Okay, so how does the saying go? Is it be in the world but not of the world or is it be of the world but not in the world? I asked my friend Mr. G (how I affectionately refer to the action of googling) and it spit back a bunch of Jesusy stuff. Don’t get it twisted (as the urban-suburban crossover kids like to say)… I have no beef with the the guy or the stuff he said. I don’t think this is something he said though. I think it’s something the church edited from what one of the disciples paraphrased from what Jesus may or may not have said. It’s the telephone game played through a 2000 year old pair of cans with a string running between them.
Maybe the reason I can’t discern which is the correct version is because I don’t really embrace that notion very well. I think I get the sentiment: something to the degree of not getting swept up in the tide of conformist social mores and ideas when they run counter to one’s personal convictions. I suppose it would be akin to going away to college without beer bonging or having sex with unattractive people or waking up in a tree. “I’m just here for the college credit, not the experience.”
Something about the idea smacks of some brand of elitism; yes, I’m walking through life with all these people being swept by the current of society, but I’m not part of that. I’m not one of “them”. Sorry, by decree of the laws of human DNA we are participants whether we like it or not. Every action that we take stitches a thread into this great tapestry that is called civilization. We can’t possibly think without any cognitive disconnect that we can simply live on a cultural island and crochet hand towels. It just doesn’t work that way.
But here’s the thing: It’s not one or the other. Those of you familiar with my position on being a human being are aware that I’m all about the reflective property of life. We are a reflection of the world, yet the world is a reflection of us. Basically each of us is a cross section of the sum total of what humanity is. We are not intended to be human factory widgets, one indistinguishable from another, yet none of us can realistically expect to serve the species as an island in a sea of humanity.
There is a balance that must be maintained if we are to understand who we truly are. We cannot disavow the 99.9% of the likeness we share with each and every other human at a genetic, even existential level, while at the same time honoring that one tenth of a percent that creates our individual stamp, that forms the rollercoaster lines in our fingerprints and the trails and tributaries in our retina.
The greatest iconoclast can hoist their flag of individuality and declare that they will in no way be like everyone else only to find they are societally tossed on a raft and shoved out to sea. Soon the lesson of human dependency sets in when the twenty-first tooth gives way to scurvy. The ultimate conformist can vow to not stand out amongst the herringbone and houndstooth patterns of the social sets, but their sense of joy through personal expression will soon become undermined as they attempt to tuck themselves back into the fabric like a wayward thread.
To know who we truly are we must see ourselves in the context of how our uniqueness and individuality fits into the world. We must learn to find our place in the society much the way each jigsaw puzzle piece nestles into the unique cutout space created for it. However, in our case we create the shape of the space in collaboration with humanity. Humanity is begging for us to bring our uniqueness and individuality into the fold. We are the amazing dot and color placement seen up close in the Monet; if the shape, color, placement, and/or size were any different the painting would indubitably be altered, but we only see the beauty created when we stand back and see how they all fit together to form the beautiful work of art.