active and contemplative

If we compare the two ways of knowing, it is easy to see that modern men and women need at least a balance between the vita activa and the vita contemplative, the active and the contemplative life, if they are not to atrophy spiritually. The pragmatic way of grasping things has very obvious limits, and beyond these limits the destruction of life begins. This does not apply only to our dealings with other people. It is true of our dealings with the natural environment too.

But the meditative way of understanding seems to be even more important when it is applied to our dealings with our own selves. People take flight into relationships, into social action and into political praxis, because they cannot endure what they themselves are. They have ‘fallen out’ with themselves. So they cannot stand being alone. To be alone is torture. Silence is unendurable. Solitude is felt to be ‘social death’. Every disappointment becomes a torment which has to be avoided at all costs.

But the people who throw themselves into practical life because they cannot come to terms with themselves simply become a burden for other people. Social praxis and political involvement are not a remedy for the weakness of our own personalities. Men and women who want to act on behalf of other people without having deepened their own understanding of themselves, without having built up their own capacity for sensitive loving, and without having found freedom towards themselves, will find nothing in themselves that they can give to anyone else. Even presupposing good will and the lack of evil intentions, all they will be able to pass on is the infection of their own egoism, the aggression generated by their own anxieties, and the prejudices of their own ideology.

Anyone who wants to fill up his own hollowness by helping other people will simply spread the same hollowness. Why? Because people are far less influenced by what another person says and does than the activist would like to believe. They are much more influenced by what the other is, and his way of speaking and behaving. Only the person who has found his own self can give himself. What else can he give? It is only the person who knows that he is accepted who can accept others without dominating them. The person who has become free in himself can liberate others and share their suffering.

~J├╝rgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life

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