affections family

Knowing Why It's Right

6:00:00 AMUnknown

Some of the most difficult experiences we face are those when we have to stand up for what we think is right, even when you do not fully understand why.

Much of my childhood was filled with watching many movies and television, so this became a touchstone in my life. I always seemed to have easy reasons to keep watching, such as “I have to see the next episode” or “everyone is raving about the next series, so I have to see it too,” or “school was hard today, all I want to do is relax and watch a movie.” Having reasons to do other things rarely crossed my mind, like reading a book or playing outside.

Eventually, the content of these shows matured having explicit sexual and violent humor and acting.  It gradually made its way into the movies and television that once seemed purely attractive and good to me. But it was so subtle. Everyone seemed to become easily acquainted to the explicit material of the media, even in moments with our family and friends. Who was going to get up and turn off the movie? Who was going to change the television? No one. We would fall into habits of tolerating media that slowly eroded our negative response to its bad content.  Underneath this tendency was the idea that there was no need to respond anymore. Over time we changed, and then it seemed like there was no questioning our habits.

As I got older, the desire to find relaxation in such illusions dwindled. Whether it was the distance from that routine of life or discovering the beauty in other things, my mentality changed. When I was on break from college one day, I was challenged in a new way in my response to movies. On this day, myself and the others I loved, started watching a movie that at first seemed to treat human persons with dignity. As the plot continued on, the content no longer gave the human body respect. My perception of the movie was one that I had never had before. The content was so similar to what I used to watch, but for the first time the impact of the violation of human dignity portrayed on screen hit me. I asked myself, “Does no one else see how wrong this is?” “Does no one else feel gross by how human persons could treat each other with such disrespect?” Then I felt moved to leave, even though it meant walking away from my friends and family watching. I felt torn, but convicted to respond to what I was perceiving. My response was sudden. I walked out of the living room and went to my room.

This situation is very similar to how Dietrich von Hildebrand contrasts the naturally pure man to the ethically mature, pure man. The naturally pure man perceives value and responds to it. He is one that is “wholly positive, beautiful and attractive.” [1] When he perceives the positive value of something, he cannot help, but respond to it positively. The naturally pure man is repulsed by the negative value. Yes, he perceives it, but he does not let the negative value taint his purity. Negativity is contrary to his pure nature. When the negative value is presented before him, he “rejects it and turns away whenever he breathes this tainted air.” [2] The naturally pure man always responds genuinely to values, which will order him to the good.

But even in just perceiving, the naturally pure man needs to take one step deeper to understand his perception. He needs to have knowledge of the value of purity, in order to possess purity as a virtue. The mere perception is not enough for that naturally pure man to attain the ethical maturity of being able to practice the virtue of purity when it is demanded of him. He must become morally conscious. This means he must not only be aware of the positive and negative values of things, but must be able to respond with the understanding of why they are positive or negative. He is the one who actively cultivates chastity and purity.  

My perception and response to the movie was enough to make me leave the room, but I did not fully understand my actions. In order that I may practice and make habitual my response to value that I showed in watching the movie, I need to reflect upon why I responded in the manner I did. In this way I can, like the naturally pure man who becomes morally conscious in his understanding in the virtue of purity, greater awareness of what I should guard against in my life. I will be able to have a full conscious conviction of my own actions and those ways in which I impact others.  

Image 1: "Folder-Movies" 2008.

Image 2: Baumgardner, Edward D., "Family Watching Television" 1958.

[1] Dietrich von Hildebrand, In the Defense of Purity. 49

[2] Ibid., 49

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