Wiseacre (ewin) wrote,
Wiseacre
ewin

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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.
Tags: personal philosophy
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