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If I needed it, someone else might as well

No excuses, only apologies.  Life has been incredibly busy, and I have allowed it to become so.  My apologies for the length of this excerpt, but it has helped me see where I’ve twisted myself around and just maybe it can help someone else as well.  This is from Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Transformation in Christ.

A “cramped” character reflects a subtle form of self-indulgence

Let us take the cramped character first.  How does a person belonging to this category behave?  Now he ruminates incessantly, as though he were spellbound, over some irrelevant idea, or uselessly reiterates some long-exhausted chain of considerations that can no longer yield any further result; now he overstrains his will, pressing himself to unnecessary and meaningless sacrifices, or trying to force things which by their very nature cannot be commanded, such as joy, sorrow, or enthusiasm.  Or again, he flogs himself into certain kinds of eccentric attitudes that bear a note of specious sublimity:  an ungenuine heroism, for instance, or an excessive contempt for the body and its needs with an oriental or gnostic flavor about it.  This very crampedness he may often experience as the manifestation of an extraordinary will power and hence as a sure sign of his freedom.

Because he never relaxes, he forms the conviction that he always maintains himself on a level above the situation, that he makes no concessions to his nature, and that therefore he is eminently free.  Is he not always watchful, always on his guard, always keeping out whatever might be interpreted as self-indulgence?

Yet in fact he is guilty of self-indulgence, inasmuch as he obeys the dictate of spastic automatism that is prevalent in his nature.  The strain he constantly displays does not spring from a vital response to values.  It expresses a general tendency of his nature, which discharges itself in the way of a functional necessity, without any proportionate foundation in the respective objects.  Such a person is, in truth, characteristically unfree.

The “duty complex” is a form of unfreedom

The cramped attitude may also manifest itself in reference to the fulfillment of one’s duties.  The duty complex is an important source of unfreedom.  Some people are possessed by certain duties or are hypnotized by certain  tasks they have taken upon themselves, to the point of no longer being capable of responding to any higher demands.

However, the mere fact that they bear a responsibility expressible in juridical terms, or that they have charged themselves with a task, does not confer upon the thing they are attending to a surplus of objective significance above everything else.  Often, for instance in the minds of such people, vocational obligations will unduly outweigh the demands of charity; or again, kind offices or acts of charity to which they have formally committed themselves will take precedence over others which lack the motive of a formal commitment, even though the latter may imply a deeper meaning and constitute, in the ultimate sense, a higher obligation.

To this type of mind, duty is primarily defined in terms of a tangible, outward, officially sanctioned and specified obligation:  one that can somehow be subsumed under the aspect of juridical obligations.  They tend to overemphasize such obligations as result from ties either of kinship or of contract, and to underestimate such others as follow inherently (but less automatically, being less susceptible of a statutory formulation) from the logos of a deep and meaningful relation of friendship.

Obligations implicit in the logos of love they will at best take for granted inasmuch as they have their place in the framework of conjugal or family relationships; yet even as regards the sublime and holy obligations inherent in marriage, they will stress their legal aspects in a one-sided approach.  Whatever lacks the official hallmark of obligatino they would hesitate to recognize as obligatory.

In such cases, then, the consciousness of obligation does not arise organically from a true appreciation of values; it lies rooted, rather, in a general disposition to cramped and constrained states of mind.  Persons of this type, as soon as they enter into a situation that implies an element of publicly recognized, formal obligations, develop a kind of interior spasm in which they stay immured, with souls deaf to other and higher demands.  Subordinating themselves entirely to the autonomous mechanism of a definite set of obligations, they become unable to see either the duties in question or the hierarchy of values in general according to their true proportions.

Should they even theoretically discern the superiority of some value outside the circle of those duties or recognize the primacy of some demand of another order, in fact they will not be able to relax their taut attention to the task with which they have charged themselves and in which they are held tight as in a strait jacket.  They are simply unable to break through the automatism of that self-imposed strain.  Though they were ever so much attracted by some other theme, though their heart cried out after that new value – the compulsion is stronger than they.  They fail to overcome the delusion that represents to them this pure dynamism of of obsession under the specious guise of an objective command.  If once in a while they are in some way forced to quit the charmed circle that holds them prisoners, they are tormented by pangs of conscience.

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