Recognizing the Genuine in Public Figures (and Yourself)

 socrates the great order

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A generative interplay exists between complementary forces that create life.

This created you (male and female) and also functions as the creative engine within you. Active and passive elements meet within you allow you to carry out plans and achieve goals.

We recognize this dynamic tension between complementary opposites when a person has the ability to live and work in a sweet spot between the two. We’re drawn in when a person or character combines seemingly opposing traits: someone capable of brutal violence who also can show a compassionate and sensitive side; a lighthearted clown later revealing a deep, penetrating mind.

To onlookers, this registers as charisma, gravitas.

For those who speak and write publicly, for those who are thought leaders, I look for the following:

Someone who has studied and thought on their subjects deeply, modeling excellence, competence and an ability to articulate things that don’t easily succumb to articulation–while also exhibiting an openness to mystery and humility (the good kind). Someone openly learning as they go along, and sharing their findings with others.

This combination of competence plus humility strikes an audience as real.

In contrast, we detect a certain drone and/or bombast to presenters, pundits and academics who are clearly self-satisfied, have their minds made up, and do not embody this humility and openness. Often these types act fiercely protective and dogmatic out of fear, desiring to keep their social standing at all costs.

Of course these types also get caught up in their particular sub-culture, and a livelihood they depend on; thus they don’t dare color outside the lines. These figures deserve rigorous challenges to their positions as avatars of truth guiding the masses.

The markers of a true thinker/explorer show us someone carefully turning the same subjects over, considering the same questions from different angles, or asking new questions about themes already discussed.

I have a phrase that I say to myself sometimes, and that is that we’re always at the beginning of knowledge.

This phrase especially applies to science these days–scientists need humility, and as the lay public who are at their mercy, so do we.

What’s cutting edge now may be taught in grade schools in coming decades, or disproven, or revealed as severely limited. History demonstrates this repeatedly.

Every generation must deal with the temptation to believe they represent the apex of civilization, which is the height of arrogance and narrowness. Cycles ebb and flow before us and after us. One of the main casualties of the modern age has been our disconnection from understanding and experiencing ourselves in the continuum of time.

To return again to the pursuit of balance in all things, we must also remember that it’s not prudent to always question authority simply out of habit: someone else’s hard work, study, and experience often deserve our respect and attention, as long as they bear the markers of truth and openness.

It’s not all smoke and mirrors.

We are certainly standing on the shoulders of giants when it comes to all that we currently know and enjoy.

We inherit the discovered lessons of those before us, we owe to their genius and diligence, and it falls on us now to maintain, develop, and improve upon their work.

Of course we still recognize that a lot of individuals make things up as they go along, often puffing themselves up to appear bigger than they are.

As you grow up, you realize this more and more. The facade of adult omnipotence falls.

That professor teaching your class?

That presenter on TV who always offers witty analysis and seems to have their finger on the pulse?

They’re often making it up as they go, or just parroting what’s safe and on the agenda in the current mainstream. Almost no one is 100% sure of what they’re doing 100% of the time.

I say this knowing full well that I myself am someone writing and presenting in a public forum.

Hence the reason I talk about tradition, because it mediates the whims or shortcomings of individuals against a background context of things that work in general, and connects us to other people. We help fill in each other’s blind spots.

That’s not to say we can’t tweak and re-interpret the lessons of the past and make them relevant for our day and age. But when we willfully ignore the trial and error that lead our ancestors to arrive at certain practices and institutions, we do so at our peril.

Free speech and open, constructive dialogue form vital bedrocks of our traditions. You can practice these in public with others, and you can also do it within, asking yourself questions that lead to harmonizing the different aspects of yourself. Part of becoming an actualized human being demands our ability to tread the balance between the known and unknown.

Therefore it is not a contradiction, but rather a boon, to move forward confidently and purposefully in your work, while at the same time remaining open, willing to recalibrate and refine yourself as you learn new things.

When society gets off balance, those who speak the truth and ask the hard questions without fear can rock us back to a more grounded and centered state of being–we must leave room for the out-of-the-box thinkers, explorers, inventors, adventurers.

Purposeful yet open; twin aspects that  many people can and should develop within themselves, not just the aforementioned public thinkers and explorers.

The energy born of balancing purposeful action with the wonder of the exploratory child produces a rigor in you, a drive for excellence.

This rigor wells up in us from a sense awe and wonder, as a opposed to a rigor that props up pretense and ego. Awe and wonder for the grandeur and mystery of life  I denote as two virtues due for a comeback. Irony and vanity can fade in their wake.

I see right through the diplomas hanging on walls, and letters after people’s names, and resumes, and who knows who. Such things may have been properly earned, or perhaps not, but either way, they still do not guarantee the character of one’s mind.

I see right through to the questions one asks.

One’s questions truly demonstrate the character of their mind. The way in which one allows those questions to work on them and live through them, fearlessly being taken where the truth leads, shows the character of one’s heart and soul.

Confidence, competence, purpose on the one hand.

On the other hand: wonder, openness to mystery, and the healthy humility that naturally follows.

These two feed each other. The more you learn and accomplish, the more you realize how much you don’t know. This engenders humility, which can in turn inspire you to go on and climb the next heights. Excellence and a healthy humility interweave to produce a combustion engine inside of you, driving you forward.

This tenor, this context, this vibe, is what I look for in those whose words and deeds I turn my own precious time and attention towards.

How much truth can a spirit bear, how much truth can a spirit dare?…that became for me, more and more, the real measure of value.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche


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