ELC Preview: On Becoming Fully One’s Self

My colleague Julia and I will soon begin our fall Emerging Leaders Conferences (ELCs) tour—registrations remain open—and I couldn’t be more excited.

We’ll have the chance to ask and try to answer some very interesting and important questions, which are—in our humble opinions—the key questions of the 21st century, and the questions upon which our work at the World Youth Alliance was founded in 1999.

These questions take on a very acute and unique form in North America, where there is both a very short history to the cultural and social context in which Americans (in our cases) live, as well as a deep deconstruction of the true nature of the person through ideological work in different dimensions.

We have two questions before us:

  1. Who is the human person?
  2. What impairs our capacity to see the person as he is; to understand him as he is?

With these questions, we are looking at two distinct dimensions: 

  1. The first dimension is the metaphysical and ontological—the objective.
  • What do we know about the human person as person?
  • What can we say on an abstract level about his nature, and about the process of his emerging—coming to be himself, in the fullness of his nature?
  • What is the truly ultimate end to which a person can emerge?
  1. The second dimension is the phenomenological—the subjective.
  • How do the things we know about the human person on an abstract level translate into our concrete, immediate, lived experience—the phenomenon of being-a-person?
  • Vice-versa: how does our concrete, immediate, lived experience verify for us things that can be objectively defined for us in terms of our capacities, our potential, our emergence, and our end; about how we should engage the world?

These questions lie at the heart of the mystery of what it means to be a human person—and this is, ultimately, the core question worth asking in a philosophical system; one of the ultimate philosophical mysteries.

What is interesting about these two dimensions is that they are deeply inseparable from each other, insofar as it is the human person with his capacities—intellect, will, affectivity, and senses: external, internal, and spiritual—that serves as the agent for framing, articulating, and interpreting reality and what can be known about it. No other being gives rise to philosophical systems, to their interpretation and deconstruction; there is no other being capable of calling all of reality into question—Descartes, for example, with his rhetoric of distrust of sense, of the body—or looking back to determine the historical forces at work in conceptualizations of the person. Contemporary thinkers like Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and others are among my favorites engaging different forms of a history of philosophy.

Foundational for Aristotle was individual sense experience. Sense experience becomes the foundation upon which entire systems of knowledge and studies of being are founded. The human capacity to categorize the hierarchy of the world, as well as the nature of existence within it, depends upon—is inseparable from—the sense experience of the philosopher who begins an inquiry by drawing on his own encounters with reality itself: what he can touch, smell, see, taste, hear; what he can observe shift over time, and manifest its differences and similarities.

This is so important. What we must say, therefore, is that studies of knowledge and being require the capacity to be tested by observation or experience—and to account for, respond to and, potentially, be shaped by the lived experiences of people over time, alongside the deepening of study and integration in fields such as philosophy, theology, and psychology.

As one example: If a philosophical system claims that the fullness of my end as a person lies in possessing the fullest extent of certain virtues, because I possess the intellect and will to acquire those ends, then does daily work on my person actualize these virtues—or is the promise of their fullness illusory, and unrooted in the reality of my own nature? If I am somehow impaired in my capacity to attain these ends, then what it is in my nature or in my experience that is the root to this impairment?

As another example: Will the experiential capacity of Aristotle, as a man, differ inherently from the experiential capacity of a woman? You start to wonder what his philosophy would have looked like had he a complementary woman helping shape his categories; whether there would be any difference, and if so, of what nature.

Philosophical inquiry, thus, always begins with personal encounters with reality:

  • What is this reality before which I stand?
  • Who am I, this subject within reality?
  • And what is it that happens to me when reality works upon me—when the world works upon me, my senses, my intellect, my being?
  • How do I receive it, respond to it, let it define me?

What we will do in the hour and a half designed to raise awareness about ideological movement in North America is break down these two distinct dimensions—the objective and subjective—to demonstrate that it is a rupture in one or both dimensions that impairs the unity of individual persons and their capacity to become heroically excellent.

All ideology, all incomplete anthropology, can be traced back to this rupture always—and the more aware the person is of their rupture, and the varying manifestations of rupture, the more he or she can work to integrate them in becoming fully alive, fully herself or himself, fully who he or she is meant to be.

Written by Weronika Janczuk, WYA North America regional director.