You all know the story.
Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephisus. He ran in the foothills and forests of Greece. He joined with the fawns and dryads in the woodland sports as they ran the streams and climbed the mountains. He was incredibly handsome, so handsome indeed that the beautiful nymph Echo followed his every step pursuing his love. Spurned by Narcissus, Echo mourned with disappointment and despair, pining away until she ultimately faded with grief and died leaving nothing behind but the haunting memory of a distant voice: her constant call for Narcissus’ love.
One day after an exceptionally good hunt Narcissus was running through the woods and came upon a calm, clear pool carved out in the bend of a river. Exhausted and fatigued he stooped down to take a drink and saw his own image in the water. Struck by the beauty of the reflection he thought he was looking at a river god living in the pool. Narcissus stood by the fountains edge gazing with admiration at his own beautiful form. He thought that neither Bacchus nor Apollo themselves surpassed such allure.
With infatuation Narcissus reached out to embrace his own reflection. He could not tear himself away. He lost all thought of food or rest. He just stayed by the river’s edge day after day hovering over the pool gazing at his own image.
As time went by the fire he cherished consumed him more and more. He lost his color, he lost his vigor, he lost his strength, and in one final attempt to embrace his own fading beauty Narcissus leaned over the edge of the pool, fell in, and drowned.
In love with himself Narcissus died leaving nothing but the faint hint of Echo’s voice in a distant valley as she mourned the loss of such wasted beauty.
I thought of this story recently when I was confronted by a fellow Michigan State Spartan who disagreed with what he defined as my conservative worldview. His comment went something like this: "The problem with you conservatives is that you are arrogant. You think you have all the answers. You think you are always right."
Now I have a point of clarification and then a question.
First, clarification: The difference between conservatives and adherents of other ideologies is not that conservatives think they are right and others don’t. To the contrary, any healthy debate presupposes that one person believes his or her ideas are right while contending that another person’s ideas are wrong. By definition a disagreement assumes mutual dissent. Common sense (as well as Webster) tells us that a dispute involves arguing one thesis against another. Both parties think they have the correct answer. Both are confident in the accuracy of their position. Both believe the other person’s ideas are mistaken. Wouldn’t it be a silly waste of breath to disagree if we had no confidence in the "rightness" of our own position and the consequent "wrongness" of opposing views?
Surely we can concur that liberals, progressives, constructivists and conservatives are equally confident in thinking they have the better ideas. It seems obvious that my friend who claimed to be "right in criticizing those who claim to be right" needs to remember that one accusing finger pointed at others is often outnumbered by several pointed back at oneself.
So, it isn’t the degree of confidence that distinguishes one "believer" form another but rather it is the source of confidence. One person will claim there is no final answer. All truths are merely the consequence of social constructs and human preference. People are the source of their own truth. Another person disagrees and says that truth is bigger than this. It is an objective absolute beyond our ability to create. It is out there. It is real. It is given from above and revealed on the heart. Thus, the real difference is that one man claims to be the source of truth while the other claims to be its recipient.
Now, my question: Why is it arrogant for one person to say "I don’t have all the answers but I believe there is one" and yet humble for another to proclaim with narcissistic confidence that "There is no final answer. Truth is what I decide it is. I am the final judge. I am the final arbiter of what is right or wrong, true or false, beautiful or ugly?"
Perhaps we should remember the story of Narcissus. As we try to make sense out of the clamor of competing ideas and political agendas do we find ourselves satisfied with the sound of our own "beautiful" voice or do we hear a faint echo mourning the loss of childhood confidence in things that we know to be pure and true, honest and good? As we stand at the edge of the pool of competing worldviews do we find ourselves staring lovingly at our own image i.e. our own opinions, tastes, preferences and desires, or do we look deeper, beyond our image, as if "seeing in a glass darkly" seeking to someday "know even as we are known?"
Maybe it would serve us all well to take a humble look in the mirror as a reminder that it isn’t arrogant after all to fall in love with something bigger than oneself.