I often wonder whether Adolph Hitler slept well at night. The thought usually hits me at 3:00am, as I lay in bed, staring into the darkness, wondering how I will function the next day. The lack of sleep is hardly a new phenomenon. I have had trouble sleeping for more than a decade. And, an informal survey reveals that many of my friends share the same condition. It’s not uncommon to spend sleepless hours worrying and fretting over matters significant and trivial. But, here’s what’s changed in recent time. I used to awaken with fears about my children, clients, cases, money, time, health, and whether I will live to see the Jets in another Super Bowl.
Those concerns still awaken me at night, but they aren’t what keep me up until dawn. My newest obsession is far more fundamental: am I a good person, a good husband, and a good parent? At 4 in the morning, in the darkness, I am forced to conclude that I am none of the above. To be fair, I do not use any empirical data or substantive criteria. I do not review anecdotal information or crunch the hard numbers. If I did, I am pretty sure I would reach a different, happier conclusion. Instead, invariably, I compare different aspects of my life and personality with those people who are exceptional role-models and super-human in their compassion and disposition. I find the people up to whom I know I do not measure, and the shortcomings become too blatant to ignore.
Say what you want about Hitler, the most evil man in history, but he most likely did not see himself as the bad guy. I am pretty sure he thought that he was a good man, doing the right thing. In his mind, he was a hero and a role model. Guys like that always sleep well at night. But, he was insane. And evil. So, why is that fair?
I recognize that most of my angst (like most everyone’s angst) can be traced to my childhood, when my integrity, good nature, and redeeming qualities were, justifiably, the subject of constant attack. The things about me that are good were so emasculated, they had to hide behind a layer of armor that decades of redemption have been insufficient to pierce.
A parent of a childhood friend, who barely spoke to me as a child, recently heard me speak at a conference and opined what a good man I had become. “You really have changed.” I raised this point with the person who knew me better than anyone else during my first 25 years. She had a different view. “You haven’t changed a bit. You were always good. You just grew up.” Then, added: “Finally.”
I guess “good” is relative and extremely subjective. Once the sun comes up, I am proud of the way I live my life and, in particular, the way I treat the people around me. I know my strengths and I know my flaws. But, then I go to bed and none of it matters. Maybe this is not uncommon, or maybe it is not such a bad thing. Self-critical analysis is the only path to self-awareness and, in turn, the only vehicle for self-improvement. I just wish it could happen during daylight hours.
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