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According to an old story, the punishment in hell will not be a ceaseless physical torment, but an unending psychological torment consisting in spending eternity in front of a pictures showing us what we could have been, but we never were, because we never seriously decided to achieve our true potential.
Leaving all theological issues aside, the old story teaches us that we are “condemned” when we decide to be who we are instead of becoming who we should be. In other words, we “condemn” ourselves when we don’t reach our own potential.
To describe that situation of having a great potential, but never achieving it, Nietzsche used an interested word: sickness, perhaps trying to emphasize the fatality of being trapped inside our own being and, therefore, never “becoming” who we truly are.
This is not the time to talk about philosophy, but, regardless, it seems obvious that one of the frustrations in life is to see in others and sometimes even in ourselves the gap, the abyss between our real potential and our accomplishments.
We should ask why, in spite of their many opportunities, studies, contacts, and many other positive and beneficial factors, people simply waste their potential. And what happens to individuals will surely also happen to cultures, societies, countries, and, it seems, to the totally of humanity.
Perhaps it is possible to argue that, was Victor Hugo once said, we can battle against an army, we can’t battle against ideas. When ideas invade us, many times we don’t know how to react or what to do and, soon after that, we have been conquered by those ideas almost without resistance.
As a result, we will then assume, for example, that a given language is better than others, or that a certain culture is superior to others, or that certain people, just because of their physical characteristics, are more intelligent than others.
And if you do not speak the “privileged” language, or you are not part of a certain culture, or you don’t possess certain physical characteristics, then chances are you will willingly exclude yourself from reaching your true potential, regardless of your own talents and of the pleas of your parents, teachers, or friends.
In other words, ideas not thought by us have conquered us since our early childhood when, under the guise of “education”, those ideas were used to “normalize” our thoughts, “correct” our behavior, and “limit” and control our imagination and creativity. We are thus trapped inside what Richard Rohr (in his Falling Upward) calls “the first half” of life, never reaching the “second half”, that is, the life of maturity and discovery.
For that reason, as adults, many time we accept the ideas which previously invaded us as if they were true and they there the only reasonable ideas, without even notice the “sickness” (in the Nietzschean sense of the word) affecting us. Perhaps, then, because of our passivity and lack of courage, we deserved to be shown how great we could have been.