Dare to Be Authentic?

By: Nimi Wariboko
Friday, April 18th, 2014

robotIf you are a human being and not a robot reading this essay then you know the struggle between being authentic to your particular or universal self. As a woman you are first and foremost a woman in your own skin. But then you are a woman along with other women. If you are vastly different from all women, then no one will recognize you as a woman. So how do you balance your particular and universal selves? Is there a space between them so you can be both at the same time? A space you can inhabit which will not require that you measure your soul by the tape of the universal or live with two irreconcilable ideals in your finite body, to use Du Bois’s words. So my friend, how do you reach the universal from the particular place of your ontological or social existence? This question or the preceding paragraph gives the impression that there is a gap between the particular and the universal. What if there is no gap? What if what we consider as the particular is a crack within the universal, the inability of the universal to totally close in on itself? Or, is the universal the crack in every particular that emits or receives the eros of communion?

The universal is the deepening of the particular. If you go intensely and deeply into a particular lived experience you will break through into the universal. The universal is the deep musicality of the particular. When the particular sings of its deep emotions and rationality it reveals the universal in it, which is nothing but the rhythmic weaving of particulars’ threads that are always colored by the joys and sorrows of their spaces and times. To be particular, to be uniquely oneself, to be authentic to one’s being is to draw out the ownmost thread of one’s fabric of being and donate it to weave the fabric of universal human livingness.

Novelists have known this for a long time. The novelist’s attention to the particular and the concrete of her characters draws us into that which is universal in all human beings and enriches our understanding of our humanity. In the hands of a skilled novelist the particular is an exemplar of the universal. Through attentiveness to particularity in the narrative of the characters, the novelist is able to invoke in the reader a sympathetic identification with the fictional characters and thus draw the reader to the variety and contradictions in the universal.

The particular as the golden road to the universal, as a blissful portal into the universal, is also evident in Christian thought. It is generally believed that when a person opens her finite self to the Holy Spirit to feel the divine presence in its particular intensity, to intimately feel the sensation of being, she enters into a special fellowship with the infinite God. It is when a woman is grasped and shaken by the power of being (who she is authentically) that she finds her own unfolding space in Being-itself. The person who has not discovered her own “who” is yet to appear at the illuminated stage where her being is unconcealed. Rather than sit and endlessly philosophize about universal darkness, sages advise a curious person to light her own candle and let it shine and in that particular light she will become part of the universal light that banishes darkness.

The particular is penetrated and animated by the universal. The universal is at the heart of the particular. The particular participates in and conveys the universal not as a stranger, but as the veritable medium of self-disclosure of the universal. Hannah Arendt once wrote that the birth of a human being is always a miracle, a unique gift to the world and a unique insertion into the ongoing social processes of the world. Yet we know that the universal structure of man/woman is always there. Indeed the particular is a miraculous, ecstatic manifestation of the universal, which does not lose its structure in the appearance of the particular.

We have delved deep into the details of a single viewpoint that accents the particular in order to understand the universal. But this is not the only way to approach the matter. The universal can also be considered as a gathering of particulars. When particulars come together as a set they constitute the universal. The universal is not within anyone of them, but is in their midst. It arises from the material complexity of the particulars—a relational quality—and is not identical with any of them. When the particulars separate the universal ceases to exist. In this sense, the universal is continually emergent, radically unstable, and non-foundational.

There is still another perspective. It holds that the universal is the arche, the head of the particulars. If we knew the originative source or the mother lode of the particulars then we have known the universal. The question is how do we go back far enough to reach the origins or the foundational beginnings of the particular? Let us say we knew the origins but today it no longer exist, can it still be the universal? There will be another problem even if the original still exists. If the universal exists then it is just one being/particular among many beings/particulars and as such it is not the ground of the existing particulars or the particular-itself. Existence relativizes the universal.

From the foregoing we can surmise that the choice between the particular and the universal is a false one. A person is never truly set apart from the universal. Thus we best take care of the fabric of our existence when we care for a particular person and her needs. Do not seek for the universal person to help, be radically hospitable to the person before you!

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Nimi Wariboko
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