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Identity & Originality

Jessup Think
Jessup Think
Identity & Originality

Psychology Professor Richard Mullis rejoins Mark to discuss the role of originality in identity. Together Mark and Richard examine the writings of Adrian van Kaam, a mid-twentieth century, Dutch, catholic priest who wrote extensively on the topic of identity and spiritual formation. His unique definition of originality guides the episode and grounds a proper understanding of our uniqueness and our Divine origin in God.


Welcome to Jessup think I’m your host, Mark Moore. And back on the show is Professor of Psychology. Richard Mullis. Richard, welcome back. Thank you, it’s great to be back, you know, it’s good to have you back so soon to so soon to, to kind of do a little, little part two of our, in our last episode together, we talked about identity in Christ. And we’re going to kind of build on that today. But remind me kind of how we looked at identity in Christ, how do we define identity in Christ?

I believe that our deepest core sense of identity is as being made as a child of God being made in the image of God. And so that is, like, deep and fundamental, and, and irreplaceable, and other other forms of identity that aren’t kind of grounded in that I’m suggesting might be problematic for the human person. And yeah, maybe we’ll talk about some of that. But

yeah, cuz we did, we referenced kind of when you when you look at that identity at your most profound level, right, and grounding that in the imago, dei, the image of God, and understanding yourself as a child of God as your, as your most your most fundamental core identity, that also brings up that we have all these false identities, that that these false sources of identity that we find ourselves in and we referenced, are one of our favorite writers and renowned and he talks about kind of three false sources of identity that I am, what I do, I am what I have. I am what other people say about me, which every time I say those three, I realized that those are three that I still struggle with. Oh, yeah. That that even though I’ve read him and read that a million times from him, I can still read that and be like, yep, I still find my identity in all three of those things. Sometimes at the same time.

Yeah, that’s right. And, and I think we briefly spoke about it. But sometimes we have to get clear on that. And almost like, say out loud, least for me, I have to say out loud or put it in a journal like okay, right? Well, these things are important, you know, what I do or what they’re important, what people say, and etc, etc. But they’re also not the deepest core fundamental thing. So sometimes I have to have renunciate or runouts. Yeah.

Yeah. And I think and you kind of we talked last time, either about those practices of either journaling it out saying it out loud, like really negating those things. And, and I think that’s just so important. And it’s something that you don’t just do once, we have to keep, you have to keep doing, but kind of Henry now in will transition into kind of another writer that I want to focus on today. He is also a mid 20th century, Dutch Catholic priests, psychologists. Awesome. Yeah. Which is just bread and butter. I’m seeing a trend here. Yeah, just his name is Adrian Vaughn calm. And, and he’s among like, numerous spiritual formation topics that he has written on. He writes a lot about identity and originality. And he has this great little book from the early 70s. It has a beautiful 70s cover to love oranges and yellows. Yeah, it’s beautiful. And it’s the title is great title is very good. Early 70s. Title two, on being yourself. Yeah, I love that. It’s kind of you know, I mean, cuz I think a lot of people in the late 60s kind of lost their minds, and maybe lost themselves themselves. And so early 70s is like a is nice for this book to come on being yourself. And he makes a really good connection. And I think a really good contrast, actually, between what we mean when we talk about identity and Christ, and what we don’t mean by that. And he actually uses a contrast of, of Eastern mysticism. And he says, I just want to read you this quote, because I think it kind of sets up where we’re going to go specifically on the idea of originality. He says, Eastern mysticism aims at man’s fusion with the sacred, his disappearance in the totality of all that is, right, so Eastern mysticism is going into the sacred, kind of losing yourself. Christian spirituality stresses the opposite. The Christian believes that he originates from God as a unique person. Mm hmm. So it’s, it’s kind of like this outward origination right like you originate from God as a unique person. And then he kind of notes this dragon important says to be sure Christian spirituality speaks about giving up myself for getting myself dying. The old man, this does not mean however, that a Christian should lose his identity or fuse with the Godhead. It means that as a Christian, I should distance myself from false self images,

which is exactly what now I’m saying as well. And then he says this, I must find my original self as hidden in God. Hmm. Yeah, that seems very congruent and consistent with what we were trying to say in that previous podcast is just that deepest core essential part of us, actually is a gift that comes from God. Right, his image imbued in us and, and that that is like the, the, the starting place for our originality is,

yeah, and this sound my stress to students all the time that that finding your identity in Christ is not losing your identity. But it is actually, in Christ, you find who you really are. And and I think some people view the Christian life as this kind of maybe stripping away of who they are, and they have to become someone else. And, and it’s actually in Christ, you find out who you really are. I love that idea of finding your original self, and your hidden in God. Right. So you’re still in God. But but there’s this original self. Yeah, it’s not this kind of losing that identity. Yeah. And becoming and maybe even losing your unique identity amongst other Christians, as well, you know, that it’s not this just kind of coming together and everybody having the same personality. Same. Yeah, they’re all that it’s finding that true self in God. And it’s really important now, like how he defines that, that, that maintains both that that we are our original selves, hidden and God.

Yeah, it’s to pick up on what you were reading just a moment ago, that an Eastern religions or Eastern philosophy, the sense of like a drop of water being fused with the ocean, like right all individuality disappears. And in in western spiritualities. In general, I think we have a sometimes a hyper focus on the self, and contradistinction to all these others. And I think Christianity really embodies the virtues of both of those sides. Yeah. So on the one hand, we Yes, we are united with God, we have union with God, we will forever be participating with him in his divine life and in His Kingdom. So, yes, on union, but also, like you were saying, we we maintain our distinction, right, he knows us uniquely. There’s nobody else like us. Yeah. So but in some ways, I think Christianity is, is, is mixes the best of those two traditions.

That’s a great perspective of Yeah, of having both of us, because on the other side of maybe Western spiritualities, that hyper distinction can become a problem. Exactly. Yeah. That’s some of those false identities maybe that we might get into. Yeah, yeah. So Vaughn calm goes on, in this book, in his very first chapter to, to define originality, and it’s been a definition that has just blown me away. And each time I read it, I feel like I learned something new. And so I want to kind of explore this definition of originality with you. And because I think we use that word a lot. Sometimes, but we again, kind of like identity in Christ, but we don’t, like understand maybe the actual definition or we use it. And we have that desire to be original. And I think it’s a desire and we’ll talk more about that desire, especially in the west to be an individual to be an original individual. And, and Vaughn calm defines it this way says this, he says, to be original means that I am the origin of what I think feel, say and do. I’m gonna read that again. Yeah, it was let it soak in, please do I want to soak that up to be original means that I am the origin of what I think feel, say and do. For me, I had never had a logically made the connection of originality and the word origin. Yeah. And so when he made that connection, I was like, Oh, that makes sense. originality, something originating from me. He goes on to clarify that because I think you could maybe hear that and sometimes I use this in class and, and even talk, you know, with other Christians about it. And I think one of the first things people are like, way, way way, we’re not the origin of everything. That’s true. We’re not the origin of everything. So my income clarifies that he says to be original does not mean however, that I’m the origin of my inner and outer acts in an ultimate independent way, right? So he’s always going to bring us back to our divine origin. In God. He uses an example of Lake Victoria as the kind of the origin of the Nile River. And, and it’s really good analogy, because he says Lake Victoria is the Nile River comes out of Lake Victoria. But Lake Victoria does not originate itself. It gets rainwater against all these other sources, other streams coming into it, right. So but then, like, Victoria is the origin of the Nile River. And so really, this idea of originality is the idea that I’m, I’m are starting to try to understand I’m the origin of that which originates from me, right there. And so he uses thoughts, feelings, what we say and what we do. Yeah, really everything that we can do, right? I mean, that those four kind of encompass it. Yeah, that we’re the origin of that. Yeah.

And just contextually, in the 1970s, there was a big movement in psychology, a secular movement that was really stressing this being, you know, being being original, owning what you think and feel and say, and not being unduly influenced by these external sources, right? I have a sense that he’s writing in that context, when, when you have a theological grounding of being made in the image of God, and that you aren’t the origin of yourself, you have a divine origins, right, man, now you’re, like, totally freed up to like, really own, who you have been made to be. how you’re going to flesh that out in the real world, with with how you relate to others, your right job, how you express yourself in or personally, or give some hobby. I mean, there’s so much there. But But yeah, but that that is a really an important distinction, where he starts and what you’re mentioning is like being grounded in God first. So you can discover your originality and then express it versus eliminate God from your life. Right. in, in, in in seek to be your own grounding. And that has some burst problems that come with that.

Yeah. And part two, maybe that the time period as well is flowing out of, I mean, the 50s. And it seems like maybe that stress on people should look this way, do a certain thing. And then the 60s comes in and just like bombs, right? I mean, just explodes that and I think a very good maybe, like, obviously extreme, but it was probably a good push back culturally of like, Hey, we are individuals. But then yeah, it’s it’s it, then I think we’re still reeling from that cultural explosion of the late 60s. And it’s, it’s nice to have a voice that comes right in the middle of that and says, Yeah, this individuality is good. And originality is good. What we do have to remember our, our divine origin in God. And once we have that, then we can actually we are free to be original, like that, that we can then be the origin of what we think feel, say and do. And oftentimes those things are controlled by our maybe false selves, right? We say certain things, because we think that’s what other people want us to say. Maybe to be funny, maybe to fit in maybe to look smart. Why do you get to pick on all my stuff? You know, I’m not I’m not trying. I’m looking in a mirror. I’m looking in and we’re, we do certain things, because it’s what other people maybe would want us to do. Yeah. And that can be good, bad or indifferent. Right? I

mean, yeah. And it can be conscious and unconscious, right? Like, consciously you might think, oh, what can I say? Or do or how can I dress or behave to fit in? Yeah, and then other times it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s at a deep, profound unconscious level that we’ve been kind of socially kind of programmed to sometimes to fit in or we’re influenced by social forces, cultural forces that we just kind of breathe the air of those things. Yeah, without critically examining is that right congruent with either a who God has made me to be or be who I who I want to be. God and with others. Yeah. So I think there’s a real need for being able to consciously discriminate or consciously make distinctions or consciously sift and I think I use the metaphor of being of stripping before being stripped of certain false identity, false conceptions of self or, or false or amram ways of relating to others. Like, sometimes we get back that stop back the truck up, examine it, look at it, negate some things, right? and clarify, who am I? Who do I want to be in this? And who is God calling me to be in this?

Yeah. And at that point, we can be original, we can, we can start to understand ourselves as as the origin of those things. Now, usually, though, culturally, when we talk about originality, what do you think most people maybe have in mind when they think of originality?

I think most people have uniqueness in mind. They want to be unique. They want to be special. They want to be different from others and different and valued. Different. Yeah, prized and write special. And

that’s a good distinction because you can be different. And some people are like, I don’t want to be different in that way. But different and valued like that.

Yeah, some, some people might say, Oh, yeah, I want to be different. And I don’t care if people hate me or whatever. But right, that that can sometimes be short lived. We do need positive human contact, right, contrary to the phrase, you know, being an island, too, like we do need other people on this island with us. Right? That’s helpful. But

yeah, and I usually bring this up with students, I bring this this definition up, because I’m trying to help them maybe change the way they’ve been defining originality, as this idea yeah, as a uniqueness or just a difference, like I want to be different. And one thing that that Vaughn calm notes is that you can be different, outwardly different, or outwardly, even, like, new and coming up with new things, and be unoriginal. And you can be outwardly very similar to everyone else, and be inwardly original. Yeah. Because those things you were doing are originating from you, even though they’re the same things other people are doing and saying, but they’re originating from you. Mm hmm. And I think it’s so helpful to make that distinction. Because there is kind of a stress in, in most of our movies, most of Disney’s movies, right, this idea of originality, and uniqueness and celebrating that, which I think is positive, right. I mean, it is, again, maybe a little bit of the carryover of, of the 50s. And trying to force people into certain images. And we’ve kind of exploded that and most people who maybe took part of that explosion are now maybe managers of a lot of the our producers, or directors. And so they’re carrying those those cultural themes onto us. But then realizing that it’s not just about being outwardly different. It’s not just about coming up with the new thing. And there’s maybe fear of doing the same things as others. Yeah. But actually, originality is about you being the origin.

Yeah. Yeah, I might frame it this way, is that if you think of like tension, or you know, the fancy word for this is kind of like dialectics. But on one side, you have the eastern on one side, you have the western or on one side, there are certain cultural manifestations, right? In some cultures of the world, there’s more an emphasis on conformity and not standing out and not being unique, not being special, but being like the group, right and there may be certain strengths with that on certain things, but there might also be certain certain forms of hindrances also. Whereas in the West, we are stressing a lot about being unique, be special, your unique voice, your unique contribution, and again, also a lot of strengths in that, but there could also be certain hindrances or hazards with that. And so, in the 1970s, a lot of social theorists and psychologists were writing about a culture of narcissism that almost in the West, we almost promote this individuality and uniqueness so much, that it is leading to kind of a hyper individualism and a kind of a culturally inbred narcissism. So being so self focused, um, in some in some of our discourse in our culture today, like there don’t seem to be a lot of ideas that are compelling about our, our responsibilities to others, because we’re so focused on ourselves. Are you unique ideas or unique preferences, which can sometimes turned into unique entitlements, right unique pathologies, right as well. So, and I think in our late, you know, late modern or some people call postmodern culture, we kind of do away with history, and we want originality or uniqueness. And what’s new the next Yeah, is if somehow we need to cut ties with all the good things from the past. Right, so, so there. So and then, just to summarize that, I don’t think health is to be found and either one or the other on that tension. But I think we’ve got to be dialing that in and be consciously aware that sometimes stressing our calmness and connectedness can really be a virtue and other times stressing our uniqueness. And in that sense, that can be a virtue, but there may also be various vices that we also have to clarify and kind of dial in, in that spectrum. But I don’t know what right,

yeah, no, that’s, that’s really good. I really like that idea of understanding the tension. And and understanding is not the one or the other of originality and uniqueness or kind of conformity to the group. And Vaughn calm, I think brings that up, actually, with the concept of envy. When he’s talking about originality, he has a couple chapters on envy as being the, one of the main obstacles to the spiritual life, and one of the main obstacles to really being able to connect with each other. Because if I’m just looking at you, and kind of comparing what you have, what I have, what I don’t have, and then I may feel the need to belittle you or put you down to, to kind of help myself feel better. And then now, we’re not connected. Yeah. But if I’m an original person, and now he’s defining if I find my grounding in my divine origin, and God, and also then what I think feel, say and do come from me, then I can see what you do gifts you have. And I don’t have to be envious of that. But I just want to read a little bit of part because it it’s really helpful, because I think this is another aspect of our social life and our spiritual life. That this idea of comparison and envy, yeah, especially in a in a hyper individualized society, where we see other people and we think, oh, why don’t I have that? Why don’t we have that? You know, the neighbors got a new car, what what’s going on? And I then stress I like my old car. So yeah, I’m confident in my 93. I still run it. That’s right. It’s doing good. Yeah. But he says this, he says this about me. He says living in envy means that I’m not centered in my true self, my life becomes one of comparison. I’m forever asking what others have and what I am missing. When I find out that I have less than they do, I may try to diminish my sense of lack, by belittling what is theirs. As long as I live outside myself and envious observations of others, I cannot be myself. I can only begin to become myself when I accept what I am. I should not be preoccupied with the ways in which others differ from me. These differences Tell me what I am not. I need to come to an awareness of who I am in relation to my divine origin and God. And and I love that idea that that a life of comparison, a life of MB actually is telling me who I am not. It’s not speaking to my identity. Yeah, it’s not telling me who I am. It’s telling me who I’m not what I’m lacking what I’m missing. And and that will always impede connection. Yeah. If I’m, if I’m comparing, and especially not just comparing, because you can note differences. But then being envious of that.

Yeah. Yeah, I mean, my mind is exploding with reactions to what I’ve said. So in the four and a half minutes that we have left, perfect deck, I’m reminded of Cain and Abel and the Genesis story, right? In terms of envying, the sacrifice and God being pleased with with Abel sacrifice, right, Cain feels threatened by that. Yeah. Or contemporary social, cultural political situations that we’re facing today where we have a hard time like celebrating the other celebrating otherness difference, right? Like We’re threatened by it. Again, not to venture off into some all the details of that, but right now we care for our neighbor and celebrate Wow. Yeah, for you way to go as opposed to, I’m now less than you. Exactly. You know, I’m lacking something. And so, yes,

like a lot of maybe like a lot of people were in the late 90s in college, I was in a college band. playing rock band playing the spoons. spoons on my knee. I was doing playing bass. Yeah. But it was so funny. As a band, you know, there’s like five of us guys. And we were, we were the best band out there. Right? No other and we would hear another band who was trying, you know, who was just like us just playing small gigs. And we could never ever say, oh, they’re pretty good. We’re gonna be like, Oh, man, that’s terrible. And every band on the radio, oh, there sell out. This isn’t good. And it’s just like, you look back and you can’t, we were so maybe not confident in who we were, that we had to. We couldn’t say, oh, that bands really good. Or I like them? Because it was like, oh, then that would somehow diminish us. Yeah. And it’s so fun. I just see that so often with young bands and college bands, this idea of you can’t. You can’t be like, Nah, celebrate it really good. Or, you know, maybe they are sellouts. But they got me they did what they were aiming to do. Yeah. So. And but yeah, that idea of comparison. We? We can’t, because then we can’t affirm them. Because then it somehow diminishes. Yeah,

it almost speaks to or seems like there’s an assumption about scarcity. And then there’s only a limited amount of specialness to go around. Right. And so if you have it, then I don’t have it. As opposed to cash, maybe there’s a lot of a lot of that to go around, you know, you think about very common social dynamics like in high school cliques, competition, these sorts of rating scales that we you know, consciously or unconsciously developing is, as opposed to maybe being able to transcend that in a way and have have a theological grounding, but also even just social cultural grounding for, man. There’s a lot of really cool things out there. We don’t have to write pair. And in also, we don’t have to rank lower.

But, yeah, well, yeah. And that’s what I like with that. I think that’s what Vaughn comm is kind of saying is that I think for some our current definition of originality being different, unique, does seem to be limited. Only a few people can actually be original, if it’s being truly unique, and doing something new and totally different. Because so many things have already been done. I think the way Vaughn calm is defining it, every single person can be original, because originality as being the origin of what you think they’ll say, and not about being somehow culturally unique or different, or coming up with a new a new sound in music, a new thing and art a new thing in business, right. But it is you being original, and in that way, there is no scarcity. Right? Yeah, there is enough originality to go around.

Yeah, if if our the source of our originality is in our divine origins, this is a God of infinite supply of goodness and creativity and love, that if we were all continually drawing upon that, and he acknowledging he is forever uniquely noticing us like he noticings a kiss in the tree. He knowing all the hairs on our head, he knowing the deeper, more profound things in our hearts that we can’t even know like, when we acknowledge that we are a part of his, his kind of divine origins like wow, there’s plenty of room to celebrate our neighbor, even if we might disagree on certain fronts like but we can still celebrate there’s something unique, valued the imago dei, human dignity, all sorts of things there. But But yeah, but on a different foundation. It seems like we could be on shaky ground in terms of if uniqueness apart from that divine origin, like oh, I might set up more competition. And this more scarcity mindset that we’ve been talking about.

That’s great. Thank you so much, Richard, for coming on the show and exploring this topic with me and something that I’ve been really looking at over the last maybe 10 years. This idea of originality and identity. And I think it’s so important. I think identity is something that we’re always going to have to focus on. That in each stage of life we struggle with and that we have to keep coming back to And I think understanding originality in concert with identity can really help us the idea that, again, understanding our divine origin and God, being grounded in that, and then understanding that, then then God has been freed me up to be an original person to be the origin. Therefore I don’t have to envy. I don’t have to compare. I can celebrate my neighbor. I can love God with everything that I have. And I can love my neighbor as myself because there’s no diminishing. And just finishing on that that stress that you’ve had, which I think is great, that there’s no scarcity in uniqueness, originality, we can do that. So thank you so much for that

pleasure to be on the show. Pleasure to be working this out with you. I don’t feel like I’ve arrived at this. I feel like I’m still growing. So I welcome your, your partnership and your friendship to as we work these things out. So thanks for having me on the show. very welcome.

Thank you for listening to Jessup. Think Be sure to follow us on Twitter at Jessup think we would love to hear your thoughts on the episode and engage with any questions you have. Our aim is to provide a framework for further reflection and deeper exploration of these important topics. You can also help the show by leaving a review on iTunes these reviews help the podcast reach new listeners. Until next time, I’m Mark Moore and this is Jessup.

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