Reverse Engineering Life

It seems that I’ve wasted most of my life experiences during the years when I quietly contended with the upheavals in my life and moved silently forward without making a fuss of what I wanted, nor questioning why it always seemed to happen to me. Through no deliberate effort on my part it strengthened me, even though I, and many around me, often perceived that strength as numbness. There were times when I chastised myself for not having a more emotionally grounded response to the suffering or trials of those around me, but I was also often reminded that it was that very same numbness that allowed others to draw strength from my apparent composure at times when they felt overwhelmed.

I think there’s a value in having such an emotionally disconnected person around at times. It’s a reminder that not all is lost when all seems lost. But that’s not how most people viewed me, and fortunately my default demeanour of being oblivious to the perceptions that others held of me meant that it didn’t affect me much either. Despite this awkward sense of comfort I had about being able to deal with my reality in ways that caused many to question my sanity (quite literally at times) I felt a growing dis-ease regarding the fact that my experiences were being wasted because it only seemed to benefit me, and no one else. In doing so, it further distanced me from those around me because not many could relate to me just being me.

I slowly experimented with using my experiences as a point of reference to try to relate to the emotional burden that so many people seem to drag around with them, and each time I tested my observations for accuracy and relevance, I found that it was quite effective in providing others with an alternate perspective as to why their situation was not as grave as it seemed. All this clutter continued to swim around in the back of my mind for many years until I considered it slightly differently recently when someone once again asked me why it is that I am so calm and composed during moments when others are literally overwhelmed or panicked.

My usual response was to dismiss it and smile while telling myself that I’m incapable of feeling such emotion, but that uncomfortable feeling in my gut kept nagging at me because I knew it wasn’t true. I am probably more emotionally sensitised than most people I’ll ever meet. (Note I said sensitised, not sensitive!). However, my innate focus on wanting to emerge from trials rather than how to cope causes me to look behind the emotion and focus on the steps needed to overcome it instead. In doing so, it’s inevitable that I got accused of being insensitive because most people look for sympathy rather than guidance when they’re down and out. I think it validates our weakness when we receive sympathy, while tough love reminds us that we’re being pitiful instead of bold. Victims versus masters. Scarcity mentality versus abundance mentality. They all talk about the same thing. You either want to prevail, or you want to be admired for having persevered when others would understand if you failed.

It’s that unhealthy need to be recognised for our strength in our struggles that often leaves us rooted in our struggles rather than motivating us to overcome it. We find comfort in knowing that others know how much we’re hurting because there’s a natural embrace of compassion or sympathy that often accompanies such visibility. That embrace is often from those that are equally or more weak than we are because they draw comfort from being able to comfort others that are similarly afflicted. This must all sound so cold and dismissive, but it’s not intended that way. I’ll say it again. Sympathy has only ever made someone feel better about being in the state they’re in, while tough love is what pushes them to move forward. Soliciting sympathy in times of weakness is the poison we don’t need.

That’s when I realised the value of being sensitised rather than sensitive. The value of reflection rather than expression. Reflection allowed me to observe what lessons I had learned from past experiences, and what markers were associated with them, while my outbursts, my anger, and my need to make others understand how bad my state was so that they could empathise with me only ever served as a distraction from moving forward and letting go of the past. That’s when I started looking for the tell-tale signs in others relative to what I witnessed in myself when I went through similar experiences, and the more I identified it, the more I was able to accurately interpret what they were experiencing, why they were experiencing it, and what they were contemplating in dealing with it. Not because I knew them well, but because I knew myself well. And that’s how I started consciously reverse engineering my own life experiences with the aim of understanding the trials and struggles of the people around me.

So when we’re told we see our faults in others, we need to go beyond just understanding that it implies that every finger pointed at someone else means there are several more fingers pointing at ourselves. This is more valuable and important than that. If we go beyond the rhetoric and the vilification, we’ll see that every struggle of ours is in fact a resource to alleviate the struggles of others. It’s not the sympathy that matters most, but the compassion coupled with the resolve to raise them out of the depths of despair that we once experienced that will add more value than any amount of sympathy ever could.

However, the irony of helping others out of the dark spaces in their lives is that when they emerge, they’re often inclined to avoid you because you remind them of a time when they were weak. Most people think such weakness is deplorable, they are the ones that remain weak. It is only the grateful that see their moments of weakness as being the source of their strength. They are the ones you should surround yourself with because they will offer the hand of compassion concealed in a glove of tough love when the ingrates will revel in your weakness because it makes them feel better about their own pathetic selves. On that note, don’t expect to be surrounded by too many people at all, because a cursory look around you will reveal that this world is overcome with ingrates who are obsessed with what is in it for them, rather than considering what they need to contribute instead. Incidentally this brings to mind another thought that occurred to me this week. That is, sincerity is rarely reflected at the moment of giving, but most often reflected in the behaviour that follows. And so we should be careful of seeing those that sympathise with us as being sincere, because very often they are the ones that accuse us of thinking that we’re better than them when we let go of what held us back, just because they’re still holding on to it in their own lives.

(This was a particularly challenging post to write, for reasons that I have yet to figure out!)

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