Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
– Marianne Williamson
You know, I’m going to go against popular opinion here and say that I think Marianne Williamson was wrong. Or maybe she was right for the group of people she was originally talking to – and maybe Nelson Mandela was right when he quoted this in his inaugural speech to an entire race of people who had been told for hundreds of years that they were inadequate and worthless. But, to be honest, regardless of who this quote is spoken to, I do not think that being a child of god has anything to do with being brilliant, gorgeous, talented or fabulous.
I’m reading an utterly terrifying book on narcissistic cultures at the moment, called The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement, written by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell. I first heard about the book on an Insights program on narcissism a few weeks ago, which had me had me wanting to go hide under a rock. It frightens me for many reasons – not least that one of the primary symptoms of narcissism is a lack of empathy – an absolute inability to grasp the idea that another person may encounter the world differently to us [and it’s not just ‘young people today’ who fall into this with facebook and celebrity idealisation… blow me down if that description of lack of empathy doesn’t describe all that’s ugly about australian politics at the moment].
But it’s also terrifying because the book outlines how deeply entrenched the idea of exceptionalism and entitlement has become. And as the authors outline expressions of narcissism within dominant american cultures, i found resonances with christian and church culture were like a noisy gong – and suddenly I realised why Marianne Williamson’s quote above has always slightly set my teeth on edge.
It’s easy to poke fun at those who live their life on facebook, or those who hire paparazzi to follow them around on a saturday night, but I think we have to admit that christianity has fed into the world’s narcissism as well, just with a different edge. I’m not just thinking about the celebrity culture within christianity [my least favourite expression at the moment, ‘his is a very important voice in the conversation’. ugh. everybody’s voice is important.] I cringe when i think of things i no doubt said as a youth worker, when self esteem was the big theme. ‘God thinks you’re amazing’ – really? i need to go back and read the bible, but i’m not sure that we haven’t conflated being known by god with being singled out by god. Our worth comes from being, not from being someone.
I can’t be the only one to think there’s much more liberation in that, much more than having to talk yourself [and everyone else!] into thinking you’re talented, gorgeous and brilliant… worth watching or being listened to more than anyone else.
I’ve been wondering what it’s possible to do, as an individual, to innoculate [or rescue] myself from the narcissism epidemic. Taking a break from writing for the Age has put me in a better place these last few years – especially taking a break from writing opinion pieces. It worried me for a while, turning down amazing opportunities to get a public audience, but it’s been such a relief to not have to artificially create an opinion when I have actually wanted to stay mired in complexity. And it’s been a massive relief to sink back into anonymity [that’s the introvert in me!] rather than have people dissecting my motives and thoughts. It’s reminded me that what i think isn’t really that important, and the world functions perfectly well without my noise adding to it. Perhaps the moment i start to think my voice is important is the moment i need to give up forever…
I think i also need to commit to having a life that doesn’t ever require me to sell myself – to not need to be in a situation where i’m required to promote myself or my wisdom or insights, but simply just let them be; where i do what i do, whether or not anyone ever notices. It means I’ll never be able to rely on an income as an author… but you know what? both me and the world are going to do just fine without that. and my hunch is that both of us will actually do much better.
I suspect there’ll be more i need to think about. I’m only up to chapter 3. If you don’t hear from me for a while, it’s probably because reading chapter 4 has sent me off the deep edge… Hopefully you’d miss my company, but i promise any wisdom i might have will emerge through someone else. That seems to be how it works.