Humans are frenzied islands of consciousness, possessing characteristics both good and evil. If we wish to contemplate reality, then we must accept that our good characteristics are balanced with flaws, faults and limitations. Conversely, the malevolent side of our nature possesses some beneficial qualities, as well. It is this balance of the good and wicked sides of our personality that we must understand. But, we must dig deeper to truly comprehend the complex foundation of our behavior.
There is a great deal more to our personality than the ubiquitous battleground of good versus evil. We are not one or the other, but a combination of both. We are attractive and hideous, comforting and horrifying, wicked and compassionate; we can love and we can loathe. Unlike animals, humans are complex creatures ruled by principles, moral beliefs and veracity. We are governed by ideations of probity, integrity and honor. Yet, how can we know that our beliefs are virtuous? If we were raised by criminals, would ruthlessness become a virtue? How can we tell if we are a good person?
Determined by genetic predisposition and acquired emotions, our personality is formed at a young age. By the time we are a teenager, our complex personality has been fully formed. It will never change, barring a very significant life event. We learn to act in ways that mimic our parents and close relatives. Their beliefs become the basis for our morality, our interactions and, ultimately, our happiness. Morality can also be powerfully influenced by outside forces. For example, many Europeans accepted Hitler’s propaganda and believed that Jews were evil. Thus, our concepts of ethical morality can be twisted to achieve dark goals.
In addition to morality, our personality is influenced by powerful emotions churning within our consciousness. Emotions alter our relationships and inspire or prevent virtuous behavior. No emotion pushes us to behave more powerfully than does guilt. Not love. Nor anger. Not even happiness drives us to act more influentially than does guilt. Our minds are aggressively provoked by contemplation of our culpability and this remorse becomes a primary motivator in decision-making. The surprising aspect of this reality is that we fail to recognize it. We can ignore guilt or learn from it, but we can never escape from it. Even the most innocent of us are burdened by thoughts of guilt and remorse. When we dwell upon these forces of compunction, our behavioral balance becomes tilted toward sorrow and anger. We become depressed, paralyzed and tormented.
Humans are faced with treacherous forces throughout life. We are, at times, victims of deceit and cruelty. We face the loss of a career, a home or a loved one. Our lives are precarious and the only thing that we can count on is change. Yet, in the midst of despair, there also exists love, desire, and hope. Even in desperate misery, there can be faith and compassion; things that humans crave. Those of us who find a way to balance the rollercoaster ride of emotions and who possess a sound concept of morality are the happiest. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Life is tragic, exciting, wonderful, and terrifying - all at the same time. Yet our journey throughout the passage of time allows us to act in ways that benefit others. All of us have the capacity to act in ways that benefit others. We can be honorable, empathetic and loving individuals. This can be our goal. Compassion and empathy are the most valued characteristics of humanity; including all societies and all of our religions. We can teach the significance of empathy and tolerance to our children. While that might not be our destiny, it is within our capacity to achieve.
Making decisions is the only true freedom that any of us have. The consequences of our decisions frame our character and form our legacy. We can reason and act in wise and virtuous ways. But, we must challenge the authenticity of our acquired morality. We must do what so many Europeans did not do during the Holocaust. It has always been easier to fear and hate, than to value and tolerate. We must reflect upon incoming propaganda and determine if it truly reflects esteemed concepts of human compassion and empathy. This is not a purpose, but a gift possessed only by humans.
Happiness has a great deal to do with our principles and morality. We have the capacity to grow beyond our self-centered ego. As a child, we desire that which makes us feel good. As an adult, we should realize that virtue derives from compassion. Fulfillment comes from the knowledge that we have improved the world in some way; that we made someone’s life better. The fact that we have only one shot at life makes each moment, each interaction, critically precious.
Our actions echo through eternity in those who remember us. Happiness results from the discovery of our inner balance between emotions and values. But the road to contentment lies not just in maintaining a balance between emotions and values, but also in finding ways to act in a righteous manner. For the more we love others, the more we will be loved in return. The more virtuous we are, the greater our importance to society and the planet. Contentment is a gift that each of us can control. It is achieved, ironically, by making others happy. Each of us has this capacity. It’s always within reach. We attain it by understanding why we behave and how we can change our actions to enhance the lives of others. In this regard, happiness is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob's Courage