There were many points in my life I expressed views which I believed were right, only to grow in maturity enough to be embarrassed for my past selves. There were so many times I was sure I gave people the right advice, only to realise now that I have failed to meet people where they were, I also had survivorship bias, and I really liked being self-righteous.
In recent times, if I do express a view, I would make sure to remind the other party all the fine print that goes along with it: that this is just my opinion, not advice, I am probably not skilled enough to deliver a balanced view, and most importantly of all, I am not the other party and I can never be, so it is important that they decide for themselves.
We often want things that are best for people we care about, and people who love me often want the best for me. But in many of such scenarios these intentions do the most harm. With their best intentions because they care, I have been inevitably forced to conform and feel bad about myself. It is only very much later that I realised that people had their own ideal versions of me, and it was beyond them to even consider that I was really not the person in their head. I think this forms the basis in most relationships: our versions of people interact with the other parties’ versions of us. Dissatisfaction happens when people’s behaviour do not conform to what we expect based on our beliefs of who they are.
The older I grow, the more ignorant I feel, the more embarrassed and apologetic I become of my past selves. I have come to realise how much hurt we can cause if we don’t fully understand our own intentions and motivations, and if we lack the skill to see and empathise with other people. I am also beginning to be very much aware of how much my anger is clouding and triggering me, restricting my capacity to engage with life and other people fully. I too, have a version of myself in my head that is different from who I really am. I read a book on Zen Buddhism yesterday, and the roshi calls this being at constant war with yourself.
Sometimes when some of my friends suffer in similar ways I do, I ask them a question which I have found helpful for myself in trying to determine the cruelty I inflict on myself: “Would you say this to a friend, or to a child?” Many of us would never contemplate hurting another person like the way we hurt ourselves. Why do we become such masters at self-torture? Because we internalise the voices which hurt us the most.
Without knowing it, we are inflicting hurt on ourselves, hurt on other people, thinking it is because we care and we have the best intentions. Hitler thought he had the best intentions for his people too. Sometimes the best way to express the best intentions for someone else is to let them unfold by themselves, to trust and support their agency, but that is incredibly hard to do. We like to think we are agents of change, but we try to change everything and everybody around us except ourselves. It is easier to work on external problems thinking that once external circumstances change, our inner state changes too.
I am reluctant to participate and engage with the world because I am no longer sure of the implications my actions will bring. There are some values I value above all, like openness and honesty. That is why I write and share my life publicly. Or so I think. Is that really so? I am not sure. I cannot be sure how my intentions will be interpreted.
These days, I feel inclined to lead a fully private existence, away from everyone I know. I have been having these feelings for a Long while, but I have been hesitant because of what I view as my social responsibility: to write so people like me can feel less alone, to try to be a positive representation for the lgbtq community, to amplify marginalised voices, to bring awareness to social injustice. I have always believed in the power of the individual to make a difference and in some ways I still believe so. But I am learning that the power of the individual also depends on the individual’s capacity to operate with clarity and awareness. Right now we are also seeing organisations and cooperations having a negative impact on the world even though they started out with the best intentions they had.
I am also tired. I no longer want to be at war with myself, to impose on myself who I should be and what I should or should not do. I would be a nun if I wasn’t partnered or have family who would be upset. But I think I can be a hermit for a while.
What about the world that is burning down at this moment? I don’t think I am in a position to make quality contributions because I have too much anger and sadness in me. There is a difference between believing in the power of the individual and thinking that the world would combust without me. And to be very honest, if humans go extinct I wouldn’t really care, in my opinion that seems a better scenario than what we have now: a world of people who are intent on hurting other people, a world that has most people in invisible chains.