change responsibility

How to Change the World

12:27:00 PMMeredith Kuzma

We live in a world that is familiar with deception. We use the internet knowing that anyone can put up a website and write any falsehoods they choose. We watch television knowing that the news is often twisted to suit an agenda and that advertisements don't care if their product actually helps us so long as we spend money. We watch political scandals unfold with a kind of predictability. We have become desensitized to dishonesty, distortion, and fabrication.

If we think too hard about the problems of the world, we can often get discouraged or feel that there's nothing we can do. Many great personalities from various traditions have concluded that “doing something” is actually very simple. For these thinkers, man's positive impact on the world comes from directing his energies at himself first and foremost. In the philosophical tradition Dietrich von Hildebrand would assert that man's moral transformation is central to his pursuit of perfection and that man should strive to have a positive impact on the world.

Moral transformation is always within the range of every man” (p 44).

Faced with the deception of the world, Hildebrand would answer with the virtue of veracity. During this fourth week in my series on his excellent work The Art of Living, I have been reading his Chapter 4 on veracity and truthfulness. In this chapter, Hildebrand stresses the necessity of recognizing and responding to truth.

For Hildebrand, the man who deceives orients himself selfishly towards the world, in utter defiance of the value and dignity of other persons. “To a certain extent, a liar considers the whole world to be an instrument for his own ends. Everything which exists is but an instrument for him” (p 38). The liar commits a great crime by counting the value of being as valuable only in virtue of its serving him.

There is also the crime of self-deception. Here the man who deceives himself lives in a world of illusion. He believes in a reality that simply does not exist. On some level he knows he won't be able to do everything that he says he can, yet he persists in deceiving himself and others.

The truthful man is, above all, genuine. He is authentic and can be counted on. The truthful man has a deep reverence for the majesty of being, honoring the dignity of  the people he encounters. For Hildebrand, “veracity is the basis for all true community life” (p 46). Truthfulness informs every relationship between persons. Truthfulness is a necessary condition for true knowledge. Thus, only the truthful man can develop spiritually. “Yes, a basic element of veracity is, in a specific way, its relationship to the absolute Source of all being, God. For, in the last account, untruthfulness means a denial of God, a flight from Him,” (p 46)

The truthful man sees reality without self-deception. He also sees the metaphysical situation of man and the negative value of lies. The truthful man understands his responsibility in relating to God and to other persons.

“To deceive another person implies a fundamental disrespect, a failure to take him seriously. It ignores the value which inheres in every man as a spiritual person and shows a disregard of the dignity of man, of the elementary right which every person possesses to know the truth,” (p 45).

In a society that seems to revolve around deception, we have to see the true value of other persons and recognize our responsibility to respond to their dignity. We must first transform ourselves if we hope to impact the world around us.

Dietrich & Alice von Hildebrand, The Art of Living (Manchester: Sophia Institute, 1994)
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  1. This reminds me of Dante's writing about the liars in hell. He did a great job of illustrating the different kinds of liars.


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