Why do we end up Sliding Down Slippery Slopes, Against our Intentions?
The Slippery Slope
If you are a student of History, you can observe trends and movements being motivated by the extremes of human behavior. When you see war and revolution and conflict, you see real historical examples of "Life's Slippery Slopes" - history is filled with examples of cultural extremes manifesting this way. However, when one thinks about the "Defects of Our Virtues", one tends to think of individuals or groups of individuals in social settings.
In some ancient systems, qualities are discussed as elements or "issues". Their use, or their extremes can be expressed in opposing directions. A simple example would be the issue of Food. Food consumed is the basic issue. It's extreme on one sign would be fasting or famine - the deprivation of food, and the other extreme would be over consumption - feasting or gluttony or over eating. Start with food and then go through the carnival of human conduct and behavior. The lists can be endless. Suffice it to say, that unless BALANCE is an over riding goal, the individual can fall prey to almost any and every extreme, depending upon their disposition, genetics, historical moment in time, cultural upbringing or parental and societal influence.
Nine Virtues and Their Slope Sliding Counterparts
1 - Righteousness to Self-Righteousness - You will seldom hear someone say "My problem is self righteousness". One of the qualities of righteousness gone wild is that people never know when they have slid down the slope into righteousness's ugly cousin. People who are self righteous are just being better at what they used to be just good at. "Now I am really good, not just good, but super good." The problem with self-righteousness is that it is not self observed, and thus it tends never to be turned away from. People tend to go down this road and careen into a dead end. Ecclesiastes 7 discusses being "righteous over much" with a good question at the end of the verse. "Why will you destroy yourself?"
2 - Liberality to Permissiveness - The virtue of liberality can be manifest in generosity, the extended hand of peace, the willingness to listen to opposing points of view and the desire to share resources with others. These are all wonderful sounding qualities that when initially felt make the heart flow with a glow of illumination. If you have seen parents (not you of course, other parents). You observe that some children tend to be the royalty of the family. Permissiveness is indeed a slippery slope because it is hard to "take things back". It's hard to say on one week: "Oh all those things are OK and fine for you to do", and then the next month say, "Points 1 and 3 and 5, I would like to amend." Permissiveness tends to have a momentum to it.
3 - Cleanliness to Obsessiveness - This is a wonderful virtue, because others around you tend to benefit from the "cleanliness". Many religions are built around this kind of ethos. It is also something that tends to knit people together. It also prevents disease, lifts the spirit and maintains good habits. However, when obsessiveness emerges in the practitioner, it manifests in just the opposite way. It tends to discourage people, limit comfort and joy, and cripple the sufferer mentally. There are many many people that suffer from obsessiveness of one sort or another. It carries its own pain and spreads the suffering.
4 - Self-Denial to Austerity - In our modern world you don't tend to see a lot of self denial manifesting out of religious ardency. However, our modern world has spawned new disorders that are very destructive. Anorexia is not just for 13 year old girls. It is a literal state of the body that takes over when appetite goes away, the body starts eating itself, adrenal and pituitary secretions change and the body goes down a new chemical road in which food is "unimportant". Dieting is causing much anorexia in America, especially. It is just not noticed as such. Many people are causing anorectic states in their body without knowing it.
5 - Ethnic Pride to Racial Hatred - This is as "old as the hills", and I mean that literally. As we go back deep into our history, we started meeting each other from "the other valley", or the "mountain people" versus the "valley people". The story of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot and Abraham is an ancient example of valley people dealing with out of town mountain people. There is family pride and "folks like us" pride. How often have we let that pride inflame into full blown hatred? There are many ethnic issues that last for generations and generations. Witness the 500 year old grudge the Bosnians felt at the hands of their neighbors.
6 - Indulgence to Wantonness - At the level of the individual and the gang of buddies, and the guys at the bar, indulgence is a darned fun thing. The fun that people have at a food ball game, or a 4th of July party or a Christmas office party -- are all times when we tend to imbibe, lose inhibitions and experience the joy of being alive. These are virtuous times of Joy and Life. The problem becomes when "I will drink to that." becomes a continual toast inspired by wall-to-wall carpeting, a passing attractive person, or the arrival of a certain hour of the day.
7 - Patriotism to Xenophobia - As immigration increases, around the world, the patriotic feelings that we enjoy and participate in with great gusto and back-slapping fun can lead to despising any one who is not like our patriotic buddies. We put the Japanese into concentration camps right here in Colorado during World War II. This was a true example of xenophobia. This slippery slope has had dire consequences for many innocents.
8 - Judgment to Condemnation - An ancient Jewish book talks about the "Tree of Life's" two main pillars - judgment and mercy. "Chesed and Gevurrah". The middle column is when we are balanced in our use of judgment, not letting judgment get too harsh, and thus causing great pain and suffering and heartache. Many centuries have passed in which harsh judgment, tremendously strict burdens and punishments beyond the crime have afflicted millions.
9 - Mercy to Decadence - The other extreme is when there is too much mercy. When there is too much mercy, the world tends to lose its shape. Society becomes a mish mash and our sense of what is right and wrong, and yes, even what money is worth becomes gray and confused. Societies have fallen into complete disarray when too much mercy and not enough structure loosens the borders of social and economic order and economic collapse occurs, or a foreign army just walks into town as criminals walk the streets and normal citizens run for cover.
This list could be longer, but these tend to be the larger virtues, and their corresponding defects. Robert Burns quote: "Oh the gift that God would gie us, to see airselves as ithers see us" is truly profound. Seeing ourselves as others see us, would probably be one of the greatest gifts one could give themselves. However, it is not a sought after quality, because we tend to be ego-driven and thus we tend to lift our own voices with less regard for others than we might have. Some of these virtues are purely personal, but in fact, as soon as I say that, I take it back. There is nothing that you do that does not affect someone else. Think about that, and let your slopes be less slippery and your health and character be more solid. It will be for your joy and the joy of your loved ones and neighbors. Whatever your believe in and whoever you are, look at what you consider to be your virtues and ask yourself -- How could I be more balanced in this regard?
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