Thursday, January 12, 2012

Standing in my own way

“This is not a competition”—Words to live by. An unwillingness to compete. Sports are the only real competition. Life is meant to be lived together, a communal effort. I isolate myself from a culture of individualism. The true communal culture will be the one that brings me out of my shell. The communal culture is built on humility. Life is not a competition, except when it is, and usually these moments are preceded by the statement “Get ready for the competition.” There is an ethical function in this.

My boss tells me “Sie stehen sich selbst im Weg,” which translates to “you are standing in your own way.” My instantaneous response: that’s a great saying, “Ich fühle mich, dass ich mein Leben lang so gelebt habe,” I feel like I have stood in my own way for my entire life, whereupon she answers, “Das kann ich wohl glauben,” I can believe it. She says this frowning, whereas my response was said through a smile, reflecting a bliss which relates to the joy of Emil Cioran when he remembers what he already knows:
‘Tout est démuni d’assise et de substance’, je ne me le redis jamais sans ressentir quelque chose qui ressemble au bonheur. L’ennui est qu’il y a quantité de moments où je ne parviens pas à me le redire. [‘Everything is without firm basis, without substance’: I never repeat it to myself without feeling something resembling happiness. The trouble is that there are many moments when I do not repeat it to myself.] (Œuvres 1314)
Later, on the bus home, I glance at my reflection (I am wearing a hat with a brim and grasping a canvas strap to maintain my balance) and think of a response (too late, as is often the case): “Aber das ist ja la condition humaine, sich selbst im Weg zu stehen,” but that is indeed the human condition, to stand in one’s own way (and it should not be any other way).
We stand in our own ways on two different levels: the physical and the spiritual (understood in the broadest sense). When our bodies stand in our ways we are reaching the limit of our agency, the limits of our own control over our various body parts. To cross this line condemns us to injury or death. It is inhuman to cross the line set before us by our own body. Spiritually the situation is similar: when our spirits stand in our ways we are reaching the limit of our aspiration, the limits of our own ambitious strivings. To cross this line condemns us to cynicism or sin. It is unethical to cross the line set before us by our own spirit.

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