Know Thyself. Give Thyself.


“The reason for life is self mastery for the purpose of self giving.”
-Jacques Maritain


Perhaps you’ve had the same experience. You see some self-help or self-improvement guru on TV or in some magazine telling people how to fix themselves and find happiness. But the longer you watch or read, the more you realize this is just classy selfishness. Despite terms like mindfulness, healing, wellness and inner peace, the patina of spirituality is just a fig leaf for indulgence.

It would be easy to root out this problem if we could simply say, Forget about yourself. It’s not about you! You will only find your happiness in serving others. That is how you will transcend yourself!

Plenty of scolds are good at delivering that speech. It sounds so “adult,” so ascetical, so commonsensical, as in “get over yourself, sister!” The problem is, it’s only half right. It doesn’t help to tell a person to forget about her self until she has in fact located that self, known that self. You cannot give a self you don’t even have! And many people in the frenetic modern world are divorced from their very selves.

It’s important, then, to find yourself, to comply with the ancient Delphic oracle: Know thyself. And once you make contact with the self you’ve neglected for years, it makes sense to care for it, to stop doing it violence, to nurture it daily with the spiritual food that keeps it vibrant and strong. But (and this is the big conjunction) then it’s natural to extend that self to others.

The French Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain said, “The reason for life is self mastery for the purpose of self giving.” Self mastery for the purpose of self giving. That’s the perfect pair. So often we get only one of those things. We master ourselves, but only for our gratification. Or we give ourselves before we have anything, really, to give and we end up depleted, angry, resentful and depressed.

Some of you reading this might well say, I’ve been on a self-mastery journey for a long, long time and it’s time to start giving it away. Others may well be saying, I’ve been giving, giving, giving until I am sick and tired, and it’s time to start knowing myself, mastering myself. Trust the Holy Spirit to tell you which.


2 Responses to Know Thyself. Give Thyself.
  1. Jim Moore
    July 26, 2018 | 7:28 pm

    Amen. And Shakespeare had it right: “To thine own self be true. Then it follows as the night the day, thou canst be false to any man.”

  2. frank johnson
    July 30, 2018 | 9:53 am

    L like what someone said about this, “Do not think less about yourself, but think more about others”.

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