It’s Brave New Wednesday and all, so I’m going to admit something that has been bothering me for a while. Are you all ready for this one? It’s a doozy. Also ranty.
I am really, totally okay with the fact that I am not trying to do anything good in the world.
I am not dedicating my life to service and community. I am not trying to make the world a better place. I am not helping to better the lives of people around me, I am not raising kids to be independent, ethical, critical thinkers, and I am not offering my gifts for the greater good of all humankind. Sometimes, service to others happens accidentally in service to the self. Sometimes in the process of doing things I love, lovely things happen. Sometimes a man with Parkinson’s gets another inch of range of motion when I give him a gentle nudge and a kind word in my class. Sometimes, something I write makes someone else have a better day. While I am very deeply moved by all of this, I have nothing to do with it. I would argue that they – the students, the readers, whatever – are really the ones doing the work. Because all of the time – ALL of the time – I am here only to serve myself. Completely un-yogic, I know.
There is a culture of competitive awesomeness forming. Maybe this is just part of Baltimore’s civic landscape or maybe it is a sort of gen-X antidote to mid-life loneliness and isolation, but I see it all the time, all around me at conferences and gatherings, holding together the web of Baltimore’s real movers and shakers, the people in the arts and tech who are making things happen around here. It used to bother me that I was on the outside of it. Then I realized that I really only care about cultivating myself, and it turns out that at times myself is pretty cool, and the results go outward and do something great for someone else. But at the end of the day, I have no lofty desires to make the world better.
There is this romantic notion -and I mean this in the artistic movement sense of the word romantic- that desire is an end in itself. As an artist, there really is nothing else more than the desire to do that which cannot be done: express what it means to be human, to be this particular human. It is a perpetual desire, that gets bigger with every attempt to fill it. I would argue that we are all artists, and all romantics. Some of us live with the desire to express what means to be a person through words or canvas, some of us by making a family, and so on.
The competitive awesomeness has some beneficial results, but all of the community building this and strategizing that and organizing and sharing just seems a little hollow these days. If you can’t explain why you do what YOU do in ten words or less without reference to OTHER people… well, forget it, I lost interest before I even finished that sentence. Perhaps this makes me a Luddite, one of the un-evolved, but I’m all for intentional selfishness and accidental awesomeness. Really, how can we ever possibly be intentional about anything other than our own desires?