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This ‘fragility’ of the human spirit is perhaps why we spend so much of our lives focusing on evil. We obsess about it, spend a great deal of our lives learning to guard against it, spend our wealth to fight it, and steel our resolve to deal with it when it confronts us. As children grow to men, one of the most ingrained lessons that many are taught is that all that is truly good in us—is also that which makes us the most vulnerable.
We look around us and see most of our fellow-men in an endless battle to ward off the effects of evil. Nations build armies and wage wars to protect the "common good," cultures embrace religions that seek to ease one's suffering on earth with the promise of a paradise in the afterlife, and individual men spend most of their lives in a mad scramble to defeat evil’s most intimate means of expression: emotional pain. To many, this pain seems to shadow their greatest joys and most noble thoughts.
From our earliest years we resist succumbing to the injustice that others may inflict on us. One trip through the downtown of any major city will see the barred windows on homes where honest men seek to protect themselves from the criminality of others. And while one may install bars to protect one's physical values, one also installs the bars that are meant to protect against the crimes that are targeted against their very souls. And yet you will find that against a determined criminal, even the strongest of bars will not avail you.
But who would attempt to rob an empty home? Who would bother to ransack or destroy what is already shattered?
There are many men who live surrounded by crime and abject poverty and never seek to rise above it. These men long ago accepted that the only means to defeat the pain of their lives was to destroy that part of their lives that the pain could reach. They become both jaded and complacent, so much so, that whenever they do possess a thing of value they will treat it with a disregard that defies all reason. These men have given up to futility, in order to avoid pain. To them, ‘life’ is something that is done to you: it is an inexorable process that one can neither grasp nor understand. And yet they are still men, and as men they cannot help but respond to it.
The above men are the total cripples, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Finding themselves in a never-ending battle against a pain they cannot defeat, their only refuge lies in escapist behavior that dulls the emotional pain by numbing and destroying their minds. Some, having found that that they cannot escape the injustice that is life, choose to embrace the only thing they have ever really believed in or seen the evidence of its power: evil. They become the purveyors of pain; unable to control it—they will inflict it. These are the hardened criminals of the world, the evil parasites, feeding off the lifeblood of a humanity that they hold in nearly as much contempt as they do themselves.
But we men of the West, with its munificent protections and wealth, are in the vast majority spared the extreme end of spiritual disfigurement. And yet despite a social order that is among the most benevolent and free in recorded history, overwhelmingly, Western man is a spiritual half-cripple. While he may have not have accepted the total supremacy of evil in life, he has granted it an undeserved preeminence in human affairs.
Of course he was not born that way. In the dawn of his early life, when confronted by injustice or unearned pain, he would defiantly raise his tiny fist and exclaim, "No!" A resounding ‘no,’ a clean, innocent and pure ‘no,’ a ‘no’ that bespoke the inviolability of his highest hopes and greatest joys. His spirit was unformed, undefined and yet to be purposefully directed; but it was still whole. An intact spirit, no matter how naïve, is nearly indestructible. It can withstand virtually any assault from without.
The Bible tells a story in which the first man and woman on earth lost paradise and their innocence by an act of disobedience. And yet I cannot help but feel that the moment in which paradise and innocence are truly lost, is the first moment of your first "yes" to an unearned guilt or injustice; the moment in which you accept ‘pain’ as a normal state of being. It is our first compromise in what will be a lifelong series of compromises, with what separates the degree of purposefulness and joy of one man to another, being the degree to which he compromised his values throughout his life. That crushing first ‘yes’ to pain, is the loss of the only virginity we were ever really meant to safeguard.
Science tells us that man is an animal who adapts his physical environment to himself, instead of himself to his environment; it is said that this is his ‘nature.’ If he fails to do this well, he will limit the degree to which he can thrive and flourish, his life will become stagnant and reduced to a series of repetitive and simplistic acts whose only purpose is to maintain his physical existence. The human spirit has a nature as well, to flourish—it requires that a man adapt the world to his own vision.
For all too many people, their lives have become one enormous compromise. After that first ‘yes’ to an unearned guilt, there followed a process by which they began to adapt themselves to the world around them. The greater the degree they morph into everyone around them, the less they risk those around them hurting them. Warily do they exercise their talents, knowledge, and passions; and when they do, they do so with a self-imposed limitation. Some surrender wholly to whatever they estimate is the accepted norm. Others, in a vain attempt to retain some semblance of individuality, grasp on to some form of unconventional life-style or ideology, but they are careful to chose only the most fashionable of the non-conformist trends.
These are the men of the half-life: the men of the crippled soul. They are those who speak of the "could have been," the "almost," the "some day," and the "if only." With them everything is a half-measure; they desire ecstasy—but settle for being happy; they desire to be creative—but settle for being skilled; they desire to love and be loved with passion —but settle for the familiar love. These are the men who allowed the ‘pain’ to go too deep.
They were taught that their virtues were ‘fragile,’ that what was best in them is what caused them to suffer so profoundly. The truth of this seemed confirmed when the first thug assaulted the very core of their being, and that which was best in them cried out. And at some point, their defiance was replaced with the staleness of conformity. Perhaps this lesson came from a parent, teacher, religious instructor, friend, co-worker, or from the culture at large; in all likelihood it came from a combination of many influences.
Many who have lost the wondrous sense of life that they began with, seek to fill the void that is left. For some the loss drives them to live empty lives of hedonistic superficiality, others chose to attempt to come to terms with the void, and embrace some form of mystical belief, whether traditional religions or ‘new age spiritualism.’ Ironically, it is the religiously-inspired reverence for God, which they needed to apply to their own soul.
Despite this, one can still find the men of the self-made soul. These men are either those who never succumbed to compromise that which was best in them (the rarest), or those who at some point in their lives threw off the shackles they had attached to their spirit. These are the men who created that Western world that makes it even possible for the half-lifers to hope or aspire. These are the men who know that their virtues are the source of their strength, not their vulnerability.
Call him what you will, the man of the sacrosanct spirit, the enlightened, the creator or the noble soul: but his is the most fragile spirit of them all. He never installed bars on his soul’s windows; his spirit is such that it cannot comprehend caging a winged being. His fragile soul is fragile, not in the sense that it can be broken or shattered, but in the sense that the pain of human injustice or ignorance is felt more deeply in him than any hundred half-lifers. He who has courageously attained the highest heights—falls far harder and painfully, than the man that climbed no further than his fear would allow.
The half-lifers are both drawn to him, and envy him. The light from his soul attracts them like a moth to fire; he radiates the fulfillment of all their hopes and desires. They admire his tenacity, his fortitude and his personal courage. The echo of their potential and passion responds to the living reality of his. But many will hate him as well. He is the embodiment of the price they paid for a life half lived. His very existence is the proof that for the cold comfort of safety, they compromised or surrendered their most cherished values. His presence reminds them that there is a higher and more beautiful level of existence, while striking at the very depths of their self-betrayal.
This noble man, the man who forged his own values into a beautiful and heroic essence—he would rather die than to surrender even the smallest part of his virtues to pain. This man is a being of flesh and blood, he is flawed and commits errors, but his soul is perfect. His perfection lies in the progression of his unwavering dedication to his highest values. He acknowledges evil, injustice, ignorance and the pain that results from these, but he will not accept them as being significant. His heart is the heart of the heroic warrior, and he is in a perpetual war against the so-called limitations on man's knowledge, creativity and ability to live life to the fullest.
There are different forms of being heroic. There are acts of heroism that men perform on a social level by deeds that affect other people, but there is another form of heroism: personal heroism. Personal heroism is a form of heroism that is not only displayed by man's actions, but within his character as well. His is the character of the heroic being: the character that does not compromise on principle, the character that is loyal to his values, the character that strives and aspires, the character that reaches into the heights, the character whose only surrender in life will be at the moment of his death, the character that when faced with an unearned guilt or injustice ... raises his mighty fist and says, "No!"
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