Signal Virtue: Play Bow

Virtue: Have a lot of insight into myself and others

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 1,000 characters) about a time in your life when this positive trait or virtue contributed to or created a situation that had a positive impact on your life.
I know what you’re thinking. Actually, quite often, I do.

Not because I am good at reading minds. Looking at people, I more often than not see them as terrifyingly opaque. But then I say something that seems true to me, and they respond: “I’ve thought that, too.”

It happens regularly now with readers of my blog. I confess something that feels embarrassingly personal, and they write me: “Thank you for expressing what I have often felt, but could not put into words.”

It makes me wonder who this “I” is that I keep writing about.

Professor Peterson was talking recently (at least, in my listening history) about the reasons that the Logos had to become incarnate in the person Jesus of Nazareth. (I think it was in one of the Transliminal interviews.) It has to do with the relationship between the universal and the particular, and how it is impossible to grasp the universal without instantiation in a particular.

God had to empty himself and become human--a particular, individual human--in order for human beings to become gods. Heroes. Godlike in our expression of our likeness to God through articulate speech.

I remember the first time I read Thomas of Kempen’s Imitation of Christ, I was so disappointed. I had been expecting a narrative more along the lines of pseudo-Bonaventure’s Meditations on the Life of Christ. Lots of blood and gore and heart-wrenching compassion. (I was young and in love with passion and grief.)

What I found instead was much tamer. “Of thinking humbly of oneself.” “Of the knowledge of truth.” “Of prudence in action.” “Of the reading of Holy Scriptures.” “Of fleeing from vain hope and pride.” “Of the danger of too much familiarity.”

Bleh. It was too abstract, nothing about what Jesus did in his life. I wanted a handsome hero to fall in love with. What I got instead were lessons in virtue.

“We sometimes think to please others by our intimacy, and forthwith displease them the more by the faultiness of character which they perceive in us.”
Alternative outcome: Write a short paragraph about what you might have done differently in that situation, so that it might have turned out even better.
I was talking with my son about how hard I find it when people do not understand me. Like Tolkien when he published The Lord of the Rings: “I have exposed my heart to be shot at.” 
I tell myself I would rather not risk it, it is too painful.

My son responded: “It’s the problem with getting better at a game that you have to lose a lot.” I asked him if he had been reading Piaget!

You know what it feels like, when you do the play bow and nobody wants to play. Or, worse, you do the bow, and they start playing a completely different game.

You wanted to tell them about your great adventure, share with them some joy, and they steal it and try to make it their own.

“Be careful who you share good news with,” as Professor Peterson says.

“Open not thine heart to every man, but deal with one who is wise and feareth God,” as Thomas of Kempen put it.

I expect others to have the same level of insight into me as, based on what they say, I seem to have into them. And I feel angry and bitter when I open myself up and meet only apathy or indifference. Or, as of late, sometimes even hostility and rage.

Imagine how God must feel when he reveals himself to us.

For however much our articulate speech may differ from the vivacity of our intelligence, much greater is the difference of the flesh of mortality from the equality of God. And, nevertheless, ‘although He was in the same form, He emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant... [even unto] the death of the cross’... that man might learn how much God loves him.”

I do not like losing at any game, but particularly ones that involve getting naked before others. Which, metaphorically speaking, means all of them.

Here’s the thing: they’re naked, too. Vulnerable. Exposed. Knowing Good and Evil. How to hurt. Which is why the first thing they do when you make the play bow is try to change the game. They’re scared.

Which, because I am too agreeable, makes me scared, too.
Guidelines for general improvement: Now that you've thought about how you might have improved things even more for yourself or others in that particular situation, please think about this virtue in more general terms. How could you work on capitalizing on this positive trait in general, so that you or others that you care about benefit as much as possible?
Most people most of the time are terrified. Maybe not consciously. Almost certainly not consciously. But they are on the alert. 
They are afraid of not being the hero, not knowing what to do. If they are from the American South or from England, they are terrified of making a faux pas. (Think John Cleese’s character in A Fish Called Wanda, terrified of doing or saying the wrong thing.)

Which, if you’re sensitive, resonates. And rapidly bootstraps up into full-blown anxiety.

“If we would quit ourselves like men, and strive to stand firm in the battle, then should we see the Lord helping us from Heaven. For He Himself is alway ready to help those who strive and who trust in Him; yea, He provideth for us occasions of striving, to the end that we may win the victory.”

I want to win this game. I need to win this game. For the sake of the world.

“Have been watching JP’s vids too,” one of my Facebook friends commented yesterday. “My brain is on fire. Can we still save Western civilization? That is now my greatest question...”

I responded: “Better to fight for it than not!”

But how do we fight, when the culture seems to be crashing down all around us? 
Answer: One interaction at a time.

I watch myself carefully whenever I am interacting with others now. (You might say I ask myself: WWJD?) Can I stay calm? Can I stay cheerful? Do I remember to laugh? Am I paying attention to what they are saying? Do I look them in the eye? Can I let myself be naked before them?

Yes: so long as I put on the armor of God. Which means: be not anxious. “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

I saw one of the colleagues yesterday who has been most upset by my blogging this year. “Thank you!” I told her. “Thank you for giving me so much to write about! Hasn’t it been fun?”

I don’t think she was convinced. But it has. Nothing is more fun than having the courage to speak--and to have others listen. But you have to be willing to risk making the bow.
This one is pretty dense, I don’t think I have unpacked everything properly. Making the play bow is the key to saving Western civilization, I am sure of that. But there is also something to unpack about how to stay calm when facing the Other, which is embedded in the feeling of being naked. And there is the need for armor, not exposing yourself to the ungodly.

--From Jordan Peterson’s Self-Authoring: Virtues program.

Image: My Joy, exposing herself to be shot at. Because she’s a Corgi, and I don’t seem to have any photos of her doing a play bow!

Quotations unless otherwise marked: Thomas of Kempen, The Imitation of Christ, trans. William Benham.

Popular posts from this blog

Unauthorized Study Guide

How to Signal You Are Not a White Supremacist

Join the Stream

The Forge of Tolkien

Make the Middle Ages Dark Again