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12 Rules for Cultivating Moral Virtue, An Antidote to Sin; Rule 5: Alertness Empty 12 Rules for Cultivating Moral Virtue, An Antidote to Sin; Rule 5: Alertness

on June 24th 2020, 3:08 pm
Message reputation : 100% (1 vote)
“When you are humble, everything becomes your teacher.” This is a phrase I came up with a while ago, in the midst of participating in certain activities while studying the Bible with some friends, such as writing out my own understanding in the style of a psalm or proverb. The basis of this statement is that we live in a world of information where all things animate or inanimate contain within them some knowledge to be gleaned. Even within something as seemingly ordinary and simple as a small rock, there is much to be learned if one merely looks at it through a proper lens. A geologist may study it and deduce from its structure and composition the forces of nature which formed it. A physicist might look a little deeper and take note of the countless molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles within, as well as the structure of arrangement which gives the rock its properties. A theologian might look upon the observations of the former two and marvel at the splendor of God’s creation. If even something as small and apparently simple as a rock has this much to teach when observed in a particular way, then how much more do the more complicated and significant things of and beyond this world have to teach us? And by what justification would we refuse such instruction? Arrogance? Instead it is important that we are humble enough to receive the knowledge that is freely offered to us.

There are many things to pay proper attention to, first amongst which is God, his instruction, his teachings, and his desires. If a Christian fails to do so, they may find themselves acting in a way incommensurate with their faith. A study of the Bible, attentiveness and openness to God in prayer, and alertness to the moral foundations one bases themselves upon are essential for a proper practice of the Christian faith. Though I advocate for the Christian worldview, if you do not share it I would argue the same logically holds true. If you hold some other highest ideal, to be virtuous in accordance with your beliefs you must first and foremost fix your attention upon the ideal that stands atop all others and be alert to its implications and demands.

The second thing that follows from the first is that you must be alert and attentive towards yourself, for it is said in the book of Jeremiah that the heart is deceitful above all things. We are each filled with too many biases, temptations, blindspots, shortcomings, and limitations to count, and to be virtuous we must seek to contend with them, and to contend with them we must be alert to them. It must be remembered that the devil is as a predator which preys on human vulnerability. Which is the precise reason the book of Peter instructs us to be sober-minded and watchful. Even in our best intentions we may find ourselves misguided by our own arrogance. 

In a pursuit of virtue we may find ourselves self-righteous and proud. In a pursuit of justice we may find ourselves pulled by envy and vengeance. In a pursuit of wisdom or knowledge we may be tempted to believe we know more than we actually do and close our eyes and ears to all that we do not know, or act foolishly under the false belief that our knowledge is sufficient to the task. In order to truly follow God you must pay attention to God, but you must also be alert to yourself to ensure that such a thing is actually what you are doing. To do so requires no small degree of honesty, which is among the many reasons I previously encouraged the practice of honesty in the last section. If you cannot be honest with yourself about yourself, then you cannot be alert to your own flaws. The more you respond to your alertness to yourself with proper action in restructuring yourself correctly, the more clearly you will be able to see yourself if you choose to stay alert to yourself.

Then, of course, it is important to be alert to the speech of other people, for every other person sees some perspective you yourself are not privy to. It is for this reason that Dr. Jordan B Peterson, a profound influencer of my thinking, wrote “Assume the person you are listening to might know something you don’t” as one of the rules in his book 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos. This doesn’t mean to blindly blindly accept everything you are told (that would, in fact, be the antithesis of proper alertness), but instead to humbly and seriously consider what the other person is saying in good faith. Even if you do not fully agree with the person, there is certainly some reason behind their point of view. 

This doesn’t only apply to your parents, your teachers, and those who might be turned experts, but even those considered to be of a lower status or those in direct, even hostile opposition to what you believe. I as a Christian might take an antitheist for example. Would it be better to ignore what they are saying or to give it proper attention? If you are seeking to defend the Christian faith, should you not familiarize yourself with the arguments against it? If you are seeking for the Christian faith to be properly expressed, should you not properly try and understand the anger some hold towards it to see if we ourselves have made some mistake? 

To give another example, take some stereotypical low educated mildly racist redneck blue collar worker. Maybe he says he doesn’t like the Mexicans because “they took our jobs!” As morally and intellectually incorrect as this prejudice towards all Mexicans may be, is it not worth taking into consideration his concern for his job security as something reasonable to be concerned about? I certainly don’t think his concern for his job security is something that should be dismissed just because he comes to a morally incorrect conclusion from that concern, or because he isn’t one of the high and mighty college intellectuals who knows how to use sophisticated words and concepts. If the concern is legitimate, it doesn’t suddenly become invalid because of the level of education or moral incorrectness of their other concerns or beliefs. And even if the concern is illegitimate, is it not better to sincerely try and understand so you can properly deal with it?

When listening to other people, it is important to ask yourself if you are, indeed, actually listening. Often the most vitriolic conversations I have witnessed come from people talking past each other without making a sincere attempt to understand the other person. Are you alert to what they’re actually saying or what their intentions or motivations actually are? Or are you construing those things in your own head in a way that allows you to most easily dismiss them? It’s certainly easier to think of yourself as correct when you get to compare yourself with a fictional avatar of the person who disagrees with you. Again, this is something that requires you to be alert to your own biases and temptations. Something that demands true humility rather than arrogance.
It is also very important to look at other people, with their virtues and sins, as examples, of what to do and what not to do. Some people, I believe, misinterpret certain passages of the Bible regarding not judging others to mean that we should take no notice of their sins whatsoever. I disagree, I believe we should pay attention to the sins and virtues of others, not so we may judge them but so that we may use their example to aid in the exercise of judgment in our own actions. Yet again, this is something that requires and exercises humility rather than arrogance. It’s not about putting yourself on a pedestal above others, it’s about gleaning knowledge from an observation of others and putting it to use in service to what is good and just. Let others be a warning or an inspiration, but not those you put above or beneath yourself in fundamental worth.

In addition to God, yourself, and others, you must be properly alert to your environment, your immediate situation, the context of your past, your society, and the history behind that societal environment. To your society and its past, I would give the same advice as I gave in regards to interpersonal interactions. To try and seriously understand the reasons why certain things are the way that they are. Before you try and deconstruct that which does not immediately please your eye, it is very important to make a sincere attempt to understand whether or not it has a valid reason for being as such that may not otherwise be immediately obvious, so that you can be more informed and less likely to make an error in your ignorance.

Likewise, there are many things to do with the context of your past and present that provide knowledge which can inform you on how you ought to behave. For example, if you have made a mistake in the past, it is important to reflect on the context of the situation to determine what exactly went wrong so you can avoid repeating that mistake, or conversely if you have succeeded in some manner it is also worth understanding how and why. Just the same, this rule applies to your current situation. It is important to take proper stock of the context in which you find yourself, to ask yourself what duty is required of you and how pressing it is, which duties are fulfilled and which are not, and what may be a tool and what may be an obstacle to the fulfillment of your moral responsibility.

Then of course there is the obvious importance of seeking out relevant information, be it studying for schoolwork, researching issues when voting, looking something up that is important for you to understand in either your job or personal life. The list of knowledge that could be proactively or reactively sought out is virtuously limitless, and we are fortunate enough to live in a time when so much of it is so easily accessible to anyone with internet access. Be informed about the world you live in and seek knowledge so you can better navigate it.

Lastly it is important to address that we as humans have a finite capacity for perception and understanding. We cannot properly be alert or pay attention to all things around us at all times, and so we must be prudent as to where we direct our limited focus. Amusingly enough, we must be alert… about being alert. We must pay attention to what our individual responsibilities are as well as our limitations, and work to direct our attention towards that which most seriously deserves it. Yet again however this must be done with an alert and humble mind that sincerely seeks that which does most seriously deserve our attention, rather than half heartedly using that rationale as an excuse to only pay attention to what we would desire to pay attention to, and to ignore that which is convenient for us to ignore.

This particular practice is one that I have a complicated relationship with. It is certainly true that I have found a great deal of success in being alert to signs from God, or to acquiring an understanding of his teachings, to understanding complex matters and human relationships. Often others turn to me for advice because of the devotion and attention I give certain things. It is also the case however that I find it all too easy to ignore that which is inconvenient for me, it’s easy for me to dull my awareness of certain responsibilities I have let go unfulfilled, or to ignore my own sense of bias and blindspots in conversations I have with other people. It is the case that in the two times I have felt closest to God in my life, most righteous, and most humble, it was in large part a result of a particularly inquisitive attention I gave to certain matters. Yet at the same time, both of those times came to an eventual end as a consequence of certain things in my life I was not giving attention to properly addressing. In one sense I am wise, and in another sense I am a fool.

To be properly alert is a practice that most obviously lends itself well to virtues of proper judgment. To take into account relevant knowledge to your actions makes you more prudent in them, and to take into account the concerns of all makes you more just in your judgment. It is also, as mentioned numerous times, a practice in humility, to lower yourself down and admit there are things you don’t know that others might, that certain things demand your attention rather than solely existing to serve you, and to be aware of your own flaws. It also helps you cultivate the virtues of reconciliation. For forgiveness it is necessary to be aware of your own resentment, and for repentance it is necessary to be aware of your own sin. Lastly it helps cultivate the virtues of fortitude, as in your alertness you look at things you might otherwise desire to avoid, and in your alertness you may find yourself more called to action.

Seek knowledge, be alert to the moral law, seek introspection, be on guard against the temptations of your heart, sincerely listen to the perspectives of others, try and understand the world you live in and what is required of you in it, and remember, when you are humble everything becomes your teacher.
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12 Rules for Cultivating Moral Virtue, An Antidote to Sin; Rule 5: Alertness Empty Re: 12 Rules for Cultivating Moral Virtue, An Antidote to Sin; Rule 5: Alertness

on June 24th 2020, 3:50 pm
ngl, i love ur writing and whatnot, but im a lazy fuck. could u please summarize this for me?
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