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01 April 2008 @ 06:28 pm
On Doing Better  
One of the more awesome human beings I've had the pleasure of knowing just wrote an essay the gist of which is that the idea of accepting people how they are, flaws and all, is a copout and a sign of laziness.

I was going to leave a comment, but decided that this belongs in my own space, not in hers.  It's too important for me to lose track of, and anyway, the following is not entirely directed at her.

Here is my response:  I disagree.

We are not the culture of laziness.  Quite the contrary.  We are the frenetic culture of never being satisfied, of never ceasing our perpetual motion for even an instant, of worshipping at the altar of self improvement.  We are so empowered to potentially change so many things that we have almost reached the point of training ourselves out of the ability to accept... anything at all.

The current trend, especially in relationships, of telling people, "You can't change others," is a backlash against years of the idea that you could train people.  We aren't experiencing a culture-wide laxity, we're experiencing a temporarily sanity blip in response to quite a bit of research telling us that we are slowly driving ourselves crazy.  Half a nation of anorexic girls does not demonstrate that we're not being strict enough with ourselves.  We're zealots when it comes to the Unreachable Standard.  What we flunk at, time after time, is reality.

Buddhism could never be invented here.  We refuse to accept the idea that the endurance of suffering can be beautiful, because we've convinced ourselves that all suffering can be FIXED.  We're perfectionists.  And perfectionists are miserable people to have to share a life with.

I should know.  We can smell our own.

I am one of the most determined, self-critical, self-improving people I have ever met.  And I was never able to accomplish a single thing until I finally began to learn who I was and what my limitations were, and forgive myself for the fact that that person and those limits were never, ever going to please any other human being on this planet except myself... and then only if I made up my mind that I was good enough.  The idea of "do your best" is horrifying.  The idea of "you can always do better" is a nightmare.  I tried to leave that cage behind.  It's a habit of thinking with me.  Every morning I wake up with a mindset that I have to "do better", and every day I have to break it apart in order to function.  I have to realize that I am myself, and once I am myself, there are things I want to do.  That's when the magic begins.

Not everything deserves my best, and "doing better" is just like making more money... you can never GET there.  There is no end, no goal.  It's just a way to spin your wheels.  My standards are unattainable, not because they're so good, but because the bar never stops rising.

Corporate culture has embraced the idea of an always-rising bar of accomplishment and ability.  Well, they're welcome to the very logical hell they're creating.  I'll play along for as many years as I can and do my best not to let my soul get sold to their ideals, to the point where doing badly at work makes me feel like a worthless human being... it will help me a lot if I have loving relationships with people who aren't constantly re-evaluating me.  There's a reason why the idea of family includes the notion that it's who you are, not how you behave, that makes you a member.  We have a knee-jerk reaction to that as a bad thing, because the only time we ever notice it is in the context of families harboring criminals.  Well, that's not the only time it happens, and it's not a bad thing.  That kind of "permanent good status judgment" is there because we absolutely require those kind of relationships as social animals... the kind of relationships that can tolerate even enormous mistakes and flaws and bounce back.

We start out as babies... the first relationship we ever experience is one of absolute acceptance to the point of adoration for the most helpless, incapable, unformed version of ourselves.  And unless there is one person who believes, even if only for a moment, that we are golden and beautiful and perfect (when we absolutely manifestly are NOT), and not because of our potential, but just because of ourselves in that moment, we don't survive.  We need it a little bit less as we grow, but not very much less.  Humans belong in families, not corporate superstructures.  Without one person to say, "I love you no matter what," we die.  It's hard to accept that, because "no matter what" can include some very horrible things... but some of the greatest humans have also had some of the world's most appalling flaws, too.

Doing better is not a game you can win at.  But peace and love and acceptance?  They're attainable.  And when I manage to practice them, I've noticed that people are more attracted to my presence, hungry for the concept of someone they can relax around.  Because this is not a world full of messages like, "You are fine the way you are."  This is a world of rules, of criticism, of measures you aren't measuring up to, of competitions you are losing, of pain, of disease, of fuckups, and of inexplicable death.

I just can't get worked up over someone leaving socks on the floor in the face of that.

And on the days when I do, I know it's because it's just a pet peeve of mine (like eggs in the trunk)... and I hope that the person who loves me can look at me and love who I am despite my occasional irrationality, because I may be perfect someday, but today sure as hell is not that day.

I get your point that people don't need to just give up.  I just don't concede that life is so easy that we can make that demand with impunity.  Life is hard.  I don't know anybody who's just coasting along; most of us are struggling and fighting for every breath.  But if you can't look at someone who is a screwup, an utter and complete worthless loser, someone who has failed at everything, someone who has no love and no redemption... if you can't look at that person and find their intrinsic, golden, shining value... you won't survive the times when you are that person.

And you'll be that person one day.  Life will make sure of it.  You may spend years as that person.  It won't always be your fault, and it won't always be your own effort that gets you out of it, either.

I went five hundred rounds with my old therapist on this one.  "Who am I if I'm not the things I do?"  But I'm starting to get it with time.  There is an intrinsic me.

"Doing better" is a tool, not an end.  Just like money.  Just like power.  Don't devote your life to it.  There are more important things, but even if you don't believe that, believe this:  if you devote your life to these things, you'll get nothing back but a spent life.
Current Location: school
Current Music: Jerry Schroeder - Badback
Радаdigitalemur on April 1st, 2008 10:39 pm (UTC)
There is _definitely_ an intrinsic you. It took me years to find my intrinsic me, too, and the current therapist has actually made me put it into language, about all the different me's that speak up when interpreting a situation. We've named them, and we talk about all those different attitudes and why they pop up when, and which parts are the intrinsic me. It's really powerful. I've felt SO much better since we came up with this system for looking at it.

The core me, as it turns out, is the one who is compassionate and, well, rather Buddhist in tone! I like her very much. You have one too. It's why you wrote this post!

Edited at 2008-04-01 10:40 pm (UTC)
Wiseacreewin on April 1st, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC)
Awesome. We rock! *hi-5* :)
some blockheaded bracegirdle from hardbottle: friendlynotemily on April 2nd, 2008 12:55 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting this. It was exactly what I needed to hear today.

Do you mind if I link to it in my journal?
Wiseacreewin on April 2nd, 2008 04:07 am (UTC)
Go right ahead.
joreth: Kitty Eyesjoreth on April 2nd, 2008 02:20 am (UTC)
I think both of you have a point, and it's a slightly different point, not opposite sides of the same coin.

On the one hand, there are people who really do use "it's just me" as an excuse to avoid doing the work and going through all the pain and suffering of emotional growth. I see it most often in the "I'm just a jealous person" model. It's possible to work on that part of yourself to eventually become not jealous, but A) you have to want to be not-jealous and B) it's a freakin' painful thing to go through if you *do* happen to have the insecurities that makes you believe you are "just a jealous person".

On the other hand, you are also correct that there is no "perfect". We have limited time, energy, patience, and skills available to do the kind of personal changing that is required to change *everything* about oneself. We have to pick and choose what aspects of ourself we find worth working on. And our priorities will change over time.

I don't believe in the "unconditional love" idea, that a person can love someone no matter what. I think there *are* some things that will kill someone's love. If you caught your spouse feeding your children into a wood chipper, for instance, I'd bet you'd have a pretty hard time holding onto that "intrinsic, golden, shining value". And what those things are that can make any given person stop loving any other given person is totally individual. But, I do agree with you in the point that there are relationships that can be found (and should be found) that accept us for who we are in the normal scope of "acceptable flaws". Someone will love me because of or in spite of my stubbornness, for example, or my lack of tact and diplomacy. And I see nothing wrong with holding out for those relationships that *do* accept us for who we are.

I agree with the comment about a good relationship will support your own personal growth while loving you for who you are now at the same time. Not someone who tries to *change* you, but love encourages personal growth and happiness (was that here or the original post?).

I think that balance between the two is the best option for happiness. It's important to love yourself for who you are and to find people who also love you for who you are, while still keeping an eye on yourself to make changes and improvements when you find something about yourself that is not adding to your overall happiness or is actively causing unhappiness. Which means not that I think you two should compromise or that both of you are extreme ends of the same scale.

I think that these two points of view can co-exist because they cover just slightly different aspects of how to find happiness. One is to not use laziness as an excuse to avoid personal growth. The other is to not get so wrapped up in the idea of perfection that you overlook the very practical consideration of the effort involved in change and consider when it's truly worth it.

Rainhypnagogie on April 2nd, 2008 02:44 am (UTC)
That was the lovely Laurelian. And I agree with that too, and this.
Wiseacreewin on April 2nd, 2008 05:02 am (UTC)
I don't believe in the "unconditional love" idea, that a person can love someone no matter what. I think there *are* some things that will kill someone's love. If you caught your spouse feeding your children into a wood chipper, for instance, I'd bet you'd have a pretty hard time holding onto that "intrinsic, golden, shining value".

This is exactly the negation that I was talking about. The reason people don't believe in unconditional love is because we always hold it up to the above standard.

But the "what if they did something horrible" argument has a real life example to the contrary for nearly every idea you can come up with. Every man on death row is loved by some person, somewhere. Every psychotic despot the world has ever known was loved by at least one person. You can call it denial (and denial gets a bad rap, too), but it's still true.

The problem most people have is not that unconditional love exists. It exists. The problem they have is that they don't want it.

I used to not want it either. It felt insulting, to be loved for something utterly apart from all of the hard work I'd put into myself, to be loved even when I felt I'd done something I could never be loved for. It was almost a slap in the face, to be loved for some OTHER weird reason. What on earth kind of love is that? I couldn't even call it love.

I'm starting to understand it more, though, and appreciate it.

As far as the personal growth thing goes... I suppose I'd understand this more if I understood this concept of laziness getting in the way of happiness. I've only encountered two kinds of people: those who are unhappy, and aren't changing for reasons quite valid to them, and those who are lazy, and quite happy with it. (Actually, change that. I know a couple of people who are also a little bit lazy, but constantly worried that people will judge them, so not entirely happy about it. And I frequently tell them that happiness is in short supply in this world and to enjoy the hell out of themselves if at all possible.)
joreth: Kitty Eyesjoreth on April 2nd, 2008 05:22 am (UTC)
For the people on death row, in your example, it's not that they are loved "unconditionally", it's that whatever it is they did to get on death row did not fall under those conditions their loved ones need to stop loving them. Everyone's conditions are completely unique and individual, and what might make me stop loving someone is not the same as what would make you stop loving someone. But I guarantee there would be *something* for all non-pathological humans.

A good portion of the idea behind "unconditional" love is also that anything a person can think of that would stop the love are things we don't reasonably see the object of our love actually doing. Part of the reason why many of us love the people we do is because those people are not likely to do those things that would kill our love for them (at least, that's what we think about them). I, for instance, am not likely to fall in love with someone if I think they are likely to put my children (or any children) in a wood chipper in the first place. Anything I could actually come up with that might end my love for my lovers are things I don't see as being likely that they'd do.

Of course, not many people stood at the alter with visions of divorce and custody battles in their heads either. Many people who *have* gone through a bitter breakup where they no longer love the person believed at some point in time that their love was true, endless, unconditional, forever, all-encompassing. Until the day they testified in a court of law that put their child-molesting spouse behind bars or requested a restraining order for the bastard who pulled a gun on them. Sometimes we may not know what line it is until it's crossed, so it may seem "unconditional" while in the throws of happy brain chemicals while things are actually working out and the other person isn't doing whatever it is that crosses that line.

You may not have encountered people who let their laziness get in the way of happiness, but I have.
joreth: Kitty Eyesjoreth on April 2nd, 2008 05:28 am (UTC)
Also, I challenge the idea that "every man on death row is loved by someone". Many of them have no close contacts and no one to care for them. I don't doubt that there aren't some people, perhaps even a large number. But my last analysis of prison statistics showed that many people who turn to violent crime tend to lack the support network that could have prevented them from going that route in the first place.

Second, the very definition of "unconditional" means no conditions, so it is not unreasonable to hold it up to "the above standard". If someone says "unconditional", that means, by definition, absolutely no situation ever could change one's love. I maintain that this is a grammatically incorrect statement. What most people mean is "there are very few things you could do that would change my love for you, and those things that could, I don't see as likely that you would do" and I find that reasonable. But if you say "unconditional", I will hold the above standard because that's what "unconditional" means - no conditions whatsoever. That's a very significant statement and any extreme example such as the wood chipper I gave above is valid.
Rainhypnagogie on April 2nd, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)
I responded here, for those playing at home. :)
Hostes alienigeni me abduxerunt. Qui annus est?: kheffreyja on April 2nd, 2008 06:37 am (UTC)
linked here from <lj user="notemily">
this is a great piece. being at a particularly "loserly" part of my life, at least according to academic/societal standards, i'm just discovering this idea for myself.

thank you.
Wiseacreewin on April 3rd, 2008 02:15 pm (UTC)
Re: linked here from <lj user="notemily">
No problem.

I have to say, you rock awesome just for inventing the word "loserly". I'll use that one before the week is out. :)
Hostes alienigeni me abduxerunt. Qui annus est?freyja on April 3rd, 2008 05:44 pm (UTC)
Re: linked here from notemily
aw, really? thanks :)
Chriscrm17 on April 2nd, 2008 06:17 pm (UTC)
Very well said. All of it. But this really jumped out at me:

if you can't look at that person and find their intrinsic, golden, shining value... you won't survive the times when you are that person.

And you'll be that person one day. Life will make sure of it.

Life will make sure of it. Very Buddhist. Very true. I have seen it at work many times. If you don't hear at first, the Universe always seems to come back with a bigger 2x4.

joreth, I don't understand the long discussion about unconditional love here. It exists. Even if it was possible to severely damage it with an act of horror, it still exists. A pebble off to the side of a mountain does not disprove the mountain.
joreth: Kitty Eyesjoreth on April 2nd, 2008 06:37 pm (UTC)
I come from a psychology background - what you call "unconditional love", we call "pathological"
Wiseacreewin on April 2nd, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC)
And what you call laziness, psychology generally refers to as the fundamental attribution error.

Psychology has no problem with the concept of instinctive attachment. Most of what I say in my essay above has already been said many times, by people far more schooled in psychology than myself.
Desparately Seeking Catnipornjkitty on April 3rd, 2008 11:51 am (UTC)
Not to mention that corporate superculture lacks one important ingredient that we as human beings need -- sustainability.

Corporations that try to perfect themselves beyond their abilities tend to implode rather dramatically and quickly, as do we as human beings.

I think it's kind of a safety valve thing that we start to "act up" (leave the socks on the floor, etc.) when we've been too "perfect". It's a way of keeping things at a sustainable level.
Wiseacreewin on April 3rd, 2008 02:16 pm (UTC)

Good point, that. I'll have to ponder it.