We all strive for relevance. We want to be relevant to the concerns and cares of the day, so that people will pay attention to us. Politicians and large corporations hire consultants and engage in endless focus grouping in order to be relevant. Churches have transformed themselves from sanctuaries of quietude and holy reflection into entertainment venues apt for a Lady Gaga concert in their quest to be relevant.
Each of us has some inner longing to fit in somewhere, to something. It stems from our existential pain of alienation. And so we strive to be relevant, wanted, even needed.
I submit that we must learn instead how to be irrelevant.
Relevance means attending to the shallow cares of the day, worshiping at the altar of the Gods of the Marketplace. It requires that we look around, rather than inside. It is a cultural mandate to focus on the superficial plane of existence. This is especially true in the present age of instant gratification and frenetic busy-ness.
The message we hear is “if you aren’t helping my immediate concern, I don’t want to hear from you.”
Reflect on how this affects all of our human relationships.
We should not be surprised that so much of our interaction with others seems to be commoditized.
Relevance is almost always at odds with authenticity. Because each of us is unique. Because each of us has a fragmented and divergent experience and perception of the world around us, the quest for relevance takes on a road away from our true self and toward a projection of what we think other people want from us.
The truth is I don’t know what anybody else really wants from me, or what anybody else wants me to be. The truth is that they don’t even know themselves. So why should you or I journey away from our genuine being to try to be relevant to them?
Instead, we must learn to be irrelevant, not for the sake of being different. Not for the pseudo-individuality or spurious uniqueness pursued by teenagers and hipsters. But rather that our irrelevance should flow outward from the depths of our truly unique and special souls. If we change our way of living in such a way, that our spirit goes out into the world rather than the spirit of the world coming into us, we will not need the approval and affirmation of others in order to feel whole or complete. We will not need the gratification of feeling relevant.
As we are putting ourselves out into the world, then, we have the chance to attract other beautiful and irrelevant individuals, and we will find ourselves being attracted to them as well, who through their own irrelevance call us to understand different experiences of the world, and thereby grow and learn to live better, more loving, more giving lives. But we must take this risk in order to attract such people.
If we live to be relevant, we are likely to attract many of the wrong people into our lives. Relevance, as we have said, means we are appealing to the instant gratification zeitgeist. Who doesn’t want to be instantly gratified? If we are living outside-in rather than inside-out, we will be nothing more than one option among many on the consumerist buffet.
Taking this path will mean enduring much rejection. It will require us to see our efforts to give of ourselves for the growth of others frustrated–probably more often than not. We must be careful not to allow this frustration to lead us into despair and to abandoning our irrelevance for the easier path.
I am here reminded of the Parable of the Sower.
“Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
We cannot love and give with the expectation that the return will come to us from those to whom we give ourselves. We can only live united in spirit to the Unknowable, feeling and reveling in the unconditional love we already have. Then, and only then, will we have the strength to practice irrelevance. Then, and only then will we have the power to take up our calling to be ourselves.