We are all going to die with flaws and faults. Chances are they will be the same ones we started out with or developed early in life.
This occurred to me this morning as I was thinking about the idea of “working on” your problems. You can work and work and work but you still will die with them, or at least some of them.
Nobody gets to the end line perfect. A fully formed, totally evolved, fabulous human being.
And yet. And yet. There is a kind of Western mythology, or at least American one that suggests or insists perfection is attainable. One must “face their fears” and “conquer their demons” and “challenge themselves” ad nauseam. But why? Will there be a big prize? Oh I guess you might say that there would be indirect prizes of a kind. A better life perhaps, or a more successful career and better relationships. Maybe. Or perhaps pride in having mastered a personal weakness; it does feel good to overcome one.
Maybe what’s bothering me is this. It is other people who invariably set the standards the rest of us are supposed to achieve so far as how we need to be. A lot of the ideas in my head, particularly on this subject, are not my own. I would have never come up with the idea that you must face all your fears and defeat them head on. Oh hell no! My philosophy almost certainly would have had something to do with getting as far away from your fears as possible. You could send them a postcard occasionally but cozying up to them on purpose? No, I would have not have thought of this. And yet this notion about facing your fears is in my head. Stuck.
Here in mid-life I have a pretty good handle on who I am. What my strengths are, what my weaknesses are. I’d be a liar if I told you I wasn’t an advocate of self-improvement because I’ve worked hard to improve a number of things in myself. But they were and are things I want to improve, things I find valuable and that stemmed from A LOT of thought and reflection. My point is that so many messages I get from outside of me about how to live and how to be don’t jive with my own thinking. You (i.e, the culture) may want me to improve in ways that have little value to me.
American thinking is so damned gung-ho. If you just work at it, by gum, you can outfox all your problems, flaws, and weaknesses and achieve a kind of personal nirvana and ride the Success Train through the rest of your days. What kind of nonsense is this? Who really does this? I don’t know anybody who is flaw-less. And complicating matters is that the person you think is a fabulous human being could be somebody I think is a shmuck. And vice versa. In fact, I’ve noticed that any number of people deemed popular/successful – whether in the micro world of my personal life or in the macro world of the larger culture and populace – are not people who especially impress me.
Okay, here’s another thought, my own. That the way to develop yourself as a human being is to find the right balance between being selfish and giving. This matters because too many of the ways a person is supposed to become more evolved, it seems to me, are by doing things they don’t want to do, things that are hard for them (re: conquer your demons, face your fears, etc). If they were being selfish, they wouldn’t do them, and maybe selfishness, a degree of it, has its place. Selfishness can be a kind of self-preservation. The word has a bad rap but it’s typically meant to embody the people who are excessively so, negatively so. On the other hand people who give too much or needlessly self-flagellate can stand to be a little more selfish.
And if I may – it often seems that the people most genuinely interested in improving themselves and working on their flaws are the ones least in need of it. In my life I’ve known plenty of jackasses, losers, fools, and lousy human beings who had absolutely NO interest in improving themselves and “working on” their faults. Oh, it’s true, that by and large, they were a pretty wretched bunch who will never know true happiness or peace but I don’t think they could see that whatsoever (in their books they are miserable because of OTHER people so there will never be any getting through to them so far as “working on tbemselves” anyway). [The semi-exception: The person who pretends to “work” on himself and learns to parrot phrases, such as the wife abuser who can now say things like “I need to take responsibility for my feelings” and “nothing justifies what I did to her” while secretly still believing in his heart she had it coming and if she just didn’t provoke him so much on purpose he wouldn’t beat her.]
It’s like the wrong people care about improving themselves. Or if that’s going too far, there’s a cohort that worries too much or at least out or proportion to their “sins”. So maybe that’s my point. Or one of them.
Working on problems, flaws and weaknesses is a good thing. But – assuming we’re not harming anyone or bothering anybody – they should be the ones that we want to do, the ones we find worthy. Not merely what we’re to!d.