Thinking, as I Sometimes Do

For reasons I don’t fully understand, and could not explain even if I did because they are terrifically complex, I am looking deeply inward as I write this.

It occurs to me that most of us probably do not give sufficient time nor energy to thinking about ourselves.  Not narcissistic self-absorption, but detached self-assessment.  Things like who we are, what motivates us, what frightens us, the places from whence fear springs, and on and on. Perhaps it’s because we are afraid of becoming too familiar with someone we might not like. Or perhaps we are embarrassed that we don’t know more about this person with whom we share every thought, every emotion, every living moment.  Or, just maybe, we are not afraid of anything.  Maybe we’re just oblivious and unquestioning and startlingly unable to comprehend the complexity of our own lives.

Whatever the reasons, I started asking myself questions.  I had answers, but all of them seemed too easy to refute; it was as if I were reading a poorly conceived script that needed more editing than it deserved. That’s when the answers began to be dragged from deeper within, and the answers began to be more honest and harder to take.

I have become more tolerant as I’ve aged, but I’ve grown less forgiving.  If that seems contradictory, it is.  But only superficially.  Down deep, it’s what defines me to a greater extent than I might like. I am more tolerant to the extent that I’m unwilling to fight as hard to counter ideas and actions I find wrong, both in the factual and the moral sense. Tolerant might be the wrong word.  Depleted might be a better description.  The outcome is the same. Today, I let things slide, things I once would have confronted with the almost-always-unfounded certainty of youth. But that tolerance for the intolerable is not accompanied by acceptance.  I don’t accept it.  I don’t appreciate it.  I don’t condone it.  And I don’t forgive it.

I’ve become unforgiving of needless stupidity.  I’ve become unforgiving of lazy acceptance of idiotic ideas just because they’re simple.  I’ve become unforgiving of attitudes that don’t acknowledge the real forces of life that cause pain or prevent growth.

A case in point: infidelity.  The consensus seems to be that it’s always wrong, never defensible, always driven by motives unthinkably base and impure.  While I don’t necessarily recommend it for weekly exploration, an honest assessment…absent the moralizing bias with which most of us must contend every day…might reveal perfectly legitimate reasons for it.  I chose infidelity as the topic of the moment because I read an interesting article by a woman who argues forcefully that the “seductress” is a more honest person than the faithful wife.  While we might not agree with other perspectives, we owe it to ourselves to entertain them, to INSIST that we not dismiss them out of ignorance or rote socialization or religious dogma.

But I’m deviating from my point. I am looking inward and finding someone who doesn’t fit my idea of who he should be.  On the one hand, this person whose body I command should be the peacemaker, the guy who leaves his politics and religion and attitudes about intellect at the door when he meets his neighbors.  Leaving those things out of the conversation makes life more comfortable for everyone.  On the other hand, I disagree…heartily…with what I consider to be the mindless regurgitation of stupidity that seems to define some of what my neighbors believe (or regurgitate) about politics, religion, etc.  I do not want to simply go along or avoid topics that could cause friction, but if I don’t, I risk massive rifts.

If I can define myself from a third person perspective, I think I’d say: “He wants to be ‘edgy,’ but not too edgy.  He wants to have philosophical conversations about life, but they should not be too philosophical.  He embodies progressive idea and liberal ideologies, but he places limits on all of them.  He is accepting of diversity, but only up to a point.  He dismisses the idea of an omnipotent god as absurd, but he refuses to claim he has any right or reason to be certain about his beliefs.

What I’m getting to is that I am looking at myself and finding a clinical definition of uncertainty in place of who I wish I were.  I don’t want to be like my neighbors.  I don’t want to go to church; I find the very idea of church more than moderately offensive.  But I don’t want to offend my neighbors by telling them what I think.  I consider myself liberal and open to new ideas, but at some point I think new ideas are simply uninformed rebellion caused by inexperience and misunderstanding, the latter of which won’t be corrected without adequate age and experience.

Finally, it dawns on me that none of this matters.  What I write, what I say, what I feel, what I believe, do not change the world today and won’t tomorrow.  I will not leave children to carry on my message.  I do not have wealth that can fund initiatives to explore my ideas.  At some point, maybe years from now or maybe just moments away, I will simply cease to be. All that will be left will be a corpse, and that won’t survive long.

Finally, though, I am here now.  My thoughts at this moment are what matters.  The memories here today, the ones that will disappear on my demise, are what’s important. The fight, the endless struggle, is to remember today that today matters.

Yes, this is an embarrassing ramble.  That’s the way my mind works sometimes. Yet another reason to wonder about myself.  I thought writing all of this might assuage the emptiness.  Not yet.  Soon, I hope.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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