On Being Open

We all want from our conversation something entertaining, something enjoyable, something stimulating. And every so often, we get it. Every so often, someone comes along and utters something so virtuous that we cannot resist being swept into attitudes of adornment and praise. We marvel at the virtues being spoken before us.

Though virtue is found with a much greater ease when put to speech than when put to action, we nevertheless enjoy the common virtues of man when occasioned with their presents. Spoken or acted, we are swindled by either.

But is that wise? What are the consequences of being so readily swept into such a vulnerable mental state like adornment or praise, especially by someone who fulfills a whim so shallow as enjoyable conversation? Should we be cautious when someone, through means of conversation, reveals virtue to our eager minds?

Much can be said by the average person, they speak thousands of words a day, millions of words a week, and billions of words a month. Eventually, by mere probability alone, the average person says something rather astonishing; a surge of brilliance rises from their diaphragm and fills throughout an entire utterance a tremendous degree of virtue, of which echos amidst a sphere of conversation, just by chance.

Yet adorn the average man, we do not. And so it is perfectly clear, although virtue itself is desirable, utterances which contain sentiments of virtue are themselves insufficient to warrant some disposition of adornment toward the speaker. An average man is just an average man, he or she is not worthy of any special praise or adornment; not anymore than we praise an average book or meal.

Evidently, adornment should not be so readily given to those who utter virtuous qualities, as we have no means to differentiate between a case of chance or a case genuineness. Whoever utters the virtue is of some degree of importance to us, but at times the speaker be an enigma.

We are now struck by an entirely different question. We have come to recognize some skepticism, on our behalf, as necessary when virtue is about; only because, given enough time, even the average man can speak wonders to our ears. So, one must ask, when should we let down our suspicions and give due where due can be given?

I think the problem is made all the more difficult by the impurity of people. And in many ways, the problem is made all the easier by the impurity of people.

For one side of our problem, the side which makes more difficult the whole ordeal, we have people who we can never be sure of. At times these people make us feel safe. Of their well-meaning action, respectable beliefs, and trustworthiness, we are sure. But then we see from another context their personality, and all the assurance we once had becomes inflated, a fiat currency gone into mass print: it no longer holds value.

A $100 dollar bill seems great at first, but then you soon realize the bill has snorted enough coke to kill half of the country, and has touched more bare asses than a prostate cancer specialist. There is some impurity to the person’s past, and it throws our protective instincts into a thick, smokey cloud. We become desert-storm operators firing through dust clouds, unable to tell the difference between tangos and friendlies.

But at least these people are a mix of good and evil, half diabetes inducing sugar and half caffeine. We can tolerate these people, to some degree. The bigger issue is the other half of our impurity problem, the counterfeits.

Some people present to us as genuine folk who are here to teach, love, and rejoice in the wonders abound in life, but they do so all while being evil, either knowing or unknowingly. I imagine it must be tough to find out you’re a counterfeit, someone who hinders those around them rather than help, someone who presents as having more value than they actually do. But I can also imagine some finding the experience anything but unpleasant.

Counterfeits want nothing more than to swindle you. They seek to exchange trash for value. We call them anti-socials, evil-doers, liars, cheaters, stealers, killers. These are the most manipulative and harmful elements of our society.

Though fortune favours us to some extent; the impurity of people makes our problem easier because the most harmful amongst us can be spotted, given proper training.

If we take time to study ethics, personality psychology, and behavioural analysis, the unconscious dysfunction of the counterfeits manifests before our eyes. Freud was correct in saying humans, in the context of modern psychology, no longer have secrets. We have no control over our unconscious expressions and motivations, the unconscious appears in our behaviours, emotions, and beliefs quite regularly. And as a result, the counterfeits can be spotted, their watermarks are missing.

A person who lies can be identified through their body language; a person who views others as unworthy of moral consideration reveals that through their beliefs; and real empathy cannot be faked anymore than an actor can truly become their character during every moment of waking life.

The greater challenge comes from those who are only somewhat impure, those who make us second guess our own judgements. It is easy to deem an immoral person as being unworthy of our openness, but to judge someone who has simply made mistakes as being worthy of our openness or not is a task much greater in difficulty. A rich man who steals is much easier to judge than a poor man who steals.

When someone seeks to engage us romantically, and confesses they were unfaithful to a previous partner, how do we react? Do we open the gates and welcome them into the kingdom of our hearts, or do we treat them like enemies at the gate? On one hand, they have been honest and upfront with their past, but on the other hand, they have demonstrated their ability to hurt those who love them. Is theft theft? Or do we consider other factors? Are criminals always criminals, or can redemption be found?

How ought we judge the character of those who have an impure past, but possess in them some virtues? How ought we judge the character of those who have made an effort to correct their wrongs? When should we allow them their second chance? Or do we allow any second chance whatsoever? All questions for another time.



Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

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