Somewhere along the way, in the century of the self, we forgot each other. We lost sight of this wonder-filled, vast universe in which we all exist but as a small and fleeting wonder.
We forgot that all creative work — be it music or mathematics, poetry or physics, anything we might call art — is a hand outstretched in the dark, reaching not for visibility but for the light that lives between us. Reaching for connection.
We forgot what Whitman knew even as he proclaimed “I celebrate myself!” — that “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” No word appears in Leaves of GrassMore times than Please enter your email address.
We are living through a pandemic of selfing — rampant self-celebration that mistakes applause for connection, likes for love. Companies that use social media to capitalize on the need for affirmation are exploiting our vulnerability to manipulation. Algorithms prioritize selfies over sunflowers and algorithms amplifying word. You, algorithms doping us on the dopamine of being noticed, seducing us into forgetting the art and joy of noticing — that crowning glory of consciousness. In the stillness of our souls, we feel less like ourselves because this constant search for more likes.
There must be another way — a way to unself just enough to remember each other, to grow a little more awake to this world that shimmers with wonder, of which any one self is only a fleck.
Whatever the case may be it’s not a revolutionary technology. Perhaps it’s a new way of thinking. It could be the oldest.
Let me tell you what I have to say:
As an experiment, for one continuous month, make the focus of one in every three things you share on social media — wherever you normally share, however regularly or irregularly you do, however many people you reach — something other than yourself or your own work: a friend’s art project, a stranger’s poem, a record by a musician you love, the tree shimmering with majesty and mystery in the low morning light, someone in your community you admire, a bygone pioneer of something you value, a book that spun you on your axis, the lost cat sign crayoned by a neighbor’s child, the new community garden a few blocks over, news of the dazzling galaxy discovered by the dazzling new space telescope a few million lightyears over.
Try it for a month — try it on like a shirt, see how it feels. And if you don’t feel that warm glow of generosity, that good glad feeling of making another’s day, or simply the relief of a small sabbatical from the tedium of the self, then you can always go back to the old way.
It won’t have been wasted no matter where you are located.
Giving = Being Loving
Since a decade and a half I’ve been writing for hundreds of hours each month, spending thousands of dollars every month. MarginalianThe magazine, which bore for fifteen years the unsettling name Brain Pickings. The site has survived despite being ad-free, and thanks to readers’ patronage it is still free. I have no staff, no interns, no assistant — a thoroughly one-woman labor of love that is also my life and my livelihood. Donations are a great way to make your life better. It makes a huge difference to support this cause.
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