Selflessly selfish

We’re only as selfless as our need to serve.

But our need to serve is the greatest form of selfishness that we can offer the world.

We’ve heard it all before. There is nothing so selfless that it is not selfish.

We serve our ego when we serve others.

Or perhaps the one that connects the most is that we need validation for our goodness, and that’s why we give of ourselves.

Either way, we wouldn’t offer ourselves to others if we didn’t believe that we had something of value to share with them.

Similarly, we wouldn’t want to share something of value if there wasn’t a part of us that wanted to see them benefit from that value that we may be able to create for them.

Let our selfishness be our need to serve others. Even if our ego is stroked in the process, let it not be stroked at the expense of their dignity, and let us not be fulfilled at the expense of our humility.

And never let self doubt prevent you from sharing the unique gift of who you are with the world.

The Lonely Path

There is comfort in being in a space unoccupied by others. The plague of clich├ęs and the clutter of egos take up residence in crowded spaces. Blending into the crowd always threatened my sanity. Living up to an expectation set against a standard that I don’t subscribe to will always result in disappointment for the one that holds such expectation. Sadly, the fulfilment of our expectations defines the sense of significance for too many.

A simple but defining realisation dawned on me in recent months. There is a conflict of sentiment in encouraging others to own their life. To pursue a path that is unique to what they yearn to see realised in this world places a burden on their shoulders that most are unwilling to bear. It’s much easier to talk about the change that is needed but to recede from the battlefield when the time to act arrives is even easier. Leading the charge against complacency is never a popular role to take.

Spectators are the armchair critics of life. The back seat drivers, or the wall flowers. They observe the most, analyse the most, criticise the most, and do the least. But their time spent gathering information about everything that is wrong positions them well to be the first to point out the shortcomings of those that choose to go to battle. Through nothing more than the momentum contained in their numbers, they become the opinion makers and the advisors, much like the politicians that send everyone else’s children to fight wars that are created around boardroom tables.

The odds are stacked against the ones that set out to make things better. Gaining critical mass for positive change amongst a mass of critics is beyond daunting. It requires a healthy dose of tenacity, resilience, and a dollop of manipulation. The populist leader however chooses to have a healthy dose of manipulation and nothing more. Offer incremental change and deliver only a fraction of it, and the history books will celebrate you for generations to come. All you need to do is give people reason to believe that they were part of a movement that made them feel better about not making progress in life, and then release them to go back into the dreary cycle of their lives.

It’s easy to see why the path of leadership, authentic leadership is a lonely one, especially when you consider that leading does not require a vocal following. It doesn’t even require a conscious one. I once heard that the definition of leadership is to do more than is expected of you. This makes so many sincere contributors leaders despite them feeling like nothing more than burden-bearers.

Step up to take up the slack of the slackers and automatically you take a lead role. Fill the parenting void of absent parents and you become a role model. Assume responsibility for an outcome that everyone needs but no one wishes to own, and you become a rebel. Speak out loud what you know everyone else is thinking but would never utter from fear of inheriting responsibility, and you become the abrasive protestor. The fly in the ointment, or the pain in the butt. Good intention makes no difference. The moment you choose to improve the quality of your life or the life of those around you, prepare to be judged because in stepping up, we automatically make visible those that are sitting down.

It’s that easy to start out on the lonely path of leadership. Not pseudo-leadership that needs a title or a declaration to be established. True leadership. The one inspired by the struggle of the common man, or the aspiration of the unknown dreamer. That is the lonely path, because if everyone recognised the importance of the change that is needed, change would not be needed. Natural progression would happen without disruption. The human condition would improve as a natural consequence of commonly-held values that are actually valued. But they don’t value the values that they profess to uphold. Unless they are the designated leader, it’s not their job to care.

So it rests on the shoulders of the restless ones among us. The ones that see the value of progress and can’t rest until it is realised. The ones that see the gaps and fill it with contributions that uplift the weary souls, or the under resourced. The ones who act, in spite of the critics and the knowledge that they will likely be damned before they are appreciated, let alone celebrated. They are the ones on that lonely path. Despite this, they are also the ones that are most likely to stop and offer a hand to the one whose lethargy finally saw them fall foul of the same system that they once coveted.

Companionship is rare on this path. By implication of their nature, compensating for the selfish embrace of the other is simply a matter of course. Realising that your restlessness is likely to threaten rather than attract the ones that it is intended to uplift, living a life of restrained expression becomes second nature. The smile that never reaches the eyes, or the embrace that feels comforting but is rarely reciprocated are easily overlooked in the haste that accompanies the indulgence of the distracted.

[This is an incomplete thought process…]

Reciprocation

I’ve seen myself walking a path through a barren land. In the distance, the very farthest end of the horizon, beautiful clouds gathered, non-threatening and cool in appearance. Rolling over itself casually as if waiting patiently for my arrival. I did not rush to meet it, because my companion was lagging behind. The sun where I stood circling in the sand, was beating down mercilessly. I could walk towards the comfort that awaited me, but my companion was looking worn and disheartened. From where she stood, the horizon looked very different. It was barren, just like the area surrounding us. She was too far back to see the clouds awaiting our arrival. So she slowed even more.

I too slowed down. I could see it for the both of us, so it didn’t matter that she couldn’t. What mattered was that we got there together. So I halted, waited, and slowly made my way back to her to help her along. Shielding her eyes with my hands in the hope that it may reveal the clouds, she continued to look back. Back at the barren land with traces of smoke still pluming into the sky from where she left. She kept looking back hoping for the smoke to stop, but it didn’t. And the smell still stuck in her nose taunting her with images of the horrors she had seen before leaving that place.

So I pulled her closer, steadied her footing, and gently nudged her forward so that we could start our journey again. The horizon slowly fading, even the clouds dissipating as I dragged the weight of us both towards that horizon. What little food and drink I had, I kept for her. She needed it more than I did. I could see the end in sight, and it gave me hope. She couldn’t see it, so she needed hope. And the little sustenance that remained was hope enough for her. If nothing else, it delayed the inevitable, as she peered over her shoulder again staring longingly at the plumes of smoke still barely visible in the distance.

She ate and drank and regained her strength, as I slowly wilted beside her. But I didn’t show my wilting spirit. She needed hope, and I needed to be strong. Each step drained me more, while each step infused a newfound sense of determination in her. As she picked up her pace, I started lagging behind. The clouds on the horizon now creeping into view for her, she finally saw what kept me going all that time. Almost spent, I needed a moment to gather my strength for that final push to tear us away from those plumes of smoke forever.

As I paused to rest, she grew impatient. I looked at her with the slightest smile on my face, as if asking her if she finally sees what I was pushing for all that time. Instead of a soft word, I received a scowl. I had now become the weight that was slowing her down to get to the destination that I fought to reach for the both of us. But that didn’t matter. The plumes were now gone, or even if they weren’t, she found hope to distract her from those plumes. Nourished with the little reserves we had left, she powered on and left me there, catching my breath, taking a moment to pause, to gather my strength so that I could stand up tall enough to get a glimpse of the clouds that was enough to feed my soul and my battered limbs.

The clouds. Even though I could no longer see them, I still knew they were there. She disappeared into the distance as I kept steadily advancing a single pace at a time, until I rediscovered my rhythm. The same rhythm that kept me going for the both of us before, was now more than sufficient to keep me going by myself. I gathered pace, and scanned the horizon. Suddenly, the clouds melted in a haze of heatwaves rising lazily from the sand. As I looked around, I realised it was a mirage, and to the right, a slight distance further, around the side of the rocky cliffs that flanked our journey for so long, it appeared majestically in lush green shades, and the whitest clouds. I wanted to call out to her to turn back, but she was gone.

[This attempt at a creative abstract personifies the journey that many of us take in our efforts to uplift others. Sometimes we expend ourselves to the point where we become the burden that we hoped to help others rise above. And sometimes, if we’re fortunate, we catch ourselves before we reach that nadir of our existence. That point that is so low, that looking up is too daunting, so we keep our gaze firmly fixed on the ground before us hoping for a sign as to when it will welcome us home. Today is not that day.]

Taken for Granted

It’s not always a bad thing to be taken for granted. It really all depends on who is taking you for granted, doesn’t it? When we incline towards selflessness, being taken for granted is comforting. It means that those around us find us to be dependable for what it is that they need from us. If we’re not inclined towards selflessness, that same feeling of dependability turns into a feeling of being used. I guess that means being taken for granted is more dependent on who we are, rather than how others treat us, not so?

What I need from a given relationship is what I use as a benchmark to determine how I am appreciated. The less I need, the more likely I am to contribute without any expectation of either gratitude or reciprocation. The moment I need something, and I don’t get it in the portion sizes that I want, I hold back and withdraw. That’s when I start feeling used. Problem is, that is based on the assumption that the other person knows exactly what it is that I need from them, and they also know why it’s important for me to get it from them specifically.

Almost everything we get in life can be obtained from multiple sources. Feeling loved can be achieved through affection and acceptance of strangers, but the value of such love is significantly less than the value from significant others. Again, it points to the worth we place on others, rather than the worth they place on us. I think this is important. It is important because we usually fail to consider our investment or contribution towards the circumstances that lead to us being taken for granted.

It is very easy to feel oppressed or persecuted when our needs are not considered. However, if we constantly strive to put up a front of independence and aloofness so that we don’t seem needy or desperate, then isn’t it reasonable for others to assume that we need that much less? Think about it. The amount of neediness I express is proportional to the amount of neediness that others witness. How we judge that need is a separate matter. Our judgement thereof is based on the biases we hold on to relative to the objective truth of the matter at hand. In other words, our prejudices and hurts determine whether or not we see something as positive, negative, or neutral.

So back to the point at hand. The pervasiveness of political correctness in the world is a result of the majority needing to feel appreciated or respected for their struggles because they generally lack the courage to take accountability for their contribution towards the state in which they find themselves. Political correctness is a polite but insincere way of demonstrating appreciation while disagreeing with what is happening to begin with. We’re insincere like that. We don’t want to be taken for granted the way we take others for granted. Awkward truth.

The point is, we’re only taken for granted in a bad way when we need more than we are willing to give. If our true purpose and conviction in life is to uplift and serve humanity for the greater good, we will contribute and invest in others regardless of reciprocation or reward. We will find comfort in knowing that someone else’s life is slightly easier, or their struggles are somewhat eased because of something we did, anonymously or not. Whether or not they reciprocate should not be the defining motivation for us to act, because in living among a social structure that enjoys such selfless contribution, we automatically gain from the harmony that results.

We rarely consider what we take from society, or from the selfless contribution of others, but are quick to assume that we’re taken for granted the moment we have an expectation that is not fulfilled. Being taken for granted is a compliment. It’s tacit acknowledgement that we can be relied upon to produce something of value. Value that is so pervasive, that we grow accustomed to it being there, while only realising its worth when it is removed from our lives. Being taken for granted is only a reality when we expect something in return, but don’t get it. If we manage our expectations, we’ll find that feelings of abuse from being taken for granted will be fleeting, while our focus on contributing towards others in ways that fulfil our lives will increase.

The logic is simple. If we truly love doing something, we’ll do it regardless of who notices or acknowledges. However, if we truly love getting attention for what we do, we’ll only do it as long as someone is noticing. Perhaps this is why in a society of attention whores, there is so little fulfilment in life.

Troubled Peace

Maintaining composure, and by extension, achieving a sense of peace can often be difficult in spite of my best efforts because of the persistent gnawing of those intent on using me to express their rage at the world. Their world is often so constrained in perspective, that my small contribution to it becomes its defining experience. A failed relationship or missed expectation is all it takes to consume some to the point of total obsession. And it seems there is no shortage of destructively obsessive souls these days.

One of the most persistent struggles of my life has been rooted in the requirement to dismiss the insistence of others that I am responsible for their woes without dismissing the reality of any rights they may have over me. It’s a difficult balance of trying to remain responsible and true to my convictions, while not finding understandable reason to simply walk away in search of peace.

I can see good reason why many abandon the rights of others, not because they have no inclination to fulfil it, but simply because those that have rights are often prone to demanding it more than they are to fulfilling the opposing responsibility that accompanies such rights. One of the most important things I’ve learnt about rights is that it is always paired with a responsibility on our part. So demanding rights, for example from the state, without being a responsible citizen in return, makes the sustainability of maintaining those rights untenable. There has to be a balance.

Balance, however, is usually absent in those that demand as opposed to those that offer. In other words, the demanders are the ones that operate from a position of expectation and entitlement, while those who offer are the ones that usually expect little in return. It’s no wonder then that the hand that gives is superior to the hand that receives (all debates about sincerity of intent aside).

My troubled peace is found in moments when I’ve made peace with what has gone before, accepted the accountability of the outcome and my contribution to it, but continue to be consistently harassed by demands to compensate in cash or kind on a scale that far outweighs the impact of the outcome or my contribution. I realise that this post is probably cryptic to the point of being meaningless, so to state it plainly, those that place demands on others are often malicious enough to only be satisfied if such demands are fulfilled with visible duress on the part of the giver failing which the sweetness of revenge remains unfulfilled.

The point I’m struggling to make is simply this. The smaller our world, the greater the impact of small actions by others, while the greater our world, the less impact the actions of individuals will have on it. This is most evident in those relationships where we make someone the purpose of our existence to the point where any disappointment becomes earth shattering. Consider this within the context of a failed relationship, and then consider the motivation that one has to exact revenge. It quickly becomes plainly clear how some sell their lives in favour of avenging a defeat that was their own making to begin with while blaming the ‘world’ for their sorry state.

It truly is a sorry state, because not only is it a wasted life on the part of the one that is riddled with hatred and revenge, but more importantly it wastes away the lives of those who are making a sincere effort to grow beyond their failings because the puny minded cannot bear to see others progress beyond their own limitations.

A troubled peace is found when only one party is focused on peace while the other is focused on getting even. A troubled peace is found when we indulge others out of goodwill, while assuming the best of their intentions, only to learn that their motivation was selfishly driven to begin with. A troubled peace, in the absence of others, is found when we’re at odds with ourselves. A troubled peace is what drives a restless soul to move forward, while it anchors a complacent soul in the past constantly waiting for the world to lift them out of their misery.

Dancing in the Rain

Walking through a curio shop, I saw a frame proclaiming that life is not about avoiding the storm, but rather about learning to dance in the rain. That sounds profound, and childishly innocent. But as life wears on, we grow to realise that it’s even more important to choose carefully which storms we dance in.

It seems there’s a time for everything, and I guess in our youth, the rebellion we embrace drives us to live in protest of convention and oppression. However, when lacking in informed wisdom, oppression appears in many forms, including discipline and respect. Under such circumstances, the oppressors are those who leave us to wander without this informed wisdom while believing that our discovery of the world on our own terms yields wholesome adults. More importantly, it pacifies the ego of those adults that believe that they’re being kind and gentle because being the adult is too onerous for a fickle ego.

Consider the above in a broader context and suddenly we have some answers regarding the hoardes of wayward teens that lack in self respect and discipline while struggling to figure out why life treats them harshly. In fact, the number of adults that suffer from debilitating depression and other mental hangups are on the increase as well. (Pile on the hate, I’m used to it).

I look around me and see an ever increasing range of health support systems than ever before. The more we progress with medical sciences the less we progress with humanity. It’s no coincidence that by design, the medical sciences are also accompanied by a philosophy that focuses on the individual and not the society. We diagnose the symptoms of an individual and we prescribe treatments that are almost entirely individualistic in nature. It’s a self-serving cycle that is extremely lucrative, and therefore unlikely to be broken anytime soon. Albeit a simplistic overview, it provides us with a point of departure that leads down the path towards the erosion of individual accountability, as well as social cohesion.

The cycle goes something like this. Our health is rarely associated with what we don’t get from those around us. However, what we don’t get is proportional to what we don’t give. But when we grow up not knowing what to give, we also grow up not knowing what to get. The result is a symptomatic response to life, not dissimilar to modern medical sciences, which drives us to demand instant gratification before wholesome balance, leaving us physically spent, emotionally bankrupt, and socially isolated despite having friends lists that stretch to utopia and beyond.

And it all starts with the adult that refuses to be. The one that lives vicariously through their children. Who seeks to avenge the oppression of their childhood by swearing not to enslave another with the rigour of discipline or the burden of self respect, because in the absence of the two, we can do as we please, live without limits, and grow old ungracefully, with a healthy dose of bitterness and ingratitude not knowing why the empty spaces remained empty, and the home lacked homeliness. That’s not a rant, it’s a reality that most are loathe to acknowledge, because of the indictment it holds against us.

Some storms are more important than others. It’s usually not the ones we choose for ourselves, but the ones we choose for others that impacts our lives the most. Wholesomeness is lost when we lose sight of the whole and replace it with a focus on the self. Homes are broken, kindred spirits are abused, and worse still, spiritual grounding is discarded. No wonder we constantly seek fulfilment through retail therapy more than we do from silence.

[Yes, this is my projection of reality on the world. At least I have one to project]