“But how will I find my ‘right home’, that house not built with hands, unless I am in my right mind? Every day, in my consultancy, I meet men and women who are out of their minds. That is, they have not the slightest idea who they really are or what it is that matters to them. The question ‘How shall I live?’ is not one I can answer on prescription.
Most common are the retired or fired businessmen who develop cancer. They come to me in broken health, in fear for their lives, and the phrase I hear first is ‘I’m not the man I was.’ As we talk it becomes clear that he is the man he has been always, yes, well-off, yes, respectable, but immature, without self-knowledge, a man without breadth or depth, but shielded from this lack by his work, by his social standing, by his loving wife, by his young mistress, by his slap-on-the-back pals. Often, as we talk, he tells me that he has never liked his work, hates his family, or that he has lived for his work and that without it he is a child again and what should he do in the mornings?
Saddest of all are the women who were brought up to believe that self-sacrifice is the highest female virtue. They made the sacrifice, often willingly, and they are still waiting for the blessing. While they wait their cancer does not.
It’s awkward, in a society where the cult of the individual has never been preached with greater force, and where many of our collective ills are a result of that force, to say that it is to the Self to which one must attend. But the Self is not a random collection of stray desires striving to be satisfied, nor is it only by suppressing such desires, as women are encouraged to do, that any social cohesion is possible. Our broken society is not born out of the triumph of the individual, but out of his effacement. He vanishes, she vanishes, ask them who they are and they will offer you a wallet or a child. ‘What do you do?’ is the party line, where doing is a substitute for being, and where the shame of not doing wipes away the thin chalk outline that sketches Husband Wife Banker Actor even Thief. It’s comforting, my busy life, left alone with my own thoughts I might find I have none. And left to my own emotions? Is there much beyond a childish rage and the sentimentality that passes for love?”
~ Jeanette Winterson, Art & Lies