What is the benefit for others that I exist?
Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted wrongly the first time as you are about to act.
There are two statements that are of invaluable importance to me. The first is from Boris Grundl. He urges us to ask, “What is the benefit for others that I exist?” There are many things I love about this question, not the least of which is that at any given moment, and especially when I am planning, I can come to clarity about what I can best be doing in most circumstances.
The other comes from Viktor Frankl: “Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted wrongly the first time as you are about to act.”
This challenge is amazing and helpful. When any of us looks at the whole of our lives, we can identify things we have done well and things we wish we had done better or differently. The things we did well are justifiable causes for satisfaction.
What about the things we wish we had done differently, especially those which have become habits? When something has become a habit, it is highly likely that I will enact that habit, especially when I face circumstances that provoke my habitual response. In those circumstances, what do I do?
Frankl’s suggestion is straightforward. Before acting, I can press the pause button and recognize that this is not the first time I have faced these circumstances. In that moment, I can realize first, “I’ve been here before.” And second, “I can act differently this time around.” In that moment of pause and awareness, I can prepare to act well.
That said, habits can be stubborn—not impossible to change, but stubborn.
It can also be difficult to control our thoughts and imaginations. Here’s an example: try closing your eyes for five minutes and thinking only about a bulldog in a tutu. If you’re like me, you can concentrate on the image for five or so seconds, and then your mind begins to wander, or to fill with additional thoughts that interrupt your concentration.
Then try the complementary thought experiment: spend five minutes thinking about anything except a bulldog in a tutu. For me, this one’s even more difficult.
For some, trying to keep commandments can be like trying to think about that bulldog. It can take significant effort, and we can get sidetracked. John recognized keeping commandments becomes particularly difficult when we think of them as merely restrictive: Thou shalt not! Thou shalt not do this, and thou shalt not do that!
In the Gospel of John, Jesus counters this difficulty by framing keeping a commandment as an act of love. When I try to act for the benefit of others, I have a much easier time than when I simply try to avoid wrongdoing.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus takes an additional action for our help and benefit. He tells us that as he returns to God, in whom he is enfolded, that he intends to give us the gift of the Paraclete (parákletos). In Greek, this word means “called alongside.” The Paraclete is the Spirit whom God calls to be alongside of us, to serve as companion and advocate. The Paraclete is the Presence of God encouraging, reminding, and strengthening. The Paraclete champions us, speaks on our behalf, reminds us, comforts, and helps us to stay focused.
Jesus then says that the world neither sees nor knows the Paraclete for the simple reason that the Paraclete is seen and known in the action of love. The Paraclete is not a disembodied ghost.
What helps me understand this is when I consider how it is I know people: I best know people whom I love. The action of love involves attention, listening, caring about, and acts of kindness. I know someone fully to the degree that I love her.
It is also far easier for me to keep a commandment if it involves love. That way, keeping a commandment is not a matter of mere restriction, a “Thou shalt not!”
Jesus’s giving us the Paraclete is the action of love inasmuch as he is unwilling to leave us orphaned. Jesus understands that making important changes is a team sport. It’s best accomplished in a community of supportive accountability, grace, and encouragement.
Viktor Frankl’s insight is important because it helps me realize that when it comes to changing habits, I can deliberately act in new ways, ever mindful of past mistakes. That makes it possible for me to act with a clear head.
Boris Grundl’s insight provides additional motivation: what is it that others need from me, that will benefit them? What is the benefit for others that I exist?