On the Corner
The chest–more than simply “pecs”
by Bob Docter –
A complete life is a life lived with integrity.
This sentence is redundant in that one definition of integrity means “a state of being complete—unbroken—unimpaired—whole” (Webster). A few decades ago this definition was Webster’s first choice. A second definition, however, has now become almost the sole, accepted meaning of the word. It concerns “adherence to sound moral principle and character—honesty.”
In actuality the definitions are the same. One cannot be complete without sound adherence to moral values and principles—the substance of character.
C.S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, titles the first chapter “Men Without Chests.” He states: “The head (reason) rules the belly (emotions) through the chest (sound moral action). We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the gelding to be fruitful.”
While decisions reside in the brain, values reside in our chests—our hearts.
Today, as in the days of the Jewish prophet, Micah, humankind seems without an understanding of some very important terms. We have been told to “be good,” but rarely been taught how. We have a hard time figuring out what it means to do the “right” thing and often conclude that circumstances rather than a basic guide to a choice should determine right action.
And what about “virtue”? The term virtue seems archaic to us, and, therefore, we rarely use it, teach it irregularly and understand it even less.
Another term little understood is “justice.” We demand it from the state but fail completely in striving to reveal it within our own individual relationships. We’d much rather distribute punishment.
In The Republic, Plato engages in dialogue with his friends concerning the meaning of “justice.” First, he explored the nature of the “state” and concluded that the state could properly be called “just” if its leaders made wise decisions, if its guardians undertook courageous action, if the people moderated their desires, and if all three worked “harmoniously together” in living out their virtues of wisdom, courage and moderation.
In much of life, we have become enamored not with being complete, but with specializing. We fail to work holistically. We ignore any effort at synthesis. Physicians have their specialties. Both Sunday and weekday school teachers zero in on one fragment of content, one subject or one grade level, and we leave the child to wonder, “What’s it all about?”
If we don’t take things apart, we don’t have to put them back together.
We’re not teaching our children how to live. We have ignored the reality that the classroom is a place “where living goes on,” where teachers teach the process of living—where subject matter explores how to deal with life’s problems—how to relate interpersonally—why history allows us to learn from the past—how energy is generated and used. Instead, we would rather work to train the mind with single, separate disciplines while never approaching the question of putting them back together.
Unfortunately, we leave to students the requirement to accomplish this without providing them the essential means. In the process, moreover, we fail to teach meaningfully essential concepts to live with like virtue, justice, honesty and courage.
Humans are more than a “mind.” We are a complex whole—a complete series of systems that combine their function into one great open system. As each separate system performs its function effectively and in harmony with all the others, we call this “health.”
After looking at “justice,” Plato turned his attention to what he called “distinct elements of our selves.” Each individual human body, Plato suggests, has three souls. The first is the rational soul—the mind or intellect where we engage in thinking and reasoning. Here we make wise, rational decisions about how human life is properly lived.
Next comes the spirited soul—our actions based on will and volition. This is the place where we make choices, where we exercise the power of willing. This is the place where our thinking becomes evident, where we “carry out the dictates of reason in practical life and courageously do what we think is best.”
Third, Plato identifies the appetitive soul—emotions or desire—where we want and feel many things, some deferred, some sought irrationally, some enjoyed.
Justice emerges from the individual human only from the presence of these three components functioning effectively together. If one is missing, the person is incomplete, without integrity.
Values reside in the chest (think heart). We will not facilitate the development of “complete” human beings without some “chest training.”