One of the aspects of spiritual development is that of excellence, which is a challenging goal to aspire to. It is of course much easier to strive for spiritual excellence when one is part of an institution that promotes it. Let’s go for an extreme example: being chaste is a lot easier in a nunnery than a strip joint.
What happens when one wishes to strive for excellence in a morally lax environment? Moral laxity implies a lack of discipline towards spiritual development, which hinders the quest for spiritual excellence. In other words, moral laxity is the kryptonite to striving for spiritual excellence.
I have come to wonder if avoiding this kryptonite is the reason why many of my friends, who try so hard to be spiritually excellent while living in morally lax societies, have become so hard on themselves, almost cruelly so. They beat themselves down so much that at times, they seem to forget all that is good in them, and only see the bad.
And so, while fear of the influence of society’s moral laxity is understandable, being this hard on oneself can nurture deep, destructive feelings of guilt. Ironically enough, this drains us of the energy we need to remain firm in the quest for spiritual excellence in such a society.
While striving for spiritual excellence is a powerful engine that can help us overcome our egos for the sake of our moral development and that of our community, it has to be done right; we should be focusing on the movement towards excellence rather than excellence itself. Furthermore, we should not forget the context within which we are striving.
Those who are hard on themselves have often been told they should not treat themselves so. But I think we should indeed demand the best of ourselves; but rather than to encourage self-complacency, perhaps we should be encouraged to also learn, hand in hand with excellence, to be compassionate, just and kind towards ourselves. After all, just like with everything else in the Holy Writings, we are striving for excellence in a bid to know and worship God. Are we worshipping God when we are putting ourselves down and demeaning ourselves? Or are we worshipping God when we bring ourselves to account every day, being frank and honest with ourselves on both what we did right and what we did wrong, and make new goals for the next day?
So while well-intentioned, being too hard on ourselves is not the right way of dealing with living in a morally lax society. What is? I would love to hear your thoughts!