Sunday, September 30, 2012

Laboring under misconceptions

Have you ever realized that what you understood a situation to be, isn't quite accurate?

 This happens to me all the time.


This past week, someone I know posted about a book called the Four Agreements:  A Practical Guide to Personal Wisdom.

Here are the agreeements:

Be impeccable with your word.
Don't take anything personally.
Don't make assumptions.
Always do your best.

I wholeheartedly agree with these tenets.  The second one is especially difficult and can be next to impossible to stick with if there are people in your life who are destructive, which is why I would add a fifth agreement which goes something like this:

Remove people from your life who consistently have a negative influence. Without remorse. Chop, chop. Snip, snip. Of course, we can't always control who our colleagues are or who we have chance encounters with at the grocery store, but these are people in the peripheries of our lives and can easily be categorized under #2.  It's the folks in the inner circle that I'm worried about.  Choose carefully, weed regularly.

Take the third rule. So often, nuances and details are hidden from the observer, making situations difficult to understand when they're happening to someone else. Further complicating things is the undeniable fact that we all approach things from our own unique angles, born of our experiences merging and melding with our individual identities. Now we're in danger of making assumptions which may seem quite logical & reasonable to us, but make no sense to the involved party. I've become much more aware of the perspective problem in the past couple of years, and I like to think it's because I've grown a teeny tiny bit as a person. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I tend to be very Robin-centric and unless I make a sustained & concerted effort, I view the world only from my own narrow, biased perspective. I'll be the first to admit, sometimes it gets a tad bit wacky over here in my little world. Truckloads of guilt mixed in with a healthy desire to help everyone with everything. That last one could also accurately be phrased as 'controlling and meddling as hell'.  Yep, that's me.  I'm pretty sure that somewhere deep down, I had always thought that those people who didn't agree with me were morons. I still think some of them are morons, but for different reasons (for those who are wondering, that was only partially a joke).

The fact is, everyone struggles.

Some struggles are easy to see. We're all too familiar with the struggles of poverty, violence, substance abuse, and mental illness.  We only have to take a stroll downtown to see examples of these particular battles.  They're being fought on a daily basis and unfortunately many of us have hands-on experience - either personally or through family and friends. I have a real heart for these types of struggles because I have seen so many people I care about just get their asses kicked. Cut off at the knees. Admittedly, some of these struggles are self-induced, like substance abuse, but that doesn't make the battle any easier to fight or watch.

Some struggles are easy to judge. Admit it...every once in a while, it makes us feel good about our own lives to get up on our soapbox and denigrate the mistakes of others in a sanctimonious voice which is just a smidge too loud.  The young mother married to a drug dealer.   Those losers taking advantage of public assistance like welfare and disability. Jerks who abuse their kids or spouses. Parents who don't pay child support. Rapists, liars, and thieves. What ARE they thinking anyway?  I'll admit, I have no idea what they're thinking. Not a clue. I think the simple explanation is that some of them are assholes. They're just flat-out wrong or lazy or not that bright.  However, I think that many of them are just misguided.  They've never learned how to make good decisions. As a person who picked up this skill rather late in life, I can say with some authority, this is not something you can really teach people.  Most of us have to figure it out for ourselves before it really sinks in.

My point here is that making assumptions about someone else life is hard work and it's tiring. And most importantly, it's unnecessary. I am most decidedly NOT my brother's keeper.I have been known to drag around a lot of anxiety, stress, and guilt brought on by these misconceptions. Let's be honest about it, some of these people like it exactly where they are. I have no way of understanding how they got there. I cannot see the struggle, pain, or anguish through their lens, therefore any attempt at helping them using my logic and world-view is not helpful. I can't fix their lives for them.

As we know, even people living what look to be well-adjusted, successful lives struggle, it just isn't always obvious to those in the stands. Famous people, rich people, CEOs.  They all struggle.

The only chance I have at retaining a modicum of control in this wildly spinning world is to regulate myself.  In the words of a particularly wise and spunky friend of mine: Take your own inventory. For this week, hell maybe this YEAR, I'm gonna focus on that.  I think it will take me at least that long to get it down, because I'm battling years of bad habits.  I'll worry about me and everyone else can take their own inventory.  There are a few notable exceptions to this rule (Don, Cody, Kailey this means you), but for the most part, the rest of the world is on its own. Imma worry about my own damn self. And when I'm done with that, I'm gonna make some art and write a novel.

By the way, I didn't actually read the Four Agreements book.  If anyone does read it, please comment and let me know if you enjoyed it.  I feel like I got enough usefulness from just the Four Agreements themselves and seriously, people - help me out here.  I don't have time to read that book, or do the myriad of other things that seem like they might be fun.  Zip-lining, scuba diving, lying on the beach are just a few examples which come immediately to mind.  What am I doing wrong?  There is never enough time.  Yes, I'm still engaged in an epic battle with Time, and let's be honest, that motherfucker is winning.  The battle continues.

I didn't get around to writing much about creativity this time.  My apologies.  A friend is visiting this afternoon for some studio time and I got a rejection last week for a story, but a suggestion that with a revised ending, it might be publishable.  So, I'm in the middle of a rewrite and just muddling along.  Be assured, creative things are happening over here, they just aren't always visible. My friends, go out there and have a beautiful, creative week and while you're at it, take a crack at the Four Agreements. That's what I'm going to do; I'll let you know how that goes.


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