In life we are invited on a journey of authenticity – a journey to uncover and recover the true self – the person that we are meant to be. This is a psycho-spiritual journey, a voyage of discovery and it is about being ‘ordinary’ in the original meaning of the word, being usual, and being a human being.
It’s often uncomfortable pretending to be someone that we are not and many of us experience a crisis which impels us to make changes, and to let go of the false self that has often emerged as a way of coping or achieving or surviving.
Peter Lomas begins his work on Cultivating Intuition by quoting Paul Scott:
‘The truth did not come to me suddenly.
It came quietly, circumspectly, snuffling and whimpering,
looking to be let in many times before.’
I think there’s a suggestion here that we in a way intuitively know when we are real and living in the truth; in the same way we can often tell when someone is not being genuine. Sometimes there’s a need to be exceptional to stand out and to decry ordinariness. This leads to false self reassurance – a boasting and a bolstering. This is the craving to be special, to be the preferred one and the centre of attention. One suggestion is that this can then provide the illusion that we can evade the pain, disillusionment and ultimate end of ordinary living. Many a sociologist has pointed out how in contemporary society there’s a powerful conditioning factor which undermines satisfaction with the ordinary – when we are encouraged to excel or be better than, to come top of the class or develop a special skill or talent … to be superhuman, above the usual and the regular.
One of the problems is that the word ‘ordinary’ has become corrupted to mean dull, predictable, unimaginative and uninteresting. In our current society it seems that ordinary people are not special people. Turning the conventional view on its head one could say that someone who has not been able to attain a sense of ordinariness compensates by seeking an exclusive or special relationship and so to seek reassurance and importance in the eyes of another or many others.
Yet a child who has had the experience of being recognised in their own right as an individual and who then has value in themselves and who they are, has no need to seek out special status either through their achievements or through somebody or something else.
Ironically this ability to be ordinary is in itself special. There is certainly a dilemma for infants which is that they need to be recognised for what they are – neither ordinary or special – they just are being themselves, but once comparisons arise with others the young child needs to be confident about their uniqueness … but it is also important to be like others. If things go well then this paradox will be absorbed into their self-conception, and ordinary experience will provide enough excitement, richness, and security, as life unfolds so that drama, and success are not used to replace an inner emptiness.
Ordinariness then may be instead to do with richness of experience and a deep authenticity that is nothing to do with being different or special; instead it is about true to oneself … the person that God intends us to be.