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Recent Letter to the ElderWisdomCircle™

SELF-IMPROVEMENT: My Moral Compass Is Breaking
Letter #: 400097
Category: Self-Improvement

Original Letter

Hello Elders. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I've come to you because I am afraid I am falling down a moral landslide. Never in my life have I ever had so much freedom. But with this freedom comes a certain responsibility that I am not sure I, nor everybody else, is able to handle. I have many failings, and have suffered many struggles, and my road has been long and hard and I am tired. I am afraid the road is going to get longer and harder still.

I am having more and more difficulty behaving like a responsible adult. I am loose with finances and casual with my friendships. There are not many people around here that I know that I grew up with. I am not into serious debt, yet. I am not in serious trouble, yet. But I can feel something slipping, some moral fiber of my being feels frayed and risks breaking.

Many of the things I was certain of, when I was younger, seem ambiguous to me now. Other things have become clearer, but their understanding is not to my liking. This is my question: How does one walk the straight and narrow path, while remaining kind and not bitter? How does one obey the law and keep good company and do the right thing and not become bitter and jaded inside?

Elder Response

Ringringlingling, thank you for your thoughtful, insightful letter. I've read it many times and thought about it overnight before responding. I'll do my best to give you food for thought.

You do not say how old you are, but I'm going to assume somewhere in your twenties. That's the time when most of us first experience the kind of personal freedom of which you speak. Many of us have left our parents' homes, pursued or finished our education, gotten jobs, found love, and so forth. And, yes, that freedom can lead us astray from the kind of life we most want to live. Honestly, I find few people of any age who reflect on that reality and seek to live it out in their lives. I congratulate you for so doing.

In the US Army, in the old days, and perhaps still today, there was a saying: "RHIP RHIR."  It stands for "Rank has its privileges, rank has its responsibilities." It's a reminder that when we are given freedom, we need to respond in a responsible way.

For some people that means becoming deeply embedded in a religious tradition, especially one of the fundamentalist ilk, that gives one a firm set of do's and don'ts. It works for some people some of the time, until they hit a crisis for which there are no easy answers. I do not sense that you are in the fundamentalist camp.

Putting religion aside, how do we carry on in this freedom while behaving in a moral way? Those of us who live in the States often succumb to a feeling of rugged individualism--a sense that we stand alone in the multitude. I don't buy that. When I was little the religious sisters who taught me, for better and for worse, always told us "you are known by the company you keep." For many years I found that absurd. But at age 64 I see some truth in it.

I think what we all need to live the kind of life you describe with companions who share values and interests. You say there are not many people you know where you live, but I would encourage you to find some as serious-minded and thoughtful as you are who share interests in whatever interests you! Today, so many young people seem to live in a bar culture that leads to wasted weekends and Monday hangovers and regret. If we seek friends in bars, we might end up that way.

So, what are your interests and passions? Find folks of any age who share these through the Internet, clubs, meet-ups, etc. Friendships based on shared passions are the most rewarding, I've found.

Two final thoughts. The traditional virtue called prudence is an important one to practice. It doesn't mean that one cannot to go bars, drink, indulge in recreational drugs if that's your thing, or have great fun. But a prudent person realizes that restraint can be a good thing. Our advertising-soaked age encourages us to be anything BUT prudent. Fight that.

Finally, I try very hard these days to see the world with what Buddhists call loving-kindness. That means a kind of tenderness and consideration for others, and for nature, as fellow creatures. That feeling is not much in vogue in our cynical times, but it is a useful corrective for self-indulgence and bitterness, I think.

I wish you all the best!

Best Regards,



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