Clearly it was the old man’s will that I succeed him. In any case, nobody else was qualified.    Since I, myself, had never rendered any judgments or given counsel,  there was no reason for anyone to believe my decisions would not be as sage as my predecessor’s.

But they were not.  I could not remain as objective as he was. Those boys who abused me when I was young did not remember,  but I did.  And now they were men, in need of rulings and favors and advice.

I was severe in my punishment.   I was often cruel with my advice.  My decisions often leaned against those who’d hurt me.  I was strict with most everyone because few of them had been very kind to me.  They had no choice but to obey me. I was the law.

I, too, died an old man.  I had no wife or children to mourn me.  Few were sorry to lose my guidance.

I had been given the opportunity to become a man of God; to nurture the spiritual in both myself and in others,  to deepen my understanding and compassion.   Instead, I abused my power.  I took pleasure in petty revenge.  I was no more loved going out of the world than I’d been coming in.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

I, Golem

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bridge-to-nowhere

Riv

I was just eighteen when I married.  My first child,  a boy, arrived ten months later. Another child came quickly after that and by twenty-three, I was the mother of four. My husband offered little support or help raising them. They were all left to me, these young, hungry, screaming, clamoring, curious, mischievous, needy children.

I’d led a sheltered life within a religious family in a like-minded community.  I had not had much sense of myself to begin with.  I was raised for one purpose: to become a wife and a mother.  Once I was both, I had even less idea who I was except breasts to feed and lips to scold and arms to carry and hands to cook and legs that itched to just run and keep running until I was somewhere completely different, and all alone.

I felt no love for my children, no love for anyone or anything.  I knew this was wrong, that I was deeply flawed. It was one of the greatest sins for a mother not to love her children.  Love is what makes humans human. If I was not capable of love, then I was no better than a golem, an automaton. I was less than human.

But, in fact, I was not less than human.  I was painfully, achingly, tragically human.  I was simply numb to my own pain. I was too exhausted to live; too completely without ego to care about anything.

Perhaps, then, it is not love, but ego that makes us human. Without ego, there is no point to human life.  Nothing to drive us forward along our path.  Nothing to give us purpose.  No pain or joy to teach us lessons.

I was, therefore, nothing.

It followed, then, that my children were also nothing.  I regarded them as merely attachments to my appendages. If I had been capable of regarding them as individual, unique human beings, I would have had to also conclude that I, too, was human.  After all, a golem cannot create human babies.  But since I was certain that I was a golem, it followed by my logic, that my children must also be made of mud and clay. Empty. Hollow. Unable to feel.  Unhuman.

Given this line of logic, I did the only thing that made sense to me.

When my husband was off to work, I gathered my children for a trip. Only the oldest was curious about where we were going, but I quieted him by telling him we were going on a secret adventure.

I drove around for a while, in growing outward spiral, circling further and further from home.  I knew where I was going, what had to be done, but I needed to approach it obliquely, to work up my courage.

And finally,  the children fell asleep and I finally found myself where I was heading all along.

I drove to the big bridge.  Halfway across, I turned the wheel sharply and stepped on the accelerator. In an instant, we were over the edge and into the river.

It was where we needed to be. There, we would dissolve and return to what we were: just mud and clay.

 

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 

An Uphill Battle, One Step at a Time

New

rock-uphill

*

Ruf

We were the same age, but she was so much older than I was. She always seemed to to know what she wanted, and what was right for her, and even what was right for others.

She inspired me to be a better man. To do the right thing. To take the high road. To push my limits. To do the things that made me uncomfortable so I could get past my discomfort. She never asked me to do anything that she wouldn’t do, herself. She held herself to a high standard and expected me to hold myself to that same standard.

I knew she was right and for long time, I worked hard.  I wanted to become that man she wanted me to be because I knew it would be an expression of my best self. But I was lazy and fearful and I didn’t trust my own instincts.

Eventually, I had to acknowledge to myself that I was never going to get beyond my limitations.   I was never going to be the kind of man who was truly worthy of her.  Trying and not succeeding made me feel like a failure, although she, herself, never suggested such a thing. For her it was enough that I remained dedicated to trying.

I started to resent her moral and spiritual superiority. I resented her certainty in always knowing right from wrong. I resented the way she was always sure of herself. It made me feel less certain of who I was and who I should be. I felt I was losing myself in her image of who she thought I could be. And so I stopped trying to live in the world as she saw it. That was her world. I needed to live in mine. I didn’t want to have to think about things so deeply. I lost my drive to see how good I could be. I simply wanted to be left alone, unchallenged. And so, eventually she obliged me.

Four years of marriage ended in acrimony. It took me many, many years to understand that love.

We had no children to hold us together and so we went our separate ways. Eventually we both married other people. I heard from mutual acquaintances that she married happily, to a man who saw life as she did. I married a woman who was easy and kind, undemanding and simple in her outlook. She didn’t require much more than casual kindness and some basic respect, which is as much as I gave her. I appreciated her but there was no deep love.  Her most endearing quality was that she let me be.

In the end, that was no good for me, either.  I reverted to my lazy ways; no longer pushed myself uphill.   Instead I remained down at the bottom where no effort was required, surrounded by those who were as lazy as I was.

In my life, I never accomplished anything without being challenged by someone else, yet when challenged, I grew resentful, angry; I backed away so as not to drown in the secret humiliation of inevitable failure.

I understand now that my first wife was right.  She wasn’t pushing so much as encouraging me to create my own challenges.  Positive changes are positive changes, even if they are small and incremental.    It’s the not size of the change but the direction.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

*Artist: Janusz Kapusta

Evil, One Click at a Time

New!

Cog-in-the-machine

Yu

I did what I was made to do. I never questioned. If you’d asked me at the time if I was choosing my actions of my own volition, I would have said yes, but I see now that I had no choice. I was a cog in a machine much greater than myself. I was turned in place by the other gears grinding in unison towards the common goal.

History says we behaved like animals; that we treated others like animals  but that was not true. Animals do not torture and abuse and murder their own kind.

My humanity was stolen from me and before I could recognize the depth of that loss, it was too late.

I wasn’t born cruel, but then cruelty is often a matter of perspective. I wasn’t the kind to think things through too deeply.  I was smart enough in many ways, but morally I was lazy. I trusted those in positions of greater authority to tell me what was right and wrong. It was simpler and less mentally taxing to see things as clearly black and white, good and evil.

As long as I obeyed those in authority, I felt no moral compunctions about what I did; suffered no sleepless nights wracked with guilt. I never questioned that I was on the side of right.   And in this way, it was easy to bring me (and others just like me) to heel, to do the bidding of the powerful whose true motives I never knew.

Those in authority are in those positions because they understand that to consolidate, maintain and focus their power, they must appeal to that most basic need in others:   to be on the side of Right; on the side of God. Once convinced, a follower can be made to do anything. Soldiers will only fight and kill if they believe their cause is just.  An army cannot survive on doubt.

But enemies cannot both be on the side of Right.

During war, right and wrong are relative. They are not determined until the fighting and killing are over. Human morality is judged upon the results.

On this side, morality is judged by different criteria.

 

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