cropped-cropped-cropped-cropped-tumblr_mu79gcdgio1qeoyseo4_128013.jpgI’ve always believed that if we were to live a long and painful life, and in the end, in our last few moments, we experienced the absolute serenity and completeness of everything we sought to experience or achieve in our lifetime, the entirety of the pain and struggles of our lives would be easily forgotten. It would still feel like a complete and beautiful life, because the intensity of the struggles before that point would directly inform the intensity of gratitude and peace we would feel when experiencing it. But only if we live in the present moment. Otherwise we’ll lose that beautiful moment cursing at its late arrival while still yearning for the past to have been different.

Zaid Ismail

Perfectly Distracted 

There was a time when I judged the character of others by the number of times they would use terms like existential, nihilism, fatalism, and the like often with the words of Einstein echoing in my head regularly reminding me that if I can’t explain it simply enough, it’s because I don’t understand it well enough. And that’s how I viewed those pretentious ones that used large words to explain simple concepts of hope, struggle, or despair.

One of my challenges in life has been my inability to articulate my thoughts in ways that made it relatable to others. From a young age I was recognised as the kid on a different wavelength. I was the one the bullies generally ignored because my response was unpredictable, while they picked on the ones that were somewhat ordinary, because ordinary, for all its merits, is predictable.

Without any fanfare or deliberate effort, I found myself trying to polish my grasp of the English language so that my thoughts would tumble out of my mouth or keyboard with at least a vague similarity to what was going on in my head. The more coherent I sounded, the more confident I grew, and seemingly, the more people I found were willing to interact with me. I guess people generally do avoid the unpredictable or misunderstood.

The buoyancy I felt from these simple little milestones of inclusion pushed me to hone my skills further. My innate need to simplify a complicated life contributed to this by driving me towards reducing the effort needed to achieve simple outcomes. After all, why do in ten steps what can be done in two? It would be such a waste of energy to continue the ten step way.

Equally so, I found myself growing more succinct, or as some would assume, short in the way in which I expressed myself. To me, I was improving my skill for clear communication without being flowery or longwinded about it, but for everyone else, I was cocky and presumptuous because I apparently didn’t have the patience to work through things with them or explain myself properly. What I saw as saving them the monotony of a longwinded explanation, they saw as an arrogance on my part for assuming that they’re not worthy of such an explanation. Or worse, they assumed that I took found joy in making them look stupid.

And that’s how I’ve found efforts at effective communication can become defective communication. An innocent assumption on my part that suggested that others had a similar level of understanding or appreciation of the topic at hand, meaning that I didn’t see my knowledge as superior, was automatically misconstrued by others as me being arrogant and aloof. Of course, every assumption we make, correct or incorrect, is a reflection of how we view ourselves relative to what is going on around us, but that was hardly an effective point to make in such a situation. Although I did make it from time to time, depending on how keen I was to annoy the audience I was with.

The point is, it’s easy to be distracted by our pursuit of perfection in any field that we’re passionate about, to the point where the purpose of the pursuit is forgotten, and all that remains is our sights on perfection. Most often, we seek to perfect in order to be more effective at achieving something, but along the way we become distracted by how our perfection is perceived and lose sight of what we set out to achieve in the first place.

When that happens, perfectionism takes centre stage and purpose or meaning becomes a secondary consideration. I think it’s possible to achieve perfection relative to purpose, although true perfection is unattainable. There is merit and virtue in pursuing perfection, but both are undermined when the purpose or value of such efforts are discarded in favour of being perceived as perfect in that regard. Our efforts, if left unchecked, will result in us allowing our proficiency of practice at what we’re pursuing to define us, rather than remembering that our proficiency was intended to enable us to define something else in a more valuable way.

Life is lost in moments of distraction, but we grow distracted in moments of pursuing a better life. Being surrounded by a social standard grounded in escapism doesn’t help either. And labeling people that use big words without appreciating why they choose to communicate the way they do reflects a superficiality and insecurity on our part, more than it does on theirs.

Contaminated (Part II)

We live in times where the inclination to remedy a fall far outweighs any rationale to prevent the fall from happening. We’ll willingly encourage others towards intoxicants or unhealthy distractions, and then form support groups to help them out of that addictive state, while refusing to condemn the bad advice we gave in the first place. Accountability is only celebrated if it doesn’t disrupt the oblivion of the masses. Those that threaten such disruption are spurned for being callous, cruel, or arrogant, often accused of thinking that they’re better than everyone else. In short, we condone that which reflects our own weaknesses not because we believe in its wholesomeness, but because we feel more human in recognising the shared weakness in others. More than this, it makes us feel less inferior when we believe that we share shortcomings with others, rather than falling short of expectation by our solitary selves alone.

It’s not about being better than everyone else any more. These days, it’s simply about not being worse. There was a time in human history that I imagine the focus to have been on competing to excel in human endeavours. People would have exerted themselves to achieve noble goals that served as inspiration to others to want to rise up and pursue even greater heights. It’s quite different today. Today, it seems as if we compete to see who is able to dominate through any means possible, where the level of domination is celebrated, without any concern for the means or methods that achieved such domination, except where those means and methods threaten our ability to actively compete.

I’ve been fascinated by the term ‘fully formed adults’ ever since I first read it a few years ago, but my fascination quickly turns to disgust as I look around and struggle to find specimens that exhibit such qualities. Semi formed adults raise calloused and contaminated children. Children that grow up under semi formed adults face trials and hardships that are entirely avoidable, and fully surmountable, but they often shy away from the challenge of rising above because when they raise their gaze looking for a role model to guide them, they see nothing but more contamination of a society that is full of semi formed adults. It’s therefore little wonder why they themselves succumb to the same cycle.

Regardless of how harsh our childhood may have been, we all reach a point of independence in life where we are able to feed or break the cycles that raised us. Critical thought is spurned as rebellion and disrespect because semi formed adults lack the skills and self-worth to effectively navigate their way through critical thought processes. The stigma associated with failure is so harsh that even in the face of absolute failure we’ll find a euphemism to describe our sorry state. Anything is better than admitting failure. It’s this same insincere and tainted social setting that continues to lay down a path of strife and distraction for children looking for meaning and purpose in life.

In the absence of a critical mass of fully formed adults, those that try to break the cycles are placed with a burden that is tenfold relative to the effort that would be needed to raise a balanced and confident child. It’s a constant struggle of trying to convince or influence the child towards a wholesome standard while they are bombarded with the unhealthy standard of the semi formed adults that they’re surrounded with. Isolation from such a malformed society is not an option. When we disengage, we lose the right to judge, criticise, or cry foul.

We need to stop raising children. We need to start raising adults. This mindset that has contaminated the world in recent centuries that childhood must be enjoyed with abandon so that we can start being adults when we reach a certain age needs to be abandoned. This distinction between childhood and adult life is misguided. It’s not about age, it’s about awareness and accountability. We should expect greater accountability as we progress through the stages of self-awareness and awareness of our surroundings. The same way we expect a child to stop wetting the bed once they have been taught the value of hygiene and the skill of using the toilet, we should continue to hold them to such levels of accountability in action and behaviour as they continue to acquire new skills.

But adults that had a contaminated childhood often project those regrets on the children under their care. Instead of raising the standard against which they raise their children, they embellish the esteem of the child with gestures that convince them, the adults, that they’re doing a better job than the raising that created the flaws that they despise about themselves.

The common undertone and theme in society these days is one of demand, but little supply. We’re all demanding to be recognised for the struggles of our lives, and to be judged based on the gravity of those struggles, while remaining entirely oblivious to the fact that we are merely spawning another generation of victims that will take our efforts and raise it further. Their demands will be ever more destructive and selfish, and the erosion of society that we universally lament will continue on its downward spiral until a group of inspired young souls will look upon the generations that came before them with a sense of contempt and disbelief. The inheritance of wholesomeness that should have been passed down will be absent, and in such total absence they may finally resolve to correct the path that they’re on, rather than continuing the toxic cycle in search of affirmations and validations for experiences that hold no sway over the next generation.

Adults that still place their insecurities and weaknesses before the well being of those that look up to them deserve a special kind of scorn. We all have the ability and the capacity to actively reflect on how we are perceived by others so that we can take steps to embellish our images in ways that would earn us praise. This is regardless of upbringing or value system. It is entirely based on who we wish to view us admiringly, and how we wish to feel about their gaze on us. We therefore cannot argue that such reflection in the betterment of our characters and moral assets is impossible simply because we were raised by a calloused or contaminated society. The resolve and courage exists for us to change the way we live our lives. The motivation however, is lacking, because it is significantly easier to fulfil an expectation of a consumerist society than it is to raise the expectations of the next generation.

[end rant]

Contaminated

A blistery childhood or a beautiful one. Both leave lasting impressions on us but not always in ways that we realise. A blistering childhood has been the cause of many to grow into beautiful people because they chose to create a world for themselves that did not echo the sadness from which they emerged. Equally so, a beautiful childhood has prompted many to assume a level of entitlement and aloofness that soured their souls and sent people gasping for air when exposed to the stench of their arrogance.

The circumstances of our childhood was probably never a matter of our choosing. Sometimes we may have even made choices that defined it when we were allowed such definition as children in the presence of barely formed adults, but there is a justifiable absolution for children that make such bad decisions in the presence of adults who should have known better. Such kindness is not so easy to dish out for adults who continue to choose badly due to a contaminated childhood.

The motivation behind the actions of parents are rarely known even by the parents themselves. This makes it that much more difficult for the child, the real child, to find a path out of that cycle as they try to understand why they hold such a deep sense of self-loathing, or a vacant stare of expectation, or worse, a longing for completeness.

The pain that sometimes shapes our lives in our early years often end up leaving us ambivalent in our later years. At times it feeds the resilience of our souls in our struggle against a cruel world, while at other times it hampers our expression in ways that make us contribute towards the cruelty we wish to escape. Recognising those traits that detract from our wholesomeness is only half the battle. The rest of that battle is fought for the rest of our lives as we consistently try to unlearn a form of unhealthy expression that we were raised to believe is entirely normal.

I see children that were raised in homes where explicit adult behaviour was flaunted as fashionable, personal hygiene as optional, and vulgarity of expression as humorous; and they struggle to operate in a setting where such behaviour is not tolerated. They struggle to rectify their ways, or reconcile their upbringing with what is demanded of them by society. The harshness of the demand undermines the burden of reality that they carry with them. But even that is a burden that they only reasonably comprehend much later in life.

Until they reach that stage of relative awareness, relative because it’s near impossible to be fully aware of the difference between your normal and society’s normal, they will struggle in relationships that often define them as uncooperative, unwilling, or simply unacceptable relative to what would otherwise be a normal expectation from a normal adult. But such a demand from them is not entirely unreasonable.

Tough love has never been so tough to implement. Parents that find themselves raising children from contaminated environments will likely spend a lifetime accepting that they are perceived to be disciplinarian monsters, while the fruits of their labour will be enjoyed by the normality experienced by their charges later in life. The point that needs to be made is a difficult one to articulate, partly because it holds such prominence for me, and partly because its definition escapes me.

The balance that is needed between discipline and compassion is that much more difficult to strike when the one who is charged with raising the contaminated child is themselves contaminated. Their effort becomes that much more valiant and admirable, but their state, if observed casually by the normal of society, leaves much to be desired.

[The point was barely reached, let alone sufficiently articulated in this post. Much reflection is still needed on this issue.]

Inherited Complacency

As parents, we always want what is best for our children, don’t we? The well-meaning and responsible ones, that is. The trials of our lives teach us lessons that we often wouldn’t wish on our enemies, and so we do our best to guide our children in a way that protects them from having to learn the same lessons themselves. Given how scarce mindfulness is, it is almost inevitable that such an endeavour will prompt a level of over-protection that ends up sheltering more than it protects them from those unpleasant experiences that caused us to snarl at the world.

We always start out with good intent, but because we spend so much time avoiding the perceived cruelty of our childhood or even our young adult lives…hold on…it doesn’t stop there, does it? I mean, the vast majority among us continue protecting ourselves from an ill conceived reality up to our last breaths. We immerse ourselves into a reality largely concocted from a cocktail of our own ill-informed perceptions, and then vow never to test that perception of reality from fear of having gotten it wrong twice over. So it is probably more accurate to say that we shield our children from the fears and trauma that we spend our lives avoiding.

In so doing, we make assumptions about our children. We assume their level of resilience, their natural inclinations towards how they perceive the world, and so much more including what their passions are. At no point do we stop to consider that perhaps our tainted view of life has robbed us of an innocence that they still have, and rather than guiding them in the best application of that innocence, we force them to subdue it. You know, those moments when we believe that their sincerity is in fact naivety, so we preempt a negative outcome and send them off with a defensive disposition rather than advising them on how to effectively deal with betrayal of trust, or disappointment should it occur. The list of over-compensation on our part is endless.

And in this way, we raise fearful kids that appear healthy relative to our norms, but struggle to find their niche in this world, except through their unique permutation of the escapism with which we raised them. Apart from the inherent sadness of such an outcome, there is something that really gnaws at my peace when I consider the damage it does. It is the realisation that there are millions of oblivious innocents who don’t even know what they’re passionate about in life. They grew up so focused on the passions of their parents, that they readily adopted it as their own. They followed such adoption with a deliberate passion aimed at mastering what they do while rarely realising that such effort was focused on impressing their accomplishments to their parents, and not to passionately raise the bar in the discipline or skill for which they expended the best years of their lives.

Such a pursuit leaves us unfulfilled in such deep recesses of our souls, that we spend the latter years of our lives seeking it out, while never really knowing what it is that we seek. Moments of brutally honest reflection will prompt us to consider the reality that we are not the same as the people that shaped our views of the world. Yet the moment we protect our children from a threat that existed once a long time ago in our lives, we impose on them the bitterness of our perceptions of reality, while forgetting that such imposition makes us no better than those that raised us with bitter recollections as well.

And so the cycle feeds itself until at some point we stop and choose to question before we act. Apply our minds before we decide. Live with conscious action and not subconscious reaction. When that happens, we begin to afford ourselves a view of the world that is less tainted than the one we inherited. We see opportunities where threats once prevailed, and we see growth where subjugation appeared to be the only safe option.

The harsh reality is this. If we fail to live curiously, our children will either be exactly like us, or would not want to be anything like us. Parents often have a bad habit of expecting their children to live the lives that they (their parents) failed to live under the guise that such a failure was a result of the parent’s sacrifices to give their children a better life. It discards all the beauty and appreciation that results from the lessons learnt and instead focuses on the emotional distress that lingered when they saw themselves as victims rather than students of the world.

That’s one very powerful way of projecting your impotence and insecurity on subjects over whom you wield a great deal of emotional guilt. But of course, parents are benevolent by nature, and therefore are only capable of wanting the best for their children, so it can’t be possible that they would do such a dastardly deed like live vicariously through their offspring. Right? For some strange reason we tend to live as if our personal exploits are our personal exploits, and that parenting is something that is a formal endeavour in parallel with such exploits.

Stated more simply, we reserve a space in our lives for our exclusive indulgence, which is often the space where we express our passion most purely, without allowing our children to be a part of that expression or growth. We deny them the opportunity to witness our growth and in so doing, we shelter them from anything more than a life of compliance and complacency.

I think the emphasis we place on responsibility in the upbringing of our children is often exaggerated. Responsibility is definitely important, but so is exploration, personal expression, and living romantically. Not the sloppy mushy fairy tale romance that everyone gurgles at, but the romance that sees the world with less judgement and more understanding, Less fear and more embrace. Less safe and more conviction.

There will always be an easier path for them to take. But that’s not the path of excellence. We can’t lament the stagnation or decline of humanity if we constantly focus on doing what is safe. When being safe becomes the yardstick of success, and we know that not everyone achieves success, it means that anyone that falls short of that yardstick drags us down. It means that we set our targets low, and then celebrate any incremental achievement towards that low target, while never realising that we were capable of so much more.

If we hope for greatness for our children, we must be willing to accept that they will be able to achieve more in their lives than we did in ours, without seeing such achievement as an indictment against ourselves. It stands to reason that the student will always have the potential to exceed the accomplishments of their teacher. Providing a child with insight and developing their life skills rather than indoctrinating them with habits and rituals allows them to take what you’ve built and improve on it. It allows them to contribute positively towards this world instead of consuming only. It allows them to take us forward instead of maintain the status quo.

But most important in all of this, as I’ve said before, don’t set them aside in your avenues of expression and passion. Demonstrate your conviction in a way that they can enjoy and observe so that it builds a yearning in them to live with conviction, rather than to be complacent. Any complacency you see in them is a reflection of what they witnessed in you, while the conviction that they demonstrate in their lives is a reflection of the passion that you lived with while they traveled your journey with you.

I think that’s important. I think it’s important to understand that our children are not there to only live a subset of our lives with us and then move on to create their own version of the same. I think they are supposed to colour every experience of ours as they grow while witnessing our growth. In so doing, they learn through first hand experience that it’s perfectly fine not to have all the answers, to fail, and to stumble along the way. They’ll learn what it’s like to share their lives with those around them, rather than to live their lives expecting from those around them.

Let them inherit more than just the ability to cope with life or a cruel world. Instead, give them an inheritance of courage and skill to leave this world in a better state than it was before they arrived so that their presence was felt and appreciated, rather than existing and departing almost entirely unnoticed.

Self-Imposed

I set a deadline for myself. That deadline expires at the end of this month. It was to have a book completed by this time, but it did not anticipate much disruption that has taken place in between. Some of it beautiful, some of it not. Nonetheless, I set the deadline, and I’m missing the deadline. For many, that would be a futile exercise. For me, it was a self-imposed nudge in the right direction.

While my book is not written, and may never be at this rate, it did give me a lot to focus on. It forced me to consider issues and aspects that I otherwise didn’t see a need to contemplate. It was a big, hairy and audacious goal to begin with (to quote someone that will remain anonymous for purposes of this post), but I set it anyway. Not because I had no intention of achieving it, or at least trying, but because I have the conviction to achieve it some day. The fact that that day has not arrived as planned is not what is important. What is important is that I live with a conviction to achieve more than I think I can. More than most expect me to. And most importantly, more than can be reasonably expected of me.

This, I find, is much healthier and rewarding than self-imposed misery, self-imposed limitations, and self-imposed failures. Corny clichés flit through my mind right now about setting targets and goals, but I’ll spare you the pain of reading that.

What I do believe is important to share is the fact that not achieving your goals for good reason is not something to be ashamed of. Those that might use it as a reason to mock or ridicule you do you a favour by exposing their fickleness and insincerity, which is in fact a blessing because you know exactly who should be kept close, and who should be discarded.

Most people don’t believe in themselves. They also react aggressively towards those that provoke their fears and expose their self-imposed limitations. So if you’re waiting for someone else to believe in you before you take that big step, or set out on that long journey that only you can take, you’re wasting your life away for people that are inconsequential in their own lives, let alone yours.

Anything self-imposed should be a source of grounding, a source of inspiration, or at the least, a source of reflection. It should never be an end state. It should always be a prompt to begin anew.

Imagine if we all imposed excellence or at least a sincere yearning for excellence on ourselves? The world would be a very different place, governments would not have so much power to abuse the rights of those they are supposed to serve, and corporates would not yield the control they have over the lives of so many. If we desire excellence for ourselves, we’ll tolerate nothing less from others. The moment we do, we sow the seeds of insincerity because then it’s not excellence that we desire, but instead, it is a sense of superiority that we seek.

Our convictions are reflected in what we impose on ourselves, and what we demand from others. Insecurity in who we are defines how we express this conviction. Those that are distracted and unaware of their own convictions will easily misinterpret our insecurities as expressions of our unique characters. Meanwhile, those of us that have little reason to believe that we’re capable of more than the assumptions that others hold of us will readily succumb to the definition that society imposes on us.

[There’s a point in there somewhere, but I don’t feel like seeking it out right now.]

The one who loves less…

I once heard that the one who loves less is the one that controls the relationship. It sounds pretty obvious at face value, but it assumes that the expression of love is as obvious as well. It also assumes that the interpretation of control is in fact control and not influence. It assumes a lot. But with most satisfied to think in the shallow end of the emotional pool only, it’s no wonder that such proclamations gain unchallenged veracity.

Love is never monolithic in its expression. A bunch of flowers for one may be an endearing gesture, while for another it could be superficial or fake. Some prefer to see conviction in a personal gesture or investment of time and effort, while others need the flowers to believe that they were remembered at a time when they weren’t present. Whether one form of expression is better than the other is not the point. The fact that it translates into a gesture that reflects intent, and in turn, is appreciated for what it was intended to convey is significantly more important.

Intent, therefore, is what counts. Intent, therefore, also demands sincerity. A gesture is only a gesture towards acquiring a specific desired outcome if that gesture proves to be an embrace of another, rather than the acquisition of benefits for personal gain. That seems a bit wordy, so here’s a slightly lighter take on this. If you give with the intention of receiving, you’re giving for your own benefit and not to sincerely express appreciation or endearment of another.

We all seek to control and/or influence. That is what determines our level of significance with our significant others. Whether such control or influence is driven maliciously or not remains a question of intent, and given the above, it’s near impossible to be absolutely certain about the intent of another. At best, we are able to measure the reciprocation with which our efforts are met. The greater the reciprocation, the more likely we are to believe that there is an equal conviction on their part in responding to our efforts. The less the reciprocation, the more likely we’ll recede from the belief that we’re being taken for granted, or are simply not being appreciated at all.

The one that controls the relationship is not always the one that loves less. Quite often, conviction in the potential outcome drives some to be controlling when they find that they are unable to subtly influence the behaviour of those they love in the direction that they truly believe will benefit them. Benefit to both the one influencing, and personal benefit to the one being influenced. Perhaps, by the same logic, I could argue that the one who controls less may love less, because in doing so, it could easily reflect a lack of conviction on their part. It could suggest a lack of belief in the innate goodness or the beautiful potential that has yet to be realised from the relationship.

It’s all about what’s in it for us. If I aim to extract more benefit for myself than I hope to contribute for others, then definitely my efforts at controlling or influencing the outcome will be self-serving. In that case, my love for myself will be greater than my love for any wholesomeness to be achieved with another. However, if my aim is to extract a benefit for the other, without sacrificing myself in the process, then perhaps it could be argued that I am the one that loves more. If I sacrifice myself in the process, it simply means that I see myself as lacking in value to those around me, and therefore need to expend myself in their service if I ever hope to achieve any level of significance in their lives. A truly unhealthy state to be.