Maybe my core query is whether examining the natural complexities within ourselves, rather than avoiding them, might have the paradoxical effect of making things function more simply?
At least, in my own self-referential worldview this is how I perceive the outcome of my own continuous development. Much of our emotional, mental and psychological complexities are an experiential form of knowledge for which a ‘manual of life’ can’t be written, so the primary reference I have for attempting to approximate an understanding of others is the ability to access approximations of similarity in myself. This is difficult, it’s an ongoing process, there are few epiphanies. Increasing my ability to do this is wholly dependent upon my own conscious effort to take my mind to the meet the emotions my autopilot might be striving to avoid. An avoidance I’ve increasingly realised over the years promotes the precise outcomes it strives to protect me from. I know this, because continually working to learn from my emotional world keeps bringing me more of the ease I’ve always desired than avoidance ever has…
I’m more comfortable presenting myself as I am rather than hiding my flaws and difficulties or presenting a formulated image of myself because I understand and accept more of these things in myself and I’ve learnt that the more I do this, the more I actually like myself. I’m also less perturbed by signs of misunderstanding or non-acceptance in others because I’ve experienced the long route to understanding myself, so how could I expect others to already be at the destination of ‘Understanding Sunday’? I’m also less critical of others if they seem to be fashioning an image because I can relate it to my own protective inclinations to inhibit and mould.
I’m more excited to discover my hypocrisies and contradictions when they arise because I’ve learnt that confronting these helps me to be more consistently the person I’d like to be, rather than an illusion of that person. I’m also less keen to pounce on the hypocrisies of others because I know how they arise in myself and the process it takes to get comfortable with them.
I’m more comfortable with moments of feeling or being stupid, because I’ve learnt that embracing my ignorance so I can submit to learning actually makes me smarter. I’m also more sensitive to these feelings in others and less inclined to bluntly confront others with their stupidity because I know how my own ignorance and stupidity works and I feel secure that my intelligence isn’t contingent upon the inferiority of others.
I’m more likely to stop and pay attention to my feelings of insecurity, envy, jealousy or inferiority to examine what I might be needing in my life because I know working towards what I’m needing diminishes these feelings in the longer term. My knowledge of how natural and sensitive these feelings are make me more perceptive to the signs of this in others and more likely to respond to balance both our needs if they seem to react to these feelings in a way that might hurt others.
I’m better at accepting my feelings of sadness, anxiety or depression* as meaning I need to pay attention and make changes because I’ve learnt that using them as a stimulus to act makes them easier to cope with, less persistent and more functional. I’m also so much more perceptive to the signs of these experiences in others and more accepting of the range of functional impacts these feelings can have because I’m more accepting of these struggles within myself.
I’m more understanding with myself when I don’t meet my own standards of behaviour because I’ve learnt that deliberately using those moments to reflect and make changes in the future helps me to work towards living up to my standards more consistently. I’m much more perceptive to the distinction between a person who righteously does wrong and a person who would like to behave to a particular standard but can’t quite in the moment or doesn’t know how yet, because I know how difficult, complex and imperfect reaching these ideals are for myself.
I’m increasingly more adept at reversing my resentment, judgement and criticisms from an interpretation that others are objectively flawed to utilising them as some of the most useful tools I possess for helping to learn about my own values, needs, what’s important to me and what might be having a negative impact. I’ve realised it’s these aspects of myself that are the core stimulus for those thoughts and feelings. This helps me refrain from imposing my opinions on others as demands they ‘should’ conform to my beliefs because my values and needs etc are properties of myself only and they understandably have their own which may not match mine.
I’m more willing to seek to know about and consider the harm I may cause to others because I’ve learnt over time that gaining this insight helps me to act more consistently with kindness, and really, truly strengthens my relationships. I’m also more patient with the defensiveness of others when they’re confronted with their own actions because I recognise how confronting it feels to realise we’ve hurt another.
I’m much better at validating and communicating my needs in terms of ‘my own needs’ rather than as ‘failings of others’ and at recognising where, how and with whom I’m most likely to meet my needs because I’m more comfortable being an emotional creature whose emotions naturally engender needs. I’m also simultaneously less condemning of other people, but more boundaried when I recognise they may not have the capacity to meet my needs because I know how bloody sophisticated this stuff is.
I feel less duty to consistently compensate when others have less skill at navigating their own and others’ needs because I recognise that too-frequent compensation means sacrificing my own needs, and I become less able to consider others’ needs when my own are consistently unmet. I also feel less defensive or rejected when I’m made aware that others may be compensating for me because I can accept that I have weaknesses and their own needs and boundaries are equally important.
Perhaps this long-winded contemplation could have been distilled into a pretty, inspirational montage: ‘Be kind!’, ‘Know yourself to know others!’, ‘Have empathy!’, ‘Your feelings matter!’, ‘Society sucks!’, ‘Accept yourself!’, ‘Live consciously!’…. I’m just not convinced these imperatives are very conducive to what they instruct without examination and self-reflection. I’ve noticed, (decreasingly as my thinking habits change) the propensity in myself to focus solely on how OTHER PEOPLE should change when I engage with material or in conversations about human change. I only have one train of thought at a time, so when it’s frequently chugging along the well-worn track exploring the terrain of ‘what’s wrong with other people’, naturally, it’s spending less time on the tracks that could take me to ‘what can I learn about myself from this?’, ‘How could this apply to me too?’. More explicitly, if anyone’s reading and vaguely interested, if you notice your mind’s going down the ‘other people track’, if you feel like it, you could use that as a cue to change course and push it along the extensive, meandering, sometimes scary but eventually really fun track of ‘what can I learn about myself?’. As the wise and behaviourally-consistent philosopher, Michael Jackson, once said “Take a look at the [hu-]man in the mirror. Shamone!” (or something like that).
*Currently not obeying these helpful feelings that are telling me to complete some practical tasks for the benefit of my self-esteem and future prospects. Instead I’m obeying my hedonistic, escapist impulse to compose a self-indulgent Facebook musing.