Wait another week for trite observations of American political discourse, nostalgia for an America that may never have existed, my love of baseball, the good times enjoyed in Directed Studies or the importance of preserving the cultural integrity of New Jersey in the age of globalization.
Last week I wrote about the importance of people over institutions. This week, with a sense of humility, I write to those enlightened enough to appreciate this.
An emphasis on relationships does not negate the need for institutions. Revolution is not in order, and institutions both act a check against the leveling forces of democracy and to bring people of like-minded interests together. My insight is borne of a recognition that institutions coupled with experiences facilitate relationships but that it is the relationships that are central.
The importance of relationships does not excuse people in society from their obligations to institutions. When you have to go to another meeting instead of wasting the day away with someone, yeah, that sucks, but you have to do it because society requires good people involved in its affairs. If the enlightened among us left the city in our care, civilization would fall. Remember to thank them for saving us.
In short, it is important to understand societal obligations as necessary but secondary to familial obligations. Only the latter will make you happy.
Assuming you have come to appreciate this, what is to be done? How to interact with those who already knew this lesson, who were born with this quality that some would call feelings?
First, you must understand that your recent change from barbarian to liberal will not resonate with others as quickly as you would like. You were selfish or a loner or a robot, a pseudo-intellectual who didn’t understand the importance of the interaction between the intellectual and the political. You kept yourself apart from others, the reasons unimportant. You hurt them. Sorry, but you aren’t automatically a new person — your bad behavior isn’t erased because you said, “My bad.” What a world that could at the same time be forgiving and fickle!
Second, you must prove to those that you hurt that you are actually different, that the philosopher has lifted you out of the cave and you no longer see the shadows of the puppets on the walls. Ideally, you would have a column in which you could write about it.
All things being equal, the people you have wronged have not and are right not to have assumed you now get it. But maybe they have. They may even have forgiven you. But this does not mean that they want to re-invest themselves in a relationship with you. To them you pose a risk; you are someone on whom they counted but on whom they couldn’t depend. You broke their trust, and they may not want to trust you again.
At this point, you want to move on, to bring your newfound understanding of relationships to a new group of people with whom you do not have an history. But you feel like the right thing to do is to work to regain the relationships you broke, to wait however long until they are ready to accept you as you have become. You consider the right thing to do as counter to the thing you want to do. You are torn between the two, with legitimate reasons to go in either direction. Should you push to make things right or should you pick up and move on?
Sadly, if this is what you are asking yourself, then you still do not get it, for the above question is a false dichotomy: The thing you want to do and the thing that is right are one and the same. The specific course of action is dependent on the people involved.
I would imagine that this would be hard to deal with. The uncertainty of waiting is compounded by your desire to engage a world that, for the first time, is in color.
But if you’ve asked the right questions, if you have grappled with your desires and your newfound humanity, if you have reflected upon your actions and your prior self, you will come to accept a reality in which there are things you can and cannot change.
In short, calm down and everything will be okay.