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Friday, March 13, 2015

It CAN Be Wrong -- Even if it Feels So Right!

I grew up in the fifties and sixties. Talk about a confusing time. From the stable fifties where family life was revered and authority respected to the topsy-turvy sixties and seventies: Woodstock, sex, drugs, rock and roll, let it all hang out, do your own thing, don't trust anyone over thirty.

Why am I thinking about that? I just read a chapter in Dietrich von Hildebrand's Trojan Horse in the City of God titled "Sham Honesty," Under the subtitle, Behavior does not always have to mirror feelings, the chapter reads in part:
 Another false conception of honesty widespread today appears in the assertion that our outward behavior should be in full agreement with out inner feelings and moods. A man who employs expressions of politeness that do not correspond with his true feelings is thus considered dishonest. No doubt, we can rightly speak of a certain dishonest or lack of genuineness when a man behaves as if he were deeply moved, or overjoyed, or indignant, while actually experiencing nothing of the kind. 
It is nevertheless completely wrong to make our actual feelings the sole determinant of our outward behavior toward other persons. Rather, our behavior should conform to what our attitude should be. Whatever our real feelings about others, we should be polite and attentive to them. This is by no means dishonest -- any more than it is an indication of honesty to be unfriendly, impolite, and inattentive to another person because we do not care for him. 
This false conception of honesty idealizes self-indulgence and letting oneself go. It precludes (indeed, repudiates) the enrichment of life that observance of proper forms makes possible. It ignores the moral significance and educational function of such forms of social intercourse. That which constitutes the superiority of the well mannered is discounted as dihonesty and insincerity. According to this conception, the ideal honest man would necessarily be uncouth, lacking in all self-control and restraint.
The sixties fostered this erroneous conception of honesty. I remember being deluded by it myself. I felt to hold things back, not to speak what you truly felt, was wrong.

I look back now and wonder how stupid I could be. If you feel like throwing a rock at someone should you do it? But the message of the age was "If it feels good do it." The mantra was "follow your feelings. Feelings were everything! Many people in that era grew up with an adolescent outlook on life. Some never outgrew it. One of the characteristics of our age continues to be the tyranny of feelings. It defines our moral collapse and explains the bad choices of millions of people who never grew up enough to realize that self-control is the outer doorway to adulthood. Oh there are plenty of inner doorways as well: integrity, moral virtue, kindness but it all begins with teaching that little two-year-old having a temper tantrum to begin to learn self-control.

I always loved Debbie Boone's song, You Light Up My Life. But I hate the lie it fosters. It certainly CAN be wrong no matter how right it FEELS. Feelings can fool us and lead us into stupid and harmful decisions. Only truth and goodness, determinations of the will -- not the feelings -- can light up anyone's life. Ask all the women whose feelings have assured them that they were truly in love as well as loved by their boyfriends who subsequently found themselves abandoned when they got pregnant.

No, following your feelings is often a shortcut to misery. So enjoy the song, but don't fall for the lying lyrics.


Anonymous said...

Feelings do not have intellect. Forget about feelings. Do not let them override intellect - recipe for disaster.

Old Bob said...

I can relate to everything you say. I was born in 1944, had 12 years of solid pre-Vatican-II Catholic education, and entered the university in 1962 while there were still some vestiges of the 1950's culture in place.
As I recall it, the "swinging sixties" got going about the fall of 1964.
I was fortunate to have been raised well and to know that "If it feels good do it" was a lie.
I have read Von Hildebrand's book, and I guess it's time to reread it.

Jeanne Patterson said...

Excellent post that I can really relate to, having grown up in the same era. Even then, living through it, I knew it was a crock, it smacked so much of self-indulgence.

What I still can't completely get my mind around, however, is how deadly serious the true believers were. They were willing to play the long game, infiltrating our institutions, debasing morals through Hollywood & the media, working to rip apart the fabric of our society, slowly, slowly...

I remember 'pausing' somewhere towards the end of the 80s, at some reunion or another and thinking, oh, that's nice, all the 'hippies' became domesticated and are now solid middle-class citizens. Totally clueless, I was, don't think I awoke until 9/11 to survey the damage that extended far beyond what the terrorists had wrought.

(Sorry if I sorta got off topic, the 'feelings' generation is a sore point with me, can you tell?). Only recently found your blog, just wanted to say how MUCH I enjoy it!

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thanks, Jeanne,

I looked at your profile and we have something in common. I lived in Hartsville and Doylestown, PA from 8th grade through high school. I went to Gwynedd Mercy Academy in Gwynedd Valley. My dad worked at the Naval Air Development Center. It's closed now -- not too far from Willow Grove. I have fond memories of Pennsylvania and want to get back to Dolylestown to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Jeanne Patterson said...

It really is a small world, isn't it? I went to Archbishop Prendergast School for Girls which is still plugging along although it's combined with the boys' school, Monsignor Bonner.

I can't believe that Philly is hosting the 2nd part of Synod this year and then the DNC convention in 2016. Both are giving me agita, although since the DNC booed God at their last such event, they're pretty transparent. Still, any plans I had to spend in quiet prayer and contemplation - and blissful ignorance :) - over the next year are toast!