Wednesday, August 08, 2007

More about "Shoulds"

I was thinking more about the topic of “shoulds” or “have-to’s” that I brought up yesterday, when I wrote:

Why do I go through life listening to internal voices tell me I “should” or “shouldn’t” do this or that? Should is such a weak, carping word. I realized that if I do something because I “should” (or “have-to”), then I barely scrape by as an adequate human being, and if I DON’T do it, then I’m not even that (but at least I’m guiltily happy about not kowtowing to the tyrannic should )

I don’t mean to preach a simple, “I did it myyyy waayyy” message there. So I wanted to try to clarify a bit. I think what is off-center about “shoulds” to me, a Catholic Christian, is that they are a drain on freedom.

Paul says,

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me,but not all things build up. …Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10

The point is that we don’t want to act and think narrowly and legalistically. I have tried, and it is illusory comfort to trade in your life for a feeling of doing it “right”. On another occasion I tried to write about the interior voices that tell us the “shoulds” and “musts” that God restrains Himself from telling us.

These voices work against my true understanding of my vocation. It’s not that they are always wrong, but that they are a short-cut and in some ways, a cop-out from taking full responsibility for my own decisions. It’s so much easier, sometimes, to say “I can’t” or “I have to” rather than fully embrace whatever it is I have decided is right to do under my particular circumstances.

George Weigel writes it this way:

According to one of his most eminent interpreters today, the Belgian Dominican Servais Pinckaers, Aquinas’s subtle and complex thinking about freedom is best captured in the phrase freedom for excellence. Freedom, for St. Thomas, is a means to human excellence, to human happiness, to the fulfillment of human destiny. Freedom is the capacity to choose wisely and to act well as a matter of habit—or, to use the old-fashioned term, as an outgrowth of virtue. Freedom is the means by which, exercising both our reason and our will, we act on the natural longing for truth, for goodness, and for happiness that is built into us as human beings. Freedom is something that grows in us, and the habit of living freedom wisely must be developed through education, which among many other things involves the experience of emulating others who live wisely and well. On St. Thomas’s view, freedom is in fact the great organizing principle of the moral life—and since the very possibility of a moral life (the capacity to think and choose) is what distinguishes the human person from the rest of the natural world, freedom is the great organizing principle of a life lived in a truly human way. That is, freedom is the human capacity that unifies all our other capacities into an orderly whole, and directs our actions toward the pursuit of happiness and goodness understood in the noblest sense: the union of the human person with the absolute good, who is God.

Thus virtue and the virtues are crucial elements of freedom rightly understood, and the journey of a life lived in freedom is a journey of growth in virtue—growth in the ability to choose wisely and well the things that truly make for our happiness and for the common good. ….. Freedom, in other words, is a matter of gradually acquiring the capacity to choose the good and to do what we choose with perfection.

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