-John W. Gardner
I've said it a thousand times and I'll say it once more. You are what you do. So you should pay close attention to what you do.
This is a sentiment I started spouting freely after reading Mother Night, by Kurt Vonneget(RIP). When Kurt Vonnegut died, recently, I found myself thinking about this book and this sentiment once, again. I'd see people on the bus suddenly reading his books. More often than not one of his later and lesser works. Scattered yet clever pieces of fiction or inferior collections of his essays. It was all I could do to learn across and say "I hope you are reading that in deference because you have read everything else. If not, go out and read Mother Night"
Mother Night's premise is a curious one with the moral poised right at the very beginning. I wont ruin it for you by presenting it, as such (Because I meant it when I said it, go out and read Mother Night if you have not). An American Writer, living in Germany at the rise Nazi Regime, is given an offer by an American Secret Agent: use his considerable writing talents to become a top Nazi Propagandist, all the while transmitting secret messages to the American Government. And No one will EVER know he was secretly a hero.
Because he is secretly a hero, right? He is secretly a good guy? Well, ofcourse he is. It's a unique scenario. However, he is also a Nazi propagandist, and a good one. And every time he speaks or write something convincing and clever for the Nazi party, he writes something convincing and clever for the Nazi party. He seduces another person into a world of circular logic, ugliness, pettiness, bigotry, condoned violence.
And say today is his day of reckoning. Say today he convinced 25 school children that mass genocide is the way to a purer world. Say today he helped win a battle for the good guys. Who knows. The latter may way out. Like I said, it's a unique scenario, generally lines are not so well drawn. Generally people are not put in such a place of sacrifice. Generally good and evil are not so clearly delineated.
But, hey, okay, say he's you. There you are. And you are a good guy. No doubt you think you are a good guy. Most people think they are pretty stellar human beings. Even as they are buying a beautiful trinket for their mistress and littering on the lawn of the local orphanage, they are a good guy. Even as their guilt tears up their insides and they neglect those they love they are a good guy. They just, you know, do things. Things they'll make up for. They have shit to do, things that matter, Needs. Man. needs. But those things that are not them, just something they did.
And hey, he's you, and today is your day of reckoning. Today is your day to shine. What did you do. Angels are swooping down with a pinhole camera and as you stand still, in focus, in the swirl of your day, what ugly and beautiful things show up in the background? Is your atmosphere calm and bright, or do devil lurk in every corner, holding your hand, telling you tomorrow will give you the time and peace to make up for it.
You are what you do. And if you lie with your actions sooner or later your become a big part of that lie. Whether you tell small children it's okay to kill people different from who they are or routinely neglect those you love or just never remember to recycle, that is who you are, right now, today. And it's your day of reckoning.
So who you get to be? Do you get to be that guy who did the possibly difficult but amazing thing or do you get to be guy who cut everyone off in traffic so he didn't have to wait to merge. Do you get to be the guy who talked to those he loved and supposed those who needed him or do you get to be the guy who spent yet another day with that girl around the corner with the spectacular rack and the complete ambivalence towards him while his children waited at home? Because I'm not saying either of these things are wrong. I'm just saying it's who you get to be.
And more to the point, what are you going to say when you insist that that wasn't you. That you were something more. Something better. A superstar and a good guy in all realities and caught in a bad moment. How are you going explain that what you did beared little resemblance to what you claimed mattered. How are you going to explain how little your actions were motivated by your beliefs.
You can always tell what matters to someone because they make time for it. If someone tells you that you matter and are important but doesn't give you the time and consideration that would entail, they are lying to you. Something matters more or it wouldn't be holding their attention. You are what you do. And you are caught in your own reckoning every day. It is your responsibility and your glory. You swim in that which matters most. No one is gonna buy that shit about who you were if you've spent all your good time proving you were someone else. And if you distanced yourself from everything that matters you do not get to value those things, any longer. This is your reckoning. Live your life like how you live it means something.