Worship me

Don’t use religion to elevate your ego.

By doing so, you use God to worship your ego, rather than subduing your ego to worship God.

The appearance of religiosity in others misleads many to assume that they possess piety.

Piety cannot be measured through outward appearance, only through experiencing a sincerity of action.

Sincerity, if shown due respect, makes an outward show of religiosity for the purpose of earning respect impossible to display.

The Arrogance of Forgiveness

My naivety has often led to prickly situations that didn’t end well. Sometimes the prickiness of the situation resulted in the loss of what I assumed to be a heartwarming friendship. But the thing about conviction is that it makes it impossible to withdraw an unpopular sentiment in order to preserve the illusion of friendship, or any relationship for that matter. I refer to it as an illusion because once its true nature is revealed, we discover that what we held dear was simply a perception that we courted, and not a substance shared by another.

Naivety in this case is the belief that if we saw value in our relationship with someone, then they surely must appreciate the same value in return. This is seldom true because it dictates that the experience and the benefit derived from that relationship is equal for both parties. The reality is closer to the fact that one party is more invested in the relationship than the other. While one is anticipating an endearing endurement, the other may be considering a quick exit. One is naively trusting while the other is naively suspicious. And that’s how relationships break down.

The trusting think nothing of testing sincerity because they do not want to be treated with such suspicion in return, and the suspicious look for evidence of sincerity because their trusting nature was once the cause of their fall from grace. Unfortunately, we are more likely to project on future relationships the lessons learnt from failures than we are to anticipate the beauty that we may have once experienced.

The frailty of human nature is such that we see fit to defend ourselves from potential harm before we are inclined to embrace potential benefit. Some assume this to be our instinct for self preservation, but I disagree. I think it’s simply the result of insecurity grounded in the belief that we are only capable of being broken so many times before it will be impossible to put us back together again. Resilience is a choice, not a limited resource, and therefore we choose to protect ourselves from a self imposed limitation rather than a real threat.

We reduce our capacity to deal with adversity when we live in fear of the future. When we eventually realise that we are gripped by fear more than we are optimistic about the future, it inevitably leads us down a path of introspection in our efforts to determine where we gave up the desire to live joyfully.

Such introspection inevitably leads to recollections of failed relationships and our expectations that were betrayed in the process. The bitterness or disappointment that ensued became the burden that we nurtured to dress our wounds as we focused on our failed expectations rather than the personal demons that led others to betray the trust that we so willingly gave them.

When we reach that point, there is no shortage of people that will advise us to forgive the betrayer, or to forgive ourselves so that we can move on. And that sounds like great advice, so we take it. Along with taking the advice, we also take the assumption of innocence and benevolence that we are gracious enough to forgive which implicitly implies that we are better than them. We are the aggrieved and they were the aggressors. While that may hold true in a court of law, it is far from true in the reality that presented itself.

The arrogance of forgiveness lies in the assumption that we are morally superior and therefore bestow our forgiveness on those that have wronged us. Were we as repentant to those that we may have wronged in the past, or were we also then focused on justifying our suspicion or anger to explain why we behaved in ways that warranted the forgiveness of others?

While the act of forgiveness itself has merit in our efforts to redress the past, we cannot afford to lose sight of the entitlement to moral superiority that it endows on those that are more inclined to justify their own behaviour in the face of someone else’s failure. Acceptance and a desire to understand is infinitely more grounding than forgiveness ever will be. Acceptance and understanding does not imply condoning the offensive or hurtful behaviour, but it allows us to see the human behind the weakness, or the pain behind the anger.

Forgiveness shifts our focus to our sense of benevolence and risks replacing the humility we experienced in betrayal with the arrogance of assuming that we are better than those that betrayed us. As the old adage goes, to err is human, to forgive, divine. When you assume the station of divinity, you automatically assume that you are above being human. If you must forgive, then be sure to recount all the times that you did not go in search of the forgiveness of those that you have wronged through the years.

Authentic Toxicity

Therapeutic expression has been elusive for some time now. Deliberately writing to finish a compilation of thoughts tends to constrain the thoughts themselves. It feels like herding cats, a sensation akin to seeking constructive engagement in a toxic environment. The benefit of a toxic environment is that it tends to provide sufficient distractions from the emptiness that it fosters. That emptiness is most prominently experienced when you exit from such a toxic space.

The toxicity provides a sense of morbid purpose at times. That morbidity, however, is only ever felt when the efforts to achieve a positive outcome from herding the cats results in the dispersal of the cats, and a box of litter in your hands. The optimist looks at the litter in the box and celebrates the fact that it is contained. The pessimist looks at the litter and feels cheated out of the purring comfort of the cats that littered only to be left with the litter and not the affectionate embrace. The realist takes the litter box, empties it out, and moves on to find another cat to fill the litter box in the hope that the next round of litter will be accompanied by an affectionate exchange as well.

Sometimes we’re so fixated on the hurt or the pain of betrayal that we hold on to that litter believing that it is an essential and defining part of the box. The box, of course, being our capacity to embrace life. Speaking in metaphors remains a cryptic skill that avoids unwanted scrutiny. Scrutiny is only good if not practiced for the sake of gossip or morbid curiosity. There are too many that show an interest in the problems of others simply because they need to feed their egos by internally (sometimes overtly) comparing the wholesomeness of their own lives to the life of the one that is feeling at odds with the world. Far too often that sense of wholesomeness is grounded in the convenience of being surrounded by others that have less. It doesn’t feel so wholesome when surrounded by others that have more.

The sincere ones focus on those that have less so that they (the sincere ones) can gain an appreciation for what they have, while the insincere focus on the same so that they can feel superior and be recognised for their superiority. Authenticity does not feature for the kind that live their lives in the spotlight, even though that spotlight is powered up by their own egos for most of their lives. The meek under-estimate what good is in their own lives, and therefore celebrate the same icons who power up their own spotlights. Icons can be created through manipulation of the truth, but authenticity will continue to escape such a manufactured reality. That lack of authenticity leaves most feeling unfulfilled, including the icon worshipers. The realisation of such a lack of fulfilment manifests itself in the lives of the worshipers as an incessant subconscious yearning to have more and do more than the fickleness of the idol.

We cannot wish away problems or adversity just as much as we cannot wish happiness into reality. Both are outcomes of our contribution towards its ends. Inactivity never yields happiness, it only ever yields complacency at best, and a festering of adversity at worst. A sincere choice made towards alleviating the adversity will provide a sense of fulfilment even if the outcome was unsuccessful. There is much joy and reward in knowing that you tried and failed, than to one day regret not having tried at all. That reward lies in the fact that despite your best efforts, the good you tried to impart was not thwarted because of a lack of effort on your part, but rather because of a lack of gratitude or awareness on the part of others. In that lies the secret to a peaceful life. The willingness to accept that despite our best efforts, success is not guaranteed, but in spite of the threat of failure, we chose to prevail.

A brain dump carries its own sense of release from the angst of existing. Existence is a consequence of being, whereas life is a consequence of choice. I have always chosen to live, rather than to survive. A deep breath was never about regaining my composure or my footing, but instead, it was to take in the sweetness of everything that defined my experience in that moment, be it good or bad. Internalising the whole of the experience builds character, while internalising only the palatable feeds the ego. The ego does not exist independent of our choices. It is our choices. Too many blame their egos on their innate nature, when their innate nature has been stifled from fear of owning their life because of the risk of ridicule, or failure.

Authenticity is in short supply. Everyone goes out searching for it in others, but very few offer it to those that seek it. Even less offer it despite them defining it as the minimum standard against which they will choose to show others due respect, or consideration. In a transactional culture, instant gratification is only a symptom of the insincerity of the masses to give before they receive. The epic proportions we have reached in this regard means that dignity is optional, and self-respect is not a consideration because self-respect has come to be defined by the trinkets of success that we have on display to the world, rather than the sense of accomplishment we have as a human being.

Being human eludes us, while doing in humans has become a global sport.

Seeping Arrogance

No one simply decides to be arrogant, even though the obnoxious nature of some may convince us that such a deliberate decision was taken at some point. Arrogance is one of those under estimated traits that contaminate our character as we progress in our efforts for success in this life. The more correct answers we have for the struggles of others, or for that matter the assistance we are able to render to those less fortunate, or even the spirituality that we manage to garner in our efforts to be detached from worldliness, all lead us a step closer to growing pompous about our achievements or the value that we believe we add to the lives of others.

Having anything to share is a step towards arrogance, especially if the motivation to share it is forgotten. I find myself grappling with what was once, in the not too distant past, easy concepts and principles to apply in my life. Being patient with those less grounded, or having a kind word to follow some tough love used to be easy. But this year has seen all that and more being taken for granted as I found myself immersed regularly into situations where my willingness to contribute was being abused, and my due rewards were being dismissed or denied. Rewards are not always material in nature. Sometimes it can be as simple as seeing our contribution appreciated, implemented, or shared further. Our egos require such fickle affirmation otherwise it becomes that much more difficult to subdue. 

At some point, it becomes easy, and understandably so, to justify why endless sacrifice is not a worthy strategy to bring about the change we wish to see around us. A touch of arrogance, or perhaps narcissism is needed to maintain a balance of sanity. That touch relates to the belief that we indeed have something of value to share. Some could argue that this is confidence and generosity of spirit, rather than arrogance, but if we consider that such a notion is based on how we perceive our self worth, then I could easily counter argue that it is a belief that we have regarding our skill or attribute being superior to that of another. Arrogance follows very closely behind such a belief. The difficulty lies in recognising what value we are capable of contributing so that we give back to the society from which we took, versus assuming that the level of success we achieved was exclusively a result of our own efforts. Dismissing both and believing that we have nothing of value to contribute is an exercise in ingratitude, and an unhealthy ego, which in this context would be the antithesis of arrogance but equally destructive. And of course is the leading cause of depression and anxiety. 

If I look at someone and wish that they were more like me because I think that I’ve achieved something noble or impressive that others will admire, then I’m simply feeding my ego by seeking opportunity to validate the value that I have placed on my own achievements. The more grateful recipients I find for my contributions, the more superior my contribution can be perceived, by others and myself.

However, the fact that arrogance is largely a perceived trait rather than a practiced one adds its own complexity to the debate. As just one example, I can’t count the number of times when I was perceived and accused of being arrogant simply because I chose to actively resist common wisdom. For me, it was an attempt at convincing others to reconsider something that I believed was flawed even though they believed that it was a widely accepted truth. I felt a need to resist the common thinking because accepting it would not only compromise my principles about not following blindly, but also my desire to improve on almost anything and everything that I encounter. Of course to them, I was simply being argumentative because they assumed that my motivation for such a challenge was driven by a need to be right, or a need to be different.

This makes me wonder if arrogance is ever truly arrogance in intent, or is it in fact a reflection of the arrogant nature of the one observing the so-called grand behavior? I’ve previously stated that arrogance is a defence mechanism. It’s a tool employed to distract attention away from a weakness or vulnerability, or to demand significance when we feel threatened. But within the context of this discussion, it’s that weakness it vulnerability on the part of the ones passing the judgement of arrogance, or on the part of the one perceived as being arrogant? I’m inclined to believe that it is the former.

Perhaps arrogance is never one sided? Perhaps it only comes into play when the observer refuses to look beyond the obvious in order to understand what is driving the apparently arrogant behaviour so that we first seek to understand before we judge, rather than assuming that we’re better without even trying? 

The Other Side Of Arrogance

This is the story of assumptions. Assumptions that we make about prickly characters and their tender counterparts. Assumptions we make about the motivation of people to act the way that they do, without realising that those assumptions are projections of how we believe we would act if faced with their circumstances, and then we judge them for it while cursing those that judge us under similar circumstances. 

Facebook is a social experiment for many, including its investors. More importantly, I experiment with it by occasionally mixing in populist sentiment with principled viewpoints that I know will make many people awkward or even infuriated. And every single time, it proves true that people only polarise towards those that make them feel good about themselves, and rarely towards those that force them to think critically. Everyone wants to have their struggle recognised, but no one wants to emerge independently from their struggles because most often, their struggles grow to define their significance. The arrogance that is reflected in this approach is not one that most would relate to because we assume by default that arrogance is only an attribute of those that live selfishly, abruptly, or obnoxiously. Most are incapable of separating arrogance from passion or conviction, much to their own detriment. 
Those that appear meek or subdued are often considered humble or downtrodden because of their apparently pitiful state, but there is an arrogance that runs deep in them as well. That arrogance is based on the belief that their state is so grave or overwhelming, that they should be celebrated for persevering, and they deserve all the compassion and assistance that their circumstance calls for. However, we’re too often so focused on the circumstance that we fail to consider their contribution towards enabling or causing their circumstance to arise. 

The arrogance sets in when we assume that we simply cannot be responsible for our woes. The unpleasant experiences of life must have been imposed on our soft and kind nature by other arrogant or selfish ones, and therefore we are the victims of their oppression long after they departed from our lives and left us with enough opportunity to choose differently. That arrogance is the belief that life owes us more, as if life is independent of our choices and our efforts to improve our state. 

The other side of arrogance emerges when we feel entitled to compassion, or we demand indulgence because we need an age old account to be settled before we let go of what’s holding us back. The other side of arrogance shows its ugly face when we define ourselves as damaged because we think someone else damaged us, while not realising that we subscribe willingly to being damaged and then abdicate responsibility for such a heinous choice. 

Arrogance is not the absence of humility. Instead, arrogance is the assumption of humility, and similarly, it is the assumption of feeling entitled to a kindness that is not yours to demand or expect. The moment you impose your expectations on others, regardless of how justified it may be, before you are willing to let go of a sour experience, you become arrogant, because what should be an act of conviction now becomes a transaction of emotional blackmail. 

Sadly, too many don’t realise this, and continue to live in self-constructed prisons while blaming the world for being cruel. 

Perfectly Distracted 

There was a time when I judged the character of others by the number of times they would use terms like existential, nihilism, fatalism, and the like. Often, the words of Einstein echoes in my head reminding me that if I can’t explain it simply enough, it’s because I don’t understand it well enough. And that’s how I viewed those pretentious ones that used large words to explain simple concepts of hope, struggle, or despair.

One of my challenges in life has been my inability to articulate my thoughts in ways that made it relatable to others. From a young age I was recognised as the kid on a different wavelength. I was the one the bullies generally ignored because my response was unpredictable, while they picked on the ones that were somewhat ordinary, because ordinary, for all its merits, is predictable.

Without any fanfare or deliberate effort, I found myself trying to polish my grasp of the English language so that my thoughts would tumble out of my mouth or keyboard with at least a vague similarity to what was going on in my head. The more coherent I sounded, the more confident I grew, and seemingly, the more I found that people were willing to interact with me. I guess people generally do avoid the unpredictable or misunderstood.

The buoyancy I felt from these simple little milestones of inclusion pushed me to hone my skills further. My innate need to simplify a complicated life contributed to this by driving me towards reducing the effort needed to achieve simple outcomes. After all, why do in ten steps what can be done in two? It would be such a waste of energy to continue the ten step way.

Equally so, I found myself growing more succinct, or as some would assume, terse in the way in which I expressed myself. To me, I was improving my skill for clear communication without being flowery or longwinded about it, but for everyone else, I was cocky and presumptuous because I apparently didn’t have the patience to work through things with them or explain myself properly. What I saw as saving them the monotony of a longwinded explanation, they saw as an arrogance on my part for assuming that they’re not worthy of such an explanation. Or worse, they assumed that I found joy in making them look stupid.

And that’s how I’ve found efforts at effective communication can become defective communication. An innocent assumption on my part which suggested that others had a similar level of understanding or appreciation of the topic at hand, meant that I didn’t see my knowledge as superior. However, that was automatically misconstrued by others as me being arrogant and aloof. Of course, every assumption we make, correct or incorrect, is a reflection of how we view ourselves relative to what is going on around us, but that was hardly an effective point to make in such a situation. Although I did make it from time to time, depending on how keen I was to annoy the audience I was with.

The point is, it’s easy to be distracted by our pursuit of perfection in any field that we’re passionate about, to the point where the purpose of the pursuit is forgotten, and all that remains is our sights on perfection. Most often, we seek to perfect in order to be more effective at achieving something, but along the way we become distracted by how our perfection is perceived and lose sight of what we set out to achieve in the first place.

When that happens, perfectionism takes centre stage and purpose or meaning becomes a secondary consideration. I think it’s possible to achieve perfection relative to purpose, although true perfection is unattainable. There is merit and virtue in pursuing perfection, but both are undermined when the purpose or value of such efforts are discarded in favour of being perceived as perfect in that regard. Our efforts, if left unchecked, will result in us allowing our proficiency of practice at what we’re pursuing to define us, rather than remembering that our proficiency was intended to enable us to define something else in a more valuable way.

Life is lost in moments of distraction, but we grow distracted in moments of pursuing a better life. Being surrounded by a social standard grounded in escapism doesn’t help either. And labeling people that use big words without appreciating why they choose to communicate the way they do reflects a superficiality and insecurity on our part, more than it does on theirs.