If you can't be certain about the future, isn’t it wise to beware of the confidence that you know what is good for you in the present?

Beware Of The Confidence That You Know What Is Good For You

Railroad tracks stretching into distance. Beware the confidence that you know what is good for you...no one can see very far down the tracks
Beware the confidence that you know what is good for you…no one can see very far down the tracks

# 31 on my, 99 Life Tips – A List is: Beware of the confidence that you know what is good for you.

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher of the middle-1800’s penned this famous quote in his journal. It is instructive as to why this tip to beware of the confidence that you know what is good for you is worth heeding.

“It is really true what philosophy tells us, that life must be understood backwards. But with this, one forgets the second proposition, that it must be lived forwards. A proposition which, the more it is subjected to careful thought, the more it ends up concluding precisely that life at any given moment cannot really ever be fully understood; exactly because there is no single moment where time stops completely in order for me to take position [to do this]: going backwards.”

~ Kierkegaard, Journal, 1843

This usually ends up shortened to:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”

Ibid

True Good Must Pass The Test Of Time

As a father to seven children, I’ve oft told another about a lesson I’ve shared with one of my kids. Sometimes, they have remarked to me, ”Oh, that is soooo good!” My reply has usually been, ”We’ll see in six months.” Goodness can pass the test of time. It’s best not to judge to soon.

As the philosopher noted, we do not have the luxury of time-travel while living. We are stuck on the railroad tracks of sequential time. One thing follows another. We are forced to respond on a moment by moment basis. Not being able to see far enough down the tracks of cause and effect, we don’t know at any particular moment how one thing, one decision, one attainment, or one disappointment, may turn out in the long run. If you cannot have the confidence of certainty about the future, isn’t it wise to beware of the confidence that you know what is good for you in the present? Because good is not just about immediate gratification, but also long-term effects.

I’ve said many times, one of the worst things I can get in life is what I want. Just because you want something doesn’t mean you should have it. Just because you think it is good for you, doesn’t mean it is. We are trapped in a short-sighted series of near-term decisions that produce unknowable long term effects.

True Good May Not Be What You Think It Is At All

On two occasions thus far, I have suffered the devastating loss of life. The me that was alive from birth to 21 died at a Grateful Dead show in March of 1986 when I met Jesus. My whole conception of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, good and bad, died with that 21 year old drug-addicted hippie. That me died in possession of a hundred-hit sheet of 3-day-old blotter acid, and tickets to 12 more concerts on the Spring Tour. Things that I was confident were very good for me. And a new me arose in his place. A better me, yes, but with similar limitations at being able to predict the future accurately.

Losing those ”good things”, this death and rebirth, was the first best thing that ever happened to me.

A Second Death; But This Was Good…Wasn’t It?

The second me died on May 15, 2009 when, under duress, I left my wife of 22 and a half years and a houseful of six minor children for whom I had given everything I had to give. They, including my unfaithful wife, were my whole life. Like a vessel ripped loose from its anchorage at a dock, I was completely un-moored from the reality I had known from age 23 to 45 and a half. That role and those relationships formed my entire conception of who I was. That me was as indissoluble from that life as if blue dye was dissolved in water. How would one ever separate them?

There was no “me” apart from the life I’d spent more than two decades living. And yet, through actions not mine to control, that version of me died; along with the at-home father and husband. Those things were so incredibly valuable and good to me, that the whole notion that I would ever see good again, died too.

And yet…

Life Can Only Be Understood Looking Backwards

Looking back these 12 years, this 3rd iteration of me can see and understand. I now know that this devastation was the second best thing that ever happened to me. Not only did it bring about a much needed humbling, it opened the door to a relationship with a life partner with whom I have never been more happy, more authentic, more complete, or more grateful. 

I carry in my mind an appreciation for a God who may not keep bad things from happening to me, but who will be with me through them and will work them out for good. Almost like Someone who isn’t stuck in sequential time could see down the tracks and cause enough good to wipe away every tear. 

So yes, I repeat, beware of the confidence that you know what is good for you. Rather, do your utmost to be good to others, treating them as you’d wish to be treated. And cultivate your awareness and relationship with One who can see further down the road of life than you, One who knows you better than you know yourself, and Who can love you more fully than you ever could love yourself. One who does know what is good for you. That’s a better place for your confidence.

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Beware Of The Confidence That You Know What Is Good For You
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Beware Of The Confidence That You Know What Is Good For You
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Not being able to see far enough down the tracks of cause and effect, we don’t know at any particular moment how one thing, one decision, one attainment, or one disappointment, may turn out in the long run. If you cannot have the confidence of certainty about the future, isn’t it wise to beware of the confidence that you know what is good for you in the present?
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1 thought on “Beware Of The Confidence That You Know What Is Good For You”

  1. Pingback: 99 Life Tips – A List : Greg Proffit Writing

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