Wednesday, March 05, 2008


It's still before midnight on the West Coast, so I hope this counts for the blogathon...

Since Betty has framed this as a day of forward thinking, I would like to dwell on the question of self-improvement. An enthusiastic reader of Emerson and Thoreau, a raptured consumer of Louisa May Alcott, I find myself wooed by the idea that we can set out to better ourselves: morally, intellectually and spiritually. Those early New Englanders believed in introspection and hard work; I also like to think that we can grow through our relationships, using them to learn about ourselves and make us better people.

Yet it often seems that on occasions that are built around self improvement, such as socially- or religiously- organized periods of introspection, the outcome tends toward self-congratulation rather than reflection. I remember one Yom Kippur when the rabbi gave a powerful sermon exhorting the congregation that it was their responsibility to do more to relieve social inequality. Yet the group of people I was with, rather than reflect on how we might do more to help others, instead talked in a superior manner about how the other privileged people in the audience really needed to hear that message.

I believe the same pattern exists in our national discourse, whether the topic is civil rights or veterans, the environment or the war. Too often our leaders tell others what they should be doing rather than reflect on their own inaction or culpability; likewise, we as neighbors and friends and citizens often place the blame and responsibility elsewhere rather than reflect on our own egos and biases. As we march forth, we might want to keep those more in mind.

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