Personal value

Confusing image

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Much suffering and confusion comes from the idea that people could be either ordinary or special. This is a mistake. No one can be either one—no matter how hard we try. The belief that we must be one or the other obscures the reality of what we are, and the reality of what we can become.

So if we are neither, what are we? Mostly, what we are is confused. We are confused about our proper role in the world.

We know that we aren’t really special, because we recognize that we are essentially the same as everyone else. Although we secretly hope and suspect we might be special, we cannot figure out what our special role should be. We seek obscure omens and chase tentative possibilities, but they shift about and peter out. We recognize that people who present themselves as special are actually on harmful ego trips.

Yet we also know we aren’t really ordinary, because there are moments when we recognize our vast individual potential. No matter how hard we try to fit in, we secretly know that our innermost possibilities do not lie in going along with society. People who present themselves as ordinary are pretending to be herd animals—but no one is really fooled.

The problem is that we see no third possibility. So we jump back and forth between trying to be special or ordinary. We try to find some sort of compromise, or some way to be special in one part of our lives and otherwise ordinary. Mostly we try to bury the issue altogether, because it is so uncomfortable. But spiritual practice, life crises, and moments of grace keep bringing it to the surface.

Once we understand that, another, better possibility appears. That third alternative might be called nobility, or heroism.


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The previous page is Purpose. (That page introduces its own subsection.)

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