Truth and Happiness

My daughter and I have been watching two TV series together. We both enjoy Daredevil on Netflix and Gotham on ABC (we watch it on Apple TV). Both series deal with moral dilemmas, where good gets its hands dirty fighting evil, where characters are never quite who they appear to be, where even very noble characters are flawed and broken in some fashion.

Last night on the first episode of the Second Season of Gotham one dialogue stood out, a conversation about a calling. The statement was made, “you have to decide between truth and happiness. You can’t have both.” The context for this assertion was a police officer trying to clean up his department being offered the opportunity to climb into a role where he can affect change. But the price is an immoral act. Further, the young lad who will one day become Batman declares that to do justice one must forgo the purity of one’s self-image and stand ready to engage evil on its own terms, whatever it takes.

One other scene sets the stage for this strong statement. At one point the lead character is told by his girlfriend that now is the opportunity to get away, leave Gotham behind, fly to an exotic location, and be happy. Again the lead character is torn, he loves his partner but he feels a calling to serve and has committed to leading his beloved city on a new and better path. The police officer will stay.

What bothered me about all of the above is the assumption that it is an either-or choice, one must choose between happiness (IE leaving the calling behind and moving to an exotic and carefree life) and truth (staying where you are to sacrifice everything you find enjoyable to live out your mission). I think our life’s journey is much more complex and complicated than this. It feels like our celebrity culture of instant fame, wealth and beauty has gripped us in this temptation to live for ourselves or be some sort of strange saint whom we adore but can’t relate to. It’s not like our culture doesn’t appreciate the Mother Teresa types, it’s just that they can’t imagine that they would do that. Thus very small acts of charity are shared like someone has housed a homeless person.

The reality is people, ordinary people like you and me, can find a modest calling and be happy, we can seek the truth of being with others in love and solidarity and live joy-filled lives, it is NOT either-or. In fact I would argue that at the end of the day when we look back on our lives the days we will remember are the experiences of being with and for the other, not the bling, not the accessories, not the lifestyle choices. Seeking truth, which by my definition is seeking an experience of transcendent love, is not to be reserved for books, movies and songs about “heroes” but rather to be lived ourselves in the midst of our seeking of happiness.