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In Favor of Risking the Hatred
In a case of intellectual serendipity, I happen to be listening to an audiobook version of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Taleb, during this peculiar election season. More acutely, just the other day, I heard his compliment of the United States as a place where it’s still acceptable to take risks:
My colleague Mark Spitznagle understood that we humans have a mental hang-up about failures. “You need to love to lose,” was his motto. In fact, the reason I felt immediately at home in America is precisely because American culture encourages the process of failure, unlike the cultures of Europe and Asia, where failure is met with stigma and embarrassment.
An apparent deterioration of this American trait is among the illnesses that have coincided with the proliferation of social media. “Just do your best,” “better to have tried and failed than to have done nothing,” even “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” — all such sentiments are more difficult to maintain when petty, envious people might capture a moment of weakness or failure and replay it without mercy for your entire life. When it comes to anything cultural, political, or simply visible, some there will be who take to social media gleefully at your every misstep.
Even without antagonists, though, it’s all too easy to imagine some future potential employer or love interest bringing up for explanation some mark that you missed years or decades earlier. So… no risks of ideas, words or actions. It’s safer to adhere to the common fashion (whatever it is), even as it thrashes wildly around. At least then a great many people will be working to excuse your shared past errors.
But we should take a higher perspective than our curated media personas, and we should be suspicious of people who want temporary failure to be taken as another’s endemic state. Indeed, there’s something evil about wanting failure to be somebody else’s defining feature.
What motivates such people?
In episode 2 of Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series, then-Father Barron meditates on the Beatitudes. “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”! In summary, Barron suggests that giving up worldly needs and satisfying them with God — aligning one’s life with His plans — fills one up, leaving one needless. Giving up a need for approval makes one free to love. A person who does not need anything from the other cannot have the most-essential thing taken from him or her, so he or she has no need for hatred, envy, or insecurity, because the only thing that ultimately matters is fully secure. That person is blessed.
Conversely, it may be an error to think of our worldly antagonists as motivated by hatred. Maybe hatred is the surface expression, and a useful shorthand to describe their demeanor, but behind it is a neediness and insecurity — cursedness.
This theme emerges in episode 3 of Catholicism, wherein Bishop Barron addresses the problem of evil. Evil, he says, is not an active force of opposition, but a deprivation. It is the absence of goodness and love. Just so, hatred does not exist as a thing in itself, but either as a disordered love (loving that which should not be loved) or an expression of deprivation of something that one needs.
The hater senses that something important is missing, so he or she looks for a scapegoat upon whom to place the blame. Hating the bad is a manifestation either of an inability to truly love the good or an insecurity about the good, as if it can be taken away. And anything that actually can be taken away is not a suitable resting place for our security.
In the final conclusion, the only suitable security is God. If you have love of Him, then nothing else can harm you. Evil has no holding point, because every possible outcome or circumstance — pleasure, pain, health, illness — is a blessing in its way.
Bishop Barron says that God creates the universe not by conflict, as banging against some substance that was originally formed in a different way (as a different thing). Rather, he coaxes reality, guiding it toward His purpose. Consequently, because no outcomes or circumstances are deformities to be hammered out of the mold, they are instead stages toward God’s intention; thus they are good.
So, too, with risk and loss. We should always be striving, and to insist that we should never fail is not only to prove ignorance of the process of learning and improvement, but also to miss the point of what we should be striving toward.
Existentially, we should be striving toward God, but this existential perspective should filter down into practical life and professional endeavors, even for those who struggle with faith. Ultimately, we should be striving to fulfill God’s will, but at a closer level (one that we are better able to discern), we should be striving to build and to improve the world.
If such is our heart’s desire, then the effort alone is success, and we should welcome humbling failures as opportunities to improve ourselves. Inasmuch as America is a shining city upon a hill, this is its source of righteousness — not that it is always successful or that it was born sinless from the forehead of civilization, but Americans strive and are not afraid to fail, because we have a higher purpose in mind.