A Little Exercise in Talking to Oneself

Please share in the comment section what advise you would give to your younger self – we’d appreciate hearing it.

In his 1972 short story, The Other, Jorge Luis Borges pictures himself in Cambridge, MA, sitting on a bench overlooking the Charles River. Someone sits on the other end of the bench whom be recognizes as his younger self. They strike up a conversation in which the older Borges reveals his identity, but the younger Borges insists they are in Geneva, overlooking the Rhone. They argue about whose experience is real: has the older Borges traveled through time or is the younger Borges simply dreaming?

It is classic Borges storytelling, including the writer’s own self-effacement and his adulation of the great writers and poets who influenced him. I have not read the story in years, but when I remembered it the other day it set me thinking: if I were sent back in time and met my younger self, what would I want him to know?

I wasn’t thinking of advice like, “Buy stock in Apple,” or “Trade in the Ford Taurus now; it’s going to blow a head gasket in six months.” I was thinking more about the life principles I wish I’d known then. Here are some of the things I might tell my younger self.

“Don’t make it your business to fix people’s problems.” As a pastor, I often made other people’s problems my own. I couldn’t be happy when someone in my congregation was miserable. But some people refused to make the changes that could free them from their misery. They imprisoned themselves in a cell of their own making, for which they had a key they would not use – and trapped me inside with them.

I would also tell my younger self: “What you become is far more important than what you accomplish.” People talk about resting on one’s laurels, but no one really does that; they rest on themselves – the self they have become. This explains why some people who have accomplished impressive feats, set sports records, or made billions, are so restless. They’ve done much but have become little. The most important thing you can give anyone – including God and yourself – is the person you become.

Next, I think I would tell my younger self, “What you love will have more impact on who you become than what you know.” People like to say that knowledge is power, and of course they are right. As such, knowledge is like the engines on a plane. It’s impossible to get off the ground without it. But love is like the pilot of the plane: it determines where all that power will take us – to the place of our dreams or into the side of a mountain.

Without knowledge, we won’t make good decisions, but without love we won’t know what decisions need to be made. This explains why St. Paul prayed for his friends: “…that your love might abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best…” We always know best what we love most. This includes God.

I would also tell my younger self, “Don’t worry so much about what people think of you. The fact is, they’re probably not thinking of you, but even if they are, their opinion of you is not what matters most.” I should have known this already. I once sat at a round table in one of those horrible, touchy-feely English classes that were so common in the seventies. Each of us had to say what we thought about the person sitting to our right, and I sat to the right of the girl who was voted “Best Legs” in our school. When her turn came, “Best Legs” answered simply: “I don’t think about him.”

What I didn’t know then is that worrying about what other people think can hinder one’s ability to trust God. Jesus asked people who lived for their reputations, “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?”

I’ll probably never meet myself sitting on a park bench in Cambridge or Geneva, but I now have an idea about what to say – just in case.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/16/2017

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4 Responses to A Little Exercise in Talking to Oneself

  1. John Kleinheksel says:

    Hi Shayne,
    You have invited comments. I would say, “It’s all about right relationships. Even finding space for your enemies. Everything, everyone, has his/her place in the total scheme of things. God is about relationships. It’s a Trinity thing. Work at right relationships, always, in all things. Forgive others and yourself. We are headed back to, forward to the Original Blessing, the Original Goodness.”

  2. Hi Shayne,

    If we really did have the opportunity to talk to our younger selves, we’d have to be careful not to assume that the older self knows better than the younger self does. There have been many times along my life’s journey in which I’ve (half jokingly) made a mental note to tell my younger self not to go in this direction, but then later on I’ve seen the hand of God in what happened after that. While I was traveling a rough part of the road, it seemed from that vantage point that I had taken a wrong turn. But later on, it made more sense.

    My advice to my younger self would therefore be this bit of apparent nonsense: “If your older self shows up and tries to talk you out of the adventure ahead, just tell him that he, too, is inexperienced, and to give it more time. If he does, then he’ll see that you were, in some respects, wiser than he is now.”

    I constantly try to remind my students of this fact: that hindsight doesn’t necessarily make us right. It just makes us more sure that we’re right. But there is One who sees even farther than we do, and we must always remember that the story’s not over yet.

    Aside from that, however, all the advice you gave in your essay was excellent. If YOU should happen to visit MY earlier self, please feel free to share it with him.

    Ron

  3. salooper57 says:

    Great word – thanks Ron!

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