Three signs of Sanity

A Meditation for Independence Day 2018


From what little I can gather from psychology, the well-adjusted person has at least three characteristics:  First, he lives for a goal or an ideal greater than himself.  We all know that people who live for themselves are pretty wretched individuals.  The late-19th-century English essayist, John Ruskin, was right when he observed that “When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package.”  Second, a well-adjusted person is not so ashamed of his past mistakes that they shackle him.  Instead, he looks at all past behavior, positive and negative, moral and immoral, as stepping stones to improvement.  Here I can’t help thinking of the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor E. Frankl.  Note, for example, this passage:


Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.


Third, a well-adjusted person has what psychologists call semi-permeable boundaries.  He is not so closed off to others that no one will be able to glimpse the depths of his soul, yet at the same time, he does not allow just any Bob, Carol, Ted, or Alice into the deep recesses of his heart.  Only a select few are given access to what’s on the inside.

The psychologically well-adjusted person, then, must live for a goal that transcends the self, must integrate all past behavior—positive and negative—into a platform for self-improvement, and must have semi-permeable boundaries.

Now I firmly believe that what is true of a well-adjusted individual is also true of a healthy nation.  If our country is to survive, we, its citizens, must live for an ideal higher than ourselves.  Rather than being impelled by either expedience or pleasure, we must instead live for eternal truths, for instance, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”[1]  What, by the way, is happiness?  Happiness, as Aristotle says, is not feeling good but being good.

In addition, we as a nation must not be overly ashamed of our past, no matter how dark and bleak certain aspects of it may be.  Instead we must integrate all of our history, both the glorious and the scandalous, into an impetus for national improvement.  We must also recognize that those who have gone before us were endowed with wisdom from which we benefit.  Twelfth-century French Neo-Platonist philosopher and scholar Bernard of Chartres aptly declared, “If we see more clearly than they, it is not because of our own clear eyes or tall bodies, but because we are raised on high by their gigantic stature.”  Yale Professor Jaroslav Jan Pelikan summed this up by asserting, “We moderns are dwarfs mounted upon the shoulders of giants.”

Finally, if our country is to be healthy, we must have semi-permeable boundaries.  We must not be closed off to the world and to those who are in need; at the same time, however, we cannot fling wide our doors to anyone who would come.  Need I say more?

Both the well-adjusted person and the healthy nation must live for a transcendent goal; both must translate all past behavior, good and bad, into an impetus for improvement; and both must have semi-permeable boundaries.

The ancient Romans used to say, Quem deus vult perdere, prius dementat.[2]  “Whom the god would destroy, he first makes mad.”  Let’s pray for sanity.

[1] Declaration of Independence.

[2] Euripides, unknown fragment.