I am a sick man…. I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don’t consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors.
Notes from the Underground ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky
We all have a narrative about ourselves, a story we tell ourselves which helps us make sense of who we are. In his book Stages of Faith, James Fowler connects each stage in our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development to an evolving personal story. For example, at the Intuitive-Projective stage, infants behave as if they are the center of the universe; that is their subconscious narrative about themselves. However, problems occur when one commits to a particular story about oneself—even when the story is no longer valid, even when the story is destructive.
The Underground Man in Dostoyevsky’s novel is committed to a narrative about himself that involves him in acute despair and heartache. Yet he will not abandon his beliefs.
The more conscious I was of goodness and of all that was “sublime and beautiful”, the more deeply I sank into my mire and the more ready I was to sink in it altogether. But the chief point was that all this was, as it were, not accidental in me, but as though it were bound to be so.
The Underground Man attributes his condition to a “great deal of consciousness”, calling it a disease. But that is a red herring. The real disease is his commitment to his story at any cost. He has just enough self-awareness to recognize his perversity, but not enough to grow beyond it. He knows what he knows about himself and will not be persuaded otherwise.
As I move through my own stages of faith, I have learned to enjoy my personal story. But I hold it lightly because it has changed over time and will continue to change. I have learned that I can show my gratitude for the gift of thinking—of consciousness—by changing my mind once in a while.
The Underground Man states that, “twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.”
According to the Enneagram, I am a Five. I find that charming; it makes for a good story. But I am not committed to it.