I was on my way to meet this girl for a date a couple days ago, and I remember thinking to myself, “Just be yourself.” Then immediately afterward I thought, “Who I am is a person who changes his behavior, attitude, and actions according to the circumstances he is in, based on a sliding scale of respect for the expectations particular to any given situation and the people involved, as well as the consequences related to meeting or not meeting those expectations. Fuck! Don’t be that guy! Wait, how can I not be myself?” So I think the answer to “For whom am I doing _____?” is always, first, yourself.
I’m not sure anything can be independent from anything else. The reasons people treat you (or anyone) a certain way and the reasons for your feelings can certainly be be their own rabbit holes, but personally I think the best reason for exploring those two factors in isolation would be to try to and find precisely the patterns that connect those two bottomless pits and explain why they’re inextricably connected, and how changing one changes the other.
What people want from us is only irrelevant in the sense that it’s the factor we have the least control over. I guess you could sort of say it’s a chicken and egg deal: would an action made in anticipation of a certain reaction be considered a reaction itself?
As for people mistaking your bullshit for roses and vice versa, I think a useful way to think of your struggle is to compare it to that of an artist. If you haven’t already read How Music Works by David Byrne, I highly recommend it. Here’s something interesting he said:
Percussive music carries well outdoors, where people might be both dancing and milling about. The extremely intricate and layered rhythms that are typical of this music don’t get sonically mashed together as they would in, say, a school gymnasium.
Some say that the instruments being played in the photo E at the top of the next page were all derived from easily available local materials, and therefore it was convenience (with a sly implication of unsophistication) that determined the nature of the music. This assessment implies that these instruments and this music were the best this culture could do given the circumstances. But I would argue that the instruments were carefully fashioned, selected, tailored, and played to best suit the physical, acoustic, and social situation. The music perfectly fits the place where it is heard, sonically and structurally. It is absolutely ideally suited for this situation — the music, a living thing, evolved to fit the available niche. That same music would turn into sonic mush in a cathedral.
So if your body is a complex musical instrument that was created in a specific environment (though maybe not absolutely ideally suited for it), then the essence that you’re radiating resonates at a certain frequency, has a unique sound, whatever. This gets distorted, amplified, and changed by the “acoustics” of your “performance space”. Then there’s also the audience, who bring in all kinds of other expectations, tastes, and generally unpredictable elements that can contribute to this disparity between what you’re trying to put out there and what they’re taking away. Also sometimes your shit is just out of tune, you have some technical difficulties, etc. If your song was made for a cathedral or the jungle and it feels like you’re making noise by yourself out in the desert, then either change your tune, get busy building a space you fit into, or head for the hills.
Anyway, I firmly believe that it is in fact what’s inside that counts (in the end), but I also believe that the way we choose what we reveal about ourselves and the order in which we we reveal it largely determines how rough the ride to the end is, because it also determines whether or not anyone ever actually sees what’s inside us. If our feelings about ourselves are determined by how people treat us and their reactions to what we do, I think that’s because it’s often only through others that we end up seeing what we’ve got in us. In addition to the purity of the exclusive enjoyment of the fruits of our labor, we also need people as a kind of conduit for self-understanding and self-expression, or as catalysts for self-reflection.
Taking beauty as a measurement of the amount of attention you get from people based on your physical appearance, and granting that your physical appearance is the necessary gateway through which all must cross before being exposed to your other qualities, good or bad, means that the more beautiful you are, the larger the pool of people who will potentially a) discover and appreciate what you have to offer besides your pretty face, b) provide you with confirmation that you are in fact hilarious and kind and smart in addition to being beautiful, and c) serve as a useful feedback loop to encourage you to continue to cultivate those other aspects of yourself.
Not every person who appreciates a beautiful woman appreciates weird handshakes or kindness or a brain, but everyone who values those things also values beauty. I think the really tricky part, at least for people like you who have more control over how much they can adjust their personal gravity field, is to find a balance wherein you can not only avoid the curse of being too beautiful, which simultaneously intimidates sweet, normal folks and attracts unwanted attention from creeps, but also still feel good about yourself appearance-wise AND still somehow have enough time, energy, and money left over from cultivating that physical appearance that you can actually continue grow and develop in those other ways you care about.
As for what you care about and its relationship to what you owe society, the mere existence of human civilization as we know it is the result of violence and destruction on a near unimaginable scale, and the continued existence of civilization requires that this violence and destruction also continue. Our ignorance of the consequences of our accumulated individual and collective decisions does not absolve us of our responsibility for these consequences. At the same time, while some of the forces that compel us to act in certain ways can be resisted, circumstances will never be such that through the course of our daily lives we will be able to completely avoid any action that in some measure contributes to the creation of violence, suffering, or destruction. You’re dirty to your ankles or you’re dirty to your knees.
You can blow off that Saturday dinner date to eat Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and do Donkey Kong speedruns naked in bed, and feel bad about being a bad friend but good about treatin’ yo self; you can also go out and feel good about being a good friend but bad about the fact that you’re missing out on music or knowledge or sleep that is probably more interesting than the conversations you’re subjecting yourself to. Life’s like a 24/7 music festival with 100,000 stages, and I think any thoughtful person will get hit from time to time with some FOMO and consider their decisions and actions more in terms of the negative space that is created by the infinite other decisions or actions that weren’t chosen. For me, I try to remain conscious of the extent to which my actions actually reflect my values, but also make sure to get stoned and do pointless things for my enjoyment every now and then, because at the end of the day the world is not only indifferent to what goes on in your bedroom, but also to everything that happens everywhere, all the time, forever. Even being content to carve out whatever meaning you can leaves you with myriad contradictory desires that are impossible to reconcile. Who wants to think about that shit all the time, anyway. For the record, I disagree with your statement that your Donkey Kong Country adventures fail to benefit anyone, anywhere, and in any way.
Also, I’d love to interview you and take some photos sometime. I’ll owe you one!