Max Antonucci

Journalist turned Full-time Coder, Part-time Ponderer

How to Give Birth to Oneself

September 12, 2018

One favorite summary from my online notebook is the sleazy Trump University Playbook. It wasn’t fun to write most of it. In some ways it even hurt.

Most of the writing was on a plane going from Portland to Chicago. I was jet-lagged, sore, irritated, and hungry. My bladder was full and flight attendants were telling me to turn my computer off. I wanted to keep writing though. I went as long as I could, until I got a headache and was forced to stop. I picked it up again as soon as I was waiting for the next flight.

There’s been many times I wrote despite pain. Most involve writing code for side-projects while at work too long without food, or staying up too late. Each time it hurt, but a bigger part of me kept going. That part was strong enough to push away the impulses to rest, eat, watch television, or just punch my feelings away at boxing.

I think this happens because my writing does three things:

  1. Makes me feel productive, since I’m either making code or distilling knowledge to a useful form.
  2. Develops my capacity for empathy or love, since I try to write code accessible to others or share useful knowledge.
  3. Feels meaningful, since exercising my intelligence and curiosity are both powerful and uniquely human.

Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality.

Psychologist Erich Fromm wrote about similar criteria to embrace a lifestyle of “being” instead of “having.” In this, someone must “give birth to themselves” to free themselves from confusion, loneliness, and apathy.

I think the activities that help us “give birth to ourselves” also help us push past our basic instincts and temptations. It’s easy to fall too deep into habits like alcohol, television, empty sex, video games, and other forms of empty amusement. These are hard-wired into all our brains. Acting on them doesn’t help me find my identity. That’s because I’m just acting as a bundle of universal human urges and automatic impulses. I’m not being “me,” I’m only being a cookie-cutter human being.

Those universal human pleasures are always there, waiting to suck me away. They still are for me. I’m pulled toward watching Amazon Prime television or silly Splatoon 2 videos constantly. Sometimes I lose. Sometimes I win. Those conflicts will never stop.

To me, giving birth to oneself means doing whatever one can to keep fighting them. To find something that brings me productivity, compassion, meaning, and the will to keep fighting those empty temptations.

I’ll leave you with one quote from a past teacher of mine, although it could honestly be from anyone: that “those who aren’t busy being reborn are busy dying.”