Friday, February 12, 2010


(News-Herald, February 11) We humans have a complicated relationship with clarity, that sense of clear and complete understanding.
We make noise about wanting clarity. We “clear” our heads, “clear up” problems. Throughout history we have fasted, meditated, prayed, exercised and studied in hopes of finding clarity.
To see the struggle, one would think there was some outside force in the world that has nothing else to do but spread obscurity and doubt. Most religions’ bad guy is the one who spreads deception and confusion. But when it comes to clarity, we are our own worst enemies.
We put many things in the way of our vision, things that take us from real understanding of ourselves.
Sometimes our vision is blocked by the things we expect to see. We know what our lives “should” look like, what our feelings “should” be. So we see what we expect and not what is.
Sometimes our vision is blocked by the things we want to see. We want to believe that something is true, that someone else feels the way we want them to, that we are acting out our dreams and goals, that we are hitting the mark. So we squeeze our eyeballs into the steely-eyed squint of desperation and make ourselves see those things.
We may claim someone else’s answer. If that’s the view over there, I’ll make myself see it over here. But we’re not theater patrons all watching the same movie. We’re the proverbial blind men stumbling around the elephant.
Denial may be clarity’s greatest enemy.
We convince ourselves that a toxic relationship is not so bad, because the day we allow ourselves to see how bad things are, we will have no excuse not to leave. Or we convince ourselves that the choices we make aren’t hurting people, because the day we really feel how out of line we are is the day we have to fix it.
The escape from clarity doesn’t have to operate on a grand scale. Sometimes we tell ourselves we’ve done a good enough job on a small piece of work simply to avoid the clear understanding that we need to do more. I’ve fixed this well enough. That paint job will do. Those dishes are clean enough. This food is close enough to cooked.
It’s not that a clear view is necessarily scary. We aren’t always trying to hide from the boogeyman. But whether the news we’re trying not to receive is good or bad, the problem is the same—once we have a vision, clear and true, of where we actually are, we are compelled to do something about it.
Sometimes we shrink from the path before us because we know other people will disagree and disapprove. It’s a common human response; unclear and uncertain of our own path, we will nevertheless swear that we know exactly how others should live their lives. But it’s scary to move ahead when the crowd is booing.
For all our talk about and alleged respect for clarity and its related virtues (honesty, directness, straight-shooting), we often prefer to live in a haze of uncertainty and misdirection. It’s simple. It’s easy. And it doesn’t rock the boat.
It’s another one of our simple human struggles. We want to understand, and yet we fear the burden that understanding will bring. It is as old as a person turning to God and complaining, “Really? Seriously?? Are you sure this is what you want me to do? Can you show me something else? Don’t you want to give this path to someone else?”
I believe in free will. I don’t believe in fate, exactly. But I believe that something (God, destiny, whatever you like) always puts a path before us that we are best made to follow, and no matter what our circumstances, a right path is always available. And I believe that many of our troubles come when we try not to see what we see, to convince ourselves that the path before us is really a pile of potato skins, that our path is really through those bushes over there.
One of our greatest moral obligations is to help each other find clarity. To try to keep people from really seeing is wrong. To demand that someone hide or deny what they know to be true is an enormous evil. What clarity shows us can be compelling, exciting, scary, and challenging. But the up side is huge—the knowledge that we are right where we are supposed to be.

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