There are many examples of nervous breakdowns in which philosophical questions about self-worth and social purpose are asked. It is unfortunate that such occasions are visited upon the creative members of our society in greater numbers. Look at suicide stats amongst artists and authors for confirmation of such a statement. *
How can a man, in a situation of isolation, self-imposed or caused by circumstance, escape the conclusion that he does not contribute to the greater good, that his place upon this earth is of little worth, little impact and that the sum of his days amounts to very little?
To accept such a emotional evaluation of one’s own worth is to firstly believe in a social purpose: to presuppose an understanding that social contribution is the be-all and end-all of a human life. It is unfortunate then that whilst many religions, philosophies, secular outlooks, media commentaries and even literature, tell us that it is, the societies we live in, in all other regard, tell us that it isn’t. The way we live, except in a very few places, concerns material accumulation- in all regard. This isn’t to recommend poverty or to favour denial but it is to question at which point enough is as good as a feast.
It is of little surprise, given the essential contradiction we live in, that many of us are plagued by the opening question, but it is necessary that we ask why the question even comes to mind.
To even be aware of these questions is a large step, and as the great man put it ‘every journey begins with a single step.’ It is important to note that even if we think otherwise we are all social beings. A monk, undergoing a vow of silence, in an isolated monastery, came to be there via social means. All of us live with some sort of social support, be it the food we eat, harvested by another, the words we read, written by another, or the warmth of the fire, built by another. Even if we have exchanged money, or labor, it still has been a social arrangement, and it is impossible to exist in total isolation. Try it sometime. Even Diogenes’ barrel was made by other hands.
But an awareness of social contradiction does not make me feel better about myself? If this is the case one must look closer and understand that the root of self- doubt is perspective. Whilst concerns about self-worth are individual in nature their tendency to be negative and detrimental is a social corruption. For at the same time as determining that social contribution is desirable society makes it damned hard to achieve. One should not have to embrace charity, dance with religion or take a moral secular high ground in order to feel a functional member of society. Instead we should be able to contribute simply in being, and in everything we do. Consider this: when a man breathes, his emitted carbon dioxide gives life to a tree, who in turn gives life to a man. Social contribution and self esteem should be as easy as this.
On the other hand it is easy to see how many conceive that their actions are detrimental to another. One man’s meat etc. if this leads to self doubt and feelings of worthlessness then what is amiss concerns the balance between these two things: it is all a matter of perspective.
Embrace those things you do do, even those tiny transactions you encounter every day. For all you know that small smile you give the postman might change things in ways you can’t imagine.
Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament