Being Wrong and Having Been Wrong: the Practice

‘One always dies too soon – or too late. And yet one’s whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are… your life, and nothing else.’ — Jean-Paul Sartre, Huis-Clos

I started doing something today according to a selfish inclination in which, by instinct, I thought only of my own part. I starting making food just for myself, though I must have known I wasn’t the only one who had to eat. Later, after starting, I remembered others’ parts as well and planned to finish the right way by making more food. So why did I feel so violated – why did I feel as if I were suffering an injustice – when my original selfish inclination was exposed? Was I not as much myself in how I had acted selfishly as I was myself in what I intended to do and what I was trying to be?

Yet I considered myself misjudged. Time had conspired against me to make everything look wrong. Of course I was what I was trying to be: within my mind, I’d already rejected the bad choice midway through. It’s-not-really-me —

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

— timing, you say. If I’d been able to finish right without interruption, I could have gotten away with my own sinful self: the only thing visible would have been my doing rightly, not my starting wrongly, and the latter would have been concealed from everyone, even from myself. Instead, I was prevented from pushing my selfishness into the ‘past’ of my self. Not only had I been in the wrong, but I was caught in the act of being wrong.

I was exposed, and nothing could hide that I was not what I was trying to be, though I’d hoped that I already was what I wanted to be. And my heart chafed at such a thing.

But I learned another lesson. Avoiding bad appearances isn’t simply hypocrisy: by not disappointing people through bad appearances, you also spare them the pain of that disappointment. Cover your bases.

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5 responses to “Being Wrong and Having Been Wrong: the Practice

  1. Or at least the very least be consistent, I think.

    I think that maintaining appearances, however, does not ultimately help you avoid disappointing others: people have all sorts of expectations in different contexts. I think maintaining certain appearances is more a matter of social responsibility, for affirming the values of a community, a matter of inclusion.

    In that case, as a Christian, specifically, do you better edify others by always appearing unselfish or by openly admitting your wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness when caught? I mean, here you’re portraying yourself as the latter: also an appearance. How does this appearance protect others from disappointment?

    You can’t cover all your bases.

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    • There’s a certain sense in which I could have avoided disappointing anyone this one time if I hadn’t been caught having made only my own food. On the other hand, it was good that I was exposed to myself and couldn’t ignore what my first inclination had been by putting it entirely into the past.

      What I meant, I think, was that this: not looking worse than your true intentions – that is, actually caring how people will perceive your actions – isn’t just ‘good’ for self-preservation: rather, it also avoids unnecessary pain for all parties when disappointment would do justice to only half of the truth.

      I’m still trying to figure out how this experience was both good and bad.

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  2. Oh. Okay. There is a bit of a romantic counter-disappointment, however, when it is revealed that the bad guy was secretly the hero all along. Theoretically.

    Practically, I find it more the case that people would prefer you exactly meet their expectations rather than disappoint them or exceed them.

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  3. I agree with Laura about meeting expectations.

    I learned in college that caring about appearances is fine as long as you are doing it for the other person. For example, cooking. Just because you are cooking for yourself doesn’t mean that if the opportunity arises, you can allow the implication that you were cooking for your roommates. As long as you acknowledge to yourself at least your true intentions and not end up deceiving yourself.

    Being honest with about one’s sins is important for the Body but it also edifies that body.

    Honesty has never been a problem with me since God manages to correct me through circumstances or friends. As a Christian, I don’t know how you can stay self-deluded.

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