“It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

G.K. Chesterton said that either way you fall off a tight rope, you still have fallen off. In many areas of understanding reality we must try to walk a tight rope, putting proper emphasis on both sides of an issue. This can be very difficult, especially when it comes to self-knowledge.

In thinking about our childhood and how we were raised we can fall of the rope in two main ways: we err in failing to appreciate its importance, or we err in over-emphasizing its importance.

The place to start is with gratitude. This is more than a formal exercise in “OK, let’s make sure we remember the good things.” The truth is that there is much in how we were raised for which we should be profoundly, and specifically, grateful. To miss this not only skews us in relation to where we come from, it also means we fail in fulfilling what Aristotle holds to be a debt that can never be sufficiently paid—to our parents.

In taking an honest inventory of our developmental history—something in which we might need professional assistance, and in which we definitely need the loving support of family and friends—we should discover where things have gone well and also where we needed things we did not receive.

Then, it seems to me, we need to walk the tight rope. We must recognize that our past makes a significant difference in its good and bad aspects, with all of which we need to reckon. We must also recognize that what we do with it is now in our hands, and thus our responsibility, even if it can seem downright paralyzing.

Both of these aspects are critical to becoming our true selves. And indeed, a whole new meaning and fulfillment might be in store for us, if we can find our way to seeing all that we have been given as a gift—including the handicaps and challenges—in dealing with which we might just come even closer to those we love most.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Nicomachean Ethics is his major ethical work.

Image: George Claussen (1852-1944), English. Little Hay-makers.

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