There is something pompously ghoulish about the public confession of shortcoming. I don’t speak of sin, necessarily, since the confession of sin is vital to the renewal of spirit that goes with forgiveness, nor do I speak of telling someone who deserves to know that you have failed them in some way. I’m talking about the kind of ostentatious public humility that can sometimes be seen in otherwise entirely prideful figures, when they point to themselves and talk about how terrible they are, in ways that often may seem fairly trivial. They may be quite correct in their confessions, and even motivated quite properly, in that they confess as a step towards repentance. Nonetheless, I always find that it has a tinge of macabre voyeurism about it.
I keep having to admit all sorts of ironic things about myself these days, for I have come to a place in my life where the only appropriate next action is a public confession of shortcoming.
I am a hypocrite. I am a hypocrite in a way that I never understood could exist until I acknowledged it about myself. Here’s why: some months ago I began to write a column for an opinion site. Being the humble man of modest pretension that I am, I decided that my first endeavor would be a working definition of virtue, which I termed arete, drawing on an Aristotelian understanding of virtue. I wrote several articles (I have not yet decided if I will repost them here, although I might), which were well received within the relatively limited circulation I had.
Then I came to the time of writing the article that would tie the entire series together. As I shared my thoughts on virtue, I was developing towards a specific point. I had discussed the interplay of tolerance and courtesy, judgment, and duty as civilizational virtues, and I had given fairly broad instances of what they might look like, but I knew where I was going with this entire series. First, however, the confession.
I sat in front of my keyboard, and I couldn’t make a single word come. I didn’t know how to start, I didn’t know what to say, so I spewed drivel for an hour or so. After three attempts over five days, I accepted that I simply needed to back away from the topic for a bit and think it through. I started to think about a filler article. I emailed the editor and told him that I was having trouble finishing my piece, and that I would send it to him in the next couple of days. Those days passed, and then became a week, which became two, which has since become… well, at this point, it’s safe to say that that bridge is fairly thoroughly burned. And possibly bombed.
The irony and the hypocrisy of the whole thing is that that final article was supposed to be on the core of virtue, which I referred to (in a phrase that I’m quite sure I stole, but I can’t recall from where) as a discipline of choice. It’s not the external discipline of schoolmasters, nor yet of the monastery or the military. It’s the internal discipline that is self-reinforcing, self-defining, and self-motivating. It’s the discipline to return to doing one’s work, despite doing it poorly or having some other thing that one wants to do more, in the sure and certain knowledge that good work will bring about good results. It’s the discipline, in fact, to choose to be disciplined, and it’s the discipline of understanding that virtue is chosen, not born, not inculcated, but it must be chosen in a deliberate, eyes-open fashion.
So, in attempting to write about this idea, I found myself incapable of demonstrating it in myself, as I ignored emails first from embarrassment, then what can only be termed humiliation, as I considered the idea of submitting that article first a week late, and then two, and then four…
I return to writing for public consumption now, chastened and taught a significant lesson in personal humility. I was considering creating a new blog (and still might), but I think that this, at least, deserves to be here, and for now I shall continue to write on this blog.