Friday, February 19, 2010

The Necessary Fall from Grace

For some time, I have been pondering a philosophical concept that seems best described as "a necessary fall from grace." Basically, it is related to the "prodigal son," but focuses more on cause and effect. It describes when a person believes one thing, but through a chain of events, practices another—only to learn the true meaning of what he once accepted on blind faith. In reality, this should propel a person to greater heights, though it seems that the media uses this only to justify mediocrity.

What do I feel is embodied in the phrase "necessary fall from grace"? For a thing to be thought of as "necessary," it must be vital to affect a particular end. If the end is important, then it is also necessary that the end be greater than the beginning—else the fall be a loss. The meaning of the word "grace" in this context is inseparable from the colloquialism, "fall from grace." So I am not talking about a forgiving attitude, as such, but the state of having a clean slate. Therefore, the beginning of this process is any given state that is deemed a position from which one could fall.

To fall from a position requires a certain height above normal. No one ever describes falling from average, only falling to less-than-average. It also requires a force outside oneself as a catalyst. A person cannot affect his own fall, and while he can seek to fall or risk a fall, he can only jump by his own conscious decision. Often the catalyst for this fall from grace is a certain frustration with the position itself. When one reaches an equilibrium with his own understanding of morality, he becomes frustrated with the sense that he will never reach higher climbs. When this happens, he either turns the frustration outward, becoming judgmental of others, or inward, where he may abandon his sense of morality in search of another way. This is the necessary fall from grace, which must be endured time and time again lest we become judgmental and trapped.

This is something that happened to me shortly after I got out of high school. Without going into details, I naively thought of myself as "perfect." I was willingly ignorant of my ignorance. I couldn't seem to move further in life—being trapped between what I felt I wanted and what I knew to be right. So I abandoned what I knew to be right and embraced what I knew to be wrong. My sins redefined my sense of morality, and through a series of events I found my way back to the old position of grace, but with an understanding that allowed me to pass my previous ceiling.

A famous example of this type of story is "It's a Wonderful Life." George Bailey has dreams—big dreams, great dreams, exciting dreams. He wishes for a million dollars and wants to travel the world, but he does the right thing in his estimation and watches the family business while his younger brother goes off to college. Obstacle after obstacle assail poor George, and he becomes tired and frustrated.

At the very moment when he is about to do something rash, we have an intervention in the form of an angel, who shows George what the world would be like if he was never born. In a way, George experiences the lessons of a fall from grace without actually going through the motions. In the end, he realizes that he really has had an impact on the world around him and that his life really is "wonderful."

The only difference is that while George does temporarily go astray, he does not reach new heights in the end, but merely comes to a greater understanding and appreciation for what he has. I suppose that from there, he can move to new heights. Though, to me it seems to disregard the importance of his dreams. George's angel is a pre-modern solution to the question of destiny and a person's fit. In other words, God put him where he is to serve others, but he cannot expect his own wishes to come true. He is honor-bound to learn to appreciate what he has been given and what impact he has made.

By contrast, the idea of a necessary fall from grace activates that soul searching that all men (I can only speak for men on this) do at critical points in their lives. Instead of fearfully pondering the why and wherefore, the fall requires action and risk—and a sincere questioning of all ones moral beliefs. Even if those beliefs turn out to have been 99% correct, would not the wisdom earned be worth gaining that last 1%?

It's a Wonderful Life - One of AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies.

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