At least, that’s what Adam did in a moment which we could reasonably call without melodrama the birth of consciousness and self-awareness. It was a brief instant thereafter when God said to Adam (in the greatest rhetorical question of all time)
Who told you you were naked? ~ God
A question that begs another rhetorical question.
Who, indeed? ~ John Poplett
Right away we see that in the very beginning, the very first story in the very first book of Scripture, the Book of Genesis, has Adam—and all of us by proxy— start to look inward, study ourselves and wonder what “makes us tick.” At least, any second now, Adam—conscious of his brand-new conscience—will formulate the question, “What compelled me to cover my private parts with a fig leaf?”.
Beyond question that is a fine opening for a book about the creation of the universe, man, and the rest of God’s creatures.
The next thing that comes to mind whenever I brood on the curse of self-awareness is a complicitous curse, like two dogs who form a pack to kill a squirrel or a chipmunk, that the human animal is complex. I am complex, you are complex, and everybody else I have ever known is also similarly complex with the exception of brain-damaged children who—by some providential accident—were spared their loss of innocence and—despite the stigma of their affliction—possess talents of charm and wonderment that the rest of us tortured souls might have the good sense to envy.
The idea that human most often have conflicting or paradoxical motives simultaneously active and influencing our behavior is exactly what I believe the Roman Catholic religious philosopher Blaise Pascal intended when he wrote:
If he exalt himself, I humble him; if he humble himself, I exalt him; and I always contradict him, till he understands that he is an incomprehensible monster. ~ Blaise Pascal, Pensée #420
It was part of his long meditation on how man can be both simultaneously God-like and a “monster” (in French, Pascal uses the word bête, more like “beast” in English) at the same time. These conflicting, active impulses are what make him “incomprehensible”.
I brood on this so often that I have formed a rule-of-thumb which goes like this:
By extension, this rule also applies to things you are thinking of doing but have yet to do. It applies to the behavior of strangers and enemies, too. Only recently did it occur to me to put my fancy rule into practice. Yes, I’m that stupid. I thought about it for one or two eternities before I came up with the boffo idea of actually trying it.
In practice, there’s every reason to believe that this rule can pry open a view into your behavior, your spouse’s behavior, or your enemy’s behavior and make that person more real, more dimensional, a person who, by dint of this exercise, is now less of a cardboard cut-out, somebody you might see in a new light with compassion.
For example, as a teenager, I carried a mock coffin, a symbol which represented “our boys coming back in boxes”, in a local protest of the Vietnam war, a gesture that was captured by a television crew and broadcast on a local news station that same evening.
My motives in that moment included at least the following:
- moral: register my opposition to a war that defied the admonition “Thou Shalt Not Kill”
- adolescent: get a girl
- social: look “cool”
- self-preservation: end the war before I was inducted
Okay, four out of five just one shy of my arbitrary dictum. Not bad. All of those I am sure were active when I acted as a faux pall bearer in a bit of street theater. In hindsight, I could add a fifth, which was probably somehow astir in my mind even back then:
- civic: exercise my right to freedom of speech as guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Right now I am preparing for a nine hundred mile bike ride around Lake Michigan. Since that is one heckuva trek, I deem it prudent to identify my motives and expose them to you (whoever you are and whatever brought you to this page) if nothing else as a mild form of entertainment (emphasis on mild).
Here goes. On this ride, I intend to:
- test my mettle
- raise money for charities to benefit people who are suffering on the west side of Chicago and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota
- promote the idea of a different kind of U.S. Corporation, a “virtue-forward corporation”, which is aggressively kinder and aggressively more patriotic than corporations are typically today in America (say, for example, Monsanto, Google, BP, and Nike)
- demonstrate that Black Lives Matters does not necessarily involve Marxism or violence or even “blacks”
- assert a vital connection between black lives matters, blue lives matters, teachers lives matters, Scotch-Irish lives matter, First nation lives matter, etc.
- make a pitch for unity and an end of this era of crippling divisiveness
- signal my virtue
- discover things about myself I currently don’t know
- assert the primacy of action over protest
- manage my fear of sitting home alone in a responsible way
- find a path to reconcile with friends, among them my dearest, whom—in this era of division and the “fog of protest” which still shrouds the BLM movement—I injured or insulted
That’s twelve and still counting; any one of which is motivation enough in itself! Well, subtract virtue signaling and that’s still nine out of ten.
Nine hundred miles is a long way. I made a similar trek twelve years ago. For that trek, I raised $20,000 for a local mental health agency. Only on that occasion, I was extremely fit and only logged a scant six hundred miles. My left foot was pristine and had not been operated on three times. I was taller and had brighter teeth.
Can I make it? I honestly don’t know. Today a minor drop in daytime temperature and gusty winds made me feel a micro-fracture in my resolve. At least we know, I have motivation. At least we know, I’ll be making my attempt under open skies, right there, as my father used to say, “in front of God and everybody”.