Some virtues can only be acquired in the presence of suffering: Courage, empathy, sacrifice, etc.
The world has within it certain events where your mettle will be tested and you will find out who you really are, moments where you can choose to become who you want to be.
So face those moments head on and stop being such a pansy, you pansy.

Seriously though, can a virtue be learned, or does the situation simply reveal what was always there? Because if it’s the latter then I’ve already failed.
As a kid, my mom told us once about how her own father (a stern taskmaster) mistakenly blamed her for losing some money, when really it was her little sister who had gone out and spent it on ice cream. Instead of correcting her dad, my mom took the punishment since she knew it would be extreme for the actual crime committed.
An inspiring story of love and courage in action. I wanted to be like that!
Skip forward to kindergarten. Auntie Rose has come to visit. Jennifer and I had just discovered the magic of erasable markers and were drawing all over ourselves. Auntie rose tells us to stop, so we pick up the erasing marker and start erasing. Auntie Rose thinks we’re still drawing and we get in trouble.
So I resign myself to watching She-Ra sullenly, while Jennifer, a mere 3 year old, toddles off alone. At one point she peeks into my room and states regretfully that she ‘spilled some water.’
Dad gets home from work and tells everyone to get ready to go out to eat. Auntie Rose goes up to her room to put on her contacts, and we hear her start yelling. Someone had gone into her room and torn up her contacts, spilled the solution all over the floor, and sprayed mousse all over her dresses, and then sprinkled some laxative gel pills over said dresses.
That’s what Jenn meant when she said she spilled water. Auntie rose points at me. It had to be the big one, i hear her say, the bottle is too tough for the 3 year old to open.
But I was ready for this- this was the moment where I, the stronger person, would sarcrifice myself to protect my weaker, yet more diabolical, sibling.
My dad points to me and says “You!” and I felt my heart drop. He picks me up and holds me so we’re eye to eye. “You did this!!” That’s all it takes for me to break down crying. “It was her! it was her! I did nothing!”
Jennifer is just standing there quietly.
My dad puts me down and I cry to myself, relieved and ashamed for feeling so relieved.
It’s a moment I sort of wish I could have a second chance at, but not really. Who knows though, maybe that memory will provide enough gumption (read: Shame) to do it right the next time.

Published in: on April 13, 2011 at 4:51 am  Comments (11)  

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  1. I think this story might say more about auntie Rose’s opinion of you than it does your moral character…

    • I was the big one.
      It says about my size AND my poor moral character.

  2. I was like Lenny from Mice and Men.

  3. I dunno… when I learned about right and wrong, truth was important. Especially when you may be setting an example for your younger sister and making her think that she can get away with inappropriate things all the time because you will plan to be her scapegoat. I dunno, maybe it’s a cultural difference. I think it would have been equally inappropriate and bad karma to allow a lie to be believed if it leads to inappropriate consequences for the wrong person. So… I think you need to not feel guilty about this at all. Just a thought. If I found out my older child (when I have kids) allowed everyone to accuse him or her of something just because they thought it was the “right thing to do,” I will have a discussion with them later about how that teaches those around him/her that it is okay to let others take the blame for something. That ends up teaching the younger child not to take responsibility for his/her actions, and leads to future personality or behavioral flaws for the younger sibling whose actions are blamed on others instead of learning to understand how to be responsible. Is this what we want for younger siblings in the world? To learn to allow others to be “screwed over” due to their poor decisions? I think not. Jasmine… perhaps your decision was okay. Especially since your Aunt made some grossly unsatisfactory conclusions multiple times during this story. Gandhi would not have thought you were wrong. One should stand up against injustice.

  4. I forgot to mention one other thing about this situation…. Ayn Rand, whom you have quoted a couple of times, who is NOT Gandhi, would also agree, that you should not sacrifice yourself in order to protect someone from consequences of their mistakes. Besides, what was the consequence? Time out? Maybe no TV for a day? No cookies? As pediatricians, don’t we discuss loss of privileges or time-out as a way to help children learn that they should have some self-control and not tear up their aunt’s contact lenses, etc? Jennifer would have learned something wrong if you had not allowed her to be in time-out/lose her cookies/whatever.

    • we got spanked, and spanked heartily as kids. if it was just cookies I wouldn’t have stood up for her. The kid was chubby and could have stood to lose a few kilos.

      • oh… I didn’t know spanking was involved.

  5. Therein lies the interesting part of virtue for me: each choice has its own virtue.
    The one I chose as a child was the path of Compassion and Sacrifice. My sister was really young and didn’t know better. The punishment in my eyes was rather harsh and so I was going to take it for her. Would she learn her lesson? I think so. I think she would have learned it and felt appropriate guilt anyways.

    The path you’re suggesting is of honesty and honor. That is, tell the truth and stand up for myself, since I wasn’t the guilty one. And you’re right, it would have been an example to my sister as well.

    i was taught the first way was more valuable, but I’ve learn since I’ve grown up it’s not always the way to go.

  6. You made a good point. I suppose each person makes different decisions at different times. Some may think it was ironic that Gandhi, who would have gone with the “honesty and honor” path and recommended telling the truth and standing up against injustice, also ended up choosing the “compassion” path when he forgave people who had assaulted him during his work and continued to carry out his nonviolent protests, sacrificing his health and safety to defend the freedom of others. I guess there’s not really a single-track path for anyone’s complex decision making, and each person makes decisions by weighing their conflicting and complex set of virtues as they relate within the context of each decision. Each one has multiple decison branches, and we choose differently during different sets of circumstances based on what is “most appropriate” at a given time. I’m sure I’ve occasionally picked the “compassion and sacrifice path,” but maybe only under specific sets of circumstances, less often than you choose it. I like the multiple virtue-path concept you described. It’s so much easier to use it to express that different decisions still often have different goals and good reasons underlying them. This is why it’s awesome to read your blog, because it can lead to very thought-provoking conversations.

    • Exactly! Ghandi could have easily found against the injustice physically, and it would have been just as a courageous act on his part. He would be setting an example for people not to put up with violence and intimidation. This is sort of the route Malcolm X took. But again, with each decision, you are also giving up some things as well.
      Our choices also lead to different choices which makes life so interesting and frustrating.

  7. I had forgotten what I did by the time dad got home. He suggested meatball subs and my fatass was so excited!! Meatballs! Then I hears auntie rose scream and I almost shit my pants.

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