(modified, from 2008)
We can’t predict the future behavior of others, but I remember something one of my teachers said: “Do not trust people. Instead rely upon them. Rely upon them to do whatever it is they consider to be in their own self-interest.” The only way to do that is to be able to determine what that self-interest is. And in my mind, the only way you can possibly do that is to know yourself. To look fearlessly at your own flaws and fuck-ups and take responsibility for them, to get real about the way you’ve lied and sold yourself out… or stood up for yourself and been courageously honest in the face of pain and disappointment.
IN OTHER WORDS, YOU CAN ONLY TRUST OTHER PEOPLE TO THE DEGREE THAT YOU CAN TRUST YOURSELF, YOUR OWN JUDGEMENT.
If you take responsibility for all three aspects of your life, you have a good chance to see right through other people’s B.S., because you’ll know all the rationalizations. Over and over again, I’ve had people with weight problems straight-up lie about being “unable” to lose weight because of physical issues, when eventually it turned out the problems were really emotional. A student recently emailed me, confessing that when she loses weight her sex drive increases, and her husband’s lack of sexual interest frustrates her more deeply, risking their marriage. In other words, she slows herself down to remain hobbled to a man with low energy.
I’ve run into versions of that many, many times. But here’s the trick: I’d bet ANYTHING that there are parallels in the domain of money and relationships: people who blame external circumstances for lack of financial success, but actually cripple themselves out of resentment, fear, or programming. It isn’t the economy: in the worst economies, the top 20% are still doing fine. The real question is: why aren’t YOU in the top 20% of your field?
Or ladies who say that there are more women than men, and that’s why they’re not in a relationship. Really? All that does is explain why X percentage of your group is unmarried, NOT why YOU are one of them. Stats don’t have that much to do with the individual.
(You know the joke: “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun YOU.”)
But I suspect it is miles easier to blame genetics, or the economy, or gender statistics, or racial statistics or whatever than it is to examine your own motivations, beliefs, values, and actions. So easy. For one thing, when you stop behaving like a typical member of your group, you lose your protective coloration. You stand out and become a target.
You take the chance of being alone. The trouble is that we are all “alone” and the “protective coloration” is just an illusion. I am male, American, of mixed ethnicity, a writer, etc…. but all of these are just interesting labels. If I hide behind any of them, I inherit not just their strengths but limitations. It is simple: in terms of playing the game of life, either you take responsibility or you do not. Life doesn’t care. You can be happy, healthy, and successful, but the doorway to adult rewards comes from adult responsibilities. And the instant you blame society, your family, or your genetic circumstances for anything that can be modified by action, you are being a child. Adults realize that they are all that stands between the next generations and chaos, and that they are going to die… and vow that their death, and therefore their life, will have meaning. That that meaning will be found in their actions.
If you can’t admit the ways in which you sell yourself short, lie to yourself, are asleep, you cannot rise to your greatest level, and walk the world awake and alert. Complaining about injustices is one thing. Suggesting that those injustices control how you feel about life is quite another. Every day, you have to polish your perceptual lens, and take responsibility for living fully and honestly. Either you make that commitment, or you allow the external world to control your internal experience. And that is one of the great existential fallacies.
Who you are to yourself influences the way you are with others. The lies you tell yourself will blind you to the lies others tell to you. The more honest you are with yourself, the harder it is to be conned.