The unexamined life, and what it means for the world around you.
“You can’t take away a man’s soul or fail to reveal his soul to him without dire consequences…”
Mulling these words by Richard Rohr, it seems to be a haunting kind of truth that surely most of the world would choose to not hear but quietly, in some private moment, is relieved that some one said it. I suspect the reticence on both sides would be because there isn’t a person alive that hasn’t suffered the consequences of an unrevealed soul. There are, also, a few that can give witness to its opposite.
If one doesn’t know what a “revealed soul” looks like, follow the wake of degradation, power wielded out of insecurity, increases in addictions, disconnected relational habits, and dehumanizing institutions and they will lead back to a soul unseen. I would posit that the current lack of leadership political and private is a consequence of souls either unrevealed or simply lost along the way. Granted, is it even possible to seek such power-filled positions and not lose one’s soul in the process? (And when I use the term “lost soul” I am not speaking in the traditional religious context as much as in the absence of living in one’s own skin and all that it entails.)
A recent article in Psychology Today titled, Why French Kids Don’t have ADHD, notes:
“…instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context.”
This sounds like common sense – look at the context, not just a piece of the problem – but American culture lacks context for most of the underlying issues that face it. Note I did not say “that it faces,” because Americans are masters when it comes to denial. A gunman starts shooting in a school and America wants to get rid of the bullets and guns. There is no examination of the Mental Health system failures and the very real possibility that the gunman’s soul was taken away or never revealed to him in the first place. Or Christianity makes a mountain out the mole hill “issue” of homosexuality because it is always easier to hate and accuse and than love and receive – the latter requiring the wherewithal of a revealed soul.
What is it then to reveal a soul? Considering the uniqueness of each individual there are likely as many answers as their are people on the planet. Could desire be the gateway to the soul? Desire – a word that is often hyper-sexualized or misunderstood in a culture that is trained to consume more than it creates. At the core of desire is a hunger for something Real. It might be a foregone conclusion that, via technology, we are connected more than ever and lonelier more than we would like to admit. I imagine that the desire for connection is a hope to discover one’s soul.
My first year as a mountaineering guide and my last trip of the summer was with an all guys group from Kansas City. This was a small group of fathers and sons along with a couple of boys who had no father in their life but had a couple of men who mentored them – even if they didn’t know they were being mentored at the time. The man who organized the trip, Tom, was the essence of a man whom had experienced his soul revealed. He was comfortable in his skin, kind but not a pushover, a sense of humor about nearly anything while easily moved to tears over tragedy. At 22, I felt out of my league and wondered if there was a mistake made in the roster. Wasn’t someone more qualified supposed to be guiding this trip? I still felt more boy than man, much less one who could lead or speak into the lives on this trip.
Over the course of six days hiking, fishing, and climbing in the Weminuche Wilderness of Southern Colorado, I both witnessed and experienced what comes with one person revealing another’s soul to him. I watched father’s listen to their son’s version of life and instead of correcting or denying, they accepted, affirmed, or were authentically surprised. Later, when it was just us adults, these same father’s would express how it was sometimes uncomfortable but for the most part quite interesting to hear their son’s perspective.
Tom gave most of his attention to Michael, the boy whose dad was not part of his life. Michael started the week out awkward, whining, looking more like a lost puppy at the shelter than a boy stepping out into an adventure. He had his fits and complaints early on, but over time, being surrounded by guys who payed less attention to the whining and more to his successes, Michael had the beginnings of being comfortable with himself. No small achievement for a 15 year old regardless of upbringing.
For the better part of the trip I had front row seats to a grand and beautiful event, but still didn’t feel a part of it all. Then, as we wrapped up the last night, Tom made a point of sharing what he had seen in me that week. He also, asked me to tell Michael what I had seen in him. Not common exchanges for boys and men. I wanted to dismiss myself as one who was not worthy or old enough to have much to say. Tom, didn’t let me off that easy and in fact much of his encouragement gave me a sense of confidence to speak words of affirmation to Michael.
The reality? I had grown up with an absent father akin to Michael’s situation and it was men like Tom making the time for me that had given me the persistence to become a mountaineering guide. It would be easy to toss off a teenager for their obnoxious behavior but then that would be focusing on the symptom and not the context of the soul. There are far too many boys in the prison system, betraying marriages, dehumanizing employees under their leadership that are the result of missed moments like this.
Could it be we too easily take away or fail to reveal a man’s soul because, having not experienced it ourself, we don’t understand the value therein? Socrates’ saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” might not just be about knowing one’s self, but letting other’s know and “examine” your life.
Unexamined, unrevealed – the severity of the consequences are not limited to your own flesh and blood. They can ripple across community and culture, turning into tsunamis. That said, the alternate can ripple out bringing life instead of destruction, humor without cynicism and light that reveals what’s behind the darkness. If for no other reason than to tickle the dragons, we should be a people that gravitates toward more revealed souls. Surely some of the keys to real change in the world reside there.
–Photo: Harm Rhebergen/Flickr