The Independent Newsweekly
|February 26, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 46
Mary Jo Leddy is a member of the Romero House community in Toronto and the author of Radical Gratitude.
I suggest that the intrinsic link between the dynamics of the economy, the psyche and the spirit may go some way to explaining the curious situation in which many who live richly and well off, even those who live in the richest and most powerful nation on earth, feel generally powerless and vaguely guilty.
Captivity and Liberation in North America
A reflection for the first week of Lent
By Mary Jo Leddy
However, this perpetual dissatisfaction holds us captive on far deeper levels. Slowly but surely, the message that we don't have enough transmutes and transforms us at other levels of our being:
To say, "I am not enough" is to acknowledge a generalized sense of powerlessness. It is all those feelings that gnaw away at hopes we have treasured: I can't change the church. I can't change the world. The American dream is shattered. I can't change anyone else or myself for that matter. That's the way things are.
To say, "I am not good enough" is to admit to a vague feeling of guilt. It is that feeling that claws at us (and this is particularly true of people on the left) from the inside out: Who am I to say? I've never suffered that way. I should have done more. I could have done more. It must be my fault. It must be America's fault. It must be the church's fault.
In other words, the economically induced dissatisfaction in the culture of money not only drives us to shop, it also produces a profound dissatisfaction with one's very self, one's very soul, the core of one's being.
It generates within us profound feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy or guilt. Let me suggest that the intrinsic link between the dynamics of the economy, the psyche and the spirit may go some way to explaining the curious situation in which many who live richly and well off, even those who live in the richest and most powerful nation on earth, feel generally powerless and vaguely guilty. It may help shed light on some of the rather perplexing self-hatred and self-deprecation of a good number of people in North America. It may help us reflect on why so many feel there is "not enough" to go around and so are driven to a politics of scarcity in a nation of great material wealth.
The connection between the so-called "outer" world of economics and the "inner" life of the self may also offer some insight into why so many people who are relatively well off (in comparison to the vast majority of people in the world) still feel generally unhappy.
It is precisely the vagueness of the generalized feelings that flow from this all-encompassing sense of dissatisfaction that makes them so debilitating. Real feelings of powerlessness are based on realistic assessments of things in our lives or in the world, things that we cannot change. Through such an assessment we are usually left with a renewed sense of what we can change.
Similarly, real guilt, as opposed to vague guilt, can become the source of renewed energy -- both spiritual and psychological. Real guilt locates us as human beings who have the capacity (and power) to do good or ill. The person who feels really guilty is also in the process of realizing that his or her actions have consequences, that life is not inconsequential.
However, one can feel overwhelmed by feelings of vague guilt: "I am not good enough." We can feel that we are responsible for all that is wrong with the world or with the church -- and quite unsure whether we can do anything about it, just as we are quite unsure about what exactly we have done to make things go wrong.
This lack of conviction about the significance of one's actions can manifest itself in at least two ways. On the one hand, a person may feel paralyzed, unable to do or to say anything. On the other, a person may engage in a frenzy of activity and be perpetually busy. Such busyness usually results from an inability to say no to anything because we are not convinced that it matters whether we say yes to something. If we aren't convinced that the choices we make matter, then we might as well do everything that comes along. Paralysis and hyperactivity are both symptoms of a sense of insignificance and powerlessness.
Lent is a time for assuming real guilt and real power. And it is about liberating gratitude.
It is the ingratitude that blinds us.
Editor's Note: Come back to Global Perspective next week for more of Leddy's reflections for Lent. Some of the reflections are developed further in Leddy's book Radical Gratitude(Orbis, 2002).
© 2004 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111
TEL: 1-816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280