Soul and Sentimentality

Why bother writing? Isn’t it a thing of privilege to sit down and jam buttons on your computer for an hour? Isn’t it a question of arrogance to think you have something to say that will interest others?

Taking an hour to write every week forces me to reconnect with a larger view of life and the world as it moves on around me and it helps me reconnect with our common humanity, our common struggles through all of our differences.

Being closer to 30 than 20, at an age when many people are primarily concerned with their economic advancement and starting families, I selfishly want to focus on the state of my being. I can’t stand to live life for superficial things or exterior qualities. Life can’t be boiled down into the house you live in or how much money you make or the photos you post on Facebook of the places you’ve been and the things that you’ve seen.

After all, there is the soul which cannot be communicated through such things.

Soul has everything to do with how or even if we are able to relate to one another. The soul is the heart of our existence. The soul is the most vulnerable and easily confounded thing about us. It is easy to confuse the soul and sentimentality. Sentimentality, however, is a poor substitute for soul and we must not confuse the two.

Sentimentality says that you ought to go to church and not swear and do all the good things your parents told you to do. Sentimentality is about being a good citizen; sentimentality is a reflection of societal mores, what a group of people consider to be good and right behavior. Sentimentality is something easily packaged by Hollywood and pastors on Sunday mornings alike. Sentimentality is about appealing to the emotion inside of you and preying on that emotion; exploiting your ability to sympathize and by moved to tears. Watch a Christmas movie on TV this holiday season and you’ll get a pretty good example of what I’m talking about.

Soul is much more complicated. Soul is your ability to relate to other human beings. Not to sympathize, but to empathize. Sympathy is a condescending thing. Empathy means going down and putting yourself in another person’s shoes and really trying to get at the heart of what they are feeling. Sometimes you can’t know what another person or another group of people might be feeling and having soul means having the maturity to step back and say, “I have no idea. This is so far beyond my capacity to grasp.” Soul means that you get outraged on other people’s behalves but you don’t take it upon yourself to try and speak for others when they are suffering. That would be cheap sentimentality. Soul is fighting for others, for others’ rights, and for their advancement with a common goal. Soul is looking beyond the exterior, beyond labels, beyond differences.

There’s not much I’m good at in life, but I want to make myself a better advocate for our collective soul and to continue to try and develop my own, which is why I’ll continue to write.

To bring this full circle and make a connection to my original intent when I began this blog, here’s a similar thought I shared a while ago on my “Why Queer” page,

But what about being queer? To be ‘queer’ is to be ‘other’ – which is, I think, outside the realm of gay versus straight, liberal versus conservative, Christian versus secular. As cited from dictionary.com, queer means “strange or odd from a conventional viewpoint; unusually different; singular.”

I very easily could have been a blindly hateful, unabashedly homophobic Christian in another life. There was some grace I received and some curse in being gay and born into the particular milieu where I grew up. I’m still living it down. None-the-less, it informs the way I look at the world and has afforded me a great chance to see the soul in the people I often hate – a word I use out of sheer honesty because it describes the utter frustration, outrage, and anger I feel when I look at the lack of justice in the world.

I very easily could have been a very different person, but I changed and am still changing; growing.

Life can pass you by and leave you angry, wondering where the time has gone if you don’t take the time for critical self-reflection. Some people achieve this through conversation. Some people achieve this through religious reflection or meditation. I can only work through this in rambling blog posts. I hope that one day my writing will add up to something more but in the meanwhile I hope that it will enrich my own soul and maybe encourage and edify you as you examine your own.

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