Ignore the critics. Be confident and promote excellence.
Recently, one of my family members criticized me for being superior and judgmental in my attitude toward others that he believes are less fortunate than me. He was brutal in his characterization of my confident advocacy. I believe his accusation is worth a thoughtful response because it might help my readers understand an important moral issue.
Rather than diminishing ourselves, each of us should strive to be a light for others. Humility is truth. As Marianne Williamson reminds us in her famous quotation:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Thus, my answer to my family member is as follows:
First, I have had and continue to benefit from excellent mentors that keep me humble and on track. I understand that I am a powerful moral agent but also just a speck of dust in the vast universe.
My primary signature strength is appreciation of beauty and excellence. I strive for excellence in my own life, and I promote it when I see it. A vibrant society should laud excellence and shame dysfunction.
I am confident because I am a man of integrity. I try to be a good guy who tries to do good things. I have had many big moral failings in my life, but like most decent people I have had many more moral successes. Modern liberals make the mistake of believing that our ongoing moral failings disqualify us from being moral examples for others. That is ridiculous. It leads to the moral dumbing down of a society. Good people should be examples for others. Otherwise, government agents become our sole moral arbiters. Regular people should set the moral tone in their communities.
Most importantly, in my 27 years of service as a humble and committed helping professional, I have paid a lot of dues to humanity. I helped a lot of people rise from the depths of despair, even saving many lives. I have helped people from all races, creeds, social classes, and sexual orientations be the best they can be. I shared my humanity with others because I love them. It took a vast emotional toll on me, but I am glad to have done it and continue to do it. I honored my responsibility to my fellow humans as a good neighbor.
Certainly the preponderance of my clients come from difficult personal and psychological circumstances, but many of them are also engaging in perpetual self-defeating behaviors. In other words, they have bad habits. As I look at some of the people in my own extended family, I believe this is certainly the case. They can be unimaginative, rigid, and lazy. They engage in denial and projection. This particular critical family member unfortunately shares those characteristics, even as he sees them in others. As with so many stuck people, he has done very little to grow beyond those bad habits. He is lost.
Social indicators point to a growing divide between the upper and lower social classes. Contrary to the popular class conflict Marxist explanations, conservative sociologists like Charles Murray and David Blankenhorn have a counter-cultural theory. These scholars believe families in the upper middle class are thriving while people in the working and lower classes are struggling because the higher class families have better habits. They disagree with liberal sociologists that external factors are primarily to blame for social and economic inequality. They reject the class conflict blame theory that is the preferred attribution of people with Marxist inclinations like my family member above. They attribute personal responsibility. I agree with Murray and Blankenhorn.
Murray and Blankenhorn point to the lack of internal (character) assets. What is different today, and this is a critical distinction for this blog entry, is that because of political correctness and the emerging social sickness about passing judgment, successful people no longer mentor less successful people because they do not wish to be seen as “looking down” on them. We are glorifying dysfunctional behavior. That needs to change because it epitomizes the tragedy of low expectations.
As a communitarian, I believe in moral suasion because in the absence of person to person moral suasion, all we have left is government imposed morality. Healthy societies rely on norms, not laws.
I will keep doing my thing as a humble servant of humanity. Being self-confident is not being critical. Promoting excellence is not being mean.
References: Charles Murray: Coming Apart: America’s New Moral Divide (2012)
David Blankenhorn: The Future of Marriage (2007)