Wednesday, May 15, 2013

To Be Truly Yourself

I finished M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil.  Something that Peck said on page 264 stood out to me.  On that page, Peck argues that evil people are dull ("Once you've seen one evil person, you've essentially seen them all"), whereas saints are unique and interesting.  Peck states:

"If one ever has the good fortune to meet a living saint, one will have then met someone absolutely unique.  Though their visions may be remarkably similar, the personhood of saints is remarkably different.  This is because they have become utterly themselves.  God creates each soul differently, so that when all the mud is finally cleared away, His light will shine through it in a beautiful, colorful, totally new pattern.  Keats described this as 'the vale of soul-making,' and whether they know it or not, when they help their patients clean away the mud, psychotherapists are engaged in the activity of saint-making.  Certainly psychotherapists know it is their task routinely to free their patients to be themselves."

This reminds me of something that C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity: that, when we become Christian, we are finally free to be ourselves.  This can easily strike some people (like me) as counter-intuitive.  Doesn't Christianity teach that we should all be like Jesus?  Aren't there Christian settings that push for conformity and homogeneity rather than diversity and freedom of thought?  Couldn't one say that many evangelical Christians act similarly: they're happy-happy types?

What I just said could definitely be nuanced.  Yes, Christianity teaches that we should be like Jesus, and, yes, there are Christians who use this teaching to push people to think and to act in the same way.  But there are other Christians who understand this teaching differently, who believe that we should be like Jesus in terms of becoming kind people, not in the sense of being homogeneous.  There are Christians who recognize and appreciate that there are different personality types----extroverted and introverted, happy and melancholy----and all of them play an important role in the body of Christ.

As Peck argues, even evil can compromise our uniqueness.  There are plenty of people who look out for number one.  And I have to admit that I have character flaws that hinder me from truly being myself.   Granted, if people were to push me to be an extrovert, then they'd be barking up the wrong tree, for that is not who I am.  Or can I be more extroverted, if I let go of my fears and insecurities?  It depends, I suppose.  I'll probably long struggle to come up with things to say in social interaction.  Once I learn things to say, I'd hardly consider any sociability I gain from that to be me being myself, for it's me playing a role.  And yet, perhaps that could create opportunities for me to share who I am, and for me to learn who others are.  In that case, authentic community develops.

Another consideration: It seems as if society, not just the Christian part of it, pressures people to be inauthentic.  It's hard for me to feel comfortable with myself, when there are so many people out there who know more than me and do things better than I do, and society values those who are superior.  I suppose that I can work to improve myself.  There are limits to that, however.  I can read lots and lots of books, and I still wouldn't know as much as some people.  There should probably be a balance between me seeking to improve myself and become competent, and me being comfortable with who I am right now.

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