This will probably be a difficult post to write in abstract. As with many of the things I’ve written so far, the line between personal and public may well blur, but I want to keep it as conceptual as possible so I don’t need to delve too deeply into my own past. No one wants to hear about that, do they? So, let’s all think for a moment about the question:
What makes you, you?
It’s a tough one, right. I should know, I spend enough time obsessing over it. I’m always analysing myself to check if I’m being consistent or even living up to the image I have of myself. This is not a good thing – a lot of the time, I fail the tests I lay out. I am inconsistent. In the day to day, my actions and thoughts are often not in line with the person I’d like to be or the person I thought I was.
It’s all too easy to let that get in the way of living life – that’s my habit, and it’s become disastrous on too many occasions. I have this set of obviously unrealistic beliefs about what it means to be me, to be a good person, to live life well. And I fail to live up to them every day. More often than not, I end up berating myself for doing so – I tell myself I’m a hypocrite or a bad person. I know it’s unhealthy, I know it’s wrong. We are all in the same boat, after all. When I really think about it, other people must be going through the same thing, all the time and I don’t judge them for it. I suspect I don’t even notice the inconsistencies or the moments they lapse from behaving as ‘their true selves’. And if I do, I probably put it down as another extension of their personality – a quirk or a foible – not a complete shift in who they are. I don’t immediately change my whole perception of who that person is or what they stand for based on a few minor indiscretions or discrepancies.
But that constant internal dialogue, that’s what I want to focus on today. The negativity, the perceptions of some sort of failure. I probably am quite extreme if I consider how I think about my own actions. Try as I might, I cannot live in the moment. I let the little things get to me, I let them compound and distort until it gets to the point where one small error of judgement is blown out of all reasonable proportions. In short, I can let these small moments when I don’t think or act without reason ruin my day, or more. Now, to some extent, I could deal with that – if it affected only me. But the truth is, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, we are all connected. We are social animals, and my being down on myself is just not helping anybody. All of our actions affect others. To be honest, I recognise that this mind-set, the constant internal judgement, is actually a selfish way to live. It limits the time and space available for thinking about others, for trying to help them. Wrapping ourselves up in our own thoughts rarely leads to definite action or change, it is merely one of the most harmful forms of procrastination available to us.
The two things we apparently have to question, then are:
Why do we let these thoughts get to us?
How can we grow to overcome them?
These two questions rather neatly bring me back to my initial question. I want to explore the concept of self. I am not a philosopher, I am not a psychologist, I cannot claim to be an expert in any way. But as a human being, I am intrigued by the idea. Is self an internal concept or an external one. As in, are we the people we feel we are inside or the people others think we are. It’s a question that drives me mad. Which is more important? Take some examples to ponder:
A: The Philanthropist. He is an outwardly “good” person, known only by his positive reputation and the things he does for society. But inside, he harbors thoughts of deep resentment and hate for the people he helps. He couldn’t care less about them, but does not let on and delights in the praise he receives for his actions.
B: The Honest Man. He is opinionated, non-PC, says it how he sees it. And this tends to rub people up the wrong way. People see him as hateful and selfish, but on the inside he does not judge or hold resentment for others. He couldn’t care less what they think of him. He treats everyone absolutely equally but is not a ‘giving’ person, often putting himself first or behaving uncharitably, not thinking of the social consequences.
Who is the better person? On the outside, we’d clearly go for A, they do things for others – seemingly without question while B seems to look out only for himself. But is A really doing the right thing? He has no care for the people he helps and, even if he isn’t honest about it with others, he seems to indulge limelight afforded by his charitable status, not the joy brought to those he helps. B will probably not be known as being a good person, he is probably judged for being gruff, rude or selfish. But inside, is he not the better man? He may not be providing physically for others, but he lives his life giving everyone – from pauper to prince – a fair chance. Is that sort of integrity not more meaningful, more honest?
Obviously, these two are caracatures, but they have helped me illustrate my point. You can apparently be the best person on the outside, knowing you are not good. Or vice versa. Where you choose to sit on this spectrum requires a balance in thoughts and actions. It also depends on your opinion on what makes you, you. I repeat: are we the people we see on the inside or the people others think we are? It’s a mind-blowing question. I am not intending to ask that to make others feel worse. I guess my point is that it’s such a big question that the answer doesn’t actually matter. Because, after all – it’s completely meaningless. We all have our lives to get on with, our reputations and legacies will be in flux throughout that time and are, ultimately, baseless. We are not in control of what others may think of us, there is a disjoint between inside and outside, so the best we can do is try to find joy and bring it to others without thinking of the consequences. We should be driven to live in the moment, not to try and define ourselves by who we were in the past or who we want to be remembered for being. Because, chances are, if we live that way, it’ll probably be miserable and you won’t be thought of or remembered the way you want anyway.
It’s all a bit anticlimactic really, but it’s provided me with some calm for today. So, to answer my other questions – we let these things get to us because we’re human. And bored. And need something to occupy our minds from everything else in the world. These thoughts are inconsequential and don’t deserve much respect at all. You are you in your moment and that’s just fine. So no growth is needed to overcome it, as far as I can see. We probably all just need to distract ourselves with something else for once. Step back from the vicious cycle and find some other impossible questions to answer.