It’s early in the dark morning and I’ve handwritten the topic that earlier in the week I chose to write an essay about at the top of a notebook page. I don’t know what to write after it. It’s the second topic I have chosen to write about this week. The first I determined that didn’t feel like writing about now. Now, sitting in front of another blank page, I find out that my second choice isn’t the right one either.
I can write about anything at any time. I don’t rely on a capricious muse or external inspiration. But I write to figure out problems, and it’s true that sometimes, some problems seem more immediate than others. Sometimes, I push a problem with more immediacy aside to write about what I previously decided to untangle. Sometimes, I let the problems with less urgency sink to the bottom and allow the ones that roil and boil with perceived importance rise to the surface. Maybe I am the capricious muse myself. In any case, this morning is one where those deep, existential calculations that are always running in the background randomly decide to take up more resources and take over the primary operations (with a variety of mixed metaphors, evidently).
For the past four years, I’ve been struggling to make sense of the example of someone who did destructive, dishonorable things and is now considered by many someone who would never do such things. Nothing has changed in him. It’s a pattern, also recognized by a few others with similar insight to mine. But he gets away with it because he’s very good at seeming to be what people assume him to be. He doesn’t even do it on purpose. It’s survival. Many people do it. Maybe we’ve all done it. I recognize it myself I because I did it when I was young, because that’s what the adults around me did, and that’s what you learn, and you need to survive.
We’re all desperate to survive in a world that works this way. We’re all desperate to be accepted, respected and loved. We take shortcuts. We use what skills we have, including intelligence and deception, to fool ourselves into believing the lies we tell the world. And so we’ve built a world that accepts those lies, and rewards us for telling them.
The worst, most dishonorable lie we tell ourselves is that because the world works this way, because everyone does it, it’s okay, and that no one really has to pay the price.
Somewhere, at some time, someone will pay the price. If it’s not us, so much more our proper shame. Which prompts us to cover it up with even more lies.
The more I grow up, the more I see growing up has been, and continues to be, a process of stripping away the lies, and the rationalizations, and the justifications, and the excuses, and even the solid, comprehensible reasonings, for being the way I am and learning to just be the way I am. You have to face it before you can grow away from it. You have to know what exactly you’re improving before you improve. You have to understand the value of integrity by acknowledging you have not always had it.
But there is always a struggle, because this process is so difficult and depressing and doesn’t get you much in the way of reward. And you are constantly reminded that there are those who skip the whole struggle, simply present the image of what they want to be and win. What do you get out of admitting you are wrong or imperfect? Judgment, disapproval and loneliness. You would be much better off in the short term if you played the game. Except the game is exhausting and empties your spirit and makes you hate yourself.
And so I write, and try to make sense of it for the millionth time, and then it’s no longer early morning but dawn. The sun is up and it’s time to start another day, another round of figuring out how to do this, and all I carry with me is the understanding that no one really knows how to do this and we’re all doing the best we can with the broken tools we have, and that, really, is the only way the world works.