Thursday, December 06, 2007

Choosing Character Over Effects

Whether or not I am responsible for how my actions affect others is, for me, a big issue. I want to know whether I am to blame for how a person responds to my wrong. I'm not talking about emotionally harming others when a person has done nothing wrong, such as breaking up a relationship, but that is important to the discussion. I'm referring more precisely to whether we should consider ourselves responsible if we commit a small sin against another but that small sin has dire consequences.

Consider the following: I am trying to cut lust out of my life. I look lustfully at a woman then tell myself, "By looking at her in that way, I have turned her into an object." The act is made wrong by its outcome.

But does that mean that we are to judge our sins by the effect they have on others? For some, the temptation regarding looking at sin in their lives is to underestimate their effects. But for others, they choose to imaginatively maximize the possible effect their sin has on others, in order to punish themselves into submission.

I think doing this is rooted in narcissism. We want to believe we have profound effects on others. What we really need is neither minimizing nor maximizing but honest appraisal of what we have done. Rather than concerning ourselves with the effects of our actions, we ought to worry about our character. Does this action reflect the kind of character I want in my life? Will continuing to behave this way make me a better or worse person. This could seem more narcissistic than the last, but this is untrue. Narcissism insists on believing untruth about the self, including our effect on others. Humility knows who we are and deals with who we want to become.

So the next time you do something wrong. Don't worry so much about how it will be a bad witness to others, how catastrophic your actions were, or even how many tears you induced in other's eyes. Think about who you want to be and pursue that.