Ketman vs Wearing your Heart on Your Sleeve

Ketman versus Wearing your Heart on your Sleeve …

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

(Matthew 5:3-12 – The Beatitudes)

There is a wonderful Persian word, ‘ketman’, used to describe a concept practiced even without a word to describe it, far beyond the confines of Persia.  Ketman describes the practice of a person concealing their true thoughts and feelings and actively remaining agreeable to the powers-that-be until the day when they rise – through their agreeableness – to a position of power.  Once in a position of power he or she then, in a sudden flourish, reveals his or her ‘true self’.  The Persian version is extreme, I grant you, but the idea in more diluted forms isn’t uncommon.

The problem with practicing Ketman is, of course, that it is hard to live a double-life, one ‘inside’ and one ‘outside’.  And the problem isn’t just one of keeping those two ‘sides’ separate, but rather, the problem is in not eventually becoming that lying self.  Yes, I can imagine strategies by which one might be able to live the deception, particularly if one had a trusted confident who was ‘in the know’ as to one’s true thoughts and feelings.  This is what many of us do with our most intimate friends and family: “Of course, Bob, I am happy to hear from you and would love to help” [hang up ‘phone] “That imbecile!”  A bit of white lying and some practiced social graces are probably good and natural things.  But ketman – that is a difference in kind, not degree.

At the other extreme is the characteristic of ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’.  This means treating your world with all the honesty and integrity of your personal values that you can muster.  The problem of keeping your insincerity secret is not a problem because one is not insincere – ever.  It is also ideal for lazy people, forgetful people, or for bad actors, for obvious reasons.

Living a lie, as ketman prescribes, is I would venture, impossible if it is done well enough and over a long enough period of time.  The human brain is known for its plasticity, and it is almost inevitable that, given enough time, we become as we behave.  While wearing your heart on your sleeve almost certainly will expose you to criticism and rejection from many people, ketman will lead to self-criticism, self-rejection, and self-loathing as you become the very thing you despise.  Of the two choices, it is morally better to live with others’ rejection by practicing integrity than to live with self-rejection by practicing ketman.

Living our lives untrue to our beliefs is thus, one of two things, either impossible and unsuccessful, or, possible and equally unsuccessful as we eventually adopt precisely those beliefs we hate.  In terms of our spiritual lives, we have three choices.  Practice ketman, which means subscribing to the beliefs of a the powerful in our world rather than our own; wear our hearts on our sleeves only to cause ourselves suffer and to act defensively, or take a third avenue by minimizing our proselytizing as either ketman or heart-on-sleeve, and allow our inner lives to evolve and consolidate, silent in an otherwise secular world.

One of the ironical positive aspects of a secularized society is that it allows a lot of opportunity for our own spiritual growth.  If we lived in a middle-eastern Muslim theocracy, or in the misguided Christian theology of a Puritan Salem, we would not have that freedom.  Our spiritual natures would be dictated to just as our secular natures are today.  Rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s, is facilitated by this third option, the option of a private spirituality.  We’ll reserve the perils of both ketman and hearts-on-sleeves for more worldly and less important pursuits.  Our first duty to ourselves is to consolidate our relationship with God.  Only then will we have the strength to meet the world with truth.

Peter’s Thoughts for This Day!

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