“Character is much easier kept than recovered.” ~Thomas Paine
Back several months ago, my dad was admitted to the hospital for a routine removal of prostate cancer, the most common form of cancer in men. It was a routine operation, but they discovered the cancer had grown much larger than anticipated. Still, it was operable. No problem.
Routine removal notwithstanding, while on the operating table, due to complications not important for this telling, my dad’s heart stopped … three times! Today, he’s fine, but we almost lost him.
It got me thinking.
There are physical cancers that eat the flesh, consuming and devouring the physical body. There are medicines and procedures to eradicate such destruction. Sometimes and for some cancers, it works. Sometimes it doesn’t and the host – the mom or dad, the son or daughter, the brother or sister or grandparent dies prematurely.
And so with the human soul.
There are spiritual and moral cancers that eat at the human spirit as well.
They consume the moral will, devour character and compromise values and one’s integrity to high principles. They eat away at the characteristics and conditions that create a happy life.
Just as physical cancers can metastasize, spreading into other vital organs, entering bone marrow and spreading throughout the body of the person we love, becoming so pervasive it is no longer treatable, moral cancers can equally shorten our spiritual life expectancies, infecting our relationships, and our sense of self-worth.
In such conditions, moral cancers weaken the moral immune system and other moral infections can, and often do, set in.
The following list warns of some of those moral and spiritual cancers that are best eradicated early on to prevent metastasizing and the subsequent corruption of other vital moral organs, and the social and emotional damage that often follows in the wake of their destruction.
FIVE MORAL CANCERS
This moral cancer corrupts brain cells, affecting perception. It often has a puffing-up effect, distending its proper dimensions until the pressure becomes unbearable and the host of this cancer begins hallucinating visions of grandeur, of dominance, detached independence, and can lead to a holier-than-thou attitude.
Other mood-related diseases that can develop as a result of the ravages of this cancer include fits of anger when others don’t agree or obey. Symptoms include an aversion to uncomfortable truth, an allergic reaction to introspection and intolerance to being corrected. They are therefore slow to learn from others or from life. They believe, after all, that they already have all the answers.
Misdiagnosis: Don’t mistake confidence for the moral cancer that pride is. Confident people can be very humble, open to learning life’s lessons and even seeking others’ opinions. It is the emotional maturity of self-confidence that emotionally permits the vulnerability of potentially being proved wrong.
Treatment: A daily injection of humility is needed as soon as possible. Often, life will pull down the ivory towers of the proud as trials and adversities crack the foundation.
But in the meantime, learn to recognize the interdependency of life. Recognize and thank those who make your life possible: spouse, parents, teachers, police officers, grocery store clerks, for instance. Get in the habit of expressing gratitude. It’s recommended as well, that those suffering from this illness spend lots of time on their knees.
This illness can paralyze its victims with a sense of entitlement. They can get extremely demanding as life fails to serve them as they believe they ought to be served. They are turned inward to the point that others around them feel sucked into a solar system that revolves around their self-centeredness. But the more focused they are on themselves, the more elusive happiness is.
Why? Because happiness is best created by serving others, turning our focus outward. That’s not the mindset of the selfishness-inflicted patient. Marriages and children and all other relationships are strained, at best, and collapse with advanced stages of this disease.
The cancer of selfishness blinds the eyes to others’ needs. This leads to insensitivity in word and deed. They tend to be takers, always looking out for what’s in it for them. They are easily offended because they see the world in terms of how it affects them. They think and speak in the personal pronoun. All surrounds the ever-present Me!
This cancer causes a form of turrets syndrome whereby the poor person so inflicted will often blurt out things like: “How dare you!” when the thing dared has nothing to do with them.
Misdiagnosis: Beware of this misdiagnosis, for self-respect can fool the untrained eye. Self-respecting people can regularly be found doing things that benefit them, that renew them, things they enjoy doing: reading, running, skiing, going to the gym, playing guitar or the piano or flute, painting, working on a project that’s important to them.
Self-respecting people are not willing to go along with the crowd for the sake of going along, especially if it includes compromising their values. Self-respect can appear selfish (to the selfish), but is not.
Treatment: Prevention is the best cure for this epidemic. Selfishness is best inoculated against by regular doses of service: donate to your favorite cause, give blood, volunteer at a local food bank, coach a youth team, organize a service project in your community or for your church, volunteer at your child’s school, stop to help push a stalled car, help a neighbor move, look for opportunities to bless others’ lives in small and larger ways.
And take note of how you feel about yourself, those you serve, and life itself as you do for others. You just may come to like that feeling!
I’ve seen many cases of greed so ravage the people infected, that they live in a constant state of unhappiness. They are unfulfilled and can never enjoy what they have or what they have done for very long. They habitually want more and more and more, to the point that more important things take back seat, if permitted into the car at all. They want what others have and want it so badly that other parts of their lives can become infected as well.
Often, values become compromised and character undermined as the greedy place the objects of their greed at higher value than their moral standards. Then unsavory methods for attaining what they want corrupt the very things they get.
Symptoms include paying very close attention to what their neighbors have, feeling ripped off by circumstances for whatever is falling apart in their lives and an increasing use of dishonesty and deception to get what they want.
Misdiagnosis: Ambition can share some of the qualities of this disease. But ambition, a drive to improve oneself and the conditions of one’s family, is not necessarily the same moral illness.
The ambitious can work hard at growing a business, at living a better life, but their focus is on the condition it creates for themselves and those they love. They are driven to succeed from a value they place on what they do and who they are.
The ambitious are driven to improve themselves, their marriages, their children’s lives. They want to improve what they do and how they do it. They can be obsessed, but it is an obsession with excellence. The greedy, by contrast, are obsessed with the having, not the becoming.
Treatment: Nothing short of a full values-transfusion will really work for this cancer. Old values of greed must be drained and replaced with a value system that respects people and moral values higher than things, that values moral standards higher than prestige or power or wealth, that justifies the end by virtue of its means.
It’s recommended that those suffering bouts of greed practice the art of giving. Regularly.
This virus manifests itself in the form of broken vows and double lives. It leads to shifting eyes and shifting hearts.
Its symptoms are sneaking and lying and filling hearts with illicit thoughts that break the spirit of solemn commitments to monogamous love. It breaks hearts and sows distrust and creates insecurity and doubt in relationships. It softens the will and undermines self-respect. Secret images in magazines, movies or online break down moral immune systems giving life to this metastasizing cancer.
Misdiagnosis: Lust can sometimes appear as romantic love because both include desire for the object of that love. But lust is self-serving. It desires gratification.
Romantic love desires the expression of its ultimate yearning, but first seeks to be a source of strength to what it loves. It seeks what’s best for the other even if that means waiting for the ultimate expression for the right time, right place and right context.
Lust doesn’t care so much for contexts and timing. It wants pleasure for pleasure’s sake, and it wants it now!
Treatment: This pandemic needs to be quarantined. All images, literature and film that stimulate such wanton desire need to be sterilized, replaced by spiritual and moral content. Scripture and other moral literature can renew the heart to moral re-dedication. But don’t be fooled by signs of remission. Continual vigilance is a must! Relapse is commonplace when guards are let down.
The cancer of cowardice is much worse than the infection of fear. Those suffering from cowardice experience a sort of paralysis. It eats away at the internal organs of resolve and determination. It stops us from taking action. It prevents us from doing what we should do when that thing lays outside our comfort zone or places us in potential harm’s way. It therefore keeps doors of opportunity and growth shut and locked.
It also prevents us from developing and exercising character in moments of opposition and difficulty. This cancer can lead to knee-lock, stopping us from standing up for what’s right.
Misdiagnosis: Fear can be misdiagnosed as cowardice but is not the same thing. Fear can cause its own problems when misplaced. But most of us fear taking steps into the unknown. We fear standing up for what’s right when we know we’ll be opposed. We worry about being ostracized by others for the moral stances we take. It can be very scary. And that’s okay most of the time if we still take proper steps toward the object of that fear.
The virus of fear turns to cowardice only when it stops us from moving forward, from doing what we believe is right. If we are paralyzed by our fear, it is a good indication that the fear has grown into the more destructive character cancer of cowardice.
Treatment: Cowardice requires a self-delivered shot of selflessness. The more self-centered we are, the less willing we will be to risk death or discomfort or even embarrassment. We will believe in self-preservation more than in a set of values or principles worthy of sacrificing for. Love of decency, love of others and love of doing what’s right will help reduce the cowardly impulse.
Still, there are other procedures to treat cowardice: Try imagining yourself courageously overcoming your fears over and over again, beating the paralysis in your mind time after time. Then practice being courageous. Start small and work toward increasingly braver behavior until cowardice has been surgically removed from the body of your life.
Just like the ravages of the physical disease, if left untreated, these character cancers can spread to our vital moral organs, corrupting other traits and characteristics, damaging self-respect and eating away at the flesh of self-worth. So as you diagnose your own moral cancers, seek to eradicate them from your life immediately. You will then live a much more rewarding, self-confident life of integrity to higher values.
As you do that, life will be sweeter, filled with more meaning and, ultimately, more happiness.
It would mean a lot to me if you would share your thoughts in the comments.
What are your experiences with these character cancers? Any forms I missed? Which is the most challenging? How have you overcome your own character cancers?
And please share!
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