We simply dictate our own terms

Another excerpt from Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander


To start with one’s ego-identity and to try to bring that identity into terms with external reality by thinking, and then, having worked out practical principles, to act on reality from one privileged autonomous position-in-order to bring it into line with an absolute good we have arrived at by thought: this is the way we become irresponsible.

If reality is something we interpret and act on to suit our own concept of ourselves, we “respond” to nothing. We simply dictate our own terms, and “realism” consists in keeping the terms somewhat plausible. But this implies no real respect for ourselves since without bothering to question the deep mystery of our own identity, we fabricate a trifling and impertinent identity for ourselves with the bare scraps of experience that we find lying within immediate reach.


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