Thursday, September 15, 2016

In Pursuit of Glory

It's not that anyone is perfect. Somewhere, stitches are being dropped. Somewhere, misspellings. With mortals there is always going to be slack that demands being picked up. Most of us enjoy being able to pick up someone else's slack plus our own on occasion, but individualism at its finest, at its most marble, at its coldest, says that if you can't pick up your own slack always, you are a waste of the resources it takes to keep you alive.

People who hold themselves to a standard of perfection are the ones most keenly familiar with the idea of "cruel to be kind." No one is crueler to themselves in the name of kindness. Lacking the ability to hold perfection at arm's length and assess its worthiness as a personal goal, the lived experience of prioritizing it over all else, mistakenly equating intangible benefits with the psychosomatic (considering them therefore impossible to experience), they constantly evaluate the world around them for warmth and love and find it barren and cold, unwilling to acknowledge the possibility that it is the starting point of distrust and the tests themselves which drive the temperature down. 

Religious perfectionists find a somewhat less painful path, suppressing the understanding that faith is a willfully blind leap into certainty, hiding it under the willfully joyous blanket of faith, which offers not only blinders (should the Truth turn out to be not such a beautiful thing), but also a cure for loneliness, as it offers sound structures within which to receive and offer love, free of ulterior motives, it offers tangible imperatives to serve others, and of course the promise that everything will definitely get better if only you persevere.

It takes one kind of courage to do what’s necessary, never mind the cost. It takes another kind to pause and think about the likely side effects of the realization of your desires. If you never think beyond victory, beyond the finish line, you never stop to wonder if winning is worth the price you’ll pay to get there. Then again, if you are always trying to calculate the relative value of your efforts, you forget what a pleasure it can be proving that you can exceed your own expectations.

Maybe you believe that we all start out as a drain of resources and have to earn our way into validation (Ayn Rand is probably one of the best known prophets of the secular version of the “fallen man” stance.) Or maybe there’s some other inherent part of you, besides your tendency to mess up on occasion, that you feel the need to explain to people, to apologize for. Where you were born, or the color of your skin, or your gender, or the way you express it. Some part of your appearance, your beliefs or your education level or your parentage.

When we all ought to be learning to give of ourselves joyfully and often, to accept of others gracefully and often, and also to pay attention to the balance of things around us, power, gratitude, awareness, respect,

instead we're taught to be ashamed or proud, depending on how we compare to others, using measures mostly having to do with our usefulness as units of production. We're taught to assess every individual and situation in terms of its immediate usefulness to us. We're taught to see bad things that happen to us as punishment for our failures, for our neglect, instead of useful experiences that teach us important lessons of empathy and care.

We're taught to look for reasons not to connect with others. Our principles, our principled lives, so noble in our heads, turn into a reason not to connect with or invest in anyone who is unable or unwilling to commit to the same path.

Our love of beautiful things, of quality, of craft, of a well-turned phrase, can become a reason not to extend our love towards that which is not immediately appealing or accessible.

Our self-respect and respect for others can lend itself to exclusion of those who don't express respect in ways we recognize, or offer it more cautiously and slowly than we do.

Our awareness of power structures and illusions can keep us from noticing the beautiful individuality in how each so-called cog negotiates the paradox and complexity of being human in a repressive society.

Sometimes it seems like first thing we see is all of the choices we wouldn’t personally make. We celebrate the disasters of our ideological opponents as validation of our own ideologies and we distrust and dislike their joy, because if their worldview makes them so happy, maybe we’re the ones who are wrong.

You're not a waste of resources, you're the hallowed reason they exist in the first place. What you produce, or don’t, for the Powers That Be (PB) is not a good measure of your value. You may have picked up on this theme in our stories and reality shows and culture at large--that to prioritize massive monetary gains means essentially giving up on having genuine, loving relationships.

Your intangible value, which the PB don't give a dying duck about, is the you-ness, the gifts of yourself that you give to those around you. The most valuable thing any of us can offer. Which is why it's such nonsense that we get rewarded for our tangible contributions based on our specific skillsets, instead of just nurtured as a matter of fact for being a part of the human fabric.

If the religious people weren't all so busy making sure gays know it really really IS a sin to love someone with your same genitalia, or that when you murder a baby you're really really murdering a baby, this is what they'd be hurrying to tell you: That you're precious just for being alive. That this life is a gift to you and you are a gift to everyone in it and they are a gift to you too.

How should we measure the success of our competing relationships with the divine? How about the relative skill with which we love one another? Whether or not our love is being experienced as love by those who receive it?

According to that measure I still have a long way to go, but I’m starting to improve. 

Look, we were thrown into this arena and handed pointy sticks and told to battle it out, and just look how many of us are instead helping one another and living for art and finding cool alternate things to do with pointy sticks.

You can agonize if you want over all of the stitches you drop, but just remember: the people who come across as perfect aren’t, at all; they’re taking the toll out beyond your line of sight.

Somewhere in all of us is the expectation that everyone else should see our inherently loveability; that they should all be trying their darndest to love us. But sometimes trying gets in the way of doing.

And if we haven’t figured out how to love ourselves, how should anyone else be able to? They’ve got less information than we do. They’ve got less insight into what we’ve been through and what we hope for. 

Work on loving yourself. Work on giving yourself actual reasons to love yourself. Its some of the most important work you can do on behalf of humanity.

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