Fleeting Thoughts (III)

[image: a collection of various koi and goldfish species in my pond at home] 

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, it never ends well.

Don’t take for granted those that show a sincere interest in your well being, there are not many of them in this world.

Reciprocate the good that people do for you and ignore the bad. The bad is a reflection of their bitterness from betrayal, while the good is a hint at what they invested in before being betrayed.

Betrayal doesn’t define your value, it only ever defines the weakness of the betrayer.

Weakness is an opportunity to acquire a new skill or perspective, while strength is a common source for arrogance and insensitivity.

Compassion wears thin when faced with an onslaught of human tragedy. Choose your tragedies carefully because there is too much misery in the world to do justice to every cause.

Justice is subjective, so don’t assume that your perspective of fairness is the only correct perspective. Choose your points of reference carefully.

Perspective is tainted by bias, and vested interest. Be sure you know what your biases and vested interests are before advising others.

Don’t play people unless you want to be played. If you do play them, be sure they’re not already playing you instead.

Trust, but not blindly. Giving others the benefit of the doubt should not be at the expense of your well being.

Naivety is only cute as long as it does not deny others your contribution in their life over which they have a right. If you choose to be naïve, be sure that you are the only one that pays the price that accompanies such an innocent approach to life.

Contribute with the objective of adding value, even if that value is taken for granted by those who benefit from it.

Ingratitude is not always a lack of appreciation. Sometimes it is a resistance to appearing weak or needy for one that is struggling to stand on their own.

Demanding gratitude is arrogance, and withholding benefit in the absence of gratitude is arrogance.

Circumstances only ever define your circumstance. How you respond to it determines your self-worth and your credibility with others.

Mindfulness is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of purpose.

Live each moment with purpose, and mindfulness will take care of itself.

The Iceberg Effect

Resilience is obstinacy in the face of adversity. It relates to our ability to resist being overwhelmed even when we face the storm alone. Facing storms alone is so much more fun anyway. It tests our limits of perseverance in ways that reveal our true strength, or at least it hints at what we are truly capable of. That wouldn’t be possible if we always had someone by our side to face the storms, because then, we’ll grow to learn how much we can bear if only we have someone to bear it with.

We go through life chipping away at icebergs but assume that we’re carving snowmen instead. Each effort is intended to yield a specific and immediate result. Those of us that have progressed beyond our formative years realise that reality has struck no such bargain with us, so we strive a little more after each setback, knowing that success often hides behind a few setbacks, or more accurately, failures. So we give it a try, and another, and another, until eventually we give up in the belief that our energies will be better expended elsewhere.

Giving up though, is rarely that simple. If the goal we courted was important to us in ways that would define our happiness, giving up becomes a bitter pill to swallow. But in the face of inevitable failure, we assume that it’s the only option to save our dignity. That’s when we convince ourselves that we’re building snowmen, rather than chipping away at icebergs.

The iceberg analogy has been used to describe many positive and negative aspects about life. Quite popular in the meme culture of late is the use of the iceberg to demonstrate the pinnacle of success rising above the water, while a huge amount of effort, perseverance, and some failure rests beneath the surface that no one seems to recognise. It is not an untrue analogy either, but there is a different perspective that I believe is equally important, if not more so.

Think of the iceberg as a problem you’re facing, but not just above or below the surface. Instead, the iceberg in its entirety represents the challenges we face in life. Now consider what happens to the bottom of the iceberg as we chip away at what we can see on the surface. Each time we shave away the top, the bottom rises a little more making it seem as if the top is never-ending. So we keep ridding ourselves of the surface layer hoping that nothing more will rise in its place, only to be presented with more each time, until eventually we grow despondent and stop chipping away.

What we fail to recognise in that process of chipping away is that each time the top was removed, even if only a little, it made way for the underlying issues to surface, and each time the underlying issues surfaced, it reduced the weight of what was beneath the surface, out of sight, until eventually so little (if any) remained, that it made the iceberg irrelevant. What once was an iceberg suddenly becomes an ice cube.

Being able to chip away at that iceberg would also be so much easier if we just moved it to warmer oceans instead of remaining anchored in the icy waters that sustained its creation to begin with. And that, simplistically, is how life presents its challenges to us.

The ocean is the environment we find ourselves in, each environment having its own share of toxicity or benefit depending on what we need to take from it. Remain in the surrounds that gave rise to our problems, and our problems will continue to grow larger than we ever will be, constantly overwhelming us and convincing us that trying to prevail is futile. Change environments and suddenly our perspectives are refreshed and solutions become easier. It reminds me of the prophetic analogy of the blacksmith and the perfume merchant. Spending your day with the blacksmith will never leave you perfumed.

Accepting our state may result in us finding comfort in the cold desolation of the confined spaces of the top of the iceberg. For some, a confined space is much more comforting  than the horror of having to venture beyond their comfort zone. In their case, icebergs are great, and so is being rooted to the spot. Unfortunately they hold others back because of the company they need on that iceberg. They become masters at making snowmen, as long as that snowman is on their iceberg.

I often wonder how many times did I stop chipping away at some of the icebergs in my life just as the final layers may have been surfacing before I gave up and moved on to new icebergs? It’s a question that could easily test our sanity, because we rarely find out in this lifetime when giving up was the wrong thing to do. The only comfort that I find in such deliberations is in knowing that my choices to leave, to abandon, or to simply stop caring about some icebergs was a conscious choice relative to what I was willing to tolerate at that point in my life. Where I realised later that I may have given up too soon, I accepted that I would have done no differently no matter how many times I could relive that moment, because the sum total of my life’s experiences, my emotional maturity, and my awareness of what was taking place would always be the same. The only thing I could do was recognise what it was that detracted from my decision being more informed, and be sure not to overlook that aspect again in future. I think that’s how icebergs melt without us having to chip as much.

Remaining in toxic settings, or relationships, while chipping away is often an unnecessary test of our resilience. What doesn’t kill us does not make us stronger, it only makes us more brittle. Eventually, we’ll discard opportunities that promise beauty while holding on to the remnants of what may have been simply because we focused on the iceberg, instead of the ocean.

[This is an incomplete thought process that has plagued my mind for weeks now. Hopefully this partial expression will lead to the clarity that escapes me at this time.]

Taken for Granted

It’s not always a bad thing to be taken for granted. It really all depends on who is taking you for granted, doesn’t it? When we incline towards selflessness, being taken for granted is comforting. It means that those around us find us to be dependable for what it is that they need from us. If we’re not inclined towards selflessness, that same feeling of dependability turns into a feeling of being used. I guess that means being taken for granted is more dependent on who we are, rather than how others treat us, not so?

What I need from a given relationship is what I use as a benchmark to determine how I am appreciated. The less I need, the more likely I am to contribute without any expectation of either gratitude or reciprocation. The moment I need something, and I don’t get it in the portion sizes that I want, I hold back and withdraw. That’s when I start feeling used. Problem is, that is based on the assumption that the other person knows exactly what it is that I need from them, and they also know why it’s important for me to get it from them specifically.

Almost everything we get in life can be obtained from multiple sources. Feeling loved can be achieved through affection and acceptance of strangers, but the value of such love is significantly less than the value from significant others. Again, it points to the worth we place on others, rather than the worth they place on us. I think this is important. It is important because we usually fail to consider our investment or contribution towards the circumstances that lead to us being taken for granted.

It is very easy to feel oppressed or persecuted when our needs are not considered. However, if we constantly strive to put up a front of independence and aloofness so that we don’t seem needy or desperate, then isn’t it reasonable for others to assume that we need that much less? Think about it. The amount of neediness I express is proportional to the amount of neediness that others witness. How we judge that need is a separate matter. Our judgement thereof is based on the biases we hold on to relative to the objective truth of the matter at hand. In other words, our prejudices and hurts determine whether or not we see something as positive, negative, or neutral.

So back to the point at hand. The pervasiveness of political correctness in the world is a result of the majority needing to feel appreciated or respected for their struggles because they generally lack the courage to take accountability for their contribution towards the state in which they find themselves. Political correctness is a polite but insincere way of demonstrating appreciation while disagreeing with what is happening to begin with. We’re insincere like that. We don’t want to be taken for granted the way we take others for granted. Awkward truth.

The point is, we’re only taken for granted in a bad way when we need more than we are willing to give. If our true purpose and conviction in life is to uplift and serve humanity for the greater good, we will contribute and invest in others regardless of reciprocation or reward. We will find comfort in knowing that someone else’s life is slightly easier, or their struggles are somewhat eased because of something we did, anonymously or not. Whether or not they reciprocate should not be the defining motivation for us to act, because in living among a social structure that enjoys such selfless contribution, we automatically gain from the harmony that results.

We rarely consider what we take from society, or from the selfless contribution of others, but are quick to assume that we’re taken for granted the moment we have an expectation that is not fulfilled. Being taken for granted is a compliment. It’s tacit acknowledgement that we can be relied upon to produce something of value. Value that is so pervasive, that we grow accustomed to it being there, while only realising its worth when it is removed from our lives. Being taken for granted is only a reality when we expect something in return, but don’t get it. If we manage our expectations, we’ll find that feelings of abuse from being taken for granted will be fleeting, while our focus on contributing towards others in ways that fulfil our lives will increase.

The logic is simple. If we truly love doing something, we’ll do it regardless of who notices or acknowledges. However, if we truly love getting attention for what we do, we’ll only do it as long as someone is noticing. Perhaps this is why in a society of attention whores, there is so little fulfilment in life.

Self-serving Subservience 

There’s a natural assumption that suggests that those that serve others are selfless in their intentions. It’s not an unfair assumption either, because the visible actions of people lead us to judge the way we wish we would be judged under similar circumstances. It’s that age old wisdom of seeing our faults in others. But age old wisdom is not always true. Sometimes, pervasive ignorance can easily be mistaken for collective wisdom.

Selfless, as a concept, I find to be highly problematic. The hidden motivations of what we want to feel or gain hardly ever makes a selfless endeavour a truly selfless one. However, in the absence of a more noble approach to life, I guess we should be grateful for the fact that the selfish needs we have to feel good, benevolent, or appreciated, results in good for others. Personally, that is as close to selfless as I am willing to assume anyone is capable of being.

But there is a more sinister seeming selflessness that contaminates rather than enriches the lives of others, including the life of the one that is subservient. To live a life focused on serving others is only meritorious if that is grounded in a conviction of upliftment. It is not so commendable when we find that it is the result of a deep self-loathing. So deep is such self-rejection that we define our worth by the acceptance of our contribution to others. Those that find themselves lacking in their personal space find it easier to sacrifice their own needs in favour of acceptance or validation by those around them.

I’ve had many relationships, or more accurately, feigned friendships dissolve into nothing the moment my demands of them to be true to their convictions surpassed their belief in themselves. Holding on to the demons of the past that so effectively defined their space in society created a comfort zone that almost cast their self-image in stone. Shattering that image threatened to shatter their being, and thus it became easier for them to surrender the friendship, rather than to surrender the weakness they had no reason to believe they were capable of overcoming.

Success, within this context, can be paralytic. It’s like the intense fear we feel when our lives are threatened, and we find ourselves caught between helplessness and wanting to flee, but knowing that neither state is helpful, so we remain paralysed with fear wishing away the circumstance until it eventually passes. When it finally does pass, we convince ourselves that prayers made it so, because that’s the only remnant of dignity we have to hold on to in the face of our impotence in that moment. There are many whose perpetual state is reflected in this way.

Pandering to authority because that is where we believe our next paycheck comes from erodes our dignity more than anything else. Collective subservience like this is commonplace. People that pretend that it’s perfectly acceptable to have one moral code in their personal space and different moral code in their public space will rarely amount to anything more than a placeholder in people’s lives. Pawns are the sacrificial lambs needed to achieve someone else’s goals. Strangely though, pawns used in such a fashion feel proud to have been used in a such a way, while the reality of being used completely escapes them.

Not every servant is dedicating their life to servitude. Many of them simply do not have the courage to believe that they have more value to offer this world than to simply serve the whims and dictates of others. Demand that they own their lives and you’ll see a viciousness in them that you never thought possible from a placid servant. Fear yields the fiercest cowards in all of us. We’re selective about when we expose that rage, because it only ever makes sense to expose it to those that we despise or consider to be equal to or lower than ourselves, but rarely (if ever) will we expose such rage to the ones we worship for vaildation or acceptance.

Self-serving subservience is destructive to the human spirit because it creates comfort for the cowards when such subservience is celebrated as humility or servitude to others. Worse still, it becomes ever more toxic when classes of superiority are defined through subscription to these ranks, resulting in society believing the victim to be oppressed, and the one with conviction to be the oppressor.

Reality is a twisted view of a wholesome life. Somewhere in there lies the secret to sanity.

Stark Reality

There is a starkness that stares you in the face as you see the distractions for what they are. Looking to the future with great expectations, I always found myself pushing the boundaries within which I operated. It was never about what is, but instead, was always about what could be, what is possible, and what I could improve. What if the world could be different, better, more enthusiastically engaging, rather than predictably boring and rigidly traditional? Thoughts like these, despite rarely fully surfacing, tickled my mind throughout my life. With each change I influenced, I convinced myself that I was making progress. I was improving, and more importantly, I was contributing positively.

Years of reflection tend to strip away the candy coated layers that colour my perceptions of reality. Pursuing a career meant seeking purpose and being able to contribute towards society. Establishing a home meant adding to the wholesomeness of this world that is in such desperate need of more of it. Encouraging others to prevail beyond their self-imposed limitations seemed like a noble pursuit as I tried to infuse my passion for progress into the lives that I touched. That’s the candy coating that maintains the pleasantries of life. Chipping away at it quickly reveals the lack lustre tone of the core that is less palatable, like a sugar coated pill with a bitter core.

I see, with great disdain, the hoards that cherish this life as if it were not fleeting. Selling our souls to distract ourselves from the bitter core that we tasted in moments of defeat, moments that robbed us of the comfort of being in control of our delusions, as the reality of someone else’s delusion prevailed in our lives instead. We live lies, blatant, obvious, and well known lies, but hold on to it because of the emotional highs that it offers. Emotional highs are easier to solicit from delusions because we make it what we wish it to be, because in the absence of such delusions, our impotence in the face of certainty smacks us down.

Reality is never known, except in death. Everything up to that point remains a distraction from its inevitability. We hate inevitability. It denies us control, which denies us power, which reminds us of our insignificance in a world that we cannot control. There is not a single king that reigned forever, regardless of the mythical statuses we endowed on some to the point of deifying them. The greater the collective weakness of the masses, the greater the delusions needed to maintain social order. Those that subscribe to the delusions as wholesome gatherings of human connections weaken themselves, until those with an inkling of recognition of those delusions become estranged from the common good while the distracted lead the masses down the garden path to oblivion. But oblivion can be a beautiful place, just like collective self-imposed suffering.

When everyone subscribes to a harmful behaviour, its perception of value makes it healthy, but only within the context of the collective delusion that we live. We compete to excel above our peers in who can most accurately and elaborately articulate the distraction to the point of giving it purpose. They are the ones that are celebrated as leaders and spiritual guides. True guidance cannot be obtained from others similarly or more elaborately distracted. Such leadership is akin to the guides that demonstrate the strategy behind a video game. It is leadership focused on how to excel at a commonly respected distraction.

This world is full of such common subscription to common distractions that have grown to define our purpose and objectives in life. Study the cycles and the systems with such intensity, that your mastery of it leads you to believe that you are in fact mastering life, when in essence, all you’ve mastered is your own ego. That is not the same as subduing your ego, but few would recognise the difference.

The painful irony is that the ones less distracted are not easily found, if ever, because they do not circulate among the distracted. They avoid the systems of delusion that attempt to cheat the inevitable outcomes by soliciting collective celebration about achievements that prevail in part beyond our moments of inevitability. Inevitability is death. Some meet it while still breathing, others don’t see its imminent arrival until it has overtaken them, while a few spend their lives preparing for it. They’re the intelligent ones. But faced with a sea of distracted delusionists, they appear as nothing more than an insignificant lot of fools who just don’t get it.

A fool, if left to judge the merits of others, will deem the entire world a charade except for those that respect their foolhardiness. This world is overrun by fools, pretending to be leaders, providing spiritual indulgences that alleviate the burden of seeing reality for what it is. The starkness of reality exists somewhere in between all this insanity, but fortunately for most, its starkness is also its rarity.

Sensible Emotional Investment

That’s an oxymoron of note, I guess. Emotions generally take us on a journey of reckless abandon, even if that abandon is just the unrealistic expectations that the emotional highs spawn in us. One of the downsides of living with conviction is that you easily become emotionally invested in almost any objective that you set out to achieve. Conviction dictates that you would only do something if you were proud to be associated with the outcome, or perhaps just the effort regardless of the outcome. Without conviction, the focus would be on what you can get out of a given opportunity without being invested in its pursuit or outcome. Although that is not entirely true.

I think we have convictions, whether or not we realise it is a separate matter. Just because we’re not aware of what drives us does not mean that we’re not similarly driven. I see people struggling with mindfulness and I wonder why it is so difficult for them to achieve. At times it is elusive for me as well, but that’s usually when I’m distracted by entertainment rather than meaningful endeavours.

However, most appear to seek entertainment (read ‘distractions’) actively while meaningful endeavours are only pursued out of necessity. It seems like such a lopsided way to live. Either way, those prioritisations that we subconsciously subscribe to determine our convictions. The more subconscious it is, the more likely we are to respond instinctively or habitually without fully understanding why. I’ve seen people getting themselves into all sorts of twisted knots when going through life this way because they most often find themselves weighed down without knowing why, or caring while knowing full well that that emotional investment is unappreciated or abused. Underlying all of this mindlessness is a deep sense of self-deprecation.

Ok, did I lose you at mindlessness? Think about it. If you’re not mindful, then you must be mindless, at least within a specific context where you’re not fully present. When we’re mindless, we don’t suddenly stop functioning. We continue to function reasonably well. But being mindless, it must mean that we’re on auto-pilot at that time. Which begs the question, what programs our auto-pilot mode? I think it’s the constant internalisations of how we want to be perceived, relative to how we conduct ourselves to achieve such a perception.

Ugh, that sounds unnecessarily complicated. Let’s try again. When we focus on how we appear in front of others, we obsess with how we need to behave to maintain our preferred appearances. In other words, we know what others admire or respect, and we play to those whims. In so doing, we condition ourselves to respond in line with those perceived expectations. The more accurate our assumptions about those expectations, the more effective our auto-pilot responses. The more effective our responses, the more likely we are to feel a sense of validation and acceptance, resulting in a further investment in that approach to life. Until we have a jarring moment that prompts us to wonder if we really subscribe to the value system that has turned us into whores for that attention or acceptance.

In that moment, we’re forced to either accept or reject what we have grown to stand for. The idea of self-rejection is so troubling for so many, that most convince themselves that they would be worthless without such whorish behaviour. Challenge them on it and you’re likely to get a response along the lines of, “You don’t know what it’s like to be me.” Or similar drivel. Mindlessness is therefore a result of a lack of self-worth. A lack of self-worth then must be spawned by a lack of conscious purpose. That lack of conscious purpose is driven by a need for validation, which pretty much starts with an ingratitude for what you have and what you’re capable of while you’re focusing on how much others have and what they appear to be capable of. Hold on, did we just come full circle for mindfulness?

Looking inwardly, not to achieve a moment of silence or pause, but to recognise what is good and what is beneficial in your life is the starting point of investing your emotions in the right place. When you do this, you develop the convictions needed to establish yourself as a contributor of meaningful outcomes to those around you, rather than riding the coat-tails of others while pretending to be supportive. As long as you’re riding someone else’s coat-tails, you’ll have a deficit of self-worth because you will always be dependent on their presence and acceptance of you for your sense of self-worth to flourish. In other words, the moment they push you away, you will have no grounding point with which to determine your ability to contribute something of value to others.

Invest in your awareness of what your capabilities are, understand clearly what difference you want to make to this world, and then define a path of progress that will allow you to hone your skills and abilities to contribute meaningfully towards that difference you wish to make. Don’t worry about attracting the right person into your life, or worse still, going out in search of the right person or friends, because if you do what you love, and they do what they love, it stands to reason that you will find yourself associated with those that hold a similar conviction, and therefore live their lives with a similar passion as you do yours. And all this confirms the age old saying that you should not go searching for the one you love. Do what you love and your love will find you.

P.S. If you don’t live your life in this way, you will live your life expending massive amounts of energy competing with others that are vying for the attention of those that live their lives in this way. Your emotions. Your choice. Do you have the courage to make that choice, or are you waiting for someone to come along and save you…from yourself?

When Understanding Goes Too Far

I sometimes watch the wayward behaviour of some while observing the contempt of others that are watching it play out, and wonder who between the two are less aware of their actions or motivations to behave that way. The ones among us that are of a softer nature will look on and seek to understand why someone may be acting out, afraid that judging them for acting out may be too harsh. The world is harsh enough as it is, and only getting harsher each day, so I guess there is merit in such an approach.

At times, when we’ve had enough to deal with in our own lives, we look on with intolerance, demanding that the wayward behaviour be checked, because if no one is willing to accept such behaviour from us, why should we accept it from others? Right? But demanding change without offering a solution helps no one. It only exacerbates the already toxic state of the relationship or the environment around us. It provokes the wayward ones to escalate their protest against whatever it is that they refuse to accept, and it frustrates those that seek to understand.

Moderation in all things is always called for. Demand without understanding, and you lose credibility when the solution becomes obvious later on. Understand without demanding, and you lose credibility when the demands foster the change that was needed to break the cycle. Do either without the other, and you resign yourself to an end of insignificance. Unfortunately, doing both requires purposeful conviction. Not blind conviction. Not the kind of conviction that is driven by a self-belief of what we stand for but for which we are rarely capable of defending when challenged. That belief that we insist on being respected despite not knowing why, but only knowing that through receiving such respect for our beliefs, we feel significant and less threatened.

Purposeful conviction. You’d think it was easy given that it’s a simple matter of cause and effect, but of a different kind. You recognise the cause that you wish to champion, and you put your efforts into effecting the change needed to support that cause. Problem is, most don’t recognise the cause, they only recognise the affiliation. The need to be associated with something meaningful or relevant, rather than establishing meaning and relevance through their own actions and contributions.

It’s all well and good to understand. But the failing of many is that we stop at understanding. We spend much time and energy in achieving that state, but then avoid taking steps to remedy the causes that we now understand leads to that unacceptable behaviour. Being perceived as understanding in nature makes us popular with those that don’t want to change, those that prefer acting out, being rebellious, and refusing to accept accountability for their state because they find it much more convenient and less taxing to blame others, or circumstances.

The ones that act out, and are left to act out, become masters at presenting their tantrums as legitimate gripes or demands. They often end up being the bullies, the type A personalities, and the abusers. They become the oppressors that they grew up whining about. And those that sought only to understand but chose not to curtail such behaviour, or offer healthier forms of expression, they feed that cycle. They enable such outcomes, and they become the liberals. The ones that stand for nothing, understand everything, and fall for every whimper regardless of how incredulous the whimper is.

Understanding is only ever the first step, and never the last. There is no point in seeking to understand if you intend to do nothing more than reflect on that knowledge that you have gained. Understanding must inform our decisions to act. Not acting is a decision in itself, but it’s usually the easy way out. It’s often under the pretense that we don’t want to get involved because we have enough problems of our own, or it’s none of our business. And that’s how the cycles of violence, intolerance, and abuse in society spiral out of control. It’s because those that understand do nothing, while those that do not understand act without guidance.

Prompting someone towards having the courage to take control of their lives, regardless of what came before, is more selfless than it is selfish. Too often we’re distracted by the assumption that by demanding more, we’re behaving selfishly because we don’t understand how difficult it is for that person to be who they are if only we knew what they’ve been through. That is a horrid distortion of the truth. The truth is closer to the fact that leaving them to succumb to their past is in fact selfish, because prompting them to rise above it is often met with resistance and contempt, both of which erode your sense of significance or likeability in that relationship. So when you withhold advice or decide not to take action because you don’t want to be ‘the bad one’, you’re behaving selfishly. Standing up and being counted in a time when guidance and good advice is needed, not necessarily wanted, takes more courage and is much more selfless than shutting up and minding your own business.

We have far too many that shut up and mind their own business, except when they enjoy the anonymity of social media and similar platforms, because once again, there is limited (if any) risk of them becoming unpopular in the relationships that they covet. I suspect that the point of this post has been made somewhere between all the venting, but at the risk of being redundant. It’s simply this. Seeking to understand is a noble first step. But it’s only a first step. Don’t stop there. Take the knowledge that you gained through that process and apply it with conviction in a meaningful way. Don’t be a passive observer of life, or the lives of others. Have the courage to change it for the better.