The Heart of the Jungle
Last night saw the final of this year’s I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! I have to confess that I’m a fan. I like people watching; I like the contestants’ amusing reactions to the trials (not that I’m claiming I would do any better!), and I even like some of Ant and Dec’s terrible jokes. But I also find it a fascinating opportunity to gain an insight into how people think. Since the celebrities have little to do other than sit, contemplate, and converse, many find themselves doing some deep soul-searching over their time in the jungle, and as viewers, we get to overhear some of these thoughts.
One contestant from this series who went on a significant journey of self-discovery during his time in camp was Ian Wright, retired footballer and current TV presenter. Wright exhibited a tendency towards strong emotional reactions and outbursts of anger and frustration at several points in the series, sometimes in the trials, sometimes in camp as the celebrities interacted. His anger and extreme reactions became something of a talking point among the other contestants and the show’s presenters.
Reflecting on this part of his experience when interviewed just after leaving the camp, Wright revealed a tension that stands at the heart of secular thought. On the one hand, Wright spoke about the way his time in the jungle had caused him to think soberly about himself: ‘The mental side of me, I’ve got a lot of work to do on it’, he said. ‘I’ve got to be a little bit calmer … I lose it too quickly.’ And yet Wright also qualified this observation by stating that friends and family had encouraged him to be himself in the jungle, which, he said, he obviously had to do. So while he was prepared to acknowledge his flaws, he was also eager to stress that being himself and not holding anything back was still of the utmost importance. ‘I’m not going to try and hide and suppress those feelings.’ ‘Of course, you’ve got to be yourself’.
Here, embodied in one person, is a tension that can be observed in the culture around us. On the one hand, there is a core value of modern society: authenticity to oneself. We must embrace who we are (as defined by our emotions and desires) and be true to ourselves, regardless of what other people think about us. This is why challenging someone about part of who they believe themselves to be (as based on their emotions and desires) is deemed utterly unacceptable. But at the same time there is a recognition that many of us have emotions and desires that are at best unhealthy and at worst just outright wrong and harmful both to ourselves and to others. The Me Too movement and recognition of a growing problem with racism in the UK are just two examples which show that ‘just being ourselves’ often proves not to be a good thing.
If we’re honest, we all know that left to our own devices, there are parts of ourselves that are not good and that we wouldn’t want to embrace as who we really are. And yet being true to ourselves has become such a core value of our society that we can’t really admit the problem. We know that the human heart is a problem, and yet it’s also where we look to find ourselves and build our identity.
Wright expressed an admirable humility about his flaws. He noted that this was not the first time that he has become aware of them and shared that he has been proactive in the past about seeking to change in those areas through the support of a counsellor and through taking up golf as an outlet for his emotions. He sounds like a man who genuinely wants to change, and I have huge respect for that.
But on its own counselling can’t change a human heart, and golf can’t change a human heart. Only God can. The wonderful promise of the gospel is that our hearts of stone can be turned into hearts of flesh (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26) and hearts opposed to God’s law can have God’s law inscribed upon then (Jer. 31:33). Only then can we really have the freedom to be true to ourselves, to embrace and enjoy our true identity. And this identity comes, not by embracing our emotions and desires as the real us, but by embracing a God-given identity as a child of God.