playing nice

I read this passage from The Artist's Way tonight. It is hauntingly true:

Many of us have made a virtue out of deprivation. We have embraced a long-suffering artistic anorexia as a martyr's cross. We have used it to feed a false sense of spirituality grounded in being good, meaning superior.

I call this seductive, faux spirituality the Virtue Trap. Spirituality has often been misused as a route to an unloving solitude, a stance where we proclaim ourselves above our human nature. This spiritual spuperiority is really only one more form of denial. For an artist, virtue can be deadly. The urge toward respectability and maturity can be stultifying, even fatal.

We strive to be good, to be nice, to be helpful, to be unselfish. We want to be generous, of service, of the world. But what we really want is to be left alone. When we can't get others to leave us alone, we eventually abandon ourselves. To others, we may look like we're there. We may act like we're there. But our true self has gone to ground.

What's left is a shell of our whole self. It stays because it is caught. Like a listless circus animal prodded into performing, it does its tricks. It goes through its routine. It earns its applause. But all of the hoopla falls on deaf ears. We are dead to it. Out artist is not merely out of sorts. Our artist has checked out. Our life is now an out-of-body experience. We're gone. A clinician might call it disassociating. I call it leaving the scene of the crime.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are," we wheedle, but our creative self no longer trusts us. Why should it? We sold it out.

This reminds me of a Rich Mullins interview I saw. He talked about how Christians tend to emphasize the importance of laying down one's vices, but he said that it is equally important to lay down our virtues, as well. This passage reminds me that the Virtue Trap is all about how we get caught trying to look good. I was just telling some friends last night that the tendency of so many Christians (myself included) to self-censor or play nice is confusing to me. If we really believe our spirituality is about the heart being transformed, we should be able to be ourselves and not have to put on a Nice Girl or Nice Boy act. I think I'll try it and hope that old habits don't die too hard.