En route to LaGuardia Airport to pick up my daughter and son-in-law for the holidays, my wife and I stopped at the Modena Travel Plaza between New Paltz and Newburgh on the NYS Thruway. Upon approaching the entrance to the building I noticed two young adults, slovenly dressed, and their dog sitting against the corner of the building holding a sign "Out of Gas". At first there was a sense of sympathy and desire to help, but my intuition kicked in which created doubt in my mind whether this was a genuine call for help. Secondly, their particular approach to solving their supposed predicament appeared odd. Sitting mooching for gas money instead of attempting to acquire it by taking some constructive initiative did not set well with me. Entering the building I inquired with the general store manager if he was aware that there were two young people with their dog soliciting money for gas. His answer surprised me. He stated they were two college students from SUNY New Paltz who occasionally stop by the Plaza begging for money. Dismayed, it was then I informed the Plaza manager, where she proceeded to encounter the students and ask them to leave.
As I was departing the building, the manager informed me that a gentleman had just given them forty dollars. Seeing the two students get up and proceed to their SUV with smirks on their faces I stated to them, they should be ashamed for their behavior and taking advantage of others in such a dishonest and despicable manner. Their response was what I expected, verbal and physical profanity combined with an apathetic, and entitlement based attitude. They proceeded to jump in their gasless vehicle, and drive away proving their need was a hoax and their scam successful. Neither of them had any sense of shame for what they had just done to another human being. This is one example of a disturbing trend toward shamelessness in our society. Consistent social self-centeredness is the major contributor.
Without a sense of shame for doing wrong there is no moral compass to hold individuals or a society accountable for demeaning behavior. It perpetuates an "all about me" attitude that is completely destructive to a healthy and caring society. Shame is defined as, "a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior, a loss of respect or esteem, dishonor." If you have no shame you have no conscious, no understanding of right from wrong, and no sense of what defines you since there are no parameters of behavior to hold yourself accountable. As a result, your life is dictated by selfish desires, rather than understanding a true sense of happiness and self-respect stems from being more selfless than self-centered. A lack of shame is directly related to a lack of self-respect and a weak foundation of personal core values. Without an understanding of what you stand for and believe in there is no sense of self-respect, and therefore no respect for others. Why would one feel any shame for their misbehavior toward others, when there is no shame for misbehavior toward oneself?
There is also a direct correlation between a lack of shame and a lack of personal accountability. Shameless behavior expresses a root dissatisfaction with oneself, which invites excuse making rather than taking personal ownership for ones life. Irish author Jonathan Swift stated, "A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying…that he is wiser today than yesterday." A lack of shame also rests in a lack of humility, which transcends into ones own perceived sense of self-importance. These character traits are always reflective of personal dishonesty and insecurities. Shame is a barometer that measures behavior in relation to the values you hold dear. If honesty is one of your personal values, and you violate honesty without shame, then violating your value of honesty is hypocritical to what you profess you believe in. Each time you repeat this pattern of behavior you become less in alignment with the person you know you should be. The result is unhappiness and discontentment because you are not in congruence with yourself. As the French philosopher Blaise Pascal stated, "The only shame is to have none."
With a New Year around the corner I would like to propose a unique resolution for all of us to consider, making ourselves less susceptible to self-centered desires, and more attentive to selfless acts of being thoughtful and respectful toward others. Have you ever been tempted? There is no doubt. Temptation is defined as, “a desire to do something, esp. something wrong or unwise”. How susceptible are you to temptation, and where does the personal strength reside to thwart such a destructive force? Susceptible is defines as, “likely or liable to be influenced or harmed by a particular thing”. The more susceptible you are to the perceived needs you have, the more likely temptation will succeed in drawing you ever closer to self-destructive behavior. What are those needs that attract temptation? They are the reflection of our personal dysfunctions and weaknesses, our vulnerabilities.
The catalyst that stimulates an attraction toward any temptation is the notion that the self will benefit. For example, if you have a need for attention you will be more susceptible to the temptation of behaving in a destructive way to acquire that attention. It may be as simple as taking a dare from a friend, or participating in a risky behavior. If you lack self-respect you are more susceptible to the temptation of destructive behavior to prove to others you are valuable. You might be tempted to participate in greed, lust or the craving for power, but what are the root causes that makes you susceptible to those temptations? Are you insecure with your own fiscal state of affairs, self-respect or self-confidence? It is the follow through to temptation resulting in personal destruction that is a reflection of personal insecurity. Anyone with a healthy personal value structure in place realizes when a temptation presents itself that is in violation of those values. Is your insecurity or need for something from the outside more important than what you stand for and believe in on the inside?
The ability to become less susceptible to temptation rests in the understanding and strength to implement the core values you believe define the most important elements of your character. If a true core value of yours is honesty then your ability and commitment to live that value will determine how susceptible you are to being dishonest. The most important question to ask is, how will succumbing to any temptation effect those around me, in particular my family and friends? The redirection of thought from self-centeredness to selflessness is the initial key to dismantling temptation. The reward in rejecting temptation is increased self-discipline and a higher level of personal confidence.
Five steps to reducing your susceptibility to unhealthy temptations include, * revisit, update, and redefine the core values that form the substance of your character and what you stand for and believe in. If you lack an understanding of those values you will be in a weakened state when confronting destructive temptations. * use common sense in analyzing the situation you may be confronted with. If you have any type of positive value base, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to know right from wrong, just say no. * behave in a consistent way that reinforces your core values. Every time you do, it enhances self-respect and strength of character. If you have no values to base your behavior upon, there is no way you can earn any degree of self-respect or self-confidence. Why? You have neither self-identity nor a personal understanding of you. * if you have a history of being susceptible to particular temptations, make a concerted effort not to put yourself in situations that invite those temptations. * ask yourself the question, what is most important in my life, and what do I wish to be remembered for?
Is it what I have taken or what I have given, what I have done for myself or what I have done for others? We may never know what tomorrow may bring, but we will all be living in the future, so we might as well make it a future worth living. Happy 2011 to all my friends, and all those who share in the belief of a better self, a better family, and a better world.
In the midst of this season of joy take a moment to reflect on what it genuinely means to be joyous. Does joy present itself because we are told it is that time of year, or is joy a state of being and the season is here to reinforce the importance of living a joyous life? This season of giving should be a reminder to children and adult alike that love, selflessness, respect, compassion, empathy and patience are the ultimate gifts we can give to one another. It is our awareness of thought and the emotional characteristics of our humanness that allows the experience of joy. A gesture of kindness, a hug shared, an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, a word of comfort, and a meal to nourish, are all joyous moments. The giving of oneself for the betterment of another is an exercise in joyous living. The most enduring, meaningful and memorable moments in life have nothing to do with possessions, but rather the result of the love, tutelage and mentorship one has provided to another.
With the continued onslaught of a digital world, genuine joy is being
replaced with the desire for genuine stuff. Materialism is defined as, “a
tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more
important than spiritual values.” Historically many once great societies
destroyed themselves when the priority of material possessions took precedence
over the priority of how they conducted themselves as a people. How long have
we as an American society been prioritizing things over behavior, and what will
our future be? The false joy resulting from the immediate gratification of
having abundant stuff deteriorates the amazing quality of what it means to be
abundantly human. An element of that amazing quality is our ability to think
beyond the here and now by envisioning the potential of what could be. Is that
vision for the greater good or for individual desire, for a mutually respectful
heterogeneous society or a self-centered homogeneous society? I would hope we
would all work toward the greater good and celebrate the wonderment of our
The opportunity to experience joy also rests with recognizing the
power of peace in our lives. With conflict there is mental anguish, with peace
there is serenity. Joy is rarely experienced when metal anguish abounds. Joy
and peace have always been celebrated as universal themes during the holiday
season, but the real question is, are we living those themes and promoting them
each day? Simplicity contributes to the establishment of joy and peace in our
lives. Materialism creates complexity and counters simplicity because there is
more stuff to be responsible for, and therefore an added element of stress to
contend with. In reality, an
obsession with acquiring excess stuff is in many ways a substitute for not
dealing with oneself, and the real important personal issues that stand in the
way of obtaining genuine happiness, peace and joy.
Love is a word used consistently in regard to relationships but what does it truly mean to love? This month many celebrate the birth of a man whose love for others is an example that has stood the test of time. Did materialism have anything to do with that legacy? On the contrary, it was just the opposite of possessions that defined a life of love through giving, selflessness, forgiveness, and sacrifice. What is your capability to love another based on, and how is that love best demonstrated? Is it through the material stuff we give, or the selfless acts of kindness, empathy and thoughtfulness we provide to those we share our life with. During this season of joy, peace, and love let us all make an effort to display these ideals beyond December and throughout our entire life. I believe now more than ever there is a prominent need to renew our commitment to one another as a principled people, and not as principled shoppers. During these two spiritual holidays, celebrate the birth of a savior and the festival of lights, with an added effort in setting an example in what truly represents this season of joy. Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to all my fellow citizens, friends, and lovers of life. May we all be blessed in a spirit of human goodness.