“Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.” – Meister Eckhart
Sometimes truth is found only in the uneasy holding of two contradictory statements.
For instance, here are two statements. Both are true. And also contradictory.
1.) Your life is immensely important.
2.) Your life is nothing.
To think of them as a spectrum fails to grasp the importance of both. No doubt, we will sometimes vacillate to one side or the other – stumbling to exuberance or despair – but to know the paradox of our being, we must accept both statements as completely true and find peace amidst the dissonance. A dualistic “either, or” fails to grasp the truth of “both, and.”
The spiritual giants who have come before us testify similarly to this truth.
“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.” ― Mother Teresa
“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
“Never let success hide its emptiness from you, achievement its nothingness, toil its desolation. And so keep alive the incentive to push on further, that pain in the soul which drives us beyond ourselves.
Whither? That I don’t know. That I don’t ask to know.” – Dag Hammarskjöld
But if there’s a time to hold both truths in tension, it’s now.
Suicide rates in the US rose 24% between 1999 and 2014. And there are more suicides than homicides today (wikipedia). As US culture spirals further into radical individualism where we (almost always) have more emotional connection to the actors on our TV screens than those living next door, it becomes more and more obvious the ethos of our day fails to provide adequate meaning for human life. This individualism has led to a breakdown in community (for more, read this). We are the most social creatures on the planet and the general ordering of our species fails to meet our biological needs for social interaction and connection. So, for those struggling with lack of human connection and hope, I want to affirm the undeniable truth – You are important. You are beautiful. Your life is important. There is hope and meaning and joy to be found.
I loved the recent movie Cloud Atlas. In it they captured this truth in a profound way. Somni-451 revealed, “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” It is a fact: our choices and actions – whether good or bad – ripple out through eternity.
However, with hyper-individualism has also come a rise in narcissism. (See here)
What is narcissism? It is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes (wikipedia). It is:
- an inflated sense of self.
- feeling entitled, special, and unique
- often someone who lacks empathy for others
- witnessed through increased materialism
- admiration of the self
- self-absorption, egocentriciscm, and an over estimation of one’s own importance and abilities.
There is a wealth of evidence showing that the younger generation is growing more and more narcissistic, more focused on becoming rich and famous (See here). The plethora of social media outlets repeatedly scream, “I am special.” “Look at me.” And I recognize the irony of complaining about narcissism on my blog speaks also to the same tendency in myself. I too am shaped by the culture around us, which does not make it okay.
Why do Millennials hate being labeled? Because we want to be unique and special. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to recognize whatever we need to say has already been said more eloquently than we can. If you disagree, it just evidences your ignorance. (So, why write anything? See point #1.) Your opinions are of little consequence. Your life is nothing more than a speck of dust lost atop the ocean. You deserve less than you’ve been given in this life.
There is an emptiness at the essence of our beings that we must accept if we are to be completely human.
Jean Vanier has said it well:
“Loneliness is something essential to human nature; it can only be covered over, it can never actually go away. Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart.” –Becoming Human, p.7
Time and again, I have found truth to be paradoxical, often contradictory. These two facts about human nature remain:
- Your life is important.
- Your life is nothing.
May we hold these in tension and find the courage to be.
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”