I have heard it say (a bazillion times, it seems!) “he’s a good man, it’s just that he has a cheating problem.” Replace “cheating” with gambling, beating, drugging, drinking, or pornography, if you will. Nobody’s perfect!
This logic astounds me. How many times can a husband (or wife?) do a bad thing, and still be a good person? At some point, the good person BECOMES a not-good person because of their problem. The relational body count around them stacks up: first the friends, then the job, then the grown children, and finally the spouse.
And where does it start? IN SECRET. In the still, small moments where a person decides, “hey, I got away with this once, let’s do it again!” There is a tumbling, domino effect to what we do in secret; humans, left to their own devices, do what they CAN get away with. And what is the consequence to others when we live as if that which happens behind closed doors, is nobody’s business but our own?
We are ALL connected; a single person with big “problems” can set in motion a cascade of consequences and circumstances that they have no way of predicting from the outset. A single person of high character who sets out to serve others in their own little corner, will set off a chain of consequence that can change the world. I’m thinking Mother Teresa, an Albanian national who served the poor her entire life; she became a citizen of India in 1948 in order to fully embrace her call to serve the poor, diseased, disenfranchised and orphaned of that country. She was a humble person who understood that every act, every moment, is either an homage to selfishness, or selflessness.
If I commit sin in secret, I serve selfishness. If I act out of charity and gratitude for everything I have been blessed with, I serve selflessness. If I act out of anger, I serve selfishness. If I set aside personal need for the greater good of the family or society, I serve selflessness. If I use my tongue to harm another, I serve selfishness. If I use my tongue to build someone else up, I serve selflessness.
And whom do I serve if I am selfless? God. If I see Jesus in others – especially in those whom do NOT share my faith – and treat them as such, with kindness and respect and joy and charity and love, above all LOVE – I serve God. And whom do I serve if I am selfish? It could be the world, the flesh, or the Devil. There are small, secret acts that are meant to feed my ‘flesh’ a.k.a. my base nature; or meant to please the world; or that can be direct acts of evil that destroy others, the last of which are the most corruptive. But the other, smaller sins, are ALSO corrupting, they just take more time to show the evidence. Like rust on a car, they eat away from the inside out; they destroy me first, and then those closest to me, and then others as peripheral damage.
Nobody expects you (or me!) to be perfect. But by noticing what we do, discerning who is served by our actions, and what we are going to do about it, we could either be building or destroying the path we have been set upon. Mindfulness: it’s not just for Buddhists. It’s for everybody.