May 1, 2011

Slice of PIE: Traveling At the Speed of Self-Righteousness

This Slice is going to be one of discovery because I’m not exactly sure what this has to do with writing, Christianity and science fiction…

Image: In the movie INDEPENDENCE DAY, as the city of Washington, D.C. is being evacuated, the main character David Levinson and his father, Julius are heading into the city instead:

A perfectly preserved '68 Plymouth drives cautiously down the highway. Around him we see other cars packed to the gills as they make their escape from Washington, D.C.

INT. OLDS – SAME: Not the most confident driver, Julius holds the steering wheel close to his chest.

JULIUS: It's the White House, for crying out loud. You can't just drive up and ring the bell.

DAVID: Can't this thing go any faster?

JULIUS: You think they don't know what you know? Believe me, they know. She works for the President. They know everything.

DAVID: They don't know this.

JULIUS: And you're going to educate them? Tell me something, you're so smart how come you spent eight years at M.I.T. to become a cable repairman?

DAVID: Dad, I don’t…

JULIUS: All I’m saying is that they have people who handle these things! They want HBO, they’ll call you. Look at ‘em! Look at em! Vultures! They take and then they go!

DAVID: They’re going. They’re going faster than we are. Look at this! We’re in the fast lane here!
JULIUS: I can’t go any faster. They’re cutting me off.

DAVID: They’re not cutting you off! We’re gonna get a ticket!

JULIUS: They’re getting in front of me, I can’t go any faster.

DAVID: All right! All right! I don’t want to argue! Shhh. Shhh. Let’s just get there. As quickly as possible.

JULIUS: What’s the rush? You think we’ll get to Washington and it won’t be there?

DAVID casts him a significant look and JULIUS stops arguing.

Julius is driving at whatever speed he’s decided is safe. It doesn’t matter that others are fleeing an alien invasion. It doesn’t matter that cars are squealing around him. It doesn’t matter that he’s going slower than the posted speed. He’s going at his own speed. He knows it’s OK. He knows the speed is the “right” one. He is traveling at the speed of self-righteousness.

This is not necessarily a “real speed”, though I both encounter and have traveled at this speed. You likely know what I mean: the car that moves at exactly at the posted speed of 60 mph even though the rest of the rush hour traffic is going between 65 and 110. They move like an island in a raging river, confident that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about age, gender or race – I’ve seen teen boys and elderly black women traveling at the speed of self-righteousness. It’s all in an attitude that seems to ooze from the exhaust pipe, “Don’t care what YOU’RE doing, I’m RIGHTEOUS!”

Traveling at the speed of self-righteousness can also be a condition in publishing. I know a writer who, after writing a string of highly acclaimed books (followed by some stinkers) chose to stop novels and concentrate on their online presence by typing thousands of essays extolling their superior (to those of us who do not have identical) education, politics, ethics and moral fiber. Their writing seems to ooze the attitude, “Don’t care what YOU’RE doing, I’m RIGHTEOUS!”

After recently rereading some of this person’s essays, I became aware of the possibility of traveling at the speed of self-righteousness myself. Words rose from a recent letter that came from a wise friend of mine regarding writing – but applicable to my walk with Christ, being a breast cancer husband, working as a guidance counselor-recently-a-teacher and father, in-law, and just plain husband. This wise friend said: “…as I see it, you are facing a profound moral dilemma. Do you really want to be a…? If so you can either be incredibly lucky, as I was, or you can put your family on Moloch's altar and pander away as hard as you can -- OR, you can decide that your marriage and family are more important…When you look at my books and such, then, you see symbols of my success…Which do you think I would rather have now: the books, the magazine credits, the fame, the money, the…Award hanging on my office wall? Or just a little more time with my daughter? If you answered, ‘The fame, of course!’ you may have what it takes to become a big name famous and successful author. But I think you're a better man than that.”

My wise friend implies every once in a while that he knows about traveling at the speed of self-righteousness. In his case, that speed may have been part of what killed a marriage and stole time from a beloved child now lost. My wise friend implies that I SHOULD know the dangers too – and avoid them.

I hope this wise friend is giving credit to the right person, because sometimes, I don’t know if I’ll do the right thing, slow down and start traveling at the speed of the Truly Righteous (which CAN be fast or slow, and it CAN be counter to society, but then again, the speed of self-righteousness is more about attitude than it is about driving…)


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