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Letter 052: The Stranger’s Ordeal

Letter 052: The Stranger’s Ordeal

Greetings, hero!

I’ve yet to face an age in which a certain percentage of the population didn’t believe the world was in dramatic decline. 

It’s far too easy of a trap to fall into: things don’t work like they used to. Hard work, true romance, and “real” music all seem to have fallen by the wayside, with kids these days lacking spines or values. 

Some people blame technology—everything from the smartphone to the internal combustion engine or printing press supposedly caused the degeneracy of the youth. Other people blame the best of society, from Socrates to Seneca to everyone in-between. And in the strangest moments, I’ve heard it blamed on progress itself, as if the world becoming a kinder and less dangerous place somehow diminished the people in it. 

Amidst so many theories, would you believe if I told you I found the real source of it--the reason things just aren’t what they used to be? And that it’s closer than you think? In fact, I’m afraid I stare at the real culprit every time I look in a mirror!

In each age, every generation must face the same personal ordeal: the dual needs that define us, the need to belong and the need to be an individual. On one hand, no man is an island. We have to find somewhere we belong, a group to fit into, whether it’s family, friends, or bi-weekly tennis partners. The world is far too dangerous and lonely to face it alone. 

And yet, underneath that need to belong, is a different need. A need that, though it might not seem like it at first, is in direct opposition to the need to belong: we need to become individuals. We yearn not just to fit in, but to stand out, to test our mettle against the worst the world has to offer and know once and for all who we are. 

It’s easy—far too easy—to avoid the work of becoming an individual. There’s so much risk involved, after all. And that’s why it’s easy to perpetually think the world is going to hell in a handbasket—because you can forever see those who chose the comfort of belonging without first enduring the ordeal of self-discovery. 

It’s a shocking revelation, one made by psychologist Florida Scott-Maxwell when psychology was in its infancy. She wrote of the people who “are not pathological but lack the ability to live their own lives.” Those people who “melt into their clubs” but find that in the process of belonging somewhere, they have lost themselves.

Instead, we choose a better path—a path that ends in belonging, yes, but one that begins in a different struggle: taking head on the ordeal of discovering who you are and what you were meant to create. 

Willingly face your inner struggle, stare into the mirror head on, and face the ordeal of self discovery. And maybe, just maybe, the world can turn itself around.

May the road rise up to meet you!

The Mentor