Because we’re all complicit in the hiding, shaming, judging, moulding, rejecting, avoiding, denying, criticising dynamics of the world we live in, it will never be completely adequate for one other human being to compensate for our need for kindness and connection. It’s only possible to start making changes if we’re learning ourselves to focus less on blaming the external world (although objectively observing the impacts of the external world is necessary), and more on what our role in this cycle is and seeking to do the scary work of self-reflecting what we need to learn to do ourselves.
It is scary initially, destabilising even, if your revelations completely contradict your long-held self-beliefs. Who the hell wants to discover that they would classify some of their own habits under their own reductive, negative labels of, for example, ‘unkind’, ‘uncaring’, ‘un-empathetic’, ‘judgemental’, ‘non-accepting’, ‘critical’, ‘self-absorbed’ or ‘self-inflicted harm’ if they’ve always prided themselves on being ‘completely’ kind, caring, empathetic, non-judgemental, accepting, non-critical, non-self-absorbed and always the recipients of harm from others or the world? Pretty bloody confronting revelations do you agree? And understandably come with resistance to evidence and contemplation.
Public Service Announcement Edition 2: If you can step out of the intellectual, moralising ideals of what you and other people ‘should be’, and step into observing how you and other people actually are, ‘completely’ caring, kind, empathetic, non-judgemental, accepting, non-critical, non-self-absorbed don’t seem to be consistent emotional, mental or behavioural habits that exist- ever. And increasing self-awareness uncovers how much choice we have to respond to others and situations to minimise harm to ourselves and them. In ourselves and others who fit our labels, or who we dump in the confining baskets of ‘good person’ vs ‘bad person’, there just seem to be a continuum of more or less competence and flexibility to learn and adjust in every moment and over time. And this is just the way things are- it’s neither good or bad, it just is.
Self-revelations can be bloody challenging. They can take us from the illusory ‘firm’, theoretical ground of the cliff top of ‘how people should be’, to the insecure, contradictory precipice of evidence of ‘how I might actually be’. Are parts of me everything I’ve always disliked about others? And what goes in its place? But they become wondrous and liberating once you can see and credit the spectrum within yourself from the good to the bad. Then further begin paying attention to the mutually beneficial changes- that things start to work better between people.
That’s because the evidence fits better with what’s actually happening within us and around us. Paradoxically, by better understanding our emotional, mental and behavioural processes we actually begin to become more rational and logical. The evidence actually makes more sense than the seemingly ‘rational’ and intellectual, theoretical expectations we’re imposing on ourselves and others. The expectations that are consistently illogical because they’re contradicting the evidence of how we are without our conscious awareness. The conflicts, frustrations, dissatisfactions and barriers start making more sense and life and other people begin to become less confusing and less frustrating.
I’m very familiar with this myself, perhaps the rude shocks are less impactful and shorter lived because I’ve been undergoing this constant cycle of self-assessment and re-evaluation most of my life. And, having paid attention to the evidence of change and growth over time, I no longer see an end-point, have a goal of complete mastery, or have an ideal of myself to never get things wrong.
There probably isn’t a day that goes by in which my self-inquisition doesn’t evoke affirmatives to questions like, ‘Am I feeling/being unkind?’, ‘Am I feeling, being judgemental?’, ‘Am I feeling/being self-absorbed?’, ‘Am I feeling/being scared?’, ‘Am I feeling/being defensive?’, ‘Am I feeling/being avoidant’, and maybe these revelations are easier for me, because this process has both shown me that these feelings and behaviours are human and can’t be completely eradicated (acceptance of what is), but they’re consistently followed by other questions, ‘What does this mean? How is this working for me? Can I do something differently?’.
The frequent instances of not knowing how to make changes are possibly easier for me to accept as well. This might be because what follows from all of this is paying attention to my incremental progress and successes over time. The perceptions of which have given me the evidence that allowing for processes to take place within me is more effective than expecting instantaneous change and has continually reinforced a sense of confidence that I have the ability to learn and grow from my challenges.
Easier, not easy. Easy is rarely a goal of mine. Life’s given me some evidence that desiring easy just comes with disappointment and sharp slaps in the face from reality, and the actions of easy often make things harder in the long term.
This is my experience, my perception, my interpretation. However, not only have I seen these developments in micro- and macro- form in others (that’s a story for another time), but if you can switch focus and look for the evidence of self-motivated, introspective change in the people and stories all around you, it will challenge any certainty that people inevitably need to be locked-in and unchanging for life.
But change is up to us internally- not something anyone external can compel if we’re not wanting to learn.