In my last post I wrote that in 2017, I want to have the courage to stop abusing myself. It may seem strange that courage is needed to stop inflicting pain on one’s self. Yet for me, this is my every day reality. I would rather inflict pain on myself than to go through the painful experience of seeing pain inflicted on someone else, or experience the pain of being alienated.
So I kept quiet, be as accommodating as possible, lied about my well-being: a simple “how are you doing”, and I hear myself going “good” automatically simply because it is polite to do so. I wanted to be helpful and useful, so I said yes to everything, tried to help everyone, had virtually no boundaries. I hated to fail people. So I failed myself. I stayed in situations when I should have left, said yes when I should have said no, allowed people to exert their power over me when I should have stood up for myself. I assign blame to myself first, judged myself harder than anyone could have judged me, I was unrelenting in the way I treated myself.
What sort of an existence is this? For the longest time I couldn’t think of a way out. I didn’t want to hurt people so I couldn’t be honest, but I couldn’t fault people for continually treating me as I was the happy dancing kid or a doormat to step on if I allowed them to do so. I never really protested, I kept all my bruised hurt feelings to myself until they metastasized enough for a suicide ideation or a dramatic life change.
For all my change and growth, perhaps I never really grew in emotional maturity. I didn’t understand how badly I was managing my self and emotions until I started reading books on psychotherapy. One of my favorite is on the 75-year Harvard Grant study — apart from incredible insights into what makes a meaningful life, it also offers a peek into lives of people who were not able to achieve emotional honesty.
Selflessness, in the conventional sense of magnanimity or altruism, depends on a sturdy and reliable sense of self. — Triumphs of experience
We are taught that selflessness is a virtue, but they didn’t teach us that selflessness with an unstable self can end up doing more damage. Truth always has its own way of biting us in the ass, it is just a matter of time delay. In trying to be “the good person” I have ended up burning myself out because I was unable to manage my own needs, in trying to keep my feelings to myself because I didn’t want to hurt the other person I have contributed to the destruction of relationships because they become untenable. In denying myself I have just been miserable with my own existence, inevitably resulting in creating more misery for the people around me. I am perpetuating my own miserable existence.
Each of us are our own house of cards. Mine has always been extremely flimsy. I am slowly building the courage to wreck it myself so I can build a real foundation to my self.
It turns out that the courage to make life-altering decisions is separate from the courage to keep on applying those decisions. In 2015 I made the decision to quit my previous life, but over the past year I have found it difficult to stick to my own beliefs and philosophy. I have found myself repeating old patterns of behavior, running back to what feels safe and familiar, trying not to displease people, trying to mould myself into someone palatable for society. I burnt out and fell into depression at least a couple of times, and I questioned the worth of living my life incessantly. Having free time does not preclude you from existential crises.
Then Trump happened.
It became unbearable for me. I fell into deep depression once again. Apart from the reality of the event, I was depressed because I felt a tremendous amount of fear trying to stand up for my views. I didn’t want to be seen as the dissenting divisive voice. I didn’t want to be the person pointing out people’s privilege or the narrowness of their thought. Despite my unconventional choices and way of life, I too, wished to fit in. The pain of rejection is real.
I saw this quote that has been circulating around the internet:
Nice people made the best Nazis…Or so I have been told. My mother was born in Munich in 1934, and spent her childhood in Nazi Germany surrounded by nice people who refused to make waves. When things got ugly, the people my mother lived alongside chose not to focus on “politics,” instead busying themselves with happier things. They were lovely, kind people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. — source
It is stark and uncomfortable. Yet with recent times, I am witnessing a similar phenomenon: the way we normalize the situation, distract ourselves with our busyness or feel tempted to quit the internet, so we don’t have to be confronted with the uncomfortable truth. But that doesn’t make the situation go away.
Why am I bringing this up? The short answer is, politics is always personal, and to believe otherwise is delusional if not ignorant. The long answer — I think the state of the world now is ironically making me lose my fear of being alienated. It has become so absurd that I don’t feel the compulsive need to belong for psychological safety anymore. I mean, what sort of a collective is this for me to wish for belonging to?
I accumulated all this fear because of a low sense of self-worth, the belief that other people know better or more than me. Right now, I am debating the worth of the entire species so instead of wallowing in my self-pity, I am really being like WTF?
And for us in tech, all those years admiring our cult figures, envying all those achievements and wealth (I never really gave a fuck anyway but still) — I personally think it doesn’t matter how genius or wealthy you are if you cower, comply or remain in silence. I can only hope some of us are playing the long game (if there is a game to play at this rate).
In many ways the recent events have released a lot of my fear. The absurdity of the situation makes me feel even more determined to live my own way of life (before the world blows up) and to build more courage to express my views (because look what is happening because so many of us are silently compliant). My sense of self has been strengthened because I know where I want to stand.
I’ll rather go down screaming “WTF” than to be part of this bullshit. Courage is needed more than ever, because we can keep on going with our numbed existences while the planet burns, or we can try to make our voices count in the ways we can.
I wish to keep on building the courage to be my self, so when the time calls for it, I will not concede out of fear, to keep artificial peace at the cost of letting injustice happen to others, or the desire to belong. I will definitely make mistakes, have biases and blindspots, and perhaps it will take a long time but I will at least try. I cannot say I will stand on the right side of history (who knows how they’re going to spin it) but I will at least stand on the right side of my history.
I don’t want to be one of those nice people.