Escape. Embrace. Or Not. Or Both.

I follow a number of interesting blogs, among them that of TK Coleman, a self-described philosopher whose blog tagline reads: “Ideas are my intoxication. Philosophy is my psychedelic.”

In a recent post, titled “Escape,” Coleman discusses the nature of “personality:” what it is, how  it’s formed, how we and others experience our own.

He begins by sharing the “conventional wisdom,” that we:

“can’t escape the reality of who we are by changing the location of our physical environment,” 

In other words, wherever you go, you’ll still be you; you can run, but you can’t hide (from yourself); your issues are your issues and they remain with you unless and until you address them; etc.

It’s a paradigm to which Colemen says he previously subscribed, and from which he now finds himself distancing in favour of one that gives at least equal weight (perhaps more) to the potential of our external environment to shape our personal identity.

We are, Coleman writes:

“significantly shaped by the architectural structures we inhabit, the topographical qualities of the landscapes we navigate, the manner in which we see and sense surrounding space, the social networks in which we consciously and unconsciously participate, the frequency with which we are exposed to various elements within nature,  and a host of other factors…”

Yes, we are.

Coleman then suggests:

“That is, we are not separate, discrete, isolated individuals. We are communal beings who exists as part of a vast ecological network.”

Hold on.

Like the nature virtue versus nurture debate, this one is unlikely to be resolved by espousing the virtues of one possibility over the other in a dichotomy that ignores additional possibilities, the most obvious of which is that we are both separate, discrete, and isolated, AND parts of a vast web of humanity in which we are simply smaller elements comprising a communal whole the vastness of which any single individual can scarcely imagine.

I am reminded of a long-ago inspirational post of my own entitled Keep Notes in Your Pockets, based on advice I found in Fitting in Is Overrated, a wonderful book by psychologist Leonard Felder.

A taster from the post:

You are a unique and amazing part of creation, you are an original. There is not other individual quite like you. (More here)

Equally:

You are like a grain of sand. You are part of a huge, ever-changing creative process that includes millions of grains of sand, strong swirling winds and refreshing ocean waves that sometimes wash over and connect the sand particles. (More here)

I know both these realities to be true as I witnessed my own capacity, in my own small ways, to impact the world around me. I have also experienced my core self being shaped by the environment and/or the space I inhabit at any given point in time. The sublime beauty of sunrise, sunset, nature in all its forms, light, shadow, weather — all have the potential to transform if we truly see them and allow them into the be-ing which is our self. So do the challenges we overcome, or to which we surrender, or both.

In this way, I am both lost and found, seen and invisible, crazy and sane, powerful and weak, good and evil (so is the world about which I blogged in 2008), joyful and despairing.

Like the worlds around and within us, our selves are dynamic, constantly evolving physical and spiritual entities the reality of which we may choose to escape or embrace.

Or not. Or both.

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About AmazingSusan

Dementia care advocate and blogger.

One comment

  1. Thanks for reference, Susan.

    Great post. You make a lot of good points here.

    I agree with all you say. I’d only add one point of clarification regarding my perception of the both/and approach you advocate here.

    You wrote: “It’s a paradigm to which Coleman says he previously subscribed, and from which he now finds himself distancing in favour of one that gives at least equal weight (perhaps more) to the potential of our external environment to shape our personal identity.”

    I not only previously subscribed to the conventional view, but I still subscribe to this conventional view. What I have now rejected is not the conventional view, but rather my previously held assumption that the conventional view, all by itself, tells the complete unabridged story of what it means to be a person. I have now adopted the more multidimensional approach you seem to advocate here. So, I do not advocate one position over the other; rather I advocate a broader ecological understanding of human nature that includes, but does not exclude, a healthy notion of autonomy and individualism.

    For me, adding the collective/communal perspective does not require me to contradict, devalue, or abandon the individual perspective.

    I also agree with your recommendation that there are more options in life than merely escaping. As you say, we can also embrace, or do both, or do neither. For me, escaping can be a dangerous and destructive practice if we’re running from the realities that we need to face and acknowledge. As I say in my post, “If you need to escape, escape. But don’t escape from reality. Escape from the corrupting influences that prevent you from honestly and healthily engaging reality.”

    If it makes us whole, we should embrace. If it functions as a psychological prison, escape may be a desirable option. And,as you say, there are times where both might be in order. And if our conceptual metaphors of escaping and embracing do not apply to our situation at all, then we can leap beyond our limiting conceptual/linguistic structures and open ourselves to even newer or more varied possibilities.

    On a different note, I really REALLY love the way you say the following:

    “I know both these realities to be true as I witnessed my own capacity, in my own small ways, to impact the world around me. I have also experienced my core self being shaped by the environment and/or the space I inhabit at any given point in time. The sublime beauty of sunrise, sunset, nature in all its forms, light, shadow, weather — all have the potential to transform if we truly see them and allow them into the be-ing which is our self. So do the challenges we overcome, or to which we surrender, or both.”

    I am discovering this, on a visceral level, as you have already done in spades. The more I grow, learn, and experience, the more my sense of spaciousness seems to expand. With this expansion seems to come an improved (but never perfect) ability to see the beauty and transforming power in all experiences including the the ones I previously felt the need to run from or avoid. What a liberating experience. So, your words really resonate with me here.

    I think I’ve written a blog in the comments here. lol. Thanks for reading my thoughts. And thanks again for the reference.

    Cheers,

    TK

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