“Do not despise your inner world,” philosopher Martha Nussbaum admonished in her reflection on what it takes to live a full life.
“Real self-esteem is an integration of an inner value with things in the world around you,” Anna Deavere Smith wrote in her spectacular letters of advice to young artists.
And yet in a culture where we’re devouring one another’s outward selves with accelerating “aesthetic consumerism” as we scroll through social media feeds, we’re increasingly bedeviled by the rift between private person and public persona, inner world and outward projection.
Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other.
In the process, we become separated from our own souls.
We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.”
Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.
Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness — mine, yours, ours — need not be a utopian dream,
if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.
As teenagers and young adults,
we learned that self-knowledge counts for little on the road to workplace success.
What counts is the “objective” knowledge that empowers us to manipulate the world.
Ethics, taught in this context, becomes one more arm’s-length study of great thinkers and their thoughts, one more exercise in data collection that fails to inform our hearts.
I value ethical standards, of course.
But in a culture like ours — which devalues or dismisses the reality and power of the inner life — ethics too often becomes an external code of conduct, an objective set of rules we are told to follow, a moral exoskeleton we put on hoping to prop ourselves up.
The problem with exoskeletons is simple: we can slip them off as easily as we can don them.
When we understand integrity for what it is, we stop obsessing over codes of conduct and embark on the more demanding journey toward being whole.
Not knowing who or what we are dealing with and feeling unsafe, we hunker down in a psychological foxhole and withhold the investment of our energy, commitment, and gifts…
The perceived incongruity of inner and outer-the inauthenticity that we sense in others, or they in us-constantly undermines our morale, our relationships, and our capacity for good work.
We are cursed with the blessing of consciousness and choice, a two-edged sword that both divides us and can help us become whole.
The divided life may be endemic, but wholeness is always a choice.
What we name it matters little to me, since the origins, nature, and destiny of call-it-what-you-will are forever hidden from us, and no one can credibly claim to know its true name. But that we name it matters a great deal.
For “it” is the objective, ontological reality of selfhood that keeps us from reducing ourselves, or each other, to biological mechanisms, psychological projections, sociological constructs, or raw material to be manufactured into whatever society needs — diminishments of our humanity that constantly threaten the quality of our lives.
Here is the ultimate irony of the divided life: live behind a wall long enough, and the true self you tried to hide from the world disappears from your own view…
The wall itself and the world outside it become all that you know .
Eventually, you even forget that the wall is there — and that hidden behind it is someone called “you.”
If we want to create spaces that are safe for the soul, we need to understand why the soul so rarely shows up in everyday life.
Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self.
It is not about the absence of other people-it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.
Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other.
It is not about the presence of other people-
it is about being fully open to the reality of relationship, whether or not we are alone.