What surprises me when I think of this endless list of words we use to describe ourselves, is the general failure to identify our similarities. Often the seemingly endless terms of distinction unwittingly separate all of us from seeing ourselves as part of the human family and if all these linguistic means of describing people are used as often as they will be used on any given day, are we not in fact enforcing the countless ways to separate us from one another? We may in fact be objectifying ourselves so often that as a society, many have lost their way and have become blind to that which unifies us.
Walt Whitman asserts this timbre of meaning in his poem, I Sing the Body Electric, describing a slave at auction:
Gentlemen look on this wonder,
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it,
For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years without one animal or plant,
For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll’d.
In this head the all-baffling brain,
In it and below it the makings of heroes.
Examine these limbs, red, black, or whTite, they are cunning in tendon and nerve,
They shall be stript that you may see them.
Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,
Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs,
And wonders within there yet.
Within there runs blood,
The same old blood! the same red-running blood!
These few words from Walt Whitman speak volumes. One of the great lessons I learned very early in my sobriety while detoxing in a hospital, was embracing a genuine sense of humility. I no longer felt differentiated from others. I felt grounded and all the things I had ever been or accomplished were not important anymore. I was discovering something else. Yes, I was around ‘all kinds’ of people who were in the hospital with me for various, yet similar reasons – addiction and alcohol issues. And, yes, I was experiencing great pain withdrawing from alcohol while simultaneously realizing the tremendous harm and pain, I had inflicted on others. This may sound peculiar to people that have not gone through a detox, but, ironically, this is where I first discovered my true self and was able to see this certain key facet present in all of the individuals I shared this hospital ward with.
This unveiling of my true self continued for the next several days, weeks, months and now years and continues to this day. Previous outward accomplishments, awards, recognition, promotions, job titles -- those labels again -- that I had ever garnered during the course of my relatively ordinary life became insignificant and lacking real meaning. Before sobriety, I had let these external designations define who I was. I had become separated from that universal bond, that union with humanity and life and most especially, with myself. All of those labels and distinctions fell by the wayside. I am a person.
So many of the challenges we face in the world today have to do with the objectification of people and attaching that same shackle upon ourselves. External accomplishments and the winning and losing that go on in our competitive world can be just fine. But, losing sight of the real, true measure of ourselves as people can only create havoc in life and dismantle our awareness. Just as an individual that is in the midst of their addiction or alcoholism is unable to see their true self or have love and empathy for others, so too can the way we think of others perilously influence our own life. What really defines us has to do with our daily thoughts and actions. Quite simply put, how we treat ourselves, how we treat others. Look beyond the appearances . . . until next time.