Years ago, when I was teaching English to high school students in Upham, North Dakota, I assigned the following lesson to my students: “Write a personal credo, in which you articulate the values, beliefs, and behaviors you wish to mark your life as a productive and moral citizen of the world,” The assignment probably wasn’t worded like that, but you get the drift. Sometimes, when I made such an assignment, I would write the assignment myself, not necessarily as a model, because too many students would imitate my model rather than thinking for themselves.
Most credos are written in positive terms, with the elements indicating how the person wants to think and behave. “I want to be hard-working, honest, compassionate, etc.” Three credos can be taken from Scripture. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:29-31. “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” Philippians 4:8. “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23.
These are all values expressed in the positive – indicating how one ought to think and behave. But I have learned that sometimes it is helpful to define positive things by expressing the negative. The Ten Commandments are a list of mostly shalt nots, not shalt dos. So I wrote my credo in negative terms, listing each element as an anti-virtue/
“I want to live in such a way that I am seen by the world as being neither a fool nor a fanatic, neither a miscreant nor a malcontent, neither pretentious nor prejudice”
The poet in me chose to write the anti-virtues in alliterate pairs. I was unable to maintain a balanced structure. The first two pair are nouns, the last pair adjectives. I felt it was more important tto stay with the alliteration than the balanced structure.
Let’s define terms.
- Fool: Someone whose thinking and behavior is based on poor reasoning, inconsistency, hypocrisy, or poor judgment. Someone whose choices lead to bad outcomes.
- Fanatic: Someone whose behavior is deemed unbalanced, obsessive, wild-eyed, excessive, or extremely out of touch with reality.
- Miscreant: Someone whose behavior is immoral, sinful, criminal, or unseemly.
- Malcontent: Someone who whines and complains, who is never satisfied, who is filled with envy.
- Pretentious: Describes someone who is arrogant, boastful, and self-righteous.
- Prejudiced: Describes someone who is bigoted, intolerant, and judgmental toward groups who are different from himself.
Right off the bat, I am going to confess that I am all of these thins from time to time. In fact, I have a close working relationship with one of them. But these are the things I aspire to. A credo is a statement of preferred goals, arrived at after serious contemplation. If I want to have a certain reputation and character, I ought to make every effort to stay true to the values I recognize as being good and profitable. Unfortunately I am fallible and often fall short, presenting myself to the world in a manner which embarrasses me.
The author of many of our Biblical values had the same problem. Paul writes in Romans 7:15, “I ido not understand what I do, for what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, I do. If you are golfing with me and I hit a bad shot, which happens quite a bit, you might hear me say under my breath, “Romans 7:15.”