Thursday, October 26, 2017

Relationship Postmortem: obfuscations of normalcy

Through interactions I've had with people in recent history, I'm compelled to recognize patterns I've observed in the ways we treat each other. Whether we're communicating primarily through digital interfaces, running into each other on occasional trips to the drug store, or facing off in a showdown in the political arena of our work place, the generalizations that draw my attention are always in play. 

In our modern society of quick workarounds and microwave relationships, intelligence is steeply rewarded while kindness is accepted as a sign of being weak. It's nothing more than a beautiful concept, used as a basis for pointing fingers at those who fail to employ it when we personally feel offended. When the time comes to stand up for ourselves, we freely treat our counterparts however way we like, as if it's not possible to respect ourselves and each other concurrently. 

We prioritize our feelings in the thick of a complex situation involving other people, allowing these feelings to govern our decisions regardless of how they may affect everyone else. We utilize existing loopholes to find ways to escape our contractual agreements, helping us justify our choices  in the framework of "right and wrong": as long as we technically did nothing wrong, all other consequences have very little meaning. Originally we may have felt that we're all in it together until our common goal is reached, but the responsibilities we shouldered when getting into these bindings were never backed by any sense of obligation, as demonstrated by our hasty departure. The opportunity losses we endure from this could be salvaged if we were able to empathize with our teammates, to know that their feelings are just as important in the mission as our own. 

A failure to empathize is a cornerstone of numerous problems, one of which is an inability to follow through: we say we'll do things that we never do. It's true that life often gets in our way of doing the things we plan, but what we're talking about here is making promises that are aborted without concern. This defect may or may not be rooted in disability, but should never be permitted to inconvenience someone else either way. When this occurs -- not only do we not apologize to the other party that we stood up -- too frequently we don't even acknowledge the slip. It feels nice to make plans, but poses a burden when the time comes to fulfill them. Relationships that persist on this are those lacking in trust as an active ingredient, and most likely driven by ulterior motive. 

Making empty promises quickly becomes an expensive habit, and the way to sustain it is to live inside a bubble where there are no disagreements. We live in communities of "like minded" people who help us avoid any pangs of guilt that may arise from betraying our commitments. We find these communities in our families, our "friends", and in the echo chambers of the internet. Anyone who questions our actions or opinions are seen as opposition, and are blocked out like headaches. We abscond those who challenge us unknowingly, leaving them to wonder why we left. The real threat to self preservation is not the act of showing kindness and respect, but the dangerous risks of personal growth. We can't face the things we need to change when there's nothing more important than being correct.   

With a chance to respond to each other's messages or even review each other's work, we deliver with severity. This is observable in families, in offices, and certainly in comments we leave for each other on online posts. Operating under a delusion that our thoughts will go unheard if we communicate them with any compassion, we weaponize our feedback and slap on a humor label before launching, just incase they get upset. Far from making suggestions gently, we critique in tones that are condescending, like they're fools for not already incorporating the ideas that we propose: we decline to grasp the possibility that they may have already taken these ideas into consideration through their process. With little sensitivity for how far they may have had to travel to get where they are today, we rush to underestimate them and use that as grounds for disrespect. As the discourse grows cold, we judge each other silently, building cases with which to disqualify each other's humanity in our heads. 

We've all been at the receiving ends of some of these burns, moments in which we most certainly forgot about all the times when we ourselves were the cause of someone else's pain and aggravation. Before picking up steam and starting to inflict any damage, all of these patterns (and all those related but not discussed above) germinate in a space of normalcy, interstitial to the weeds of daily life. It's because of their mundane origins that these common bugs prevail, commanding the decay of our most basic human connections. 

In western society, we spend our teenage years rejecting tradition and hating ourselves, gradually growing to believe that "accepting who we are" is the more adult state of mind. This psychological surrender conflicts with our self improvement needs, naturally occurring and on perpetual renewal under the pressures of our dynamic environments. Doused by gratification methods that are culturally prescribed, these needs are extinguished in exchange for immediate relief: pick a hobby, workout, play with your dog, go to parties, go dancing, get drunk, meet people and have sex. Our short term approaches for "taking the edge off" go even as far as seminars and retreats, which are great for their liquid benefits: they work, as long as we don't walk out of them thinking our journey to the center of ourselves is complete. 

The moment we're satisfied with ourselves and with our communities is the moment that decay begins. We need to become the version of ourselves that we mean to be, for each other, for the greater goals we share, and for the sake of our own quality of life. The process of becoming that is similar to becoming an artist, or a developer, or trying to master any such discipline where skill development is gleaned through diligence: you are the thing you want to be as soon as you start engaging, but there's no finish line to cross. Reaching back into the rubble of our adolescent instincts, we need to reignite our propensity toward self-rejection, point it to our timeless current state and keep it burning.       

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