THEOSOPHY, Vol. 51, No. 8, June, 1963
(Pages 215-217; Size: 9K)

YOUTH FORUM

[Article number (8) in this Q&A Department]

Every so often, and in almost any situation -- perhaps talking with others at a social gathering, or standing in line, or riding on a crowded bus -- one may be struck by the realization of how little one knows of his fellow human beings; and, too, of how very little they seem to know of themselves. One is forever being confronted with the mere "persona" of people, the mere mask, sometimes attractive, sometimes repellent; and one senses despairingly that in these contacts the real ensouling entity is not being reached. What can one do to see beneath the masks and establish a real communication with one's fellow souls? And then, perhaps even more basically, how can one see beneath his own mortal mask and communicate with his own higher self?

Sophocles depicts the character Oedipus as "greatest in all men's eyes"; yet when this intellectually brilliant (and fatally curious) man tries to force information out of Teiresias, the old blind seer retorts, "All of you here know nothing." Indeed, the whole story of Oedipus shows how little even an intelligent man understands about his own real nature. Further, a large part of the irony stems from the fact that Oedipus assumes that he does know who he is. One might almost say he is seduced by his own view of himself, and therefore continues confidently his fatal questioning. This lack of recognition of his own original nature -- appropriately objectivized in his relationship with his mother -- might represent for the modern reader merely an interesting literary situation, unless one realizes that Sophocles is stating an almost universal human failing, as common today as it was thousands of years ago. We do not know who we really are; yet we assume that we do know. It is not inconceivable that the general history of the world for the past few millennia has been the result of this single false assumption.

But, ignoring for the moment all literary and all historical considerations, it is probable that we all know, and in a quite personal way, the effects that this assumption of self-knowledge (and knowledge of others) has had in our own lives. When we talk with a good friend, it seems natural for us to assume that we know whom we are talking with. But do we really? It is seldom fruitful to ask "what if" questions, since they are impossible to answer; but one cannot help wondering what the relationship between one's self and one's friend would be like if his circumstances were different. What if he had different parents and a different upbringing? In what ways would we know him? Basically the question is, When we meet this person we think we know so well, do we really see beyond his acquired nature? Or, put differently, Would we recognize him if we met him in another incarnation?

Unless we can answer affirmatively these unfair "what if" questions, we are living among phantoms, we are carrying out transactions in dreamland, we are building bridges and skyscrapers in the clouds.

We might suggest that it is necessary, in order that the daily business of the world get done, that we be content to deal only with these "personae"; but it would seem questionable how "important" business can be if it fails to consider man's soul. Besides, isn't it likelier that business would be conducted quite well (and far more morally) if we could see each other whole, as the synthesis of heart, mind, and matter? Indeed, until we can in some way sense this synthesis, how can any thinking person put his heart into any worldly activity whatever? To see all things as a synthetic unit, it would seem, is to be vitally interested in everything.

But modern man, for all his progress, still is far from feeling such a synthesis, still feels the unutterable poignancy of living alone in what seems a dying world. One wonders how many people have despaired when confronted constantly with hard surfaces, superficiality, disconnection, and have longed to grasp to themselves the person they love most, and to cry out, "Who are you?" Few things are more frightening than the suspicion that one knows nothing of ultimate importance about anyone or anything in the world. We know plenty of things intellectually, but faced with the absolute facts of life and death, we can find little reassurance and certainty in mere intellectual concepts, even if they are true. Certainties may be found only when we reach that lost city within ourselves, the spiritual seat, a sort of interior Colonus in which the blinded Oedipus can at last find rest and speak with the assurance and wisdom of a prophet.

It does not seem much in keeping with our Western temperament, though, to find this sacred place through a life of reclusive meditation. It is "the thought for others that opens the door," the true communication with our fellow human beings.

The water is wide, I can't cross o'er,
neither have I the wings to fly.
Give me a boat that can carry two
and both shall row, my love and I.
It would seem, then, that love for others, or at least for some other, is not merely a luxuriant emotion, like some warm stagnant pool, but is rather a walking together, a common effort to recognize in each other that elusive sense of spirituality one is seeking in himself. In a real sense, then, what he is seeking in the other is himself. He is seeking union with his own spiritual parent, his own Higher Self. Whether he considers life an ocean or a battlefield makes little difference. The true searcher always longs to have Krishna by his side.
Give me a boat that can carry two
and both shall row, my love and I.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

ILLUSION OF SEPARATENESS

The whole concept of humanity and of humanism is based on the idea of a human nature in which all men share. This was the premise of Buddhist as well as of Judaeo-Christian thought. The former developed a picture of man in existentialist and anthropological terms and assumed that the same psychic laws are valid for all men because the "human situation" is the same for all of us; that we all live under the illusion of the separateness and indestructibility of each one's [persona]; that we all try to find an answer to the problem of existence by the greedy desire to hold on to things, including that peculiar thing, "I"; that we all suffer because this answer to life is a false one, and that we can get rid of the suffering only by giving the right answer -- that of overcoming the illusion of separateness, of overcoming greed, and of waking up to the fundamental truths which govern our existence. 


--ERICH FROMM

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YOUTH FORUM
(July 1963)
[Article number (9) in this Q&A Department]

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