It’s a moral lesson well worth learning. Attorney DeirdreSullivan learned it from her father when she was sixteen and her fifth grade teacher died. She wrote about it a long time ago. Her brief column still resonates.
Her father’s lesson: “always go to the funeral.”
Sullivan understood it well:
"Always go to the funeral" means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to. I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex's uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.
In going to funerals, I've come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life's inevitable, occasional calamity.
Note well, Sullivan does not define her moral being in terms of a cosmic battle of good versus evil. She does not define it in political or ideological terms, or in her adherence to a cause. She does not try to rationalize bad behavior by saying that her powerful emotions pushed her in another direction.
She sees her moral being in small gestures, in rituals that that she performs in order to be there for others.
The therapy culture bemoans everyone’s pervasive narcissism. And yet, by teaching people to explore their and everyone else’s feelings it obscures the importance of following rules and performing rituals. You can say what you will about empathy, but Sullivan is not acting from empathy. She is doing the right thing, regardless of how she feels.
Your moral being is based on what you do for other people, even, and especially when you do not feel like doing it.
You can take this lesson anywhere. It will always serve you well.