Classical Greek philosopher, Socrates (470 -399 BC) pointed out, “If you don’t get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don’t want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can’t hold on to it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change. Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.”
Lately, any discussion about the pandemic quarantine provides an opportunity for self-righteous judgment as we assess what constitutes “essential.” Suddenly, people around the world are re-evaluating their lifestyles. And publishing their analyses and critiques of both themselves and of other people, most of whom they don’t even know. Virtue signaling is nothing new; the modern term is how we label an ancient phenomenon as it currently manifests in Society. The prevalence of social media makes the prominent broadcasting of moral performance both appealing and easy.
But while many services and activities aren’t vital for sustaining the literal support of biological processes and functions that keep a heart beating, lungs breathing and a brain emitting operational waves, I contend they still have value. What confuses/ distorts our evaluation of these doings depends upon our perspective of a larger and more fundamental issue. To explore this, we need to take several chronological steps backwards.
Psychology 101 highlights a “hierarchy of needs,” which are perhaps more applicable to desert island survival but even within ordinary situations, priorities are revealed. In 1943, American psychologist, Abraham Maslow published A Theory of Human Motivation, in which he posited all Human decision-making was influenced by a gradation of priorities. His pyramid chart asserts our most basic requirements are physiological: until we reach homeostasis (the ability to maintain balance/ stability in the midst of environmental changes), i.e. securing consistent health, food, water, sleep, clothing and shelter for ourselves, every other desire will be considered a mere “want” rather than a “need.” According to Maslow, physiological requirements take priority over everything else. Once these needs are met, we can focus on safety (intimacy through family and friendships), followed by self-esteem. The peak need of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization (development/ utilization of our talents and skills, pursuit of goals and valuing partnerships and parenting).
Curiously, even the most seemingly straightforward examples of prioritizing break down often. The answer to “Is is better to purchase property on which you can have a house then travel or is it better to see the world, even if you have no permanent place to live?” will differ depending upon who you ask. Likewise, just as many people will insist their constant working will ensure a house, food and ultimately future savings, which are more important than attending BBQs and pool parties as will insist that an hour of family time is worth more than a day spent at the office, even if it means having less income. Accounts from people who survived harsh conditions, such as being stranded in the wilderness or held in captivity, give conflicting answers about what it takes to endure. Whether we acknowledge the existence of God is beside the point– after all, many people survive a harrowing experience without any spiritual epiphany; we can’t agree upon what constitutes “essential.” Herein lies the rub: whether there exists an inherent mind-body synergy. Furthermore, can the mental/ emotional aspects of Humanity be truly isolated from its physical properties? What follows are the compelling arguments for my contention that they are inescapably linked.
When we hear about a business in jeopardy, our first thought should be of the loss of jobs, which will mean loss of those employees’ income, not to mention loss of revenue from taxes and investments in the community (e.g. sponsorship of local sports teams, hosting charity fundraisers and donations to parks and museums). Next, we should realize how many services that seem frivolous to some are essential to others, such as beauty parlors that assist the disabled with self-care/ hygiene just as often as they pamper the able-bodied. During a bout of Sciatica, I managed to hobble to a salon that trimmed my nearly ingrown toenails, which I couldn’t reach while I enjoyed the soothing benefits of a massage chair. To the average stranger, I appeared no different than anyone else around me.
Then we would well to acknowledge the impact of activity and routine on mental health; instilling a sense of normalcy can help weather the storms of a transition, such as relocation (especially culture shock), the merging of households, long-term healthcare/ treatment, or grief. Consider the main element of torture as recounted by prisoners of war: inconsistent sleeping, waking and eating– sometimes windowless quarters without any change in pattern of light and dark–intended to confuse the mind and disturb the body’s natural biological rhythms.
Finally, let’s think about the loss of a means of self-expression for those with certain talents/ skills; everyone from toddlers to prison inmates can take pride (i.e. honor, satisfaction) in serving a purpose by being productive through their specific role. Additionally, there’s dignity in the very activities to which we grow accustomed. To clarify: I’m not justifying the maintenance of some facade or schtick; if anything, social media has proven just how far Human beings will go to design, present and cultivate a personal brand that may not be an accurate representation of them or their life. However, the very same offers an unprecedented ability to forge meaningful and lasting bonds with others regardless of geographical distance.
I have witnessed the saving of lives as people struggling with thoughts of self-harm reach out to strangers, who reach back, extending encouragement, humor and prayer until the danger has passed. In those instances, “homeostasis” (bodily wellness; adequate sleep; a sufficient supply of food, water, and clothing; substantial shelter) amount to nothing; emotional “safety” is ultimately what sustains the lives of everyone from military veterans– both homeless and those with stable housing– to college students, from housewives to businessmen. Personally, I benefit in a variety of ways from constant access to various online groups, especially my corn allergy support group.
Moreover, there is dignity in self-care/ hygiene as we present the best version of our self to the world– again: not as a deceptive veneer or simulation. Case in point: I will never forget the feeling of getting a haircut after going without one for so long due to a severe immune sensitivity to all the corn-based chemicals that hair salons use. Cutting my own hair turned out to be a disaster. Not only did it look unflattering, it was impossible to keep out of my face due to the awkward angles at which sections of it were cut. My mom’s stylist moved to a new facility where stylists could each rent and furnish their own room, schedule their own appointments and arrange payment as they saw fit. I was able to get a professional trim using my own products without being surrounded by odors and substances that would make me sick. The moment my mom announced the opportunity, I surprised myself by bursting into tears. I was overcome with emotion at the prospect of experiencing a “normal” human activity and not just alone in my kitchen.
Our dignity lies in our ability to honor how God has created us. As custodians of these our mortal bodies, we must someday give account for if/how we maintained them, a sobering thought if you believe the Holy Bible, which not only says that each Human is created in the image of a triune God (3 divine persons who share 1 essence); as such, their body is a temple capable of spiritual worship.
As St. Basil the Great (330-379 AD) put it, “To Whom does our God say, ‘in our image’ (Genesis 1:26), to whom if it is not to Him who is ‘the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person’ (Hebrews 1:3), ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15)? It is then to His living image, to Him Who has said ‘I and My Father are one’ (John 10:30), ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9), that God says, ‘Let us make man in our image’.” According to St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662 AD), “Those who seek the Lord should not look for Him outside themselves; on the contrary, they must seek Him within themselves through faith made manifest in action. For He is near you: ‘The word is… in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith’ (Romans 10:8) –Christ being Himself the word that is sought.”
As Gregory Palamas (1296-1357) explained, “Being bodiless, God is nowhere, but as God He is everywhere. If there were a mountain, a place or any part of Creation where God was not, then He would be found to be in some way circumscribed. So He is everywhere and in everything. In what way is this so? Is He contained not by each part but by the whole? No, because then that would be a body. He embraces and encompasses everything, and is Himself everywhere and also above everything, worshipped by true worshippers in His Spirit and Truth.” Part of our honor, devotion, gratitude and love to/for the creator of such an intricately designed temple, is both maintenance and embellishment. The tradition of dressing up for church as one would dress up for a job interview, wedding, funeral, or awards banquet– or clean and decorate a house/ vehicle for sale, a building for its business’ grand opening– comes from a sense of reverence. Sadly, wanting to showcase our beauty and highlight our features has been distorted from a celebration of God to a celebration of ourselves as being worthy of adoration. We want to be liked; “Be impressed with me!” We want to be revered; “Be intimidated by me!” To return our veneration to the one who gifted it makes all the difference.
Socrates, who was born about 470 years before Jesus Christ, had said, “And therefore if the head and the body are to be well, you must begin by curing the soul; that is the first and essential thing. And the care of the soul, my dear youth, has to be effected by the use of certain charms, and these charms are fair words; and by them temperance is implanted in the soul, and where temperance comes and stays, there health is speedily imparted, not only to the head, but to the whole body.”
Jesus Christ expounded upon many of his teachings. As recounted in Matthew 6, he said,
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you…
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money…
This is the point at which their theology/ philosophy converges. Contrast the perspective of Jesus Christ’s disciples and early Christianity’s apostles as articulated by John of Damascus (675-749): “Every man possesses that which is according to the image of God, for the gifts of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). But only a few– those who are virtuous and holy, and have imitated the goodness of God to the limit of human powers– possess that which is according to the likeness of God.” with modern spirituality, which has re-integrated the view of Greek philosopher, Plato (428-348 BC). This has led to the belief in all matter (which God created) as inherently evil, rather than tainted with the consequences of evil (which stems from choices disobedient to God’s direction). Therefore, everything/one must justify its/ their existence.
Plato was a student of Socrates (470 – 399 BC), who taught, “There is one way, then, in which a man can be free from all anxiety about the fate of his soul– if in life he has abandoned bodily pleasures and adornments, as foreign to his purpose and likely to do more harm than good, and has devoted himself to the pleasures of acquiring knowledge, and so by decking his soul not with a borrowed beauty but with its own– with self-control, and goodness, and courage, and liberality, and truth– has fitted himself to await his journey in the next world.” while Jesus Christ taught that to experience God levels the playing field whereby both the schooled rich and the uneducated poor could achieve spiritual enlightenment. Furthermore, God sees no difference in value among any demographic.
As The Apostle (Saint) Paul explained in 1st Corinthians, “…Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
Must leaders make decisions that aren’t necessarily fair (i.e. equal)? Yes. Is it helpful to be organized and systematic when that maintaining order? Absolutely. But keep in mind there are limitations and flaws to be found everywhere; evil has invaded and we should expect it cause problems. However, that doesn’t justify our judgment of others. Since we can’t know every detail of someone else’s situation, let alone see their heart’s motivation, let’s each worry about ourselves, which is the only thing we can truly know. Elect leaders with integrity, trust God, judge yourself. Then live accordingly.