Friday, January 28, 2005

More on "function"

Thanks to friend Heidi, I am not letting go of the 'function vs. dysfunction' thread. Lots to say there - maybe a few dissertations worth, actually, but here I promise a series of short and lively rides!

What does it mean to be functional, to function well?

I think that functioning well depends on the same qualities whether we are talking about a person or a planet.

How about integrity? Integirty is integral to healthy functioning. But integrity: that's one word for a marvelously complicated idea. To exhibit and act on integrity, we have to have other virtues fairly well lined up first. Integrity is not one of those lower virtues; it's up near the top. So like love (a topic I'll keep coming back to here as well), integrity, because of its complexity and its sacrifice, few really achieve it - or at least are know by it.

What do most of us do instead? We act according to "I," that pronoun we always capitalize, out of some sort of self-centeredness and hubris. But hey, maybe we should do what so many slovenly e-mailers do these days, and just blurr along writing out a sort of self-deprecated lower case "i." Maybe it would help us to consider ourselves the lower case "i" more often.

But what do we do? Act on our desires, often rather selfish or short-sighted desires. Seems like, especially in America, we're kids in the candy store, buying it all now, not sure how we'll ALL be paying for it later - or maybe just hoping that it's not US who have to pay. We tend to behave according to convenience and expedience and simplicity more than the more principled approach implied by the Big I, and you know what that Big I is now: Integrity.

I run at the keyboard here about virtues. Gosh, I love them and wish I had a lot more. What might sound high-handed here is actually a series of humble pleas. So please, bear with me.

To function well, with Integrity, I think we just about have to be highly principled. And those principles have to be based on being altruistic and compassionate, first off. And not only at a distance, not only in the abstract, for victims of attrocities and events far away. That can often seem just a veneer of sentiment, not a really tested principle.

We've gotta be those things up close and personal, when the challenges are staring us in the face, in our own homes, maybe even in the psyches of our supposed "enemies" (who could even be family members, even our own parents). The real challenges of life are not a world away. They are often very close to home.

Functional integrity depends on the same old array of good stuff - honesty and openness, most of all. (Silent honesty rarely does us much good; we have to express our honesty and expose and explain ourselves, alas.)

Integrity requires, I would say, the right balance between pride and humility - so that our pride can never be mistaken for audacity, arrogance or hubris.

We must care about the needs and nuances of people near and far.

When we function well, we use the warning signs of dishonesty and shame EARLY, not late, certainly not "too late," not always and forever after the fact. (That would be letting ourselves off the hook by saying all of life is just trial and error.) We recognize what we know and have a good idea about what we don't know. We not only learn to recognize mistakes, we learn to be wise the next time - to ward off an escalation of mistakes. Thus, we protect ourselves from others' dishonesty and deceipt.

When we are highly functional, we are not particularly guarded with anyone or reserved or overly private. And we have radar for repression, in ourselves and others.

To function well is the true meaning of freedom. As opposed to what you might have heard, freedom has very little to do with war and politics and rights. It has to do with health - our own health and that of our communities and cultures.

To function well is not to be absolutely free - no person is an island unto themselves - BUT it is to feel more brave and more free.


At 1/31/2005 5:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautifully written and I'm in complete agreement, save this one sentence:

"Integrity requires, I would say, the right balance between pride and humility - so that our pride can never be mistaken for audacity, arrogance or hubris."

Try as we might, we can't control how others perceive us or our actions, OR how we repeatedly deceive ourselves, despite our gropings for clarity.

We "must care", yes, but can we let go of the outcome? Let go of the illusion of control?

live soft bellied and open hearted and fearless.........

At 1/31/2005 10:05 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Hey anon above, please come back and tell us who you are. And in the meantime, thanks.

At 2/03/2005 9:21 AM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Ah, it was friend "just h," who will surely inspire me to take up this thread again. Thanks.

And in the meantime, what threads haunt (or pester) others of you?


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