Saturday, April 9, 2016

Against My Better Judgment

With experience comes a condition often referred to as better judgment. A logical progression to that thesis would have the rate of experience enhancing the rate of better judgment, to the point where the individual in whom this evolution occurs becomes the equivalent of a tribal sage. 

We meet such types in literature, often in the role of the individual who tries to calm down and talk some sense into the youthful hothead. Too often our sympathy drifts toward the hothead, perhaps because we like the thought of knowing better than the hothead, waiting to see him or her taken down a plateau or two.

A notable example of this behavior can be seen in the opening moments of The Iliad, which, appropriately enough, begins with, in so many words, the wrath of Achilles, who is not only a first-rate warrior, he is everything we could possibly want in a character. 

The son of a mortal father and Thetis, daughter of a sea god, Achilles has regularly to cope with being of mixed ancestry. When we first meet him in The Iliad, Achilles has developed a series of attitudes toward Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek forces.

As a great and noted warrior might, Achilles feels his status has been undermined by Agamemnon's use of seniority to usurp a spoil of war he feels should belong to him. He refuses to fight, which is bad news because of a prophecy that the Trojan War will not be won without Achilles active participation.

Knowing some of the kinship, gods and goddesses politics, and the then nature of a warrior's name and reputation, you'd think Achilles would have kept his cool. Of course, had he done so, we'd have had to wait to meet one of the great politicians from those times, Odysseus, whose reputation for the crafty stratagem was every bit as extensive as Achilles' ability as a warrior. 

Odysseus did, in fact, have better judgment, which, in additional fact, got him through the outcome of The Trojan War and through the seven arduous years he needed to return home to Ithaca, where he was king, and where his wife, Penelope, waited for him, not without intriguing complications.

When spelled out in The Iliad, and countless subsequent dramatic narratives, characters using better judgment only on rare occasion managed to grab the starring role, more often than not losing out to the hotheads, those men and women who were ruled by their emotions. 

This tells us in no uncertain ways how quickly better judgment loses out to the passions. We also learn from this preference how much more interesting a character is who seems at times scarcely able to act because of the intense arguments raging within.

Whether one begins with a character to be placed into a circumstance or prefers starting with a defined battlefield, with most of the IEDs planted and triggered, a successful story needs to be able to hear the internal arguments going off within the major characters. Story also needs to see the secondary characters as they are caught in the crossfire.

We all of us have a stake in better judgment, a stake that becomes more sophisticated and open to the understanding of humor when we are able to recall the times when we acted against our personal better judgment and came away filled with the most defining and exciting memories of our time on this troubled orb.

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