Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The difficult search for self-fulfillment

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at LeonardoBoff.com.

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

There is nowadays a widely prevalent erosion of ethical values that were usually lived out and transmitted by the family and later by the school and society. This erosion has made the guidestars of heaven hidden by the clouds of interests that are harmful to society and to the future of life and the equilibrium of the Earth.

Despite this darkness, we must also acknowledge the emergence of new values associated with international solidarity, care for nature, transparency in social relations and the rejection of forms of repressive violence and the violation of human rights. But not even thus has the crisis of values diminished, especially in the field of the market economy and speculative finance. These are what define the direction of the world and the daily life of employees, who live under constant threat of unemployment. Recent crises have exposed speculator mafias inside the stock markets and big banks, whose high number and ability to pillage others' money almost caused the collapse of the global financial system. Instead of being in jail, such miscreants, after minor adjustments, have returned to the old habit of speculation and the game of misappropriation of the "commons", of the common property of mankind (water, seeds, soil, energy, etc.).

This atmosphere of anomie and "anything goes", which also extends to politics, dulls the sense of ethics and, in the face of general corruption, makes people feel powerless and condemned to acid bitterness and humiliating resignation. In this context, many search for meaning in self-help literature, made of pieces of psychology, Eastern wisdom, spirituality, with recipes for complete happiness -- all an illusion because it isn't based on or supported by a realistic and contradictory sense of reality. Others get psychologists and psychoanalysts who give better founded advice, but in the end everything ends with the following recommendations: Given the failure of entities that create meaning, such as religions and philosophies, and given the confusion of worldviews, the relativization of values and lack of existential meaning, find your way yourself, work on your deep self, set your own ethical standards to guide your life and seek your self-fulfillment. Self-fulfillment: the magic word full of promise.

I will not be the one to fight against self-fulfillment after writing El águila y la gallina, una metáfora de la condición humana ( "The Eagle and the Hen: a metaphor for the human condition" -- Trotta 2002), a book that encourages people to find reasons for sensible self-fulfillment within themselves. This results from the wise combination of the eagle dimension and the hen dimension. When should I be a hen, i.e. particularly attentive to the challenges of everyday life, and when should I be an eagle that seeks to fly high, free, fulfilling hidden potential. By joining these dimensions, the possibility for successful self-fulfillment is created.

I think this self-realization is reached only if it seriously incorporates three other dimensions. The first is the shadow side. Each one has his or her self-centered, arrogant side, and other limitations that do not ennoble us. This dimension is not a flaw but a sign of our human condition. To accept such a shadow side and ensure that its negative effects don't reach others, makes us humble, sympathetic with the shadow side of others, and allows us a more complete and wholistic human experience.

The second dimension is the relationship with others, open, honest and made of enriching exchanges. We are relational beings. There is no self-fulfillment if ties with others are severed.

The third dimension is nurturing a certain level of spirituality. This is not to say that the person must belong to any religion. It can happen but it's not essential. The important thing is to be open to human/spiritual capital which, unlike physical capital, is unlimited and made of values such as truth, justice, solidarity and love. In this dimension, the urgent question arises: In the end, what is the meaning of my life and the whole universe? What I can expect? A return to cosmic dust or shelter in a divine Womb that welcomes me just as I am?

If the latter is the answer, self-fulfillment will bring depth and an intimate happiness that no one can take away.

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