This Is Why We Don’t Have Any Nice Things

Truth be told, I’m not a very materialistic person. Some people are motivated by money and possessions, whether because it affirms their own sense of worth or because it allows them to feel superior to their brethren. I’m not. Nonetheless, despite this disinclination in showy materialism, the nice things I enjoy and that everyone enjoys are all taken care of by the same sorts of behaviors that preserve and build for the long-term, and if we acquire and practice these behaviors, we may be good stewards of however many or few possessions we may happen to acquire during the course of our lives of grasping and futility, and occasionally profound moments of grace and love.

Whether we are in the position of trying to give nice things (like an education) to others, or receiving them, there is a great deal of difficulty. Those of us who are in possession of nice things often overestimate our own virtue and merit in possessing those things. Especially where we have an intellectual knowledge of the right ways to acquire and preserve resources, we may greatly overestimate our own character and the role our own worthiness played in the acquisition of those resources that we possess. We may be like the children of Israel who through little worthiness of their own were given by the hand of God cities they did not build and vineyards they did not plant. The mere possession of resources, especially those acquired by more virtuous forebears, in no way makes us qualified to teach the right way to live to others who desire to live as we do.

If we desire to give nice things to others, we must make sure we have the nice things ourselves. Passing on knowledge alone, though necessary, is woefully insufficient to helping people better their lives. We have to pass on a vivid vision of what it looks like where we are leading others. Obviously, we have to see this vision vividly before we can convey it to others. And we not only have to see the end in mind but also be able to explain how the behaviors we model and teach (and we have to model those behaviors we wish to teach, because application is only about a million times harder than the acquisition of knowledge) lead to the desired end.

Those of us who take nice things for granted (hopefully not I) often fail to recognize the real barriers to beneficial and even necessary change. When we undertake changes, particularly massive and fundamental changes to our behavior and approach, we are leaving the familiar and entering into the unknown. Most of us are simply not very brave, and it is easy to be paralyzed by our fears and insecurities because the unknown and uncertain good appears more frightening than the known evils we face here and now. The sort of moral courage all of us have to develop, if we are to live godly lives and fulfill our purpose of being molded into the image and likeness of our Creator, is the moral courage to endure this anxiety and uncertainty with faith that the end will be worth all of the suffering and anguish and concern. This is true no matter what personally undiscovered country we wish to find, whether it is the geography of love and harmony, the course of our spirit through tempestuous waters, or more mundane travels and journeys.

This courage is not one in massive battles, but in little campaigns, good days starting few and far between and gradually outnumbering the bad days, until we grow to develop the right kind of habits that will build up and sustain happiness and success in our lives. So long as these habits are only in our head, they do us no good. Ideas and concepts that are known without any practical application are no more useful than dusty volumes of never-read books in a vacant library. We benefit from truth to the extent that it is realized, however imperfectly, in our lives. The words we say will be empty if they are never lived out–we can talk all we want to about love, faith, trust, hope, respect, but if we do not show them to others, we will have no credibility as moral guides. We trust guides because they know the way by experience; otherwise, we might as well just buy a map and take the trip for ourselves.

It ought to be clear that between the person giving nice things, especially nice things that are sustainable over the long-term, that we are not simply giving possessions or knowledge, but rather seeking to help others acquire an aspect of our worldview or approach. This means that we must give of ourselves, so that others can see our character and true selves. If they want to be this way themselves, they can then mimic our habits as they watch our behavior. If we do not model the behavior we wish to teach, then we provide them with no model for acquiring the nice things, and keeping them nice (and neither will we be providing examples of the wise stewardship of resources we wish to teach, whatever our own opinion of ourselves), and ultimately we will not be successful in doing anything but inflaming ambitions without giving the abilities to fulfill them. And that is not a recipe for anyone having nice things, because frustrated achievement and respect for the nice things of others do not often coincide.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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