IV. 3. Andrew Wakes Up to the World


We all cultivate the ability to distinguish “right” from “wrong”. It develops along with our growing up. As we get older, our interaction with the environment becomes more and more complex, enriching our knowledge about both the outer world and ourselves. The first accession of this knowledge is our self-awareness. At a certain early stage of our lives we discover that we are just an entity among many others, and that the world exists independently of us. Together with viewing ourselves as subjects of influence over the environment (our primary self-perception), we sensibly start perceiving ourselves also as objects of its power. Our sense of exclusiveness crashes, which jump-starts the process of identifying ourselves with the others. The circle closes, stirring in us the crucial notion of social interdependence and reciprocity. We grasp that our best behavioral choice is to do to others what we want them to do to us, and to not do to others what we don’t want done to us. This notion becomes a very important circumstance in our self-perception. It gives us the key to living in harmony with the environment. Gradually it evolves beyond our own interest, and becomes a lens through which we clearly see the true shape of any human act. This is when we can claim to have developed a sense of morality bordering on terms like responsibility, fairness, justice, and integrity, thus gaining our position of trustworthiness in the eyes of others.

Unfortunately, this whole development doesn’t reach its completion with every human being. Our maturing is often accompanied by factors detrimental to the formation of a personal morality, which can be proudly exposed to the world.

Generally, the “stumbling” occurs as we retain the sense of our entitlement to more rights over the environment than anyone else. This sediment dilutes our judgment on any moral issue since we give ourselves an unfair advantage over the rest of our community. The conflict here emerges from the need to put the common interest above our own – a requirement which we view as an encroachment on our individuality. Why should I care about waiting for the others to sit around the table, since I’m so hungry? Why do I have to hold hands with the rest of the family in a prayer before the meal, since my soup is getting cold? And why must I hold the spoon this way, and not that way, since that way is a lot more convenient? (Certainly, these examples regard more specific aspects of individual obligations to the community like behaving oneself, sharing spiritual rituals and demonstrating good manners, but at the end all of these boil down to the fundamental category of morality.)

If not cleared on time, the path to an objective, community-oriented morality gets completely clogged, and our development is redirected towards the creation of a self-serving morality, which will be harmful to us in the long run. When our self-projecting drive includes circumstances that neglect the interest of others, our self-projection is in constant danger of being opposed and stopped.

19-year old Andrew has been a prize student and graduates high school with a gold medal. He is also a great pitcher, and helped make his baseball team a regional champion. On top of that Andrew is handsome and enjoys the attention of every girl in town. He excels his friends in almost everything, which gives him a well-founded sense of superiority. He enjoys life, and feeling mature for his age, wants to grab more from it without delay.

Three months after his graduation he moves out with his girlfriend, despite the fact that she is still in high school, not to mention the fierce opposition from his parents and her divorced mother. After another couple of months just as their summer savings and credit cards get drained, she becomes pregnant. Andrew is too proud to ask for any help from his parents, but since he is still in no position to take care of two more people, he accepts the fact that his girlfriend must move back with her mom.

He continues to avoid any talk of marriage and keeps praying for two things: his parents to unblock his college fund, and a quick win at the fantasy baseball he plays online. Things get pretty rough when his father visits him and makes it clear that his support will take place after Andrew takes responsibility for the girl and his future child. Pressed by the circumstances Andrew makes the decision to enlist in the army. He does this more to hurt his mother and to play the victim than to achieve a stable, long-term solution for himself and the people dependent on him. Yet nobody stops him, and so Andrew has to pack his bags and jump into the unknown.

His final day in town he spends at his girlfriend’s home. It is all kisses, tears and assurances of eternal love. The next morning a tense, and a little over self-confident Andrew enters the boot camp. But the last thing the drill instructors want to see in any new recruit is excessive self-confidence. The jokes which Andrew cracks to the others during the introductory briefing don’t help either. For the next nine weeks Andrew is subjected to all the outrages known from the folklore of basic army training. For instance, he must check on the condition of his chemical gear by putting it on a little too often and running a mile or so in rugged terrain, and after that leave it behind while in the gas chamber, where he has to test his resistance to the tear gas by singing the Star Spangled Banner in a loud voice.

Having demonstrated his sense of superiority, or independence, from the very beginning, he receives little support from the others. This whole attitude stuns Andrew who so far has received only admiration or, in the worst case, friendly envy. One word in particular sticks into his head: “arrogant”, repeatedly screamed at him by one of his sergeants.

Probably it is too early for Andrew to reassess what drives him into this kind of situations. After all, the boot camp lasts for just a little over two months. He has his hometown, his friends, and the prospect of a two-year active duty contract, which would secure his future. Yet, having had those unexpected and – to a certain extent – painful encounters, he returns to his town with a calmer, if not wiser outlook on himself and the people around him. He calls his parents and sets up a meeting with them, for the first time without accusing them of anything, or expecting any offers for financial support. He still has his life in his hands.
The problem with having a self-serving morality is that it often leads us to decisions, which we have to pay for long after we have abandoned it. Failed trust can’t be easily reversed. Isolation imposed by others is not removed without proof that reform has taken place. Even if we demonstrate skills or knowledge of extreme value to the community, we still face the risk of being rejected. Common principles are more important than the potential benefit from one’s contribution to the cause. The exceptions only confirm the rule. Like the one made by the citizens of Venice who entrusted the defense of their city to a moor, despite his perjurious conquest of its most beautiful and virtuous daughter – Desdemona.

© 2009 Peter Budevski

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