‘Objects and ideas only assume real value when their qualities exert a positive influence’
February 7, 2008
Imagine you were put in a position to exert permanent influence on mankind. What your message be? What does ‘influence’ really mean, anyway? Is ‘influence’ determined by the quality of content, or is ‘influence’ measured by how many people hear and absorb the message?
Do ideas become meritorious only after they are accepted by masses of people? Is the Palestinian ’cause’ meritorious because of their institutionalized bigotry and racism or despite that dysfunctional ugliness?Is that any different from the German volk who were swayed by Hitler and Nazism?
Sometimes, masses of people are what it takes to make a difference. Other times, only a handful of decent people can make a difference.
The Biblical tale of Abraham his negotiations with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah is instructive. God agrees to save the cities from destruction if only 10 good men are found. On many levels, the exchange is extraordinary.Why does God enter into negotiations with Abraham?
The lessons are many but one thing is certain- real influence is never determined by the numbers. Real influence is determined by the quality of the message. A moral message, given enough time, can and will change the world. Moral and just ideas have a life of their own, influencing ever growing numbers of people over time. The best if mankind is best represented by a tsunami of moral ideas embraced by millions. The worst of mankind has usually been the result of a few men influencing masses of people by way of tyranny, fear and oppression.
There is no shortage in history of examples of deliberate attempts to impose influence and ideas. Those examples include Nazi, socialist, communist and even radical Islamic ideologies. In the end however, great and influential ideas, like great and influential art, survive the test of time. Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind remain great cinematic art- Terms of Endearment and The Sting, Academy award winners each, will not fare as well.
An influential message may take years, even centuries, to realize full potential. Real influence endures. Shallow influence is fleeting. Religions endure because the messages and lessons they endorse are meaningful and are meant to uplift spirits. Religions that demean and marginalize people or are predicated on hate, in the end, prove to be hollow and repressive.
In fact, the most influence any individual can have is the influence he or she exerts on him or herself. Will we challenge ourselves to reach our potential or, will we submit to our baser selves? We all ask ourselves the same question: Do we matter? Do we really matter? We noted, In A World Without You In It, that
On the face of it, we are part of a dispensable and disposable world. Whole populations are killed and are seemingly forgotten. As events around us fly by at the speed of light, there is no real sense that our lives- or the lives of anyone else for that matter, are of significant or meaningful merit in the great scheme of things.
In fact, we suffer a kind of debilitating malaise- “Nothing I do or say really matters.” There is the belief that whether or not we contribute anything to the the world and those around us, the world would be no different. It is the ‘my vote doesn’t really count’ school of thought. No matter our efforts, nothing will ever really change.
If you truly believe that your efforts and contributions are meaningless, can you really know and have passion? What can you truly look forward to, what will truly excite you? To what can you truly be committed? Will you ever know that ‘fire in the belly’?
In fact, we each have the capacity to influence mankind, with our actions, dreams and beliefs. How we behave, the goals we set for ourselves and the nature of our beliefs is ours alone. We are each uniquely qualified to make a difference. Our potential influence may not be immediate but the contributions we make may have a resonance with others in another place and another time that we cannot to even begin to fathom. Van Gogh couldn’t sell his art in his lifetime. He was never to know how he was to change and influence the way man would looked at art forever.
There are those who will argue that they are ‘wounded’ or carry ‘too much baggage.’ They ‘depersonalize’ their own value or worth. Often, those people demand special treatment and special status. They want to be exempt from the rules and standards the rest of us must adhere. They demand they need not beheld accountable for their failed lives and refusal to change their dysfunctional behaviors.
Those individuals question their own worth and value- and then demand attention and sympathy. “Value me because I am worthless,” is their plea. They do not see the incongruity of their own self perceptions.
The best therapists reinforce the inherent value of their patients because it is from within that inherent value, patients will find the strength to overcome the obstacles that weigh them down and preclude them from achieving the influence, big or small, that they are capable.
Influence is not determined by sheer strength or by Darwinian survival skills. Influence is determined by how well we realize what our capabilities and capacities are- and how best to reach those capacities. Recognizing and understanding those capacities is the most personal and intimate expression of self knowledge. Positive influence is always passed on, generation after generation. The Mamacita’s of this world were influenced by their teachers, who were in turn influence by teachers before them. Mamacita’s legacy as a teacher will not be measured by the number of her students who became doctors or lawyers or bankers or millionaires. Her legacy will be measured by how many of her students would go on to positively influence others. Her legacy will assured because she refuses to allow her students to say, ‘value me because I am worthless.’ Like van Gogh, she will not know or see all the fruits of her labor. Nevertheless, her life and the lives of the very few teachers that share her passion has had profound meaning. She has spent a lifetime influencing one classroom at a time in a positive way, not by way of ideology but rather, by way of morality. She has proved time and time again that diversity of beliefs can be shared with a common morality and ethic.
Mass communications, mass production, mass depersonalization and the massive amounts of statistics threaten to become the source of our identities and worth. We are increasingly defined, measured and valued by our banks accounts, credit card limits, looks, clothes, homes. Often our worth is determined by our associations and religious or political affiliations. That reality has turned into commodities rather than the individuals we really are.
What happens when we are no longer human? The answer to that question has been played out before in Europe and is being played out again in the Middle East.
Things aren’t much different at home, either. Clarence Thomas isn’t a story of success- depersonalized, he has become an ‘Uncle Tom’ or a ‘House Nigger.’ Condi Rice is referred to in even more vile terms. That’s what happens when people become commodities- no more than statistical and demographic ‘blips’ to others with a different political agenda.
Is it any wonder then, that people feel insignificant or are afraid to ‘step out’? Here’s something to ponder. Can people who are ‘commoditized,’ experience real love? Can parents really parent if their own sense of worth is defined by a cold and impersonal materialism? Have relationships become no more than expressions of selfishness? These are real possibilities. Both Dr Sanity (here) and Shrinkwrapped (here) have written extensively on ever growing narcissism and the effects that narcissism has on our culture, society and families.
What can be extrapolated from their discussions is clear. The tsunami of narcissism is an almost reflexive expression of a clear dysfunction. When ‘You don’t matter; your feelings don’t matter; your function and purpose here is to serve my needs,‘ are considered a form of healthy and acceptable ‘expression,’ is it really a surprise that deep and real interpersonal relationships and happiness, elude so many? And when so many interpersonal relationships are lacking or broken, is it any surprise that our community and culture have been undermined?
In a world where technology and deliberate depersonalization threatens to tame us, instead of the other way around, the need to recognize our own capacity and potential for good is more important than ever. We must recognize, reflect and react to the deliberate attempt to dehumanize and belittle our significance- the three ‘R’s’ of our own redemption.
There are also those people who believe that that influence is brought about by creation- that is, to have enduring influence comes about as the result of creating a physical manifestation or expression of their ideas or beliefs, be that in art or politics are any other field of endeavor.
These people wrongly believe that to create is to have influence, whereas in reality, it is influence that creates.
Making an object or having an idea that is separate and distinct from myself, separates me from that object or idea. I am not a part of that object. If on the other hand, by way of ideas and insight, I influence the world around me, then I have truly created something meaningful.
For example, if you influence your child in way that results in that child growing up to be a productive, decent and caring citizen, you have wielded real influence. In A Tale Of Two Peoples, we noted Nobel Prize winner Robert Aumann cried as recalled his wife who had passed away from cancer, seven years earlier, in his award acceptance speech:
“….You Scientists can write endless article, but most of them will be forgotten over the years. I influence the education of my children, and I too will be forgotten in another 150 years- but my influence will exist and dozens and hundreds of children will walk around who were influenced by me.” This is actually what we scientists want- to influence and change. The prize for me is not the main issue. Of course I am not sorry to win, it represents the fact that I have reached a certain point, but the prize is not the point…
Objects and ideas only assume real value when their qualities exert a positive influence. Food is important because food is life sustaining and thus allows us to exert positive and productive influences. Ideas and education assume real value when their qualities exert a positive influence and we use those ideas and education to empower ourselves and others. Books assume real value when their qualities exert the kind of influence that makes us think. Just because the Bible and pornography are both printed and bound, does not make them equal in value, any more than achieving nationhood status makes the Israelis and Palestinians equal in status. Assuming the garb or uniform does not bestow equality.
There is big difference between truth and knowledge, and that difference also measures what it means to have influence and our search for meaning.
Seeking knowledge is a human endeavor and as such, is both never ending and limited at the same time. Seeking truth is very different- we can find truth and be satisfied and sated, even if we do not completely understand or comprehend that truth. We can work to increase our understanding of truth, but the essential truth never changes.
Our search for meaning and truth cannot be found through our quest for knowledge.
Salvation is not achieved through the search for knowledge. Salvation and meaning come about as the result of the search for truth. It is in the search for truth that truth is found.
The distinctions between truth and knowledge has become blurred because we have blurred the line between ‘identity’ and ‘idea.’ We have come to believe (mistakenly) that ideas are in perfect union with reality. “I have an idea or belief and therefore, you must agree and afford that idea or belief respect and credibility, no matter how irrelevant, offensive, silly, etc., it may be.”
The search for knowledge without the search for truth is a pathology, an intellectual obsession. It is a fixation on the exterior of things that precludes real intimacy. Anyone can learn the mechanics of anything, without getting close. The mind consumes rather than luxuriates. The mind devours, rather than contemplates. The mind inhales, rather than loves.
The accumulation of knowledge becomes a mechanical process of method, protocol and system. The search for truth is has always been defined as dialogue, contact, acceptance a and communion.
In the the search for truth, rational thinking and questioning are forms of redemptive knowledge. The difference is that in the search for truth, rational thinking and questioning become a foundation stone of positive influence. The search for truth acknowledges our humility and not our hubris.
While not everyone believes in God, much can be learned for the search for truth in the way some seek faith:
In our humanness, we are clothed with finite attire- we cannot divine the mind of God. When we demand absolutely certain truth, we are attempting to play God. We may believe that there are absolute truths, but in fact, we are bound by our understanding at the moment. Scientific truths alter as our understanding alters.
If we presume we can understand the ‘absolute truth’ about God, we are destined to fail in our desire to know God and to accept God as God. The ‘absolute truth’ about God changes as we come to understand ourselves, our world and even others.
That ‘absolute truth’ can never be corralled or understood because only God is ‘absolute.’ As humans, we are the opposite of absolute. We can be ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ we can be ‘more’ or ‘less.’ For us to exist as God’s creations, we must know joy and we must know suffering. We need to succeed and we also need to fail. We are meant to be less than perfect, because it is through our imperfections that we find ourselves and our potential.
God treasures our spiritual achievements. He treasures our failures along the way even more, because in facing and overcoming our failures, we have shown that we are indeed worthy of the humanity He bestowed upon us. We are not meant to become perfect in our struggle and search for meaning and faith- we are meant to overcome the limitations, imperfections and obstacles along the way.
Relating to God is about relating to that most human side of ourselves.