Stark Reality

There is a starkness that stares you in the face as you see the distractions for what they are. Looking to the future with great expectations, I always found myself pushing the boundaries within which I operated. It was never about what is, but instead, was always about what could be, what is possible, and what I could improve. What if the world could be different, better, more enthusiastically engaging, rather than predictably boring and rigidly traditional? Thoughts like these, despite rarely fully surfacing, tickled my mind throughout my life. With each change I influenced, I convinced myself that I was making progress. I was improving, and more importantly, I was contributing positively.

Years of reflection tend to strip away the candy coated layers that colour my perceptions of reality. Pursuing a career meant seeking purpose and being able to contribute towards society. Establishing a home meant adding to the wholesomeness of this world that is in such desperate need of more of it. Encouraging others to prevail beyond their self-imposed limitations seemed like a noble pursuit as I tried to infuse my passion for progress into the lives that I touched. That’s the candy coating that maintains the pleasantries of life. Chipping away at it quickly reveals the lack lustre tone of the core that is less palatable, like a sugar coated pill with a bitter core.

I see, with great disdain, the hoards that cherish this life as if it were not fleeting. Selling our souls to distract ourselves from the bitter core that we tasted in moments of defeat, moments that robbed us of the comfort of being in control of our delusions, as the reality of someone else’s delusion prevailed in our lives instead. We live lies, blatant, obvious, and well known lies, but hold on to it because of the emotional highs that it offers. Emotional highs are easier to solicit from delusions because we make it what we wish it to be, because in the absence of such delusions, our impotence in the face of certainty smacks us down.

Reality is never known, except in death. Everything up to that point remains a distraction from its inevitability. We hate inevitability. It denies us control, which denies us power, which reminds us of our insignificance in a world that we cannot control. There is not a single king that reigned forever, regardless of the mythical statuses we endowed on some to the point of deifying them. The greater the collective weakness of the masses, the greater the delusions needed to maintain social order. Those that subscribe to the delusions as wholesome gatherings of human connections weaken themselves, until those with an inkling of recognition of those delusions become estranged from the common good while the distracted lead the masses down the garden path to oblivion. But oblivion can be a beautiful place, just like collective self-imposed suffering.

When everyone subscribes to a harmful behaviour, its perception of value makes it healthy, but only within the context of the collective delusion that we live. We compete to excel above our peers in who can most accurately and elaborately articulate the distraction to the point of giving it purpose. They are the ones that are celebrated as leaders and spiritual guides. True guidance cannot be obtained from others similarly or more elaborately distracted. Such leadership is akin to the guides that demonstrate the strategy behind a video game. It is leadership focused on how to excel at a commonly respected distraction.

This world is full of such common subscription to common distractions that have grown to define our purpose and objectives in life. Study the cycles and the systems with such intensity, that your mastery of it leads you to believe that you are in fact mastering life, when in essence, all you’ve mastered is your own ego. That is not the same as subduing your ego, but few would recognise the difference.

The painful irony is that the ones less distracted are not easily found, if ever, because they do not circulate among the distracted. They avoid the systems of delusion that attempt to cheat the inevitable outcomes by soliciting collective celebration about achievements that prevail in part beyond our moments of inevitability. Inevitability is death. Some meet it while still breathing, others don’t see its imminent arrival until it has overtaken them, while a few spend their lives preparing for it. They’re the intelligent ones. But faced with a sea of distracted delusionists, they appear as nothing more than an insignificant lot of fools who just don’t get it.

A fool, if left to judge the merits of others, will deem the entire world a charade except for those that respect their foolhardiness. This world is overrun by fools, pretending to be leaders, providing spiritual indulgences that alleviate the burden of seeing reality for what it is. The starkness of reality exists somewhere in between all this insanity, but fortunately for most, its starkness is also its rarity.

When Understanding Goes Too Far

I sometimes watch the wayward behaviour of some while observing the contempt of others that are watching it play out, and wonder who between the two are less aware of their actions or motivations to behave that way. The ones among us that are of a softer nature will look on and seek to understand why someone may be acting out, afraid that judging them for acting out may be too harsh. The world is harsh enough as it is, and only getting harsher each day, so I guess there is merit in such an approach.

At times, when we’ve had enough to deal with in our own lives, we look on with intolerance, demanding that the wayward behaviour be checked, because if no one is willing to accept such behaviour from us, why should we accept it from others? Right? But demanding change without offering a solution helps no one. It only exacerbates the already toxic state of the relationship or the environment around us. It provokes the wayward ones to escalate their protest against whatever it is that they refuse to accept, and it frustrates those that seek to understand.

Moderation in all things is always called for. Demand without understanding, and you lose credibility when the solution becomes obvious later on. Understand without demanding, and you lose credibility when the demands foster the change that was needed to break the cycle. Do either without the other, and you resign yourself to an end of insignificance. Unfortunately, doing both requires purposeful conviction. Not blind conviction. Not the kind of conviction that is driven by a self-belief of what we stand for but for which we are rarely capable of defending when challenged. That belief that we insist on being respected despite not knowing why, but only knowing that through receiving such respect for our beliefs, we feel significant and less threatened.

Purposeful conviction. You’d think it was easy given that it’s a simple matter of cause and effect, but of a different kind. You recognise the cause that you wish to champion, and you put your efforts into effecting the change needed to support that cause. Problem is, most don’t recognise the cause, they only recognise the affiliation. The need to be associated with something meaningful or relevant, rather than establishing meaning and relevance through their own actions and contributions.

It’s all well and good to understand. But the failing of many is that we stop at understanding. We spend much time and energy in achieving that state, but then avoid taking steps to remedy the causes that we now understand leads to that unacceptable behaviour. Being perceived as understanding in nature makes us popular with those that don’t want to change, those that prefer acting out, being rebellious, and refusing to accept accountability for their state because they find it much more convenient and less taxing to blame others, or circumstances.

The ones that act out, and are left to act out, become masters at presenting their tantrums as legitimate gripes or demands. They often end up being the bullies, the type A personalities, and the abusers. They become the oppressors that they grew up whining about. And those that sought only to understand but chose not to curtail such behaviour, or offer healthier forms of expression, they feed that cycle. They enable such outcomes, and they become the liberals. The ones that stand for nothing, understand everything, and fall for every whimper regardless of how incredulous the whimper is.

Understanding is only ever the first step, and never the last. There is no point in seeking to understand if you intend to do nothing more than reflect on that knowledge that you have gained. Understanding must inform our decisions to act. Not acting is a decision in itself, but it’s usually the easy way out. It’s often under the pretense that we don’t want to get involved because we have enough problems of our own, or it’s none of our business. And that’s how the cycles of violence, intolerance, and abuse in society spiral out of control. It’s because those that understand do nothing, while those that do not understand act without guidance.

Prompting someone towards having the courage to take control of their lives, regardless of what came before, is more selfless than it is selfish. Too often we’re distracted by the assumption that by demanding more, we’re behaving selfishly because we don’t understand how difficult it is for that person to be who they are if only we knew what they’ve been through. That is a horrid distortion of the truth. The truth is closer to the fact that leaving them to succumb to their past is in fact selfish, because prompting them to rise above it is often met with resistance and contempt, both of which erode your sense of significance or likeability in that relationship. So when you withhold advice or decide not to take action because you don’t want to be ‘the bad one’, you’re behaving selfishly. Standing up and being counted in a time when guidance and good advice is needed, not necessarily wanted, takes more courage and is much more selfless than shutting up and minding your own business.

We have far too many that shut up and mind their own business, except when they enjoy the anonymity of social media and similar platforms, because once again, there is limited (if any) risk of them becoming unpopular in the relationships that they covet. I suspect that the point of this post has been made somewhere between all the venting, but at the risk of being redundant. It’s simply this. Seeking to understand is a noble first step. But it’s only a first step. Don’t stop there. Take the knowledge that you gained through that process and apply it with conviction in a meaningful way. Don’t be a passive observer of life, or the lives of others. Have the courage to change it for the better.

Contaminated (Part II)

We live in times where the inclination to remedy a fall far outweighs any rationale to prevent the fall from happening. We’ll willingly encourage others towards intoxicants or unhealthy distractions, and then form support groups to help them out of that addictive state, while refusing to condemn the bad advice we gave in the first place. Accountability is only celebrated if it doesn’t disrupt the oblivion of the masses. Those that threaten such disruption are spurned for being callous, cruel, or arrogant, often accused of thinking that they’re better than everyone else. In short, we condone that which reflects our own weaknesses not because we believe in its wholesomeness, but because we feel more human in recognising the shared weakness in others. More than this, it makes us feel less inferior when we believe that we share shortcomings with others, rather than falling short of expectation by our solitary selves alone.

It’s not about being better than everyone else any more. These days, it’s simply about not being worse. There was a time in human history that I imagine the focus to have been on competing to excel in human endeavours. People would have exerted themselves to achieve noble goals that served as inspiration to others to want to rise up and pursue even greater heights. It’s quite different today. Today, it seems as if we compete to see who is able to dominate through any means possible, where the level of domination is celebrated, without any concern for the means or methods that achieved such domination, except where those means and methods threaten our ability to actively compete.

I’ve been fascinated by the term ‘fully formed adults’ ever since I first read it a few years ago, but my fascination quickly turns to disgust as I look around and struggle to find specimens that exhibit such qualities. Semi formed adults raise calloused and contaminated children. Children that grow up under semi formed adults face trials and hardships that are entirely avoidable, and fully surmountable, but they often shy away from the challenge of rising above because when they raise their gaze looking for a role model to guide them, they see nothing but more contamination of a society that is full of semi formed adults. It’s therefore little wonder why they themselves succumb to the same cycle.

Regardless of how harsh our childhood may have been, we all reach a point of independence in life where we are able to feed or break the cycles that raised us. Critical thought is spurned as rebellion and disrespect because semi formed adults lack the skills and self-worth to effectively navigate their way through critical thought processes. The stigma associated with failure is so harsh that even in the face of absolute failure we’ll find a euphemism to describe our sorry state. Anything is better than admitting failure. It’s this same insincere and tainted social setting that continues to lay down a path of strife and distraction for children looking for meaning and purpose in life.

In the absence of a critical mass of fully formed adults, those that try to break the cycles are placed with a burden that is tenfold relative to the effort that would be needed to raise a balanced and confident child. It’s a constant struggle of trying to convince or influence the child towards a wholesome standard while they are bombarded with the unhealthy standard of the semi formed adults that they’re surrounded with. Isolation from such a malformed society is not an option. When we disengage, we lose the right to judge, criticise, or cry foul.

We need to stop raising children. We need to start raising adults. This mindset that has contaminated the world in recent centuries that childhood must be enjoyed with abandon so that we can start being adults when we reach a certain age needs to be abandoned. This distinction between childhood and adult life is misguided. It’s not about age, it’s about awareness and accountability. We should expect greater accountability as we progress through the stages of self-awareness and awareness of our surroundings. The same way we expect a child to stop wetting the bed once they have been taught the value of hygiene and the skill of using the toilet, we should continue to hold them to such levels of accountability in action and behaviour as they continue to acquire new skills.

But adults that had a contaminated childhood often project those regrets on the children under their care. Instead of raising the standard against which they raise their children, they embellish the esteem of the child with gestures that convince them, the adults, that they’re doing a better job than the raising that created the flaws that they despise about themselves.

The common undertone and theme in society these days is one of demand, but little supply. We’re all demanding to be recognised for the struggles of our lives, and to be judged based on the gravity of those struggles, while remaining entirely oblivious to the fact that we are merely spawning another generation of victims that will take our efforts and raise it further. Their demands will be ever more destructive and selfish, and the erosion of society that we universally lament will continue on its downward spiral until a group of inspired young souls will look upon the generations that came before them with a sense of contempt and disbelief. The inheritance of wholesomeness that should have been passed down will be absent, and in such total absence they may finally resolve to correct the path that they’re on, rather than continuing the toxic cycle in search of affirmations and validations for experiences that hold no sway over the next generation.

Adults that still place their insecurities and weaknesses before the well being of those that look up to them deserve a special kind of scorn. We all have the ability and the capacity to actively reflect on how we are perceived by others so that we can take steps to embellish our images in ways that would earn us praise. This is regardless of upbringing or value system. It is entirely based on who we wish to view us admiringly, and how we wish to feel about their gaze on us. We therefore cannot argue that such reflection in the betterment of our characters and moral assets is impossible simply because we were raised by a calloused or contaminated society. The resolve and courage exists for us to change the way we live our lives. The motivation however, is lacking, because it is significantly easier to fulfil an expectation of a consumerist society than it is to raise the expectations of the next generation.

[end rant]

Contaminated

A blistery childhood or a beautiful one. Both leave lasting impressions on us but not always in ways that we realise. A blistering childhood has been the cause of many to grow into beautiful people because they chose to create a world for themselves that did not echo the sadness from which they emerged. Equally so, a beautiful childhood has prompted many to assume a level of entitlement and aloofness that soured their souls and sent people gasping for air when exposed to the stench of their arrogance.

The circumstances of our childhood was probably never a matter of our choosing. Sometimes we may have even made choices that defined it when we were allowed such definition as children in the presence of barely formed adults, but there is a justifiable absolution for children that make such bad decisions in the presence of adults who should have known better. Such kindness is not so easy to dish out for adults who continue to choose badly due to a contaminated childhood.

The motivation behind the actions of parents are rarely known even by the parents themselves. This makes it that much more difficult for the child, the real child, to find a path out of that cycle as they try to understand why they hold such a deep sense of self-loathing, or a vacant stare of expectation, or worse, a longing for completeness.

The pain that sometimes shapes our lives in our early years often end up leaving us ambivalent in our later years. At times it feeds the resilience of our souls in our struggle against a cruel world, while at other times it hampers our expression in ways that make us contribute towards the cruelty we wish to escape. Recognising those traits that detract from our wholesomeness is only half the battle. The rest of that battle is fought for the rest of our lives as we consistently try to unlearn a form of unhealthy expression that we were raised to believe is entirely normal.

I see children that were raised in homes where explicit adult behaviour was flaunted as fashionable, personal hygiene as optional, and vulgarity of expression as humorous; and they struggle to operate in a setting where such behaviour is not tolerated. They struggle to rectify their ways, or reconcile their upbringing with what is demanded of them by society. The harshness of the demand undermines the burden of reality that they carry with them. But even that is a burden that they only reasonably comprehend much later in life.

Until they reach that stage of relative awareness, relative because it’s near impossible to be fully aware of the difference between your normal and society’s normal, they will struggle in relationships that often define them as uncooperative, unwilling, or simply unacceptable relative to what would otherwise be a normal expectation from a normal adult. But such a demand from them is not entirely unreasonable.

Tough love has never been so tough to implement. Parents that find themselves raising children from contaminated environments will likely spend a lifetime accepting that they are perceived to be disciplinarian monsters, while the fruits of their labour will be enjoyed by the normality experienced by their charges later in life. The point that needs to be made is a difficult one to articulate, partly because it holds such prominence for me, and partly because its definition escapes me.

The balance that is needed between discipline and compassion is that much more difficult to strike when the one who is charged with raising the contaminated child is themselves contaminated. Their effort becomes that much more valiant and admirable, but their state, if observed casually by the normal of society, leaves much to be desired.

[The point was barely reached, let alone sufficiently articulated in this post. Much reflection is still needed on this issue.]

Inherited Complacency

As parents, we always want what is best for our children, don’t we? The well-meaning and responsible ones, that is. The trials of our lives teach us lessons that we often wouldn’t wish on our enemies, and so we do our best to guide our children in a way that protects them from having to learn the same lessons themselves. Given how scarce mindfulness is, it is almost inevitable that such an endeavour will prompt a level of over-protection that ends up sheltering more than it protects them from those unpleasant experiences that caused us to snarl at the world.

We always start out with good intent, but because we spend so much time avoiding the perceived cruelty of our childhood or even our young adult lives…hold on…it doesn’t stop there, does it? I mean, the vast majority among us continue protecting ourselves from an ill conceived reality up to our last breaths. We immerse ourselves into a reality largely concocted from a cocktail of our own ill-informed perceptions, and then vow never to test that perception of reality from fear of having gotten it wrong twice over. So it is probably more accurate to say that we shield our children from the fears and trauma that we spend our lives avoiding.

In so doing, we make assumptions about our children. We assume their level of resilience, their natural inclinations towards how they perceive the world, and so much more including what their passions are. At no point do we stop to consider that perhaps our tainted view of life has robbed us of an innocence that they still have, and rather than guiding them in the best application of that innocence, we force them to subdue it. You know, those moments when we believe that their sincerity is in fact naivety, so we preempt a negative outcome and send them off with a defensive disposition rather than advising them on how to effectively deal with betrayal of trust, or disappointment should it occur. The list of over-compensation on our part is endless.

And in this way, we raise fearful kids that appear healthy relative to our norms, but struggle to find their niche in this world, except through their unique permutation of the escapism with which we raised them. Apart from the inherent sadness of such an outcome, there is something that really gnaws at my peace when I consider the damage it does. It is the realisation that there are millions of oblivious innocents who don’t even know what they’re passionate about in life. They grew up so focused on the passions of their parents, that they readily adopted it as their own. They followed such adoption with a deliberate passion aimed at mastering what they do while rarely realising that such effort was focused on impressing their accomplishments to their parents, and not to passionately raise the bar in the discipline or skill for which they expended the best years of their lives.

Such a pursuit leaves us unfulfilled in such deep recesses of our souls, that we spend the latter years of our lives seeking it out, while never really knowing what it is that we seek. Moments of brutally honest reflection will prompt us to consider the reality that we are not the same as the people that shaped our views of the world. Yet the moment we protect our children from a threat that existed once a long time ago in our lives, we impose on them the bitterness of our perceptions of reality, while forgetting that such imposition makes us no better than those that raised us with bitter recollections as well.

And so the cycle feeds itself until at some point we stop and choose to question before we act. Apply our minds before we decide. Live with conscious action and not subconscious reaction. When that happens, we begin to afford ourselves a view of the world that is less tainted than the one we inherited. We see opportunities where threats once prevailed, and we see growth where subjugation appeared to be the only safe option.

The harsh reality is this. If we fail to live curiously, our children will either be exactly like us, or would not want to be anything like us. Parents often have a bad habit of expecting their children to live the lives that they (their parents) failed to live under the guise that such a failure was a result of the parent’s sacrifices to give their children a better life. It discards all the beauty and appreciation that results from the lessons learnt and instead focuses on the emotional distress that lingered when they saw themselves as victims rather than students of the world.

That’s one very powerful way of projecting your impotence and insecurity on subjects over whom you wield a great deal of emotional guilt. But of course, parents are benevolent by nature, and therefore are only capable of wanting the best for their children, so it can’t be possible that they would do such a dastardly deed like live vicariously through their offspring. Right? For some strange reason we tend to live as if our personal exploits are our personal exploits, and that parenting is something that is a formal endeavour in parallel with such exploits.

Stated more simply, we reserve a space in our lives for our exclusive indulgence, which is often the space where we express our passion most purely, without allowing our children to be a part of that expression or growth. We deny them the opportunity to witness our growth and in so doing, we shelter them from anything more than a life of compliance and complacency.

I think the emphasis we place on responsibility in the upbringing of our children is often exaggerated. Responsibility is definitely important, but so is exploration, personal expression, and living romantically. Not the sloppy mushy fairy tale romance that everyone gurgles at, but the romance that sees the world with less judgement and more understanding, Less fear and more embrace. Less safe and more conviction.

There will always be an easier path for them to take. But that’s not the path of excellence. We can’t lament the stagnation or decline of humanity if we constantly focus on doing what is safe. When being safe becomes the yardstick of success, and we know that not everyone achieves success, it means that anyone that falls short of that yardstick drags us down. It means that we set our targets low, and then celebrate any incremental achievement towards that low target, while never realising that we were capable of so much more.

If we hope for greatness for our children, we must be willing to accept that they will be able to achieve more in their lives than we did in ours, without seeing such achievement as an indictment against ourselves. It stands to reason that the student will always have the potential to exceed the accomplishments of their teacher. Providing a child with insight and developing their life skills rather than indoctrinating them with habits and rituals allows them to take what you’ve built and improve on it. It allows them to contribute positively towards this world instead of consuming only. It allows them to take us forward instead of maintain the status quo.

But most important in all of this, as I’ve said before, don’t set them aside in your avenues of expression and passion. Demonstrate your conviction in a way that they can enjoy and observe so that it builds a yearning in them to live with conviction, rather than to be complacent. Any complacency you see in them is a reflection of what they witnessed in you, while the conviction that they demonstrate in their lives is a reflection of the passion that you lived with while they traveled your journey with you.

I think that’s important. I think it’s important to understand that our children are not there to only live a subset of our lives with us and then move on to create their own version of the same. I think they are supposed to colour every experience of ours as they grow while witnessing our growth. In so doing, they learn through first hand experience that it’s perfectly fine not to have all the answers, to fail, and to stumble along the way. They’ll learn what it’s like to share their lives with those around them, rather than to live their lives expecting from those around them.

Let them inherit more than just the ability to cope with life or a cruel world. Instead, give them an inheritance of courage and skill to leave this world in a better state than it was before they arrived so that their presence was felt and appreciated, rather than existing and departing almost entirely unnoticed.

Self-Imposed

I set a deadline for myself. That deadline expires at the end of this month. It was to have a book completed by this time, but it did not anticipate much disruption that has taken place in between. Some of it beautiful, some of it not. Nonetheless, I set the deadline, and I’m missing the deadline. For many, that would be a futile exercise. For me, it was a self-imposed nudge in the right direction.

While my book is not written, and may never be at this rate, it did give me a lot to focus on. It forced me to consider issues and aspects that I otherwise didn’t see a need to contemplate. It was a big, hairy and audacious goal to begin with (to quote someone that will remain anonymous for purposes of this post), but I set it anyway. Not because I had no intention of achieving it, or at least trying, but because I have the conviction to achieve it some day. The fact that that day has not arrived as planned is not what is important. What is important is that I live with a conviction to achieve more than I think I can. More than most expect me to. And most importantly, more than can be reasonably expected of me.

This, I find, is much healthier and rewarding than self-imposed misery, self-imposed limitations, and self-imposed failures. Corny clichés flit through my mind right now about setting targets and goals, but I’ll spare you the pain of reading that.

What I do believe is important to share is the fact that not achieving your goals for good reason is not something to be ashamed of. Those that might use it as a reason to mock or ridicule you do you a favour by exposing their fickleness and insincerity, which is in fact a blessing because you know exactly who should be kept close, and who should be discarded.

Most people don’t believe in themselves. They also react aggressively towards those that provoke their fears and expose their self-imposed limitations. So if you’re waiting for someone else to believe in you before you take that big step, or set out on that long journey that only you can take, you’re wasting your life away for people that are inconsequential in their own lives, let alone yours.

Anything self-imposed should be a source of grounding, a source of inspiration, or at the least, a source of reflection. It should never be an end state. It should always be a prompt to begin anew.

Imagine if we all imposed excellence or at least a sincere yearning for excellence on ourselves? The world would be a very different place, governments would not have so much power to abuse the rights of those they are supposed to serve, and corporates would not yield the control they have over the lives of so many. If we desire excellence for ourselves, we’ll tolerate nothing less from others. The moment we do, we sow the seeds of insincerity because then it’s not excellence that we desire, but instead, it is a sense of superiority that we seek.

Our convictions are reflected in what we impose on ourselves, and what we demand from others. Insecurity in who we are defines how we express this conviction. Those that are distracted and unaware of their own convictions will easily misinterpret our insecurities as expressions of our unique characters. Meanwhile, those of us that have little reason to believe that we’re capable of more than the assumptions that others hold of us will readily succumb to the definition that society imposes on us.

[There’s a point in there somewhere, but I don’t feel like seeking it out right now.]