Art Slice

My work and what inspires it -

Sep. 26, Richard Beck

My husband read this to me last night...i love it!! (aaand i think ive done that before w my own blogging..?)  it's called

"Self-esteem as Violence"


Blogging isn't good for the soul.

I have a rule about blogging. Don't blog about your blogging.

Some of this is just consideration for you, the reader. You came here today to read some thoughtful content, not for me to talk about my plans for this blog, or that this is my 1,000th post, or that today is the blog's anniversary, or that I made some "top blogging" list. You came here to think and reflect, so
I try to keep my eye on that ball. 

But the main reason I stay away from blogging about blogging is that most posts of that sort, for me at least, come from a not very healthy place.

Take, for example, a post about appearing on a "top blogging" list. Such lists appear from time to time and sometimes you're on them and sometimes you are not. And even when you are on them there is your place on the list. All this can create a rush of pride or envy or resentment, depending upon how it all sorts out. And none of those feelings are particularly healthy, perhaps especially the pride. So I try to move on, emotionally speaking, from such lists. And not blogging about them is one way to move on. Don't indulge the demons.

I bring up this example not to make a point about narcissism and blogging (a topic I should address someday), but to use it as an example regarding the relationship between violence and self-esteem.

One of the things I've learned from writers like James Alison, a theologian deeply informed by Rene Girard, is how rivalry is intimately associated with our self-concept. Specifically, most of us create, build up and maintain our self-esteem through rivalry with others. Our sense of self-worth is created and supported by some contrast and opposition to others. I am a self in that I am over and against others. Better. Smarter. More righteous. More successful. More authentic. More humane. Less hoodwinked. More tolerant. More insightful. More kind. More something.

In short, selfhood is inherently rivalrous. Rivalry creates the self. Rivalry is the fuel of self-esteem and self-worth.

Which means that the self is inherently violent. The definition of the self is an act of aggression and violence. To be "Richard Beck" is to engage in violence against others, if not physically than affectionally. From sunrise to sunset every thought I have about myself is implicated in acts of comparison, judgement, and evaluation of others, allowing me to create a sense of self and then fill that self with feelings of significance and worthiness.  

And this also applies to those with low self-worth, those who define themselves negatively in comparison with others. The violence here is simply internalized, directed toward the self rather than toward others. But at the end of the day it's the same mechanism, you are either winning or losing the rivalry, having either high or low self-esteem, but in either case the self is still being defined by violence.

Things like blogging, given its nature, can bring these rivalrous feelings to the surface making them more transparent (if you are self-reflective). But it's just a symptom of a deeper sickness, that the self in inherently rivalrous and that self-esteem is a feeling of significance achieved over against others.

We feel good about ourselves by stepping on the heads of others, physically or psychologically.

In fact, this may be the best definition of "original sin": Being a self makes you a violent person.

So how you blog non-violently? Non-rivalrously? How you do anything, think anything, believe anything--particularly in relation to the self--non-violently? Non-rivalrously?

How do you become a non-violent, non-rivalrous human being and person? 

I think the self has to die. That's what the Bible seems to think. There must be a letting go, a surrendering, an emptying of the self. All efforts to define the self by acts of justification, the accumulation of evidence and data that the self is significant, have to be renounced.

Phrased positively, the self must be experiencing as gift, as an experience of gratuitous and surprising grace.

Only there, in the midst of grace, can the neurotic knot at the root of our violence be loosened and undone.

-Richard Beck