Your friend Steve gives you the key to his drink’s cupboard and tells you that if he asks for the key in the next few days you are not to give it to him. A few days later he asks for the key and you remind him what he originally said to you. He replies that he has now changed his mind and wants you to return the key. Do you return it to him or not? This thought experiment is designed to help identify your assumptions about human nature. Do you think we have an unchanging essence or core personality, or do you believe that we are defined by our choices and that we are always re-creating ourselves based on them. If you believe the ‘real’ Steve spoke to you a few days ago then you will honor his wishes and refuse to return the key to the current Steve who you clearly judge to be less ‘real’ than the Steve of a few days ago. If, on the other hand, you respect the fact that Steve has genuinely changed his mind (re-created himself) you will feel obliged to respect his wishes and return the key.
Jesus said: “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” What did he mean by this statement? He is not saying that if you lose yourself you will find your old ‘self’ again, he is saying that if you lose yourself you will find a completely new more improved ‘self’. This interpretation helps explain the first half of the quote. If you just find your old ‘self’ again you are finding something of less value than you are likely to find after you have lost yourself and re-created yourself anew. This view, that we define ourselves by our choices, runs counter to the mantra of the baby boomers, still dispensed ad nauseam to students and adults alike, that we should follow our passions and our dreams, and above all, that we should find ourselves.
How many of us, particularly when we were young and starting out in life, had any idea who we were and what our passions and dreams were? Reflect back on your own life and ask yourself whether your dreams and passions didn’t emerge in the process of going through life grappling with issues and problems that you came across without any intention or design on your part. A good teacher kindled a spark of interest in biology, a summer job abroad led to an interest in travel, a poor computer game led you to write a better one, an extravagant spouse led you to take work more seriously and start your own business. But for these contingent events your life would have been very different. We don’t form a ‘self’ and then choose to lead a life that fulfills our ‘self’ rather we stumble into life and form our ‘self’ in the process of solving life’s problems. The purpose of life is not to find ourselves but to lose ourselves and in so doing create a ‘self’.
“You are the music while the music lasts.” T.S. Eliot