The Existence of Addiction
Dr. Peg O’Connor is chairperson of the Program Committee for the upcoming Nobel Conference which will convene in October of this year in Minnesota at the college where she is a member of the faculty, Gustavus Adolphus College. Her training is in moral philosophy as well as feminist philosophy. She is eminently qualified to chair the conference, entitled “The Meaning of Addiction”, having written two book and co-edited two others.
Addiction is most properly defined as an existential condition. Existentialism is the branch of philosophy that examines the choices human beings make and how those choices impact their lives. Although not a school of the formally until the nineteenth century, mankind asked questions about his existence from the very beginning. Philosophy began when mankind studied how to live life and live it successfully. Socrates is reputed to have said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The most successful, well-known, and many claim most efficient means of addiction treatment encourages self-examination. Indeed, most therapy is based upon looking at how we exist and the impact of that existence.
The addict is required to accept personal responsibility and liability for his or her actions. Addiction is a condition; some would say it is an illness, one that involves self-deception, an avoidance of responsibility, and living in a false reality. John Locke proposed in the 1600’s that memories create continuity and bind us past to the present but this leaves the addict, many of whom suffer blackouts, living in a no-man’s land, questioning his or her own identity.
Philosophy has always attempted to study the whole person and the human condition – communally and individually. According to Dr. O’Connor, philosophy “embraces the normative/value questions and encourages a deep exploration of them. Humans are social and moral animals, and keeping this fact front and center is one of the roles of philosophy.” Dr. O’Connor is not just a highly-trained philosopher and educator. She is also a recovering addict.
The alcoholic or drug addict is easy to find. What about the person addicted to peer pressure? What about the person addicted to materialism? Descartes’ “I think; therefore I am” has become the battle cry of consumerism with a paraphrase to “I am; therefore I should have.”
This post will be brief today. There are many who need our prayers and donations, given the earthquakes in Nepal yesterday. What if, I wondered as I read the many news stories requesting donations and Facebook postings from various charities, man could be addicted to caring for his/her fellow man? What if instead of hearing or seeing the news, we immediately became thirsty to render aid?
E. H. Spina is the founder of the Energy Center Clearing. He penned the book “Mystic Warrior” and coauthored “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life.” He advises that one does not attempt to help when one is emotionally attached to the outcome. “If you really want to help a person, keep away. If you are emotionally committed to helping, you will fail to help.”
Spina quotes Nisargadatta Maharaj, an Indian considered by many to be a sage or wise man who based his entire philosophy of helping others around his teaching that, “knowing who you truly are” is the single most important thing you can do to help anyone and consequently the world. “The only help worth giving is freeing from the need for further help. Repeated help is no help at all. Do not talk of helping another, unless you can put him beyond all need of help.”
I confess that studying philosophies of helping can be quite confusing. We’ve all heard the adage “Give a man a fish; you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; you feed him for a lifetime.” It is the basis for many nations’ policies on social programs. It is also the basis for the rehabilitation programs that many penal institutions supposedly implement. It is, quite simply, giving someone a helping hand to pick themselves up rather than simply giving them a handout.
Gandhi urged us all to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Many spiritualists are somewhat hesitant of this, E. H. Spina being one. They encourage we dedicate our energies to becoming rather than helping. They even say that helping while we are still blossoming into our real selves might encourage others to become dependent on us.
I will agree that helping can become an addiction. It is not the actual act of helping that is the problem, however. It is the motivation behind the helping. For instance, one can text a monetary donation to help victims of the earthquake in Nepal. The Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund, UNICEF, and the American Red Cross all have numbers you can text and make such a donation. With a simple text you can save lives. Could that possibly be harmful?
Addiction is the escaping of some aspect of our living, an unresolved past, or perhaps a chemical imbalance within the body. For those who drown their problems in alcohol or the painfully shy person who feels they need the ego boost of drugs to be social, addiction is a road easy to see. For those who need approval, though, by helping, generosity becomes a minefield. Ego can sometimes be the most powerful addiction with which we will ever be tempted.
Philosophy was the first science to encourage questioning that which was held to be true. Instead of students being expected to blindly follow their mentors, philosophy students were encouraged to think for themselves. When we think and act for ourselves, we start the process of becoming ourselves. Maybe today that will mean helping the victims of the Nepal earthquakes. Maybe that will mean helping yourself. Author Shannon Alder summed it up this way: “When you think yours is the only true path you forever chain yourself to judging others and narrow the vision of God. The road to righteousness and arrogance is a parallel road that can intersect each other several times throughout a person’s life. It’s often hard to recognize one road from another. What makes them different is the road to righteousness is paved with the love of humanity.”