Of Paladins and Darkness

I just told one of my oldest friends that he was nothing more than a selfish coward.

It doesn’t help one bit that it was true.

When I was young, I thought being good was like being a paladin in D&D. You took upon yourself the mantle of righteousness and strode forth into the world, determined to do good or die in the attempt. Everything would be simple; each decision a matter of black and white. There weren’t any difficulties beyond the foe in front of you. With your faith filling you like light, you would walk through the fire and the flames with utter certainty.

The older I get, the more I realize that most people don’t care about doing good. More often than not, when you do make moral decisions others view you as a dupe or a simpleton. To them, someone acting like they care about the consequences of their actions is so blinded by their own zeal that they can’t see the truth in front of them: Life is meaningless, nobody cares about anybody, so do unto others before they do unto you. Oh, and you should steal everything that isn’t nailed down and grab a crowbar for the rest.

I called someone I looked up to, someone whose integrity I have striven to emulate, a coward.

I was right when I said it. I am right now. None of that changes the truth;

I will still lose my friend.

They don’t care about integrity or honesty. They’ve never cared about such things. That internal compass, that sense of rightness, wasn’t due to an unshakable commitment to the power of honesty. It was just selfishness in sheep’s clothing.

I’ve lost something precious. It wasn’t my friend. They’ve been telegraphing that this would be their action for some time now. I tried to think the best of them, to exhort them to see the better angels of their nature.

Then they acted in a way so wholly divorced from moral fortitude that it wouldn’t surprise me if Vladimir Putin started defending them.

No. My friend left me long ago, hiding their actions to free themselves the burden of my censure or dissent.

What I have lost is my white whale.

For years, I had assured myself that all the harsh words, all of my failures and iniquities hurled without remorse into my face, were in service to this internal acceptance of the necessity of truth. I bore up under their assault, refusing to back down before their sting, lashing myself with the truth of those words because I knew that they were right. They were right, accurate summations of things I did which were wrong and in need of improvement.

Now I understand, as the last of the finery of their character has been stripped away, that these actions were never taken because of a rock-solid belief in the merits of honesty.

They were words hurled with the intention to maim by a small, petty, and selfish person who had found a target that, instead of running from the blows, chose to lean into them.

Yet again, I was shown that someone I had trusted and loved so dearly for so long had just kept me around because I was a convenient outlet for their own cruelty. I blinded myself with all that they could be and refused to see who they were.

I still want to be a paladin. I still want to do good. I still want to be earnest and true and kind. I still want to look at a soul and see all the things that they could be and help them grasp as much of their inner light as possible. My desire to see those I care for grow into all they could be has only gained momentum these last few years. It shows no signs of stopping, either.

I have simply found out what so many on this path already knew; no amount of light can cast back all the darkness around you.

The moral of this tale is not that you should not try to demand others be better. You should always tell others when they have fallen along the wayside and crossed the barrier of acceptable behavior.

What you should do, what you must do immediately, is get yourself some excellent hobnails.

You’re going to stumble more than once as you struggle forward in the dark.


The Unsheathed Quill



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The Unsheathed Quill

The Unsheathed Quill


The Quill is the brain-child of Justin Wallace, an author, producer of podcasts, DM to an unruly crew, and nerd with a family of more other different nerds.