On the Worthiness of Character
My parents are wealthy (upper-middle class), white Americans who love me very much and have, from an early age, incentivized my intellectual growth. I've grown up in a community where I've always felt comfortable making mistakes and speaking up, and I've never felt threatened.
Have I actually earned anything on my own?
In the middle of my European History class, my teacher mentioned the bit about SAT/ACT scores being proportional to parental income while discussing the nature of history from pre-modern to modern to postmodern society, and it really struck me. I really don't deserve any of this
I can't claim my own intelligence, or even my own morality. It's all been spoon-fed to me through subliminal AND conscious messaging. If I go off to college and end up burning out, or becoming an alcoholic, or really depressed, the blame falls unto me: I've screwed up. If I end up becoming extremely successful, the majority of the credit will go to me, but I will be a fraud. Please do not excuse this as a complaint, or a person crying over the fact that they can't claim an underdog story. I'm simply trying to understand what the nature of "worthiness" is, and define the line between external factors and internal decisions. At what point can someone claim credit for their work, and how does it relate to our understanding of free will?
The other day I was upset because I felt I had been taught moral traditions that were intentionally misleading. You'll have to take my word for it, but I have never drank nor done drugs of any sort. I've never had sex, and I've never made friendships with people to get something from them. I had, on this other day, begun to question whether or not it was okay to drink, smoke, have sex, and exploit people for personal happiness. "Why the fuck not? If I'm not hurting anyone else, what's wrong with it?" My original understanding was that the people who do such things are, pretty much, fundamentally unhappy. While I don't judge other people's moral character on whether or not they've done this stuff in highschool, it always seemed a bit stupid. It'd make me angry if it turned out that I 1) could do all of those things without consequence and 2) should be doing them to maximize my free-thinkingness and happiness. Why live a life where you follow the rules if "the rules" are made up by a society that both expects me to do the opposite and encourages one to be "hip, interesting, and free-thinking?" Golly.
What does agency mean? I'll tell you a quick story about myself: my entire life I've been milquetoast. I got by by appealing to everyone. When highschool hit, I had the opportunity to redefine myself into a more confident individual and have, for the most part, seized that opportunity. But on the inside, deep down, I'm still that little bitch who only knows how to follow the rules to get what he wants. David Foster Wallace postulates that agency, in this society, is awareness.
Maybe one's character shouldn't be decided by intelligence or fiscal success or political achievement. Maybe there's an extent to which external forces influence us, and there really is such thing as an "identity." Maybe what makes up that identity has nothing to do with whether you smoked pot in high-school, and maybe we should measure personal character on their actions when boiled down to a very fundamental, non-external factor-influenced persona. Character should be defined as what a person is when they're stripped away from everything that defines them.
At the end of the schoolday, I have a class that combines yoga, dance, and meditation. The entire class is this wonderful experience, even though—like any highschool yoga class—it embodies a slightly uncomfortable self-aware environment. By the end of the class, there was this particular moment when the teacher turned off all the lights (at the end of class) and told us to reflect on our schoolday while holding plank-position. Something switched off in my head: my mind completely blanked out and I lost all sense of direction. My mind floated out of my head. I felt like I was holding up the world. It was a weird feeling, and I'm still trying to understand it.
That was the first chance I had had in a while to think about who I was when stripped away from what everyone thought about me. You can walk away from it all and still feel like you're living according to whoever you're trying to impress. It's easy to get caught up with oneself, and I believe all of us are constantly working towards some sort of comfort from that. There's one really comforting idea that deserves revisiting from time to time:
You are your own person, pragmatically
Maybe you're not worthy of any of it, and at the end of the day, you're filled with wasted potential despite wanting to do the right thing and satisfy the idea of being a "good person." You're worthy of your own character, and it's pretty impossible to understand entirely what the fuck that means.