The Greeks had a way of constructing the character of a person on stage in a dramatic presentation: Ethical Habit of Action. You learn to understand a person based not on what they say, but rather on how they behave. Don’t believe what you’re told. Believe only what you see. It is the bundled experience of the form — the habit of action — that defines us… and not the brittle persona many believe is the true and ethical morality of the person.
Dr. Howard Stein taught me the idea of an Ethical Habit of Action while I was a graduate student at Columbia University in the City of New York two decades ago — and ever since, I have gratefully applied that lesson to shape and comprehend a disingenuous world.
Howard also shared a personal example of Ethical Habit of Action with me that I will share with you to help provide a divining rod of expectation that unwillingly pulls us into a necessary humanity.
His father turned to him and said “Baby,” — he always called Howard “baby” even when he was a grown man and married with children — “Baby,” he said, “The test of your life is your battle with uncivilized feelings.”
Every day, and to this day, Howard understands how right his father was and how sharp and fragile the line is between civility and anarchy. We must actively work to keep our wits and our manners about us in the midst of universal decay and despair.
It is a demand of society that we all mediate our evolutionary yearnings even though we are pre-programmed to survive-at-any-cost and defeat foes and kill threats. We need to find a more prudent way out of the morass of a compass-less morality that drives nations into the depths of war and neighbors to take up arms against each other.
I suppose an important key to living with uncivilized feelings is confessing you even have them.
How do you moderate your uncivilized wants? Do you repress them or express them in civilized ways?
Do we have a duty to correct and punish uncivilized behavior — or do we merely accept those public acts as self-defeating proclamations of unknowing?