Life goal: To be a farting old person in my 20’s
Ah yes, those farting old people. We all know one. Uncle Ted while sweeping the sidewalk *Ppwwwwtttt*; Grandma Tina letting one rip at Christmas dinner; even the adorable old Mrs. Susie at the end of the street who cuts the cheese while waiting for the bus. Their bodily rejoicements are followed by looks of surprise and revulsion and, later, a discrete exodus from the immediate area by all able beings, human or otherwise. In those moments, I sit back and am in awe of these old people. This is what I want in my life! No, not the fiber-rich flatulence with probable oily discharge, but the deeper secret these wise people have. They honestly do not care. I’m convinced they know what they are doing, they know how it is interpreted, and they still do not care. I just can’t do that! For better or worse, I worry about what others think of me, and that drives my behavior. How would my life be different if I didn’t worry about what others thought? How does that affect my daily life? How can I join the exalted ranks of these farting old people?
So why did I even begin to care at all? There is a great circle of life where we go from waddling around in diapers, eating soft foods, and not caring about social norms, to worrying about what others think of us, to finally back to the beginning again. What is up with those anomalous middle years? For me, it was driven by two reasons: ego and socializing. I am one of those social creatures we call “humans”. It has its ups and downs, but one thing that has stuck out is that I like friends. Socializing and sharing moments with friends are some of the most enjoyable moments of my life. Shocking, I know. Since having friends is important, it is in my best interest to care a lot about what others think, right? Pair that with the egocentric teenage view that I am the sole thought on everyone’s mind, and it is easy to see how self-consciousness developed.
To be clear, caring about social image is not always a bad thing. It is impolite to, say, randomly punch someone in the face. That is so socially unaccepted that it is illegal. Hurting others is bad and old people know and respect that boundary. I am focusing on the little actions we do or do not do solely because we want to be liked more. We embellish stories to make them sound more interesting. We don’t share our emotions because of how they might be interpreted. We create a facade because we are afraid we won’t be accepted for who we are and what we have done. The difference between who we are and what we project ourselves to be is a cause of stress and anxiety. This, I believe, is the opposite of what is good.
For example, as a college student, I took great pride in being among the top of the class — it was part of my social image, and thus self-identity. People wanted to hang out with me since I had social status (and offered homework help). However, one class quickly took a turn for the worse. I was not at the top, but actually significantly below average. That was not who I was though! I still played up the image of an A+ student despite evidence to the contrary. I felt increasingly anxious worrying that I would be found out, which resulted in frayed nerves and lost sleep. While it now all seems so silly to be worked up over something as insignificant as one class, understand that it was my world and identity at the time. Such examples are becoming evermore common with social media and people creating a socially conscious image 24/7. The eyes of our friends are always watching it seems and there is a strong desire to project a facade in order to please them. In contrast, wise farting old people just don’t care. While I can retrospectively realize the silliness of worrying about how my peers would view a bad grade, farting old people can realize that in the moment. They have the mentality, “I am me and the world can deal with it.” And the world does — quite well actually.
There is a certain beauty to watching such people in social situations. They are not ashamed to feel and express themselves. There is little doubt what is on their mind because they said it in full, sometimes offense detail. Keep in mind, this is not all old people, but the farting old people who don’t give a $#!^ about their image anymore. What amazes me most and where much of my respect comes from is that they get away with it! They have not only reached a new level of enlightened indifference, but society accepts them for it. If only I could do the same. At family reunions, a common statement is “Oh, that’s just Uncle Ted.” His name is an acceptable excuse for his actions. It is unbelievable! He has either purposefully set up this dynamic as a way to get away with nearly anything, or just cares so little about social norms relative to expressing himself, that others conform and still enjoy his company. In one way, I respect the man for his brilliance, and in the other, his confidence. He wins either way!
Eleanor Roosevelt eloquently said “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” Such wisdom makes me suspect she was one of those farting old people. I still have a long way to go to realize my goal of having enough comfort with myself to not be emotionally constrained by harmful social norms, but I am working on it. In the meantime, I shall continue to order extra beans on my burrito and then have long conversations in a quiet room. Wish me luck!