Sometimes one finds moral conviction in the strangest of places
If you speak to my ex-partners, you will get a different perspective, but I can be great.
Not just nice, principled even. Ethical. On a warm day, I have a moral compass of a sort, and the strength of character to stand up for my beliefs.
Of course, it’s hard to maintain impeccable standards of behaviour at all times. I readily relapse back into my default state of self-centred assholeness. I am not alone in this.
But those good days can be quite impressive, even if I say so myself. When days are dark, it can be useful to remind ourselves not just of our achievements and experiences – but of the times we took a principled stance. The times we were good, not just successful.
Part of the bleak mood which descends on some of us comes from a dislike for ourselves, a kind of exasperation that we just can’t seem to do the right thing. We’re weak or illogical, and we make decisions that are clearly wrong in retrospect.
But in relearning self-love and confidence in ourselves as emissaries of light and goodness, it can be encouraging to excavate from our memory banks those times when we were at our best. Not when we were living our best life sipping JC le Roux on a tugboat cruise in the PE harbour, not those days when we met the drummer from Smokie. The time we went to the July and were waved through all three roadblocks…
Not those times. Let’s recall the times we faced an ethical, moral challenge, and we proved ourselves up to the task.
For me… Look, I can only recall two such times, at short notice. There may have been more.
The one was the time a woman colleague was disrespected by a supplier. I was able to insist that he treat her with the respect she deserves. I was loud, icily polite and firm. I did it without swearing or threatening violence. I used the moral authority of logic and human decency to insist that he apologise, and never do it again.
I didn’t do it for personal aggrandisement, but looking back, I was good that day.
Another time – okay the other time – was in Australia.
I was backpacking through the country surfing and playing guitar, and I found myself on a Greyhound bus north from Sydney to Queensland.
Backpacking through Australia is pleasant because they have the dole there. Its unemployment compensation allows people who don’t work to sustain themselves. In practice, it is also often a stipend for beach lovers, travellers and people who feel the system of capitalist labour exploitation is not for them.
So, as you travel the country, you find a ready reserve of allies, playmates and co-conspirators with whom to surf, jam, hang out and generally not work. It’s paradise. I had even discovered a fairly committed community of New Age travellers, who were affiliated with various hippies, social non-conformists and tepee-dwellers.
The worldview of these people is in stark contrast to that of other Australians, who can be shockingly conservative, reactionary and racist. Where these two communities meet, there can be friction.
So it was, that I found myself on this bus heading north. Just outside Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, we pulled into a stop to pick up more passengers. Only one person ascended the steps onto the bus.
He was a dark-haired young man, not yet twenty, but already wearing a long beard. His hair was in matted dreadlocks, which he had tied together on the crown of his head with what appeared to be an animal bone. He wore a grey robe down to his ankles, and he carried a walking staff. The overall effect was unmistakably Young Gandalf. Our perhaps Dumbledore as a student.
An aroma of patchouli and body odour was discernible from where I sat, halfway down the aisle. The bus driver, who wore shorts and a side parting, recognised his passenger’s affiliation on sight.
They were not of the same tribe.
As the bus brakes gasped, he made an announcement on the bus intercom: “Is anyone prepared to sit next to this grub?” And he looked back at us.
I understood immediately that he was asking us, his passengers, to endorse his bigotry. To rubber-stamp some unilateral prejudice of his.
From my seat halfway back in the bus I too recognised that guy’s kind. He was indeed from deep in the subculture, but his were the kind of people I’d been picking grapes with in Margaret River, staying with in Lennox Head, playing music with in Taree…
So I raised my hand, and I said, “He can sit next to me!”
The bus driver took one look at this and said: “Well he’s not getting on my bus looking like that!”
He kicked the poor guy off the bus and got back on the road north.
My little principled stance had achieved little besides making the driver’s bigotry a little clearer. Not endorsing his prejudice. Either way, that lone traveller would not be getting a bus ride that day.
I know it’s not much, but this is what I remind myself of when days become dark, and I get a bit down on myself. When I feel I’m being swept along in a social avalanche of selfishness and narcissism and desperation.
You may have had similar moments of greatness in your life. I encourage you to remember them and draw upon them when you need validation. I do.
You’re not such a bad oke, I tell myself. At least you stood up for that guy with the dreadlocks and the beard, and the bone in his hair, that time in Australia.
Hagen Engler. Picture: Supplied
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