At Least the Thorns Grow Roses

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”

— Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden

There is no doubt that this past year has been a hard one. Were more divided than ever and growing increasingly exhausted by the repetition of disagreements and offenses. We all just want to be heard. We want to be a little happier. We want it all to be a little easier already, and somehow, in our warped minds, we’ve decided instead to go on making the world more horrible and then to give up on it, and each other. We’ve grown collectively cynical. We’ve resigned ourselves to a permanent state of outrage and hopelessness about everything.

It should change, but it won’t. We could change it, but we won’t. We want to be better, but we can’t. It’s too late. I’m too tired. I hate you, and that and I don’t care to deal with it. It’s not my problem. It’s not my place. Nothing is going to change anyway. That’s just the way the world works. Life sucks, and then you die, and I’m just here to make a buck, make a name, and leave.

That’s how I feel sometimes. That’s how a lot of people I know feel too. Every day they wake up, go to jobs they hate, eat food that doesn’t make them feel good, and fill up on coffee to get through. Then they go home to spouses they forgot how to love, watch shows they don’t even like, avoid the news because it makes them angry even though they have no idea why. They go to bed too late even though they have to wake up too early the next day and do it all over again.

They get sad, they get lonely, and no one cares. They want things, need things, and no one cares. They want to do more, and no one will let them. The last time they were happy, truly happy, was grade school and even then, now that they think about it, that wasn’t such a great time either.

Nothing good has happened to them since, and now they can’t imagine anything good happening ever again. There are no miracles, and the bad guys always win. Dreams don’t come true and happily ever after is a lie. So what’s the point?

I don’t have an answer for that friends. I wish I did because I am struggling just as much as you. I have so much doubt and fear, and there are days when I envy those who were never conceived. They never have to deal with being a person, and they never have to deal with disappointment or death. But, most days, I don’t feel that way. Most days, I can see that even though life is hard and painful, its beautiful too.

Most days I’m happy to be here, to breath, to laugh, to eat good food, and to be among other people. Most days I can remember that I am loved and that things are just as good as they are bad. I can see I am lucky, to have a job I hate and a home that needs so much work, and friends who get busy but still care about me. I can see I am lucky to be in love and to have a chance to grow old with someone, even if it means a life of little frustrations, misunderstandings, and mistakes. Life has books, and sunshine, and puppies, and the smell of honeysuckle, and the taste of barbecue ribs and creme brûlée. Life has science, and history, and good people fighting every day to make it better.

We can all join that fight by learning to love life again. When you love life, when you can see all the good there is in it, you can see that it’s worth making better for everyone. You have to see the roses!

That doesn’t mean you should ignore the thorns. This world is certainly going to shit. You have certainly fucked up and failed. The universe is wholly indifferent to your needs or pleas. There will be no breaks, and what you have you have only out of pure chance and hard, dirty work. It will go on like this, people burning down their one home in the universe and burning bridges with the ones they ought to love, and you will be no exception.

But as embarrassing, confusing, and terrifying as a human life is, it’s the most beautiful thing there is. All of it. Look outside right now, the sun, the trees, the people walking here and there, it’s all beautiful. You are lucky to get a chance to see it at all. You are lucky to be so angry and afraid. You are lucky to be here, to love to laugh, to run, and to shout how much you love, hate, or damn it all to hell.

It could be worse, there could be nothing but pain. It could be a hell of a lot better too if we tried. If we looked around and found less reason to be angry and hateful. Imagine if we all found less time to complain and more time to change. Let’s try it. This week just acknowledging that yes, a whole lot of all of this life is shit, but a whole lot of it is good, and right, and rich, and gorgeous, and fucking amazing to be a part of too.

The thorns hurt. People hurt, life hurts, we even hurt ourselves, oh, but the roses! The roses in all their colors and sweet smells. The feeling you get of seeing one, and the face of the lover you give one to are all well worth a few scrapes and scratches if you ask me.

Life isn’t fair. Not one of us was promised a rose garden, and we certainly shouldn’t take for granted that we were given one despite everything. It’s no one’s fault but ours that we never tended it and it’s no one’s fault but ours that what we’re left with if more pain than pretty. But we can fix it. We can care for what we have and do the hard work of growing more.

“The rose’s rarest essence lives in the thorns.”

— Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Relationships Take Two, and That Includes You

“It always takes two. For relationships to work, for them to break apart, for them to be fixed.”

— Emily Giffin, Heart of the Matter: A Novel

I’m a terrible friend.

I don’t text back. I don’t answer calls. I don’t send snaps or reply to Facebook comments. I don’t call to check in, and I don’t know what to say when my loved ones are going through hard times, so I say nothing. I’m a terrible friend. But not because I don’t care, but because I’m scared. I’m afraid I have nothing to offer, and I’m sure no one wants to be bothered with me. It’s selfish, even if I tell myself it isn’t and it’s wrong even if I tell myself it isn’t malicious. The truth is I’m not doing the work, and it isn’t fair.

The truth is I’m not doing the work, and it isn’t fair.

I’m lucky to have friends that understand, but lately, I’ve started to feel guilty. I shouldn’t let them pick up the slack just because I’m too afraid to try. We all deserve to have people reach out toward us everyone in a while to remind that they care and that we are too important to lose.

We all want to feel like we matter. We all want to be wanted. We all want the people we love to let us know with their actions not just with their words that we are important, liked, and desired. When our friends call us or send us funny videos to cheer us up, we feel good. When someone we love cooks our favorite dinner, buys us flowers or offers a back rub at the end of a hard day, we feel good. When family, co-workers, and spouses forgive us for our outbursts or let us know it’s okay after having made a mistake, we feel good.

We do deserve those things, but I’ve seen too many people who demand to be loved, understood, appreciated but make no effort to show anyone else the same. They see themselves as worthy of near worship and see humbling themselves and giving of themselves as degrading.

Relationships, whether they are romantic or not, familial or not, new or old, platonic, professional, or passionate, no matter what they are, they all take two people to make them work and grow. If just one gets forgets the boundaries, loses interest, or puts themselves at the center the whole thing fails. I’ve seen it, and lived it myself, time and time again.

This week I celebrate 15 years with my girlfriend, and people are always asking me how we got this far. They want to know the secret, and I tell them it all boils down to seeing another person as worthy of all the same caring and effort you know that you deserve and then setting your pride aside to do it.

We see ourselves as the main character of a story in which everyone around us only serves to move our own plot forward, but the truth is we are also playing the supporting role in everyone else’s story too. In this world, there is no center. We are all connected to one another and we all push and pull one another in all directions all at once.

If enough people decide to take more than they give all connections weaken and the world becomes a place where loneliness, struggling, and suffering becomes unnecessarily prevalent.

I’ve watched people let their relationships fall apart saying “Well if so-and-so wanted to talk to me they would” or “If so-and-so wanted to see me they’d make the time”, all the while they never reach out or make the time either. They say these things and never see how much they expect and how little their effort is in return. I’ve watched them condemn others for the exact same ways they are failing too.

I don’t think anyone means to be hurtful. It’s just the society we live in now. There is so much bad advice floating around about how we should treat each other and how to stay together or strengthen our bonds.

Everyone says that people who love you will just come to you. They say that anyone who wants to be a part of your life should have to earn it first. You shouldn’t have to chase anyone, you have already done enough. You shouldn’t have to do anything more. If people want you they will do whatever it takes. You aren’t being mean. You are only protecting yourself, respecting yourself, getting what you deserve.

But all that is only half the story. They never tell you how much you have to give of yourself and they never tell you that you should! We should be vulnerable, giving, and forgiving. We should be doing so much more to earn the love of the people we want in our lives. We should be giving second chances and calling even when we didn’t get a callback and inviting them again even when they didn’t show up last time. We should say good morning even if they didn’t say it back and we should do something nice even though they snapped at us yesterday. We should reach out even if they didn’t reply last time and we should let them know we still want to be friends.

You have to let go of your own needs and just be there for someone else for a while. Not all of the time, but, yes, some of the time. You have to take turns being the center of the universe.

Do it because we are all people and we all make mistakes. Do it because none of us come out of our childhood knowing how to have healthy relationships or how to keep those relationships together.

Do it because you care and because you know deep down that every relationship takes work from both parties. It requires vulnerability and a willingness to humble yourself. It requires that you occasionally stop thinking about yourself, give up, and give a little more than you might be getting in return. It requires leading by example and making room for our flaws and forgetfulness. If enough of us make compassion, humility, and understanding part of our relationships we can change the narrative and make giving the goal of every relationship rather than receiving.

Do it so that when it’s you not doing enough because you were busy, too stressed out, or too self-centered, the understanding and love will be there when you return.

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

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Stop Helping So Damn Much

“Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.”

— Anne Lamott

I heard something last week, and I can’t get it out of my head. It was one of those moments when you are told an ugly truth about yourself, one had denied so long you weren’t aware of anymore, one you are embarrassed to find you hadn’t concealed at all as well as you thought. Everyone knows your ugly truth but thought it better not to tell you and to let you go on making a fool of yourself.

That was something like that feeling that I felt in the middle of Anne Lamott’s 2017 Ted Talk, 12 Truths, in which she casually advises us all to stop helping so much. Our help, she says, isn’t as helpful as we think it is and our help is often toxic and nothing but a nicer way of controlling the world around us.

As soon as she said it I knew I was one of those chronic helpers Lamott is talking about. I want to help everyone all the time with everything. The more I love you, the more I want to help you. I tell myself I’m helping, but maybe, probably, I just want to control the people around me.

Looking back I can see that there have been many times when I forced my help on others, even when it wasn’t needed, wanted, or constructive. There were many times when my help may have been toxic and all I was doing was controlling the lives of others. I told myself I was doing the right thing, the best thing, the helpful thing, but I wasn’t.

Helping is a form of manipulation and, here is the real secret, manipulating people is a thing I struggle not to do.

I’m ashamed to have written that line. It feels like admitting a truth I am trying to convince myself is a lie. It’s admitting that I am a bad person. I swear I have the best intentions, but I also have little patience for people learning their own lessons and failing on their own. I know better than them and if only they would do things the way I say they would be better. We would be better. I would be needed, wanted, appreciated, helpful.

I would be good.

And that’s it, I just want to feel like a good person. I want to feel like a better, smarter, and more powerful person. I want to be good enough to be in charge. I want people to look to me when they don’t know what to do. I want to be wanted and respected, and this is the way I have chosen to get that and to live with myself too, by helping.

I feel bad for wanting that, and for some of the actions I have taken to feel it but here’s the thing, at the same time Anne Lamott was placing a mirror in front of me, she was also letting me know that I was not the only one who needed to hear this. I’m not the only one who needs to stop and examine what they were doing. She hadn’t said, “Lisa, you need to stop helping because you are toxic.” She said we all needed to stop helping because we were all too controlling and toxic. We all have a problem with manipulation.

It’s human to want to control the world around us and all the people in it. Being in control is comforting and being needed gives us purpose. But at the same time, we feel bad for wanting those things. We know it’s wrong, and futile, to try to control others. We also know that we have to give people space to live their lives and learn their own lessons. But we want what we want, so, we do what humans are good at, we play a few mental gymnastics, make a few good excuses, and tell ourselves that for this reason or that whatever we’re doing is the right thing to do.

We split ourselves off from what who we want to be and who we really are. We disconnect and deny the distance the two. We can’t see that we are not always good and we are not always doing the right thing.

I can be controlling, and I sometimes nag, and whine, and manipulate people into doing what I want the way I want it done but who doesn’t? Who hasn’t tried to keep people close and safe by making ourselves indispensable? Who hasn’t tried to make sense of the world by forcing our beliefs and our way of life on others? Who hasn’t, out of love and fear, employed less than honorable tactics to “help.”

Being a person is scary. Caring about people is scary. Feeling unimportant and unneeded scary. It is normal to try to keep people safe and close and to control the way they see us, but it isn’t always right. That is a truth that has to be confronted if you want to get better.

So this week, try not helping so much or try helping in ways that don’t put you at the center of the problem. Just listen. Just learn. Try taking a step back and letting people be the solution in their own lives. Let people walk their own paths, and you just focus on walking yours.

It’s why we are all here after all.

P.S. Here is Anne Lamott’s entire beautiful, inspirational, bittersweet Ted Talk:

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

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Self-Loathing for the Egoist

 

“He who hates himself is not humble.”

— Emil Cioran

What is it about self-loathing that is so damn satisfying? When I say satisfying, I don’t mean that it feels good. It hurts to hate yourself. It’s depressing, and it hinders you from realizing your potential, from taking care of yourself, and from being truly happy. It’s cruel and abusive, and yet, we all do it, some of us compulsively. Why do we do it? Why can’t we stop?

I am a chronic self-hater. I don’t like myself very much. I don’t see any reason why anyone else should either. I think I am a failure. I think I am ugly. I think that I am annoying and stupid and I feel like a burden to everyone around me.

I am hard on myself. I keep a running tally of all the ways I have pissed people off, said something stupid, made mistakes, made more work, or made the wrong choice. I remember that I always do this, that I always forget, and that I am always wrong.

I find some point in time when my actions could have changed everything and because I acted this way instead of that the whole train of events, and all the hurt feelings and frustration that result are on me. I can trace my negative impact all the way back to my birth. I am the worst; I tell myself this at least once a day.

I don’t want to feel this way. Hating myself is not something I enjoy doing. I want to love myself because somewhere deep down I know that I not only need it, but that I deserve it. I know this but I can’t get there. I have listed things I like about myself. I have told myself I am no more flawed than anyone else. I tell myself I am beautiful and smart and kind and worthy of love and happiness. I have treated myself and forgiven myself, and still, I fall back into old habits. I have tried, and some progress has been made, but I still can’t help hating who I am.

Clearly, giving myself a few compliments and staying hydrated are not the way. Or, they aren’t the only way. Self-love needs more than words; it needs an acknowledgment of the pain that brought you to such self-loathing. It needs an investigation into what purpose it serves and what satisfaction is derived from such thoughts.

Within each of us lives the ego, or our identity and sense of self. To act in an egotistical way is to put oneself at the center of your world at the exclusion of others. When we think of the egoist, we think of someone who is selfish and mean, ruthless and uncaring. Someone who thinks they are better than everyone else. We don’t think of ourselves as acting in an egotistical way when we heap hatred on ourselves because to us we are acting in a way that put everyone else above us.

We love other people more than ourselves. We value them more than ourselves. We take their blame and pain and anger and place it on ourselves. We carry the load for everyone and put ourselves down for not doing more. We don’t think we deserve as much as them. We don’t think we are as good.

But who we place above anyone else has nothing to do with who we are placing at the center. When we are so focused on ourselves by imagining ourselves greater than others and worthy of more, even if what we are giving is hatred, negativity, and insults, we are still acting in an egotistical way.

Maybe this is a form of control, a way to make sense of the world and feel some part of which way it turns. Maybe we are like a child who has simply gotten into a habit of seeking out negative attention because it is better than no attention at all. Maybe this is a way to make yourself feel important. Maybe we want so badly to be the best at something that we are willing to accept being the best at being the worst.

Self-hatred is a real concern. It is unhealthy and negatively impacts your mental health and quality of life. The pain that led you here is real, and your feelings are valid, but the result you are chasing may not be what you think it is. You are not giving yourself what you deserve, punishing yourself, or being honest with yourself. You are not making the world better or making people around you feel better either. You are putting the spotlight on you.

I realized this when someone I love, and who loves me too, pointed out how the feelings of others often got overshadowed by my self-hatred. When things went wrong, when I hurt someone’s feeling, for example, I focused on how I was always doing this and making mistakes and saying stupid things and fucking everything up, not on the person I had hurt. I thought I was helping by letting them know how awful I was, but I wasn’t. I was serving my egotistical self and making myself feel better by focusing on myself.

Admitting that I have been acting in an egotistical way has made me view my self-esteem in a new light. There is more to it, of course, but it is helping me make further progress in my healing. It is helping me see the difference between what is real and what isn’t. It is helping me find the right path forward.

So, take a look at how you feel about yourself. If you are you a chronic self-hater start asking yourself what purpose it serves and explores why it is so hard to stop. When did you start to hate yourself? When did you start to believe that you were less worthy than anyone else? What prevents you from seeing the flaws in others as well, or letting them take responsibility for them? What effect has your self-hatred had on others?

Often the expectations we put on ourselves and the blame we place there are unrealistic and wildly beyond what we would place on anyone else. Sometimes our motives for doing so aren’t apparent to us. We have to consider that we may be indulging in giving ourselves special importance as someone who is especially damaged. We may be looking for someone else to give us the love we should be giving ourselves. We may be looking for ways to be rescued or special acknowledgment for how we suffer.

Self-criticism is the middle road you should be trying to achieve. A realistic view of your strengths and weakness and your progress toward becoming a healthier more whole version of yourself through the pursuit of wisdom and fulfillment. Self-criticism is an important part of self-love. It is nothing less than what we would offer another human being that we loved. Able to see their flaws and their strengths without placing them above or below what is normal. To do otherwise would be cruel.

Be humble in your ideas of both the positive and negative aspects of yourself. Remember that you are never to blame for as much of the good or bad that happens in this world as you think you are. You are just plain old regular good and ordinary everyday bad.

***

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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.

***

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You Have to Believe It

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?

“What makes you think you deserve to be happy?”

Thigh High

I read this some weeks ago, and my immediate thoughts were not positive ones. What does make me think I deserve to be happy? Who told me that and why do I believe it? Maybe none of us really deserve it. What does it matter in the grand scheme of the cosmos whether or not any of us is happy, or suffering miserably until death? It doesn’t.

So, why do I think that just because I was born, and I am here, I should get something out of it?

A feature of the human condition is endless frustration between ourselves and the universe over what we feel we deserve but are not getting out of life. We’ve all heard that life is unfair. We don’t want to believe it when we are young, but we learn it as we grow older. We learn that you don’t always get what you want and that good doesn’t always win. We learn that our hard work and sacrifice will more often than not go unnoticed and that the universe doesn’t owe us a damn thing.

We come to understand this, but we draw the wrong conclusions.

We grow bitter over time and sometimes, having nowhere to direct our pain and feeling a desire for understanding and control we turn the bitterness inward and believe that we don’t deserve happiness. It must be something within us that makes the world hate us so. There must be a reason that the scales are so tipped against us. There must be a reason that other people get ahead and we are stuck where we have always been, doing what we always have, and feeling shitty as ever.

But the real truth is, sometimes it is that shitty feeling that keeps us from moving forward.

Sometimes we hold on to these toxic worldviews, worldviews that, often, other people have put into us. People who didn’t believe they deserved better or happier either. People who were frustrated with the indifference and unfairness of it all. Those people drew the wrong conclusions too. They thought that because they didn’t deserve something, that you don’t either, but they are wrong.

The sad part is we all deserve better, but that doesn’t mean we’ll get it. The good news is, just knowing that can give you a better perspective and change things. Just knowing that you have the right to reach out and pull all the good things that come your way into your life and that no one has the right to take any of it away, can make your world a very different place.

If you think all you have is all you are ever going to get, you stop looking for more. When you think that this is what you get you think of your life as a punishment you accept and even seek out pain as a punishment. When you think that you don’t deserve to have the same as everyone else you set yourself apart as less than anyone else and inflict the greatest cruelty on yourself. If you do this and expect that some sign or someone will come along, tell you differently, and magically change things, you will be disappointed, because even if they do, it won’t make any difference.

You have to be the one to say it. You have to be the one who tells yourself that you have earned every breath, every joy, every hope, and opportunity. You have to be the one to tell yourself that you deserve more and better, and you have to believe it because no one else can make it so.

No one has the authority to tell you what is for you and what isn’t. No one is judging you or weighing what you have given against what you get. There is only you up against a very harsh and hard world. You may not be able to have it all, the world may not open for you and suddenly show you the way, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you can and get what you can, while you can.

This week, walk like you deserve to be here, work like you deserve more, and talk like you deserve to be heard. Love and accept love like you have earned the right to. Imagine a life where you are happy in all the ways you aren’t now and simply tell yourself that is what you deserve. You deserve more money, more consideration, and more respect. You deserve not to have to hurt so much, worry so much, stress so much. You deserve to feel good about who you are and what you look like. You deserve to be confident and to be accepted.

I’m not asking you to do anything different, I just want you to know, you are deserving of better and more. I want you to tell yourself that until you believe it, and when you hear your mind ask back, why? I want you to have an answer.

Maybe the universe doesn’t care, and maybe it doesn’t really matter either way in the long run, but I care, and you care, or you should, because you only get one chance at this, one chance! If there is no other reason why it is that. You get one chance, and no one has the right to limit you or give you less than what you’ve earned.

You, like everyone else, was born, has lived, and suffered. You were given a beautiful but limited gift and whether or not it was only down to chance doesn’t matter, because we all have the right to make the most of our miracle.

But you have to believe it to make it so.

***

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You Have a Right to Be Here

“It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.”

― James Baldwin, Collected Essays

I’m working on being honest about all the bad things I think about myself and how damaging those thoughts are. It’s taken a lot of work, but I’ve gone from the bad thoughts occurring to me and me just accepting them as truth, to being able to see them for what they are. They are thoughts that come from somewhere that is not me, somewhere in my mind where I have less control and so, and am less responsible.

Understanding that has made a huge difference. What I hear in my head is an echo of my past that has become a habit, a habit so ingrained that it takes real effort and strength to fight. The more I remember this, the more I fight, the easier it gets, but old habits are hard to break and sometimes, I still believe that I have less right to life than anyone else on this Earth.

When I was young, I was told I was stupid a lot.

Now, as an adult, I believe that my mind works in some defective way and that the ways it is defective are somehow my fault. If only I would be better, think better, learn to grasp something obvious and easy then I could finally stop being such a burden and a hindrance to everyone around me. I believe that I am the reason that the people around me are frustrated, angry, sad or stressed. I believe that my stupidity it the cause of all the problems around me, even the ones that aren’t mine.

I believe that this, and my many other flaws and deficiencies mean I don’t deserve to be here. I don’t deserve to be loved or to love myself. I don’t deserve to be successful or to feel pride in my accomplishments. I have no right to look another human in the eye or to demand respect, to be heard, to be counted among the beautiful, the intelligent, the “normals”.

These thoughts live in the back of my mind and subtly influence the way I walk through the world, the way I carry myself and speak to people. These thoughts make me small and quiet and cautious. They make me feel sad and serious, and constantly anxious. I worry about overstepping my place or lowering myself further by saying or doing more stupid things every day.

It’s hard to live this way, and it’s wrong.

There is part of me that knows none of this is true. There is a part of my that genuinely knows that I am smart and good and worthy of all the good this world has to offer and so much more. I am strong and talented and capable. I am loved and deserving of that love. I am something special, and I am just as normal as everyone else.

I have the right to live and breathe and make my life into something I can go to my grave satisfied with, same as anyone else. No one else has the right to hinder that, but we often forget the ways we can hinder a life and a pursuit of happiness. We put our shit on other people and forget how our own wounds never closed and how a few words can break a person.

I have been a victim of other people putting their shit on me when I was vulnerable, like many of you.

So many of us carry around false ideas of who we are and what we are and are not worthy of. So many of us were told by someone who’s opinion we held dear that some part of ourselves was “bad”. So many of us have internalized this filth, and we are having the damnedest time letting it go.

We think we are ugly and stupid. We think that we never have and never will get it right. We think that we are broken and beyond repair. We think that we were set apart and built wrong from the beginning. We spend our lives hiding, making ourselves small, putting ourselves lower than anyone else because we think it is our place.

We all have it so wrong. I’ve never met a person who wasn’t fighting a battle, who hadn’t been hurt, who was suffering and struggling same as me. Every person I have ever met, even if we had nothing in common, even if I didn’t like them, even if I thought they were mean, or hateful, or toxic, I have never met a person who I thought didn’t deserve to be on this Earth.

This week, I want you to know that you that you deserve to be here, and I want you to practice saying that to yourself.

Try talking to yourself like someone you love and respect, someone you think the world of, or simply someone who has done you no harm and whom you have no desire to do harm to in return. Remind yourself that no one is perfect, that no one has all the answers that not one of us is inherently better than any other. Each and every one of us is lucky to be here and that lucky accident should never be wasted on believing such filth about ourselves.

This week, I’m asking you to tell yourself that all the bad things you think about yourself are not your own thoughts, they are the result of other people being people and forgetting that their words can hurt too. I’m asking you to remember that every person matters, and that means you too.

It isn’t easy but I’m asking you to believe, a little more every day, that you have the right to every breath, every step, and every bit of happiness and peace you can get your hands on because it is the truth.

***

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When You Can Only Do a Little

 

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

— Edmund Burke

Most Monday’s I do well. I wake up motivated and get right to work. I write. I plan. I work. I do all the things that look like I am on my way somewhere in life, and then, I fizzle out by Tuesday morning.

I never make it further than that because every week I go from feeling like I can do anything to feeling like my dream is too big, too impossible, too hard to ever achieve. And anyway, I’m not smart enough, or interesting enough, or good enough to get there. So, I give it up again and make no progress.

Sometimes I have to give up because my body is too tired. Fatigue kicks my ass. I overdo it one day, and I need two to recover.

Sometimes I give up because other obligations get in the way and leave me with nearly no time for my personal projects and dreams.

But mostly it’s my own mind getting in the way, telling me I am too small to do big things in this world, telling me it’s better to do nothing than to do a little.

My mind is lying.

I can’t count the number of times I have looked back and thought that if I had only done a little something every day, I would be so much further along by now. I wish I had done one small thing every time I sat staring at a screen feeling anxious and overwhelmed before opening Twitter or Facebook and giving up. Sometimes I get caught up in that though, in self-pity and disappointment, and I do nothing still, but I want to try to find a better way.

It’d be nice to have the time, the energy, and the confidence to do big things all day every day but I have to accept that just isn’t me. I have to accept that for me it will have to be a lot of tiny steps all adding up over time, for now. I have to look at my dream in a new light. I have to break it all up into little bits that don’t feel so overwhelming or impossible for little old, boring, and bumbling me. I have to work through it, one tiny step at a time, looking down at the path rather than up at the destination.

Today, I can take a few notes. I can think of one idea. I can write one post, one paragraph, one sentence. I can draw one little doodle. I can find some inspiration, or ask one question. I can reply to one comment. I can learn one new thing. I can research one step pf the process. I can read a few pages. I can do one lesson.

I can find one useful thing to do, in just five or 15 minutes to get me where I want to be.

This week, do one small thing every day that brings you closer to the life you want. Don’t think about the big goal. Don’t think about all the reasons you can’t do this. Don’t think about all the other people in the world who do it easily and better than you. Don’t think about the impossible. Just think about this one step, this five minutes. Do one small thing and celebrate it when you finish.

You can apply this to anything too. Want to help the environment? Produce a little less trash today. House is a wreck? Clean just one room, one corner, one shelf. Want to get healthier? Drink one glass of water. Take one walk around the block, around the building, to the water fountain and back. Want to feel happier? Write one good thing that happened today. Say one nice thing to another person. Don’t know where to begin? Ask one person for advice. Ask one person for help. Ask one person for support. It all starts with just one step.

Big things are scary, but small steps are easy. Give yourself permission not to be perfect. Tell yourself it’s okay that you aren’t there yet. You are trying, and you did something!

This week I am going to make a list of little things I can do when the big things feel too big. I’m going to take it all step by step, moment by moment, and when I look back a year from now I will be a little closer, or hopefully, a lot closer, but it really doesn’t matter, as long as progress is made.

P.S. A bit of caution before you go, sometimes procrastination and small things look too much alike. When you do small things, you have to do them with mindfulness. Ask yourself: How is this small thing helpful?

***

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