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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Lost & Found


Some time ago I wrote about a growing tendency in our society for some individuals to become so self-absorbed as to lose all sense of community. I want to say at the outset that only in some cases do I think this is intentional and selfish behavior, however much it may appear to be otherwise. Perversely perhaps, some kinds of self-absorption are in fact an engagement with others. Social media might be one good example. On a positive note, reading and seeing what our friends and family are up to isn’t a bad thing—it is a passive way of staying in touch. But when it becomes the only way we communicate with those we care for it can be isolating.

Other forms of self-absorption can lead to rudeness, incivility, and outright antagonism—but whether this is the case with someone you know or a lesser form of egoism is the issue, there is a common root. More skillful writers than I have taken up the topic. Let me just say that we live in an era which indulges our preoccupation with ourselves. For some, ‘we’ are the center of our own attention.

I am the last person to suggest that we should not spend some considerable time and thought understanding ourselves and how we fit in the world. It is when we do this to the exclusion of others that it can turn into an existential nightmare. The thought that leaps to mind for me is scriptural in origin but any psychologist worth his or her salt would surely agree with the sentiment. To find one’s self, one must lose one’s self, or in less medieval language, if we want to understand who we are we need to forget about ourselves and focus instead on all those with whom we share community.

I say community to extend this beyond friends and family, although certainly they are chiefly those with whom we interact on a daily basis. I am sure no one would disagree with the addition of our spouses or significant others, colleagues, perhaps neighbors or for the generous of spirit, those who share in a faith community or are members of our race. I could go on. Where we draw the boundaries is a very personal decision. To see oneself as part of a family, a larger tribe, or affinity group lies at the heart of civic responsibility, national pride, and racial or religious identification. I can find nothing to quarrel with when we allow ourselves to feel one with others with whom we share some common trait. It is only when we permit that identification to separate us from others, when we pick and choose who we include in our sense of community that the trouble begins. I am guessing you might agree.

Let’s be frank, it is not easy to step outside ourselves—to let go of our inborn preferences for those who are—even if it is superficial, like us. It takes an extraordinary person to let go of social conditioning and upbringing and of themselves. To lose ourselves we must forget all the usual means we have for establishing valence with others. We must ask ourselves who we are that others should care what becomes of us? Seeing one’s self reflected in the eyes of others is sobering. I confess that on more than one occasion in my life I turned away—uncomfortable with what I saw. But I must also admit that I gained some incredibly valuable insight that helped me alter my course.

I would suggest to you that this kind of self-less-ness goes beyond humility. Yes, it is humbling to acknowledge that we are flawed and make mistakes. But much more than humbling, that awareness is the seed of our understanding that even those we find least appealing, least worthy, are not beneath us, nor any less than us. It is human nature to approach others in a binary fashion and to assert criteria that define one person as ‘good’ and another as bad, friend or foe, worthy or not. I struggle with this a great deal. My judgmental nature is inclined to instantaneous classification. It takes a conscious effort on my part to desist—to accept that my ability to see others as worthy is what I ask for every day, and to withhold the same is at best hypocrisy.

I am working on developing a new kind of reflex. One that responds without the knee jerk of judgement, and that views those I encounter as pieces of the evolving puzzle called me. I am learning to lose myself and find myself not in the ruminations of my own spirit but in the eyes and words and actions of others. I am learning to care less who I see in the mirror, and more in the community I keep. I understand this is not something that I will ever be able to say is done. It is the work of a lifetime. Yes, I am lost, but surely, I will be found.


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