Reflections on Aphorisms #90


Classes officially start for me tomorrow. I’ve already had a chance to log on and preview them, but since it’s a Sunday I haven’t gone into depth on anything. I’m hoping to get disciplined about being done with classes well before the actual due dates, so that I can devote some time at the end of each week to really reflect on and use what I’ve learned.

Aphorism 128

We have more strength than will; and it is often merely for an excuse we say things are impossible. (Maxim 30)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the things that always strikes me as odd is that people talk about how “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” in the vein of Paul, but most people actually have the opposite going on in their lives.

We do not push ourselves to our fullest and expound upon our potential. This would be difficult and unwieldy, and we are unwilling to confront the suffering that it would bring upon us. Suffering, however, is not the greatest evil.

There are very few people who actualize their potential. We possess much more strength and power than we give ourselves credit for, and even “successful” people do not bring their best selves into being. This is the cause of much of the conflict in life.

I consider myself successful, in the sense that I do not believe myself to be a moral failure, and where I have deficiencies I am remedying them. I have chosen the sacrifices that I wish to make in order to become a person who is good and God-fearing. Even then I have not lived up to the standards that I have set for myself, both morally and practically.

By what means, then, can we seek to meet our own standards?

According to Rochefoucauld, who seems in this case to be quite correct, we need to realize that a lot of the time it is not our bodies or our minds that betray us but our will.

In his Memories, Dreams, Reflections (which I have written a review of), Carl Jung talks about the case of a mother who infected her children with contaminated bathwater. She had known that the water was not pure and safe to drink, but had permitted them to do so, seemingly out of negligence. Jung discovered that she had developed a complex; she was quite happy with one of her children (her daughter, if my memory serves), but not the other (her son). The reasoning for this wasn’t a matter of mere approval or disapproval; there were correlations and associations that led to her antipathy.

The daughter died, the son survived, and she slipped into such a shattered mental state as to be institutionalized.

She would never deliberately murder her children. However, she wound up in a ward for the insane, deemed incompetent or mentally defective. There was no limit in her capacity, however. She was perfectly intelligent, and in fine physical health. It was only the fact that she had begun to loathe her role as mother and the burdens that her marriage and society had placed on her that caused her to abandon her duties.

Most of us occupy this state. There is no shortcoming in us which justifies our failings. We are actually often surpassed by those who have much better reasons to fail than we do. I recently read Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken (my review), and in an interview at the end of the book she mentioned how she had chronic fatigue disorder and vertigo flare-ups during the writing process.

She’s written two award winning books (both of which have been turned into movies) with chronic health conditions that make even getting out of bed a burden. I’ve never read Seabiscuit, though I can vouch for the quality of Unbroken, and I think that her aptitude is a good model of how far the will can carry someone.

Most of us don’t have that will; I know that I certainly don’t yet. Fortunately, I don’t believe we’re static beings. We change and grow. At the very least we have seen that people are capable of disintegrating. However, every day and every hour we have experiences that change us, even in our dreams. If we capitalize on our experiences and avoid those things which bring us to moments of weakness and psychological disintegration, we can move away from weakness and toward strength.

Resolution

Find and do things which serve a greater purpose.

Don’t pretend that weakness is an obstacle.

Every time I want to stop, ask why.

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