Love Better and You Will Be Better by the Act Alone

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

 

Humans are social creatures, and we need to feel connected, understood, cared about, and loved, and we need it like we need food, water, and air. We’ll do anything to get it, and when we get it, we’ll do amazing and ugly things to keep it. Sure, being loved makes you want to be better, it’ll make you want to do the right thing, be the hero, be the bigger person, but when you can’t, it only makes you better at hiding who you are.

When we love someone we want to give them our very best. It’s normal and completely understandable. We do it because they deserve it, and, if we’re being honest, we do it because we are afraid to lose them. We hide the truth of who we really are and give them a storybook version we long to believe in ourselves, but the truth is you are not made only of giving and grace. You are also selfish, needy, angry, frustrated, sad, scared, and stupid, but none of that is very loveable is it? So it has to go away. We cut it out and pack it away, and we believe it’s gone forever.

Love has made us better, right?

Sadly, no. What happens when we cut ourselves in two like that, banishing one half to the crawl space, is that all that ugly only festers. When there is no one to check its size and power it grows, and it learns there are other ways out. Emotional baggage, childhood trauma, and all that fucking fear twists itself up into unrecognizable shapes and re-emerges in strange, troubling, abusive, and suffocating ways and the more of you it takes over, the more of yourself you hide, and humans will tend to be the worst versions of themselves in secret.

When you care for someone, you have to face your truth and learn to be your whole self, and you have to do it continuously if you want to have any hope of being your best self for them.

The truth is you are not perfect, and your loved ones should know that. Not just because honesty is always the best policy, or even because by hiding so much of yourself in dark and damp corners you allow the worst parts of yourself to fester, but because you cannot really love someone if you are faking who you are. It is through wanting to love someone well, rather than wanting to be loved that we strive to become better versions of ourselves.

Here “striving” means failure and fucking up out in the open for all to see but learning from it and trying again and again to do the right thing and “better” means a more whole, healthy, and authentic you. Real, healthy, fulfilling and freeing love comes out of growth. It’s a process, and it can’t happen in the dark. Love can’t happen in the dark.

But we’ve been doing it all backward. We’re trying to be better for love rather than allowing the act of loving to make us better. We are trying to be worthy of receiving love rather than becoming the biggest and best source of love we can be. My God we are doing it all wrong.

I hate to say it so plainly, but getting someone to love you is among the easiest things to do in this life. It’s as easy as a few well-placed lies and a bit of clever manipulation. No human has ever proven themselves above using such tactics. Hell, I would go so far as to say such shady strategies have been encouraged. Society has turned love and friendship into games people play, and in our need and greed, we’ve forgotten the whole point.

Being loved is no confirmation of how good, beautiful, smart, funny, or valuable you are. The truth of who a person is always shown in how they love. And when we combine honesty with all that love we have to give, we give the kind of love that is real and right and finally become that person we have been pretending to be all along.

But you can only do that by being your whole self first. Bring all your ugliness into the light and love the best you can, with all you have, right now, then growing as you become wise, confident, secure, and happy.

Strive to love better, and you will become better by the act alone.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

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Our Words Fail Us, and We Fail Each Other

“War is what happens when language fails.”

— Margaret Atwood

We all fight with someone, even the people we love the most. We fought all the time, nearly daily for some, but it’s rare we reach for physical violence to get our point across. It is common to reach for emotional savagery at the slightest threat to our self-image, our way of thinking, or our sense of control. Real or perceived we are quick to hate, to degrade, and to cut off people around us for the smallest transgression because we have lost the ability to really tell one another how we feel, and to really listen to the feelings of another.

We’ve all utilized violence at some point on siblings or schoolmates. Some have hit their children or had to fight a stranger. Worse are those who have struck a spouse, a parent, an animal. I’ve seen it all and done my fair share too. I have been hurt and hurt others. I have had my sense of safety taken away, and I have felt pride in taking it from others. But I hate that version of me that was so stupid and so weak as to think there was any reason to feel pride in such brutality. I hope to never act so brutish again unless I have to use force to save my life or the life of someone I know.

I’ve come to see violence as something to only be used as a last resort and only when violence is first used on me. I now believe that there is no end to the ways a conflict can be resolved as long as both parties want to. Growth has made me sensitive to the ways I see communication break down around me and the way people have come to see physical violence as the second step after verbal violence is utilized as the first.

Violence is an instinct. Little kids do it and have to be taught not to do it. It is also a learned behavior too. The more they see other people doing it, the more we do it, of course, but I’ve seen babies not yet walking and not yet witness to assault hitting and throwing things out of frustration when they feel their needs have not adequately been communicated.

I work with children in a space that isn’t home and isn’t school, and in this place, they are a little freer, a little more themselves, for good and for ill. I find that at any slight correction, challenge, or frustration they fail to communicate their feelings and instead head right for violence, first verbal and then physical.

I have to slow them down. I work hard to teach them that there are other things to try first. I tell them they can talk to me, tell me how they feel, and I will never punish them for that. I do it because I understand they are being raised the same way I was, to believe that any show of emotion or expression of need is a sign of disrespect. Their feelings are being forced in, and their ability to communicate is decaying from non-use.

As a result, they have no idea how to simply say they are unhappy, that they don’t understand, that they are frustrated or hurt, or to ask for space or time to process what is happening around or inside themselves. They don’t know how to say what they need, and they have no desire to hear what other people need either.

They only know what they have been taught— that respect and understanding come after you have forced it from someone. They have been taught that there is only one right and one wrong and that the one who is right is the one who hits harder.

As we get older, we gain some control, or at least we learn who we can’t hit and who we can. We still don’t know how to talk, and we still don’t know how to understand though.

That’s not to say we are all violent people. No one wants to start there. No one wants to yell, humiliate, or hurt, we do it when we feel we have no other choice and that place is different for us all but none of us have the strength or patience we might have if we’d worked at communication or seen proper examples of it. All of us has given up on someone, some of us have given up on whole groups of people we will never meet because we are convinced that they are incapable of understanding us and us, them.

But there is always a point, and there is always a way, it’s just hard to do, that’s all. Language is a poor way to describe all the complexity and shades of meaning and feeling that exist inside of a human being, but as long as we are each trapped inside of our own perspective and consciousness, barred from the minds of one another, we have to use what we have, our words.

To listen is exhausting. It takes a lot of energy, emotional and intellectual, to hold your own mind back, to trust enough to let your defense down and listen to another. It’s even harder to be vulnerable and ask someone to expend such energy on you. We try once, twice, and the third time we’re done not seeing that the first time we sounded frustrated, the second time we yelled, and the third we used insults and threats. There was never real communication. I see this every day.

No one learns how to communicate rigorously.

No one learns to consider that they are wrong.

No one believes there is honor or pride in giving time and consideration to needs, ideas, or ways of living of others.

The effect is worse in groups and worst of all in nations. Too often violence can seem like the only course of action to take, not last but at all. We work ourselves into a frenzy declaring that our way of life our thinking or land must be defended at all costs. We are right, and they are wrong, and words will do nothing. There is nothing to say to “those people,” they wouldn’t understand if we tried and we will not allow ourselves to be infected, manipulated, deterred, or distracted from our aim. EQUALITY, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, PEACE! Worthy causes to die for, but to kill for?

Maybe. I won’t say I believe that there is no place for violence. Sure, there are wars worth fighting. There are people who can only be saved if someone else was to die, but I don’t see those kinds of wars being fought. What I see when I watch the news is wars being fought that might be solved with listening and an exchange of ideas and empathy, and I see wars not being fought where genocide, mass rape, and the exploitation of children has been taking place for generations.

What I see is nations acting like people, fighting for respect and control and not for equality, freedom, justice, and peace.

What I see is here at home a divide furthering between ideologies because talking is exhausting and listening is just too hard. I see people who are sure they are right, that there is no other way to see it, and that communication is no road to resolution. I see tension building and a canyon-sized divide between the purity of each sides way of seeing the world. No one is willing to build a bridge. The bridge builders of the past are disillusioned, and the would-be builders can only see what the other side won’t do.

So, violence is quickly becoming all that is left because we’ve not built the strength nor the desire to keep trying, again, and again, and again.

We’ve not been raised to believe that people can come around by words alone. We’ve not been raised to believe there is a middle ground in that canyon separating us from one another. We’ve not been raised to understand that people are mysterious and complex and in need of love and understanding the same as us. We have not been raised to see each other as equals only as beings to dominate, manipulate, and use for our own emotional ends. We’ve not been taught that words will get us what we need.

The average person isn’t out there beating people up and humiliating them, but we are internalizing and perpetuating the same way of looking at the world and thinking about one another that leads to violence on more massive scales. We are protecting and excusing the violence that breaks out on individual levels seeing it through our own upbringing and justifying the pettiest reasons.

I just want to see us all try another way and try a little harder.

Try being patient. Try being quiet. Try being open, sympathetic, and kind.

Work the muscles in the mind that express and understand. Learn how to use your words and learn the meaning of words that other people use. Consider that you might be a little wrong and that the people you have written off might be a little right. Not just the people you know, but people half a world away too. Think about what war is and what it’s cost is worth. Teach your kids to do the same and teach your loved ones through their interaction with you. Take the time communicate. I promise it is no waste.

I’m talking to all of you, myself included. I am talking to all sides of the issue those who have never listened and those who have tried listening so much they’ve given up hope that it works. I’m talking to you.

I’m talking to us here and now and to everyone in the future because if we don’t learn to sharpen and strengthen language, make it better and make it work nothing will change.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured photo is by Georgia National Guard from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It Begins by Seeing Each Other as People

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

— Gwendolyn Brooks

We live side by side. We go to work together, shop together, sit next to each other in movie theaters and walk past each other on the street, and we don’t see each other at all. We don’t know a thing about our neighbors or the people living in the same spaces as us. We won’t look the cashier in the eye. We don’t have the patience for other drivers on the road. We don’t care about our coworkers weekend, even if we ask. We don’t want to help. We don’t want to hear it. Hell is other people, right?

And that’s just the people we see day-to-day. Then we get online, on Twitter, on Facebook, on our blogs where people are even people anymore. We jump into the comment sections under YouTube videos and articles on our preferred news and opinion sites. We turn on the TV and see nothing but violence and feel fear.

Soon other people aren’t even people anymore. They are obstacles and annoyances. They are different and dangerous. They are the other side, the enemy. They think differently than us, they feel differently than us and anyone who is different from us doesn’t matter. They are wrong. They aren’t worth the time.

Indifference grows to hate, and people never run out of reasons to hate. They hate people because they’re brown, because they’re femme, or because they’re queer, or disabled, or transgender, or Muslim, or poor. They hate people who look different, think different, worship different. Eventually, the hated ones grow bitter, and they hurl hate right back in return. The hate mixes with fear, and they fight, some with fists and guns, some wielding the law.

I’m angry, and I am full of hate too. It grows every time I turn on the news, and I’m tired of it. But as angry as I am, as scared as I am, and as much as I want to shut out half of the world, and as many solid reasons as I know I have to do so, I’m not convinced it’s the right way. I’m not sure that isolating myself from the people who I don’t like, that I don’t agree with, that I don’t want to acknowledge, dignify, or give space to will make the world a better place. I’m not sure that going on hating all those people will change them.

I know what they think of me, and convincing them otherwise is close to impossible, but every so often one is converted, and it happens more and more every day. It’s my job not to just stand up to them, but to convince them, help them, educate them.

To open yourself up this way is exhausting, I know. To have to explain yourself your needs and to in turn give space in your life for such hate to be lobbed back at you hurts. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for anyone all the time. We have to take turns. We can retreat to safe spaces as needed, but we can’t stay there forever. We have to find a way to work it out no matter how hurt and angry we are because if we don’t both halves of humanity will go on fighting and living this double existence side by side and nothing will ever get better, and no one will learn anything.

But is that so bad? Is it really your job to care what people who hate you or are ignorant of your perspective think? Is it your job to educate them or drag them kicking and screaming toward compassion and cooperation? No, of course, it isn’t. Giving them space in your life is a purely personal decision but I think it might be the best thing to do if we want to make the world better. We are all we have, and I think it’s important we all care about each other, whether we agree or not. That doesn’t mean I accept your thinking, or that I will compromise my values. I can fight for whats right and still let you know I care about you. So, it’s not your job, but it is your problem. It’s all our problem to solve.

And solving it begins with seeing each other as people.

Both sides have to begin by understanding that we are all much more alike than we are different and nothing that any human feels or believes is beyond another human’s understanding. It takes stepping into the shoes of another and imagining their whole life had been your own. You may think and believe the same that they do now, and if you did, would the way you isolate and shame them make you change your view if you were them? I doubt it.

To think we can go on making progress with the world split and going for one another throats every day is delusional. The reality is someone is going to have to find a way to take the first step and the longer we tell ourselves that to do so is to compromise your integrity the further we drift from each other and the harder it will be to reconcile, but it will have to be done one day. We are going to have to care. We are going to have to stop seeing each other as the enemy.

We are going to have to start seeing each other.

We are one country, and one world, and in this vast, cold cosmos all we have is one another. Each of us is precious, even those among us who we disagree with. Even those we find ignorant and stubborn and who put themselves at the center of the world to the exclusion of all the rest, even they are rare and precious. Like Carl Sagan said “If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” So, yeah it should matter to you who hs healthcare. It should matter to you who has food, who has a job, who has a home, and who doesn’t. It should matter to you why people feel the way they do, hurt the way they do, and fight for the things they fight for. It is your problem too!

Your fellow human beings, whether you like them or not, agree with them or not, understand them or not, they are your responsibility.  We have to learn to get along sometime, so let’s try a little harder today, and a little harder the day after that. No matter your race, your class, your nationality, immigrant status, gender, sex, or sexuality, no matter how you were raised or what you believe, start by seeing each other as people.

Start by seeing each other at all.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image is by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

The Error of Arrogance

Hello, and happy Monday friends! Yeah, I know, I know, Mondays aren’t exactly happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed. I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, a reset of sorts, every single week. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“I am a member of a fragile species, still new to the earth, the youngest creatures of any scale, here only a few moments as evolutionary time is measured, a juvenile species, a child of a species. We are only tentatively set in place, error prone, at risk of fumbling, in real danger at the moment of leaving behind only a thin layer of our fossils, radioactive at that.”

— Lewis Thomas, The Fragile Species

Have you ever heard of the Greek goddess Aidos? She was said to be the daughter of Prometheus and the personification of the feelings of modesty, humility, and shame, reverence, and respect. She was said to be a companion to the goddess Nemesis who punished men guilty of arrogance before the gods.

Together they represent the shame and respect that keep men good, and what can happen when we lose sight of how small and fragile we are. Or, put another way, they represent the “emotion that a rich person might feel in the presence of the impoverished, that wealth was more a matter of luck than merit,” and “righteous indignation aroused by the sight of wicked men receiving undeserved good fortune.”

Humans have accomplished much on this planet. We’ve colonized every continent, invented culture and society, found math and the sciences, conquered nature, and each other, and soon even the distance and emptiness of space between the stars won’t be left untamed. We are the pride of our planet, and of the universe as far as we know. Most of us believe this reality was made for us to rule, many of the rest believe we have earned the right, I say we haven’t earned shit, and nothing here belongs to us.

I say we need a little humility, a little shame for the way we are acting, and a bit of respect for or planet and the life on it. I say we need to remember that we got here purely by luck and we shouldn’t be so damned arrogant. I say it’s time for some righteous anger for those who forget that and act carelessly, putting all our futures in danger.

Humans are what we are because of our big brains, and our thumbs, and the ability to walk upright. Our feelings of empathy and self-awareness, our ability to reason and work together, and our unwavering curiosity have taken us far, but when you put our accomplishment on the scale of time from the beginning of the universe, we are less than a blink of an eye. On the scale of space, we are less than a speck of dust; we are very nearly nothing at all.

Yet, here we are acting like it all belongs to us. Like gods deciding who gets to live and who dies. Gods who cannot give life to the ones we take it from and who cannot fathom a future farther than our own. We are polluting the planet, killing off species who have been here long before the first thing even resembling a man was born. How is this much ego even possible?

There will be a price to pay for our arrogance. There will come a time when we’ll regret being so damn stubborn and stupid. We’re going to wish there had been more respect, reverence, and shame to keep us good. We will wish we had been better. I can see it now, and every move we make in the name of ideals as short-sighted as money or convenience makes me cringe.

Of course, I am speaking of our President, a man who seems to made entirely out of foolish pride and extreme short-sightedness, but I am also talking to people who refuse to see what is happening around them and refuse to listen to reason. The science is conclusive, the rest of the world is leaving us behind, the future is coming and you cannot stop it.

I’m talking about climate change. I’m talking about us thinking that cutting down the trees, dumping chemical into our rivers, throwing plastic into the ocean. I’m talking about hunting for fun and profit. I’m talking about taking land that animals need to live. I’m talking about the blood on our hands, the death we are bringing now and for eons to come.

I am talking about the way we treat our home and the life that fought just as hard right alongside us to get just as far as we have. I am talking to anyone who believes that we have the right to use this planet for our own ends. I am talking to those with no shame and no respect!

Arrogance is a human emotion that comes far too easy and one we have to be ever aware of. We have to fight it to keep from acting stupidly, another human tendency that comes far too easily. We are a species that has learned to imagine the future but only so far as it concerns us personally. We have difficulty holding vast expanses of space or time in our minds, but we have grown in numbers and strength that affects whole planets and eons of time when they act. We literally possess power we do not understand, but instead of stopping for a moment to grasp the impact we have, we stupidly move forward. We double down in the face of facts and warnings and become bolder and more arrogant. No good can come from this.

This week, take a moment to check your own arrogance. I have found the easiest way to do this is to take time every day to look up at the sky, particularly if the stars are visible. Or maybe get out into nature. See some tress, not ones we have planted but old ones that were here before this place had a name. Get out of the city and away from the influence of other humans if you can.

I have found that looking at the sky reminds me how small I am and that finding my way into nature reminds me that this world does not need us to go on turning, growing, and creating. We have only just gotten here and so much happened before us and will happen after we have destroyed ourselves once and for all. We are not gods and this universe does not bend to our will. We are not omnipotent nor omniscient. We have no right or claim to this world.

 

We are small, and dumb. We are barely beginning to be anything at all, but we do have some power, and it would be better to use it for good than for bad. It would be better to stop here, realize our recklessness, and make a change but it has to start within each of us.

It has to begin with letting go of our pride and letting ourselves feel some awe and gratitude and a sense of protection for what we have been given.

***

If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image via Unsplash

May Your Terror Make You Brave

“may I never lose
that terror
that keeps me brave” 

— Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn: Poems “Solstice”

The world is getting to be a scarier and scarier place. Every day I wake up and turn on the news, despite my anxiety, and hear nothing but war and death and instability. These things used to happen elsewhere and to other people. I used to feel safe in my city and in my little bubble, but the bad things are creeping closer and closer, and I’m having to really confront what kind of person I will be in this new world.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I am afraid to go places. I am afraid of events that draw big crowds and attention. I am afraid that a day out with my girlfriend will end in tragedy. I am afraid of the hatred all around me.

I know it isn’t people who are the enemy but ideas and ideas can lurk in any skin, age, and gender. Unlike those who only see the danger from the other side, I see it everywhere. I feel the tension all around me, and I am terrified to become a casualty of it.

I want to hide away, but I am trying hard not to let my fear win, but there is a new terror now. I am afraid of how I will act if tragedy does hit close to me.

I’m not just talking about guns and bombs either. Every day there are new videos posted online of fights, assaults, and harassment based on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation and in nearly everyone there are bystanders in the background watching it all happening and doing nothing. The hateful know that the natural tendency of the general public is to keep silent and keep hidden. No one wants to get involved, no one wants to get hurt.

I never want to be one of those people. In my eyes, they are almost as guilty as the perpetrator. I want to be one of the ones who stand up for what is right.

But then, last week, two men were killed and another injured for doing just that. They stood up to a man ranting and directing hatred at two young women, and they were attacked for it. I won’t lie, that has me terrified now too.

There was a time when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, lately, it seems there is no end to the way people can terrorize one another and no end in sight for the war happening in secret all around us. So, what can I do when I feel too afraid to leave the house and too afraid to let those who want to keep me there win?

I am constantly working to prevent, and prepare for, the worst-case scenario. Not the hatred, not the violence, not even the prospect of losing my life. No, the worst case scenario is to become something I’m not. To become a part of the problem. To let my fear control me, or worse, turn me into someone filled with suspicion and willing to do anything to feel safe again.

This week, when the world all around you feels on the verge of violence, and you worry you might be the next victim, remember that there are worse things than death and that there are ways to live and die that are preferable to others.

What I am really afraid of is living my life cooped up and alone, cut off from humanity. I love people. I love experiencing life alongside other people. I want to feel like I am part of a community. I want to feel joy, and wonder, and curiosity with others. I want to feel connected to the rest of the world. That is a big part of what makes life worth living. Other people!

We should be able to go out and be with each other without feeling so afraid. Human beings are social creatures. Human beings are also rare creatures in this universe. We should be treating each other better than we are and we should be helping each other learn how.

What we all should be afraid of is being part of the reason everything keeps falling apart. What we should be terrified of is becoming more and more disconnected from one another. What should be keeping us up at night is the prospect of losing our humanity and of becoming something dark, and lonely, and mean.

We should be afraid of becoming ruled by fear. We should be afraid of succumbing to evil ideas about who deserves to eat, to work, to live. We should be afraid of succumbing to ideas about when we should act and when we should speak up.

I don’t want to be too afraid to be human. I don’t want to live my life cowering inside, or holding back, or keeping quiet when I see people being hurt. The terror of what I might become is what will keep me brave.

How about you?

***

If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image via Unsplash

We are Not Okay, and That’s Okay

“I do not believe anyone can be perfectly well, who has a brain and a heart”

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I’ve struggled my whole life with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and a general sense of guilt for just about every wrong ever committed. I’ve believed I didn’t deserve love, or happiness, or even my life. The weight of who I am and who I was is heavy on my heart while the weight of who I will be and when I will die weighs heavily on my mind.

I think about how time is running out, and I’ve made so many mistakes, and I’m not sure if this life I’ve is better than another life I could have had.

I don’t know whether to step this way or that, quite my job or stay, move to a new state or learn to love the one I am in. I don’t know if people like me or why I should care. I don’t know if this political party is right or the other and I don’t know how to fix myself or the world. So I am frozen, and I have no way to work through it or even know if I am alone.

I am not okay.

I feel so much, every moment of every day that in order to focus and move forward in life I’ve had to learn to shut it off, to zone out, to numb myself. We all do it. When we work, when we are with family and friends, when we are posting selfies, when we are posting witty comments on the timeline, and especially when we are alone. We shut off all that emotion, we do it our whole lives, and we forget how to cope with what it means to be alive.

I am a thinking, feeling, wanting human being, and it hurts. It’s confusing and scary and damn hard. It’s humiliating and terribly unfair, and I’m tired of trying to pretend it isn’t.

I can get through my day with a smile. I have to because to bring all the baggage of the human condition to work, or home to my girlfriend, or dump it on my friends, seems cruel. But if I am shutting off my “humanness”” just to get through my day, my life, then who or what am I? And why am I here at all?

I am not okay, at all, and but I don’t think very many of us are.

Billions and billions of us of us are going to and fro working our little jobs and connecting. We talk, meet for coffee, hold meetings, network, and update our statuses, but none of it seems to get to all that anxiety and fear we carry. We never admit that just inside ourselves below the facade, we show the world is an ocean of panic.

And it only seems to be getting worse. All this technology, bringing us together, they say, but I only ever feel pulled further and further away from who I really am. I mean, if the selves we are bringing together are only shells, pretending to be happy, pretending everything is fine, then we are only going to get lonelier and lonelier, and we will never learn to cope with what it means to be human. In the end, pushing it all down is only going to make the ocean of anxiety below the surface bubble and rise, wholly out of your control.

So, this week, take a few furtive glances inside yourself and ask, are you dealing with your fear, your pain, your uncertainty? Are you letting yourself feel human? Get below the surface, deep down, in the parts of ourselves we never visit, where all the deep questions are asked and never answered.

Get uncomfortable with what is down there and with who you are, and admit you are not okay.

We are not okay, but that’s okay. If you aren’t okay, it means you are alive, and aware, and feeling. It means you are human and functioning just the way you should. Don’t ever be ashamed of that. Don’t ever hide it and don’t ask others to either. Instead, talk to someone about it, and let them talk too. Maybe if we say it out loud, that life is hard, and we have no idea what we are doing, and that we are afraid, we’ll feel a little less not okay, or at least a little less alone.

Life will still hurt. You will still suffer and be afraid, but at least we won’t be pretending.

At least we won’t be afraid of who we are.

***

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People are People, Just Like You

Hello, and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Each Monday is a reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“Don’t let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them.”

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

People are simple, and stupid, and complex, and feeling, and wise, and fallible, and beautiful, and dark, and ugly, and so much more than we can ever convey with words. We know this because we know ourselves and deep down we know other people feel and think and go through what do, even though we rarely act like it.

We know we have rich inner lives, profound thoughts and feelings, shades of emotions, wants, and needs that language can scratch the surface of. We know there are reasons behind everything we do that rarely ever fall fully to one side of good or bad, selfless or selfish. There are more shades of human motivation and reason than there are stars in the universe or grains of sand on every beach but humans aren’t good with subtle shades of being or thinking.

We know that our psyches are deep and varied and we know that because of this, because every thought and action and all that we are is a product of all we have been through and sometimes all that many generations before us have been through, we know we are deserving of understanding and patience. Somehow, we know this, but at the same time, we know that other people are simple beings with simple and often nefarious motivations for doing what they do.

We forget that people are people, all over the world and all throughout time, same as we are.

They have the same thoughts, the same questions, the same failings and triumphs, the same daily, grueling, inner struggle between who they are and who they ought to be. They share the same complex inner life and painfully vague understanding of why they do what they do. They are hurt and hoping and fucking up, and we should be working harder to understand their needs and motivations, the way we would ask them to do for us.

We are too quick categorize and condemn each other in ways that are radically different from how we think of ourselves. They are mean. They don’t care. They aren’t good enough. They are stupid. They are trying intentionally to sabotage and set me back. They are the enemy, but it isn’t so simple. They are human, and so are we, and they do all the things they do for the same reasons as us. Because they don’t know any better.

 

Of course, in all the ways we are the same, there are as many ways in which we are different, and that is where the work of understanding happens. Besides the fact that we all come from different places and were born in different times, besides the fact that each of our parents was raised in a time with different struggles and different values, besides the fact that no two perspectives can ever be the same, we all simply have very different brains. We have different thoughts, needs, motivations, wants, and ideas about right and wrong and every shade in between.

Even on our best days, when we are listening well and using language as precisely as we can, no human language is articulate or exact enough to ever explain who we are, what we feel, and what our motivations and reasons may be. Each of us no matter how we reach out and to how many is alone within our own minds. We can never be understood and we can never fully understand, but we can try harder, and do better, and stop treating each other like simple beings and react with simpler solutions and emotions.

This week, before you judge who is right and who is wrong, who is worth listening to, and who is worth compassionate understanding, or friendship, just know that each person you encounter is a complex mix of history, culture, experience, emotion, and wisdom that you will never fully comprehend.

We owe it to ourselves to treat one another better. To owe it to each other to understand each other better. To step into each other’s shoes isn’t so hard when you stop acting as if you are the only one who can be right, who can be hurt, who can have needs, or can make mistakes.

This week, try to understand that you have no right to presume to know who a person is, why they do what they do, how they ought to act, or what help they need or don’t. Get to know people and do the hard work of letting them exist on a spectrum rather than at the easy to categorize extremes.

This world has become far too black and white, I’d love to see some grays, and one day, when we are better people than we are now, we might even be comfortable with color and hue and brightness too.

***

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Perfection is not Attainable

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Each Monday is our own personal reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“For whatever it’s worth, I believe we’re born imperfect, and perfection, whatever that may be, is unattainable by us mere humans.”

— Liza M. Wiemer, Hello?

I’m not perfect, but I never thought I would be. I had been born too flawed and been too fucked up by my parents, and boys, and women, and love, and failure to ever be perfect. I felt sorry for myself, watching everyone on their way to being divine human beings while I am stuck with a life, a body, and a mind that will never be any better than it is now.

I have low self-esteem, obviously, and like all things in our minds, knowing it doesn’t change a thing. I spend a lot of time thinking about all the ways I don’t measure up. I think about how clumsy I am, and all the wildly imperfect things I say and the incredibly wrong decisions I make. I think about all the people who don’t like me, don’t care about me, or who are burdened by me. I think about how much I will never measure up, and I feel so small and so stupid, and I feel it nearly all of the time.

I know I measure myself against an impossible standard, against accomplishment no one has achieved. I measure myself against what people show, say, or post online without letting myself believe that they too have work to do toward becoming a better version of them too. I want to be perfect but I’m learning perfection is not attainable, not for me, but maybe not for anyone?

How can it be when we are set up so perfectly to fail against the standard?

Not one of us is born with a road map. We aren’t told what the right path to take is or how to deal with the flawed parts of ourselves that persist even after education, reward, punishment, and culture and the law. OF course, our parents tell us they know the way, and our teachers say they know the way, and TV and blogs say what we should do, but o one really knows, and no path will work for every person or geographic or economic location and level.

So we each waste a whole lot of life making a whole lot of mistakes on our way to somewhere we get never get to. You wouldn’t even recognize it if you did anyway since none of us can agree quite what perfection looks like anyway. Think of every contradiction you have ever heard from your parents, your friends, your teachers, your spouse, and your idols. Think of all the ways you have been told to live and all the ways you have hurt yourself trying to do it all. It just can’t be done.

There simply is no such thing as a perfect human. We haven’t even been able to accept being basic human. We spend all of our time repressing and suppressing who we are that we move further away rather than towards perfection. We can’t be our best selves when we don’t even know who we are. I would argue we’ve done nothing but be our worst selves in our misguided efforts.

So, I’ll say it again: Perfection is not attainable! It is something you can never achieve, and therefore you should stop trying so damn hard and feeling so damn sorry for yourself. We should let go of the dream human being and start working on being the most us, the most human, we can be.

You can only ever be a better you and only in some ways, not in all. There is always a give and take because there are only so many hours in a day and neurons in the brain. You gain something you lose something, and you can only hope that what you become makes you happier with yourself and your life than what you were before.

Perfection has gotten us into a whole lot of trouble and kept us from a whole lot of love. We hold so tight to it, we do anything for it, we give up anything for it, and we miss out on what makes us great and wonderful. We forget how good it feels to be comfortable with you are vs. how soul crushing it is to spend your life trying to be something you aren’t.

This week, take a moment to let go of perfection and get to know and accept yourself as you are now. Meditation and mindfulness can help with this. Mindfulness reminds us to live in the now, not in a past or a future that can’t be changed or may never come. Meditation teaches us to accept and gently direct our thought and wants. Take 10 minutes a day to sit and breath, be gentle and aware, or just forgive yourself for you next shortcoming and remind yourself that it’s normal and beautiful to be who you are now, flaws and all.

Don’t give up on improving yourself. Don’t give up on learning more about who you are and what this thing called life is. Don’t give up on working hard and finding your happiness. Just change your idea of what “perfect” is. Let go of it completely and focus on being a better you.

Start with just being a human. Feel your feelings fully and explore who you are. That in itself is a life long journey! Don’t waste time comparing yourself and trying to be something you can’t. You can be good. You can be a you that is open and aware of the world. You can be wise, and compassionate, and successful too. You can be loved, and admired, and remembered, but you can never be perfect.

You can only be you, imperfect, boring, beautiful you.

***

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We Know Not What We Do, I Hope

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Each Monday is our own personal reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”

— Mary Wollstonecraft

I’ve been having a really hard time coping with the state of the people and politics here in the United State since the election. There are many of you, and many people I know in real life, who would tell me it’s long past time to get over it, but every morning I watch the news, I scroll my feeds and timelines, and I get progressively more afraid, more cynical, and more depressed.

It feels like there are so many people who want to hurt the poor, the lost, and the vulnerable. They want to hurt our environment. They want to hurt people who look and live differently from they way they look and live. They want to line their pockets and laugh while the world burns. I am convinced, but what I can’t understand is why.

I hear two voices shouting out at me through opinion pieces and blogs. One says not to listen to them, not to give them one moment’s consideration. They are the enemy and they must be guarded against at all costs. The other says to understand them. See the world their way. They are afraid, they are ignorant, listen and reassure them. They only need time and love to come around.

My heart likes the sound of the latter, but my anger tells me I am stupid and pushes the former course.

I’m highly suspicious of any calls to understand, and appeal to, people who refuse to understand or appeal to the needs of those less fortunate than them.

What I mean is, if you are angry because full equality under the law and fair and respectful treatment for immigrants, Muslims, women, and the LGBTQ+ community has become an important issue in American politics, I think the last thing we should be doing is giving you more time to explain why people who have suffered and fought for so long should slow down, take a back seat, and give you the floor. Sorry, I’m not sorry.

I am weary of anyone who says you can’t eat, you can’t feel warm, secure, and safe because they need more. There are real consequences for people when you won’t let go of your ego or a small amount of your money. When people say they need something, they need it. End of story.

But as weary as I am, as much as I don’t want to spend my time understanding and coddling, there is part of me that longs to understand and the only thing that makes sense is that people just don’t know any better. They can’t help themselves. They really think they are doing what is right.

We have so much privilege we have become so blind to it. We spend more time protecting our luxuries than we do protecting human life and dignity. We are all guilty of it. Some more than others, but every day more and more sees the light. There is hope, I hope.

I recognize that may be a lie I am telling myself too. Maybe part of me just wants to, has to, believe that the world isn’t that cruel. People can’t be evil for evil sake. Even if the universe doesn’t care and there is no rhyme or reason to any of this, we have to have reasons right? We have to, deep down, want to do what’s best, for love, for our families, for our country and our sense of right and wrong. Right?

So, this week, I’m exploring what lies are worth telling myself. What leaps of faith are worth taking. What aspects of human nature are not worth looking too closely at.

My instincts tell me none. My instincts tell me wherever humans are involved things are always complicated, and there are never easy answers. There is always a spectrum and it is rare we fall to one side or the other fully. People aren’t all bad, but they aren’t all good either. People’s intentions must follow the same patterns I suppose.

So, this week I guess I am exploring what that means to me and in these times, where we are so divided, so angry, and so willing to turn a blind eye or let loose our rage, we should all explore what that means for us, about us. How do we find common ground? How do we listen and teach? How do we change hearts? How do we do it without losing our own sense of right and wrong?

This week, ask yourself what are the value the value of rose-colored glasses and leaps of faith in humanity? Contemplate the motivations behind why we treat each other the way they do. Look within yourself and question how it makes you feel when another person says they need things that you cannot understand. In what ways do people who live differently from you make you afraid?

I want to know what evil lives in me and why I think it will lead to happiness. I want to know that about all people. I want to know how to fix it.

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

— Anne Frank

***

If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for interesting reads + my own existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering, or buy me a cup of coffee perhaps? 

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I am Sorry

“Would ‘sorry’ have made any difference? Does it ever? It’s just a word. One word against a thousand actions.”

― Sarah Ockler, Bittersweet

I have hurt people.

I have hurt them in big and small ways, and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I am human, I am flawed, I am scared, and I am hurting too. I don’t want to be like this and, trust me; I am working every day not to be. Eventually, I may learn to cope in some instances, but I will always have a tendency to fall back into old ways. I will always want to do what is easy, and it is easy to hurt others.

The world is a confusing place, and all I am looking for is a way to find some solid ground. I am looking for some control. I am looking for a way to feel safe.

Sometimes that means I am unkind. It means I pretend at not caring. It means I do things to hurt you, push you away, and keep you near. I just want to love you, make you happy, and help you love me back. I don’t know how to do that, and I feel inadequate. My actions are wrong, and they don’t make sense. I get frustrated with myself, and then frustrated with you. In the end, I blame you for my inability to act like you are important and worth my time and patience.

I am sorry.

“I feel sorry for anyone who is in a place where he feels strange and stupid.”

― Lois Lowry, The Giver

Hurting others feels better than feeling strange and stupid.

We hurt each other to avoid our own hurt feelings. It’s pathetic, I know it, and you know it, and there is no excuse for it, but to be human is to be burdened by more feelings that you can safely hold. We suffer but we have been given no means of alleviating that suffering in any meaningful and permanent way. Anything that makes it even a little better only leaves us with more anxiety. We live in fear of losing what we find soothing, and we act in increasingly erratic and insane way to keep it.

We should all be apologizing to each other. All humans are guilty, and all humans are the injured party. None of us deserve to be on the receiving end of another’s insecurity and disappointment, and none of us have the right to use another as an emotional punching bag. We all do it in our personal relationships, but we do it on a much larger scale too.

Have you hated whole groups of people? Have you refused to listen to another point of view? Have you decided “those people” don’t deserve the same rights and comforts as you? Have you ever hit someone? Have you agreed that bombing another country is the right answer?

You may owe the world an apology.

This letter has been mine.

It isn’t good enough, though, because I cannot promise I won’t do it again. It isn’t good enough because I know I will do it again. I can only say again I am human, and I am hurting and like most humans, it is my first instinct is to spread that pain around. I am sorry I do this, I know better, we all do, but it takes a lot of work to be better. A lot of work, every single day.

I beg your forgiveness and ask for your patience, and I hope you can find it in your heart to give it to me.

I will do the same for you too.

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”

— Fyodor Dostoyevski, The Brothers Karamazov

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This post first appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, if you like it, consider signing up. You’ll get a bit of experimental writing from me—something more emotional, more private—and some interesting reads from a few other people. All made with lots of love, every week ♥

Original image via Harsha K R

P.S. Inspired by the video Why and How to Say Sorry by The School of Life