Advice to Clever Children

Extract from Celia Green, Advice to Clever Children
(IPR 1981, reissued Oxford Forum 1999)


There is a kind of being identified with one’s life that I came to call centralisation. In many of its forms it clearly involves everything being related to some central factor.

At first I found it very difficult to define. When I had it most nearly in focus it seemed to me that it was something to do with accepting the responsibility for one’s life, something to do with feeling identified with it, and something to do with a sense of purpose. If you took the point of intersection of those three things, as it were, all in the most abstract sense, maybe you had it.


To be centralised you have at least to accept the possibility of finding yourself alone against the world; this is logical in a way, because to know your own mind you evidently have to let it tell you things, and you do not know what it will tell you until it does. So it is impossible to be sure that it will not tell you that everybody else is up a gum-tree.

It may be noticed that there is no way centralisation can be made compatible with the dependence on social guidelines required of the modern individual. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and if the human race offers you a mess of pottage it is necessary to think carefully whether perhaps the price being required of you is your birthright.

A sense of responsibility (in my sense) is related to a somewhat analytical attitude to what, in fact, one is being responsible for.

Here, the transition from normal to centralised psychology may appear paradoxical. It is only by an extreme narrowing down of one’s area of responsibility that there is any possibility of accepting the responsibility for perceiving the existential situation as it actually is, and the shocking enormity of the position in which one finds oneself.

People normally regard as their ‘area of responsibility’ a great many things about their own psychology which are not under their own control, other people’s psychology, and even the state of affairs in the world. For example, people are encouraged to feel responsible (in this sense) for the fact that not everyone in the world is well fed.

To be more autobiographical, I was encouraged (in fact positively brainwashed) to believe that I ought to feel responsible for not being able to work under conditions which were most forcibly, and most obviously against my will, imposed on me by other people.

It is actually necessary to realise what is not under one’s control before there is any possibility of responsibility (in the existential sense).