The Personality versus the Self
“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.” —Abraham Maslow
After reviewing and reflecting on the questions I received about parts I through III, they seem to boil down to a couple of insightful, unresolved fears and complaints: 1) “It’s too hard to live differently from most of the people around you.” and 2) “The disadvantages of doing so seem to outweigh the benefits anyway.”
To paraphrase one articulate lament: “I suffer inside myself from going along with things as they are because I deeply dislike things as they are. Other people seem unaffected or unaware, but I’m saddened and often feel heartbroken that things are the way they are and I’m just going along to get along. It’s hard not being seen as ‘successful’ by society’s standards. I have children, a spouse, friends and a family that are so entrenched in ‘the way of the world’ that my individuality, which often challenges the way things currently are, seems to play an adverse role in my life. It threatens to alienate me from those closest to me. I’m afraid of becoming a social outcast. My children are banking on ‘my good reputation’. I can’t let them down.”
These are some very powerful apprehensions and concerns, aren’t they? Here are some more:
“If I step outside the predefined boxes society considers ‘normal’, how do I protect my loved ones from the possible negative side effects? Plus, there are religious norms, political expectations and cultural traditions to worry about. What about those who aren’t ready to take their own journey? What about those who are dead set on a journey directly opposed to my own genuine hopes and dreams?”
Taken together, these apprehensions may well depict ‘The Dragon’ in its fire-breathing wrath more powerfully and dramatically than I did myself in Part II of this series. Nevertheless, each individual must slay their own Dragon in their own particular way if they’re going to get past it. Not easy. Lots of people never even make the attempt. Those raising the above concerns are at least considering the possibility of facing the great beast. Perhaps they’re steeling themselves to make the attempt, Perhaps they’re trying to talk themselves out of it. Perhaps something else is brewing….
This journey doesn’t necessarily put you into any limiting group, and certainly not necessarily into any ‘unsuccessful’ group. Many people who pursue their own path make reasonable or even very good livings and maintain great lifestyles, even by society’s standards. They often live differently than others in ways that are not immediately apparent—mavericks of some sort. If you don’t get to know them fairly well, you probably won’t notice how different they are. Some people live very comfortable and rewarding lives without spending a lot of money on ‘material riches’ and ‘lifestyle luxuries’. These simply different choices enable them to serve different values in their lives than taking on the need to pay for and protect those material advantages, would typically demand of them.
You don’t need to become a social outcast in order to pursue your individual journey. You don’t have to tell everyone you meet you have a different set of values than those mainstream society promotes. You won’t likely become an outcast if you encourage others to pursue their own authentically unique paths. Just don’t become discouraged if and when they decide not to.
If you plan on slaying your Dragon, perhaps you want to spend some time getting ready for the right moment and opportunity, setting it up, planning to have some ways to recover or regroup if things go badly—carefully weighing which steps are too dangerous to take immediately, and which ones you might get away with to effect some gradual, foreseeable transition.
Others may sometimes experience the need to take a bold leap of blind faith, trusting that somehow things will work out. When many of these leap takers first venture out, they have no specific, tangible indications how they can possibly succeed. In my experience, sometimes things do work out in spite of the absence of immediately foreseeable alternatives, or in spite of much immediately tangible evidence that no viable options exist.
And then there are other situations where people spend time foraging in a world of seeming limbo, vaguely groping for a sense of purpose in their lives before eventually coming to a promising new beginning, or returning, more or less happily, to the same ‘safe’ or at least ‘familiar’ path they had attempted to leave behind before finding themselves unable to create a new and different way of living.
Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s doing what you most want to do while being afraid. Your fear will give you lots of guidance about things to avoid or minimize. Listen to it. Be guided by it. Just don’t become crippled by it. Keep walking while you’re afraid.
Even those walking very mainstream paths live with fear. Life is frightening at times—for everyone—or at least everyone I’ve ever talked to more than superficially, myself included. Choose the fear that comes with living your own path or choose the fear that comes from doing what’s expected of you. Either path carries risks and dangers. Some people become ‘social outcasts’ even though they try to do exactly what they’re told to do all their lives—like certain ‘whistleblowers’ and others who suddenly wake up to themselves and start facing the reality of what’s going on around them with a different attitude and conviction.
There are ways to make a living without putting all your time and effort into it, leaving some of your precious energy for pursuing those things you value more highly. More and more people who have played by the rules all their lives, are still very financially insecure. There are no guarantees in life no matter which path you choose. Death sits on your shoulder every step you take, regardless of the path you’ve chosen to put under your feet.
Talk to your children and other loved ones about your values, your dreams, goals, visions and aspirations. Encourage them to talk about theirs. Make discussing these core issues a prime part of your relationships, so as you and your family grow closer, that closeness is authentic and genuine. Your children will very likely run into the same craziness in ‘normal reality’ that you yourself are wrestling with. Elicit their help. The quest to improve the status quo requires continued effort across the generations.
If all you can contribute to the grand adventure of life is to better prepare your children to perceive what’s going on while they’re young and their worldviews are still forming, perhaps that’s as great a contribution to the broader human project as anyone can possibly make.
Share the discoveries you’ve made on your journey with them. Show them they don’t have to define themselves by those predefined boxes called ‘normal’ either. Also alert them to the dangers of criticizing others who are deeply invested in becoming as socially normal as possible. Teach them to be tolerant of others’ differences and how showing compassion for others’ differing goals and values typically enables them to appear more respectable and competent for pursuing their own aims.
See? These recommendations sound very sensible don’t they?
Yet as good, commonsensical and logical as they are, these suggestions will not motivate anyone to put their ass on the line and risk their life to oppose tyranny, injustice and oppression. Doing something like this takes more than ‘good reasons’.
Balancing these concerns is difficult, yet it’s a requirement of life regardless of the path you choose for yourself. If you have even a spark of joy, intelligence, charm, or skill, there will likely be at least a few who find you threatening to their aims, and will therefore want to put you down or put you under their control. If there’s a completely sure way to prevent these kinds of people from ever messing with you, I haven’t found it. I have survived their assaults, however, though not without my share of scars and bruises.
Living authentically is dangerous. Living half-asleep, going along to get along and living without passion is also dangerous, though probably somewhat less so. Apathy regarding your personal rights and freedoms is supported and encouraged by mainstream conditioning systems. You typically won’t care as much or feel it as deeply when you get hurt if you’re only doing what you’re told or what’s expected of you. You also won’t have as much of the experience of being-feeling vibrantly alive. We each walk our own path. This much is inescapable.
The only people who will brave the path of individuation and risk their lives aspiring to help create something better are those who can’t live other any way. Some people have a flame inside them that demands challenging the standard conventional mindset, the prevailing norms and values, the status quo, because the best part of who they are will die if they don’t. These people know who they are. They will do whatever they can.
They will have their successes. They will have their failures. They know what’s at stake is their human soul, that deeply personal, willful decision-making autonomy that makes human beings human—the survival of free human beings living, thinking and choosing for themselves, pursuing their own values, being authentic individuals. They will work to make the world a better place to live according to a peculiar human compass that connects their concerns with the welfare of human beings generally—even those they don’t know personally.
Any little thing they can do to express their genuine humanity and deep concern for others will give them satisfaction. We need lots of people doing lots of little things that move the world tiny bits in the right direction—bit by bit.
Reason and logic won’t empower or convince anyone to live from their heart as best they’re able. Only something inside, something already in there, can possibly do that. If you have it, you won’t be able to suppress it forever and remain well. If you’re not well, and you believe it’s because you’re suppressing who you really are, face it and accept it. Then make a plan about how to improve your life, or begin to imagine it, feel it, expect it, envision how it could be better, regularly.
Maybe we can all learn to express our humanity in little ways in little bits, helping others and behaving compassionately in whatever small ways we can, and teaching our children all the painfully difficult lessons we’ve learned in our lives, so they can face the same challenges better prepared, with more insight and understanding than we had when we were facing the darker sides of human nature.
Some will definitely conclude it’s hopeless and will never approach the Dragon’s wrath. Some will live as best they can until they die regardless of the difficulties and the risks. Some will accept life as an amazing adventure inside an intentionally manufactured insane asylum, and nothing will persuade them they can’t make at least some small progress in helping themselves and others escape it’s tyranny.
We’ll see if the human soul has what it takes to survive, if free human beings have the strength to stand up for themselves and challenge a corrupt, tyrannical system serving the interests of a ruling few—typically the most aggressive, corrupt, least principled and least humane among us—the few who work with great conviction to keep the system just as it is, supporting the most parasitical imbalance of power and wealth the world has ever seen.
The numbers are certainly in our favor; those controlling mainstream commerce are relatively few. Their greatest power is that by controlling government policies, global ‘trade’ and finance, transnational mega-corporations, our media, schooling, banking, the workplace, advertising, communications and the funding of our leading ‘scientific’ institutions, they tend to control what we ‘think’, what we consider ‘true’, what we believe is ‘possible’, and even what we imagine we ‘want’. Day by day….