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Me < We

relationshipsThe New York Times ran an essay Sunday called “The Gospel According to ‘Me’” co-written by a philosophy professor and a psychoanalyst.  The authors attack the “modern” focus on authenticity, inward thought, and “psychological transformation,” mocking the “new version of the American dream” as one marked by trite statements such as “Live fully!  Realize yourself!  Be connected!  Achieve well-being!”  The punchy piece asserts that “this search is an obsession that is futile at best, destructive at worst.”

I read the piece Sunday morning and needed to give it a bit of time to sink in before deciding how I felt about it.  My initial gut reaction was defensive: “How can someone possibly fault inward focus?  Why shouldn’t we aspire to find the same joy in the weekdays as we do in the weekends?”  Once the article settled a bit more, I opened my mind to the idea that I might be blindly drinking the Kool-Aid this article talks about, and dedicating lots of working and writing time to it to boot.  “Is this focus on well-being making me Pollyannaish and out of touch with reality?” I wondered.  “Is it just a surfaced replacement for the real, serious spiritual and moral questions in our world?”        

And after a bit more time, this is where I’ve landed.  We become what we do and think about all day long. The minutes we live each day are the minutes that make up our lives, and therefore, the way we spend our time matters.  It matters a lot.  And I think that without giving some inward thought to that question – what is making up the minutes that make up my life – life can pass us by.  We can wind up in jobs we hate and bodies we don’t recognize and mediocre marriages and days with more sadness than joy.  But our challenge as we look inside is to not get stuck there, spending so much time looking inward that we forget to see and feel and understand all of the people and things around us and the universe that connects us.  The tension is to embrace a life that is sometimes amazing and aligned and seemingly perfect, and sometimes painful and frustrating and ridden with sadness and guilt.

The authors of the article argue, “in the gospel of authenticity, well-being has become the primary goal of human life.”  I agree with them – the notion that well-being is the sole reason we’re here on earth is bogus.  The self-help industry has taken it too far.  Well-being is not an end in itself, but it is a critically important means to an end, and it’s one I fear is slipping away from us as our lives become busier and our bodies become more sedentary and our minds become noisier and our relationships become more complicated.

I believe we can all give more to our families and our communities and people we don’t even know yet if we’re living lives that are true to who we are and what we care about…if our bodies are fit and strong…if our minds are clear…and if our relationships are strong.  So at the end of the day, I’m more okay with “The Gospel According to ‘Me’” than I’m not…I just think we need to remember that “we” matters just as much as “me.”

What do you think?  Is it possible to look inward and look outward at the same time?  Does the quest for authenticity and well-being bring you joy, stress, or both? 

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