Sunday, September 4, 2016

Across the Authentic Ocean -- why you don't want to be true to yourself

I wish I lived in a softer world where I could jump around without bumping into the sharp edges of the cupboard or the windowsill. A world where I can be myself, express myself freely without a fear of harsh consequences, without people punishing me solely for being who I am. The world as we see it is far from this ideal. No coincidence we fall so easily for promises of such a wonderland. The hardest lesson we learned as children was the difference between the land of fairy tales and the land of the angry neighbor. It's not much easier as adults either, we're just more used to it, but we are willing to pay a fortune to get a taste of that other world. This is the business model of movies, drugs, and religions: they take us to Utopia.

I'm sitting at a boring lecture. I imagine a more courageous version of myself who stands up in the middle of an endless, meandering sentence, and proudly walks out of the room. Listening to the big boss who is about to set a new record of business clich├ęs per minute? My real self would count aloud each utterance of "at the end of the day". And honestly, I wouldn't waste my time on taking that girl to fancy restaurant and schmoozing with her for hours. Straight to my place, maybe gulp a drink, and have sex. This is my real self speaking, I'm usually careful enough not to let it out without parental control.

But I stay seated during the lecture, I keep my mouth shut while the boss rants, and I smile, oh boy, I really smile when the girl tells about how she picked the right shade of pink for her nail. If my real self was speaking before, who tells me to stay and keep my mouth shut? It must be another self in me. A self that wants to learn the subject of the lecture or at least get a good grade. A self that wants to keep its job without the risk of being fired. A self that wants to be laid tonight -- this seems to be a pretty physical self. I have a legion of selves, each has its own agenda, and pulls me into a different direction.

I can appoint one of the selves as the real one and say I'll let this self rule my world, I'll follow it wherever it takes me. I can express myself fully, try and live in Utopia. I can leave the lecture, have a conflict with my boss, and show my disinterest in the woman's petty stories about her nails. It feels a relief. For a while. Then bang! bang! I'm hit by the consequences. Hey, baby, don't leave me in the middle of the dinner, I just wanted to have an open and frank relationship with you. Hey, boss, why so serious? I just wanted to have some fun together. Letting way to your emotions and thoughts without a leash is called impulsive behavior. If taken to the extreme, it can even ruin your life.

There are people who live this way. They are our children. They are born with strong desires and needs, they want the food and want it right now or they throw themselves on the floor and have a tantrum. Do you tell them it's nice, it's their real self at work? No, you teach them how to behave, how to delay gratification, how to control their impulses. Sometimes you are wrong, you are overcautious and want to avoid a consequence that wouldn't be so bad after all. Sometimes it's good to let the impulses run without a leash.

Your job as an adult is to know all the forces within you and navigate your ship like a captain navigates a ship in the winds of the sea. You don't want to stick to a single wind direction, because it would land you on a coral reef quickly. You let one self speak and the others listen, then you turn to another self. You want to be true to your selves, all of them. Aye aye, captain!

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