Am I a Part of the World?
Monday’s post elicited a comment from insanitybytes22:
“’Does writing on your blog really make the world a better place?’
Yes! Because writing on a blog forces you to become a better person with a clearer vision of who are, and you carry that out into the world with you.”
It was a very nice and well appreciated comment, but most importantly it got me thinking. You see, recently I’ve been contemplating the weaknesses of my own personality. Some time ago my wife introduced me to the Enneagram personality typing system. I’m not going to say much about the Enneagram here other than the fact that it’s the best personality typing system I’ve ever found (to make a very long story very short: all the other systems I’ve tried, particularly the ubiquitous Meyers-Briggs, told me very little that I didn’t already know: the Enneagram told me things about myself I didn’t know I knew). Recently my wife was talking to me about things I might try to improve my mental health, based on my personality. Her central recommendation boiled down to the following: “You think and act as if you were separate from the world around you; an observer of the universe who occasionally interacts with it. You need to understand that you are part of the world.”
This probably seems like strange advice to most of you. For myself, it made perfect sense. Deep down I do treat everything as if it was something to observe. I try to separate myself from the world in order to protect myself from it. I may participate in volunteer work, or have fun with my friends, but somewhere underneath it all I treat life as if it was a movie or a book that I was making my way through. Occasionally I’ll notice that I’m doing this, and I’ll be suddenly struck with dread and anxiety as I realize “This is YOUR life. All of this is happening to YOU. This is REAL.”
When I actually put it down in black and white I realize how crazy that sounds. But I’m not crazy. The idea that I am separate from the world, or that my life is not really my life but a story I’m experiencing, is emotional and not mental in nature. I never really think that the world is a giant movie, and I recognize quite well that I am part of the world around me; it’s my emotions that tend to tint everything in the light of externality. It’s those same emotions that are filled with dread when I recognize that sentiment isn’t true.
To bring this around to the point, reading insanitybytes22’s comment brought that back to me. You see the first reaction I had to the comment (after I felt good about the fact that someone was commenting positively on my post) was that improving myself didn’t really matter. And after I thought about that reaction I realized it didn’t make much sense. Of course improving myself matters! Self-improvement is vitally important to a life well lived. Understanding myself and developing my mind and spirit are some of the most important activities I can ever take part in. Yet it didn’t feel important, and after further contemplation I realized why. It’s because I emotionally viewed self-improvement as only being important if I could use that improvement to make the world a better place. Yet I know that if I helped someone else improve I would consider it making the world a better place. Yet somehow improving my own self is not making the world a better place?
Well of course it wasn’t, because I feel like I’m not part of the world. I’m separate from it. I treat myself as if I’m a tool whose purpose is to help fix the world. If you were trying to fix a car it would be nice to have good quality tools: but it would be stupid to spend more on upgrading your tools then you spend on fixing the actual car. After all, once the car is fixed the tools go back in the toolbox; and deep down I treated myself the same way. Sure it’s nice to improve myself, but only because that might help me fix the world. And once the world is fixed I’ll just pack myself up into the toolbox and be put under the shelf.
But the fact is that I am part of the world. I’m not a mechanic who studies and fixes the mechanism but a part of the machine as a whole. Improving myself does improve the world because I am part of the world. I am a participant in reality. Improving myself improves the whole.
My natural reaction to this idea is that it feels too self-important. If I start thinking like this won’t it make me selfish, focusing all my energies on helping myself over others? But this isn’t true. Focusing on improving myself can only make me more useful to everyone else. If I become selfish and ignore the needs of others then I am degrading myself. When I hear the needs of others and seek to help them I am improving myself. What good is it to try to improve the world before I have become improved myself? Can an alcoholic help others sober up if he’s still drunk? Can a liar help others become honest if he’s still practicing deceit? Can a doctor heal people if he is bedridden? If such people succeed it will only be haphazardly and almost by accident.
I am just now beginning to really understand what Jesus meant when he said “First take the log out of your own eye before you help your neighbor take the speck out of his.”
Writing this post helped me. I hope it helps you: but even if nobody reads it the world is a slightly better place.
Because I am part of the world.