An Encouraging Word – What’s personal is often universal

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

Share alike the same blessings and dangers. Wisdom 18:9

Every once in a while, I have to stop and ask myself why I write this column.

I often find myself embarrassed by my willingness to share some pretty personal experiences and feelings and ask myself why I would dare expose myself to ridicule for assuming anyone would be interested in my experience or opinion.

The short answer is that I do it because so many people tell me that they “resonate with” the situations I describe and the feelings I express.

To “resonate with” means “to evoke feelings of shared emotion or belief.”

I found out recently that what I have been doing intuitively has already been described by psychologist Carl Rogers when he said, “What is most personal is most general”

“I have almost invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal, and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others. This has helped me to understand artists and poets as people who have dared to express the unique in themselves,” Rogers said.

There is an ironic universality to the particularities of our individual experience.

But on the other hand, when this principle becomes absolute, it is nothing less than a recipe for idolatrous navel gazing.

If I am to find what is universal in my particular, individual experience I run the risk of absolutizing me. I am very aware that there is a great risk and a very fine line to walk here.

That’s why I will quit writing the day people stop telling me it no longer “resonates with” their experiences. The only way I know that my experiences and insights are “general” is for people to tell me.

I am only guessing what people will “resonate with” when I share my experiences, insights and thoughts. I see this column more like trying on shoes than giving advice. Rather than trying to fix, save, advise or set other people straight, I try to simply offer ideas for consideration, like a shoe salesman.

It seems to me that my readers simply “resonate with” some of these words because it helps them know that their truth is acknowledged and honored.

Instead of offering a truth they have never known, it seeks to help them acknowledge truths they have unconsciously known all along.

In the years prior to mid-life, our desire is to find ways we are unique, separate and different. The notion that what is most personal is also universal is abhorrent.

The paradoxical shift that mid-life brings is that our life’s meaning comes from a desire to find what connects us.

The greatest compliment this kind of writing gets is surely: “Me too!”

Father J. Ronald Knott

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