Reflection 267: Heeding the Call

May 26, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

If everybody recognizes and takes upon himself the duty to which he is called, genuine life will result. The civilization of an entire nation cannot be based on anything else. –Kathe Kollwitz, Diary

Heeding that call is the essence of individual life for it is nothing but the call heard only by those qualified to engage a particularly challenging situation. Those who don’t hear it need not apply.

The quote above comes from Samuel Putnam’s introduction to The Portable Cervantes. It begins:

I am not only allowed to finish my work, I am bidden to finish it. This, it seems to me, is the meaning of all the talk about civilization. It can exist only where each individual fills his own personal sphere of duty.

In so engaging our affairs, we complement one another because no two of us receive the same call. You do your part and I will do mine; all together we add up to a cooperative culture of unique individuals. Each of us doing our part—if it is to work at all, that is how the world must work.

It is no accident that that idea introduces The Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quixote De La Mancha, a work contrasting the as if world of elegant imagination with the world of purported reality, a conflict which artists endure every day of their lives. To be ourselves, we must engage as we are in the raw, not as others would polish our manners to make us palatable to their tastes.

There’s a lot of that kind of polishing going around, which I call pseudo engagement, fake engagement, false engagement—or out-and-out deception of self among others. The real prize is to hear the call from inside, not outside. The call not to please but to be. Since we have but the one life to live, whose life will it be? Who is to be the master of our engagements? Since we are the ones to die, if we are not master of our own vessel, whose life are we leading?

I put it that way because after thirty years of self-reflection, I can say that the only life worth living is the one directed from the inside in response to that call from the depths when it comes. If our engagements result from our working for a living to make enough money to live a comfortable life, we are engaging as others would have us, not as we must do out of personal necessity. What then do we stand for but willing enslavement to those more powerful and aggressive than ourselves? Imagine discovering on our deathbed that we have sold our individuality for a pittance to those who have no idea who we are. Willingly, we have ceased to exist.

That is why I place so much emphasis on loops of engagement to see if you can’t recognize your own before you inadvertently give it away, as is requested of each of us every day of our lives.

One effective way of making sure that you don’t give your personal authority and adventure away is to go to college to find out who you are rather than to pick up a discipline for making a living, or to find a mate, or to learn how to party or even manage sizeable credit card debt. The proper course of study in college is yourself since, whatever else you do, that’s who you will have to live with for the rest of your life.

The way to study yourself is through study of other selves, like Captain Ahab in his engagement with the great white whale; like Don Quixote in his engagement with his squire, Sancho Panza, and his noble lady, Dulcinea; like Socrates in his many engagements with his peers; like Raskolnikov in his engagement with an elderly woman and a police inspector following up on that affair; like leading characters in Shakespeare’s many plays; and so on. We learn to see our own engagements as reflected in the engagements of others, whether real, performed, or imagined.

That is, we learn about ourselves through comparison with others whose engagements are laid out clearly before us for examination and discussion. And closer to home, we begin to study ourselves in figuring out why we said this to such a one or did that to another. Through self-reflection we begin to grasp how we feel, what we value, how we see and understand, and to couple all that with what we decide to do about such matters. If we can take the role of our own most intimate teacher, we are set for a life of nonstop wonder and learning without limit.

Of course we can accomplish all that by taking a job sweeping floors, sorting mail, or washing dishes—while getting paid to learn from such a program. It all depends on what we are out for, what we hope to achieve by hopping from one stepping stone to another and the next beyond that. We get good at what we do in this life, what we pay attention to, and are determined to do better. That is, to learn about our loops of engagement by engaging with one thing after another. That, basically, is what education has to teach us in proportion to the attention and skill we put into each lesson. We learn what we reach for, not what others force down our throats.

My fee for delivering that homily is ten dollars. Don’t worry about it, I’ll put it on your tab with all the others. If you can’t pay in this life, I’ll collect in the next one. Your credit is good. As ever, I remain, y’r friend, –Steve


One Response to “Reflection 267: Heeding the Call”

  1. Jeannie said

    Thank you, Steve, for good reading — inspirational ——
    I’ve shared the site with our grandchildren –late teens, twenty+ ——–gives us something “different” to discuss —

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