Is The Process of Becoming a Do It Yourself Project?
by Pedro Serrano
My first memorable experience with cognitive dissonance came after reading a quote attributed to Nelson Mandela: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Something about that seemed weird to me.
South Africans fearful of their power? They lived in a society where institutionalized racism was defended by millions, and where people, White and Black, expected to be imprisoned for speaking out. They were fighting and dying to be seen as human beings. I didn’t see people afraid of their power. They wanted more power. More liberty to live their own lives.
It seemed to me as if Mr. Mandela was saying the reason their lives were so miserable was because they were afraid of their power.
Over time I found out that the quote was not something President Mandela ever said, it is from a book written by a women named Marianne Williamson. Since then I give greater consideration to my instincts.
My most recent experience of cognitive dissonance came after I read these words superimposed on a photograph of a lone male figure: “Our background and circumstances may influence who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.”
Once again, this just sounded weird to me.
What came to mind was a boy or a girl who was raped from the age of twelve until they could finally escape from the nightmare of circumstance. What opportunity would they have of developing a concept of “becoming” as a “responsibility”?
Frankly, I just can’t see myself saying or even thinking, “That’s terrible. I’m sorry you went through that. But remember that it’s your responsibility to find out who you are. Good luck with that.”
I would be compelled, by my basic humanity, to try to help that person in some way.
This glib phrase also gives no mention of what resources or tactics to take in becoming “who we are” such as the late author Kurt Vonnegut shared during an interview with Charlie Rose, Vonnegut said: “Now, the important life experiences are not just things like food and sex, but also ‘becoming’. And this involves reading, study, practicing an art, whatever.”
Wolves are four legged pack animals. There are few sadder sounds then a lone wolf howling, with no pack to respond. The lone wolf isn’t a rugged individual going it alone. A lone wolf is an animal who was driven out or somehow lost the other members of its pack.
Humans are two legged pack animals. Apart from the lonely howls all of us have made in our lives, we have Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough, who, at a talk he gave in Boston on August 7th 2007, said “One of the lessons of history is that there is no such thing as a self made man or women. It’s a ridiculous expression. It ought to be dropped from usage.”
Then there’s the late Mr. Fred “McFeely” Rogers who, during his acceptance speech for a Life Time Achievement Emmy Award said, All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.”
But what does that mean? Just to put the statement in context, go to the link above and watch the video where Mr. Rogers shared his perspective. It’s only three minutes long. I’ll wait for you right here.
OK, now that you’re back, consider his request of taking ten seconds to “think of the people who helped you become who you are.”
Is that “special someone” Mr. Rogers spoke of part of our circumstances? Or are they, as Fred Rogers said, what helps us become who we are? And who ever said that they were two separate things?
And what’s more, why are short, streamlined statements of “wisdom” so popular?
I’ve come to believe that these short, out of context quotes, validate what we already believe. If so, it could limiting us instead of enlightening us. Leaving us more isolated in a reality bubble of our own making.
Meanwhile, at last count, the image of the lone man with the words “It’s your responsibility to find out who you are.” was shared on Face Book by 677 MKP participants.
I must confess to feeling irritated and discouraged by that number. I want this to be more then venting. My hope that “just” one man considers the questions I’m asking and, ideally, comes up with some new questions of his own.
– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.