It is the New Year, and as the memories of Christmas fade away, we begin making progress on our resolutions. Traditionally a time to reassess the person we have chosen to be- usually more at a physical level than anything deeper. However, this year, perhaps we can challenge ourselves to exercise our rationality and go deeper for once. Namely, changing our perspective of our place in the world which is encapsulated by the decision to be in the world, yet not of it.
This nifty little phrase refers to the choice to experience life and all of its trials and tribulations but not get sucked down by the expectations, attitudes and behaviours of the material world.
The truth which we barely acknowledge is that there is always a choice being given to us. We are constantly given the opportunity to choose between being something unique and standing for what we believe to be right, or taking the easy way out and follow what the world seems to think is correct or has preordained.
The obvious issue is that sometimes it is difficult to go against the grain; sometimes it is difficult to say that we do think something different and we are willing to exercise that which we believe. However, let it be shouted from the rooftops that making the decision to be in the world, but not of it, is something which is beyond commendable.
“In truth, the world doesn’t actually evolve in easy to decipher steps- rather it takes the brave actions of individuals acting independently for a change to happen. These individuals took on the world in the context it was in; respecting their past while looking forward to a better future.”
To illustrate the point, one can find an example in Mandela. He was an individual who was not brought up in some enlightened or special way. In fact, he had a very similar upbringing to many of the Xhosa of his age. His book, The Long Walk to Freedom, details his ritual circumcision, his playing with his friends, his plans for the future. None of them were particularly out of the ordinary for a man of his time and place. The change came when he made the decision to take a stand against the status quo and put out the idea that, actually, we don’t have to subscribe to the man-made traditions of the world, but can evolve into something new.
This mentality is not Mandela’s alone. We can see it in Rosa Parks decision to sit in the White seat, in Gandhi’s peaceful marches against the British, in Lincoln’s emancipation of the black slaves. In truth, the world doesn’t actually evolve in easy to decipher steps- rather it takes the brave actions of individuals acting independently for a change to happen. These individuals took on the world in the context it was in; respecting their past while looking forward to a better future. They understood the necessity to be in the world and appreciate it, but not be of it and consumed by what other people consider to be normal.
So, in this world where we are confronted with the concept that material things are the most important aspect of our lives, how can we truly begin to shake off the shackles of fear, doubt and anxiety which plague us as a result? For they are the concepts which make us move away from who we truthfully are, especially if we don’t “fit in” and instead of disregarding them for the fallacy they are, we become obsessed with changing ourselves until only a shadow of the person we were still remains.
The truth is, the call to be in the world, but not of it, is brutally difficult to live out. We will constantly fail, but so long as we continue to try reaffirm who we are external to the world, then we will inevitably live a more secure life. Who we choose to be rests purely on our own shoulders, rather than the expectations, attitudes, morals and behaviours of those we are surrounded by. In this New Year, we do not need to fall into the trap of thinking we need to change ourselves to suit the world. Perhaps it is time we redirected our ambition, faculties and unique perspectives to changing the world around us.
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