Ethical Will of 2007, Part 1

by keith on January 2, 2008

As the New Year begins, it’s a good time to reflect on the past year and see if there are things I’ve learned that I can apply to my life in the days, months, and years to come. The tradition of the ethical will (Heb. “Zevaoth“) comes to us from Jewish moralists, who wished to pass on their collected wisdom to their children and/or students, meaning it was meant for a very small audience. It was also meant to be the ultimate expression of the individual, passed on to those who remained after death. I’d like to take that tradition into the modern age and make it something that we can all share, but I think it’s also important to reflect annually on the year and figure out what was learned along the path in those 12 months.

No doubt, the past few years have been witness to some major changes in my life. I’ve lost parents and friends. I’ve changed homes and jobs. I’ve gained knowledge as well as new friends. In short, my perspective has changed quite dramatically in the past 3 years that I’ve lived in Austin, Texas. I know that my logic will be skewed by these drastic changes, but I hope I’ve been able to pick out the small threads of truth through it all.

Interpersonal Relationships

  • Bankrupt Accounts Should be Resolved – We’ve all heard that relationships with other people are a lot like bank accounts. Steady deposits (good deeds, contact, being there for them) lead to a healthy relationship. Unlike a normal bank account, however, these accounts have a negative interest rate. When deposits aren’t made, the overall balance decreases. Withdrawals include broken promises, neglect, lies, and hurtful actions or statements. When these accounts fall into the red or negative balance, it’s time to take stock of the relationship and consider whether or not it’s worth saving. If changes aren’t likely to come, it’s time to sever ties and wish the other person well. To do otherwise is to accept the idea that you’re somehow unworthy of a mutually beneficial relationship. This is devastating to the self-image.
  • Be Truly True to Yourself – Many people take Polonius‘ advice to mean that as long as you’re happy, you can do whatever you want to other people. But they’ve missed a significant part of the quote:

    This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man

    It’s important to be true to yourself, which is your deepest self, which knows right from wrong, the Christ in you, so to speak. But, if you do things that are hurtful and deceptive to others, then you’re not truly being true to that self. And if that inner self isn’t crying out for you to stop, then something inside of you is broken. You’ve lied for too long to this self, and therefore, you’ve fooled yourself. This is a dark, winding path that leads only to despair and madness. And eventually, the only people who will have anything to do with you are people who are either too weak of spirit to recognize the toxicity of your friendship or those who are also broken themselves.

  • Blood Truly is Thicker than Water - Friendships come and go. Except for the rare few, friendships do not last forever. Family relationships, except in those families that are severely broken, are the few relationships that do not have a negative interest rate, as mentioned in the first bullet point. I’ve discovered that family is the only thing in a person’s life that is truly selfless. There is no other motivation besides love. [Again, I say this about families that are semi-normal. Ironically, many of the sociopathic disorders out there (namely Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD) are caused by screwed-up relationships with a primary caregiver.]

Coming tomorrow: Ethical Will of 2007, Part 2, Psychology, Religion, and All Things Interior …

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