Been thinking recently about what improving yourself actually does to your Self. How does it change your outlook on the world and of the great many people who inhabit it? How does it change the connection between you and all others? How does it create one or destroy one?
Do you become all puke-inducingly cute and cuddly and loving? Or, as you improve – as you leave behind the lesser mindsets of others – do you become somewhat of an asshole to everyone, a snob, a jerk even?
Do you begin to see yourself in them, and empathize? Do you see your struggle in their struggle, and your pains in their pains? Do you begin to understand them?
Or, as you change and grow and mature, do you begin to feel a disconnect from them – an ever-widening separation from these people, these others, these strangers? Do you pull away, both in your opinion of them, and your attitude towards them? Do you feel more alone?
In one of the first articles on this site…
…on forgiveness – I wrote something that maybe many would overlook.
When talking about the importance of empathy in forgiving the the stuff that people do to us, I wrote that all people are a product of their pasts – of their experiences, and their fears, and of all who surrounded them and influenced them to that day in their lives.
In a sense, a product of the information that was put into them from the external world, and thus made into the person you knew or know – the one who hurts you or disappoints you.
As a product of their own circumstances, as we all are, these people who hurt us became who they are, and – given their circumstances and beliefs – could have been no other. They are who you would be if you had learned what they learned, experienced what they experienced, and lived the lives that they live. If you were these people, put in that same situation, having become the people they are because of the things they have seen and the lessons they have learned, you would behave as they behave and think as they think. You would do JUST as they have done. You would do the exact same thing.
“There but for the grace of God…”
It’s just a paragraph buried in an article of many paragraphs. Just a hundred words in an article of many thousand. But when I think about that passage, I realize – bit by bit, more and more, every day – that in fact it means so much more than I ever intended there, and a lot more than many will ever realize…
…the idea that we are all the same.
The thing is…
Changing yourself is dangerous, in a sense.
When one comes upon a site like this, or one of the other trillion like it (screw them), they come from a place of total helplessness. They come from a belief that the world, and all the good and bad which come of it, is in complete control of their lives. And they are helpless against it.
There is nothing they can wish, nor hope, nor do to change it.
They’re just a feather in the wind. A rock tumbling downhill. A small raft led aimlessly in the vastness of an eternal and unforgiving sea (sick imagery, Adam).
Their lives are out of their control, useless to their prayers, and deaf to their wishes.
But these sites, and books, and teachers tell them and tell you otherwise. Because, well…what else is there to say?
Because despite what you tell yourself and have thus far believed, so much of what you think to be your life is in fact very easily changed, and rather quickly transformed. And if one can change it, then one must try, right?
“You just have to work hard.”
“You just have put in the time.”
“You just have to have a goal, and a plan, and a trust in those and yourself.”
But something strange happens in this journey from depression to self-esteem. Something strange happens when you are made able to see so clearly what of your Self can be changed, or improved upon, or even left behind in order to make of you something greater or something better.
Something odd happens when you begin to see what in you is TRULY you:
That is…you begin to see what in you is NOT you.
You begin to see that all that you thought you could not control are in fact what few things in life you can control.
You begin to realize the great many ways by which our lives, and selves, and pasts, and futures are indeed so very random, and in the greatest way, arbitrary. How though you may be able to change this or that thing which disappoints you – your skill in whatever hobby, your fit in whatever clothes, those you surround yourself with, and those you include in your life – that those things are actually very little of the totality of your life, of who you are and have become; that in reality there exists so much in you that is not of you.
Not something you planned. Not something you chose. Not something you desired, nor something you even deserved.
You see clearly what you can change in life and what you cannot; what in you is yours and what in you was given.
You see what was created by you or inherited in you; what parts of your self were made by your hands and effort, and what was endowed entirely – either a blessing given to you, or a burden cursed upon you – by the blood you were given and the families you were born into; by the people you know and those even you do not; by the decisions they have made and the choices they have neglected; by the randomness of this world – where life comes and goes, and mistakes are made, and accidents happen.
In some ways it’s empowering – knowing what in you is you, and what is not, and what is within your control and what is not.
But more than anything…it’s simply humbling.
Because you see how arbitrary your fate was in relation to that of others. You see how unfair and unjust are the lives of these people you thought were so different – the immigrant, the foreigner, the neighbor – who are every bit as innocent in their choice of life and circumstances – just as ignorant to who they are and from where they come as you once were – yet as deserving of more as any other, and as worthy of a better life they may never receive.
Because of circumstances they never chose.
Because of the same arbitrariness by which we all exist.
You see that much of what you enjoy and are proud of in you was, to the greatest extent, decided not by your sole efforts or intentions, but by your birth and birth alone, and by all that’s resulted from that singular event onwards.
You see that, in a way, you’re not as special as you think.
You’re not as much a result of your efforts as you imagine.
Not as unique.
Not different at all.
We are ALL the same
More and more, I think, I have come to the realization that there is an unfairness in the world that is inherent in the lives of us all; one not easily explained by any religion, or dogma, or ideology; one difficult to reconcile with a great many political philosophies and the usual partisan anger.
More and more I read and watch news from here at home, and from around the world, and I wonder why it’s not me in the dilapidated slum on the outskirts of Rio, me hoping and dreaming of a better life beyond the horizon, on the other side of a line drawn in the sand, from my view in Ciudad Juarez.
Why isn’t it me plotting bombings from a cave in South Waziristan, or me dying on the streets of Homs or Daraa at the hands of a government who claims to “protect” me?
Why isn’t it me in the projects of Chicago, or a trailer park in West Virginia; a penthouse in Manhattan, or a mansion overlooking the beach?
What would all I’ve accomplished, and all I believe, and all I’ve done mean there, in those places? How far would my temperament and personality and intelligence take me if that were my home? How much would I have to do, and endure, and give-up to achieve what I have now – in this life, in this place?
Would I have a chance at all?
What would seem to me a just and fair life?
What in me would still be me if that were me?
What would I think of myself and my life? What would I think of the person I am here and now – what would I think of Adam – if I were no longer him, but instead Paulo in Rio, or Jose in Ciudad Juarez, or Mohammed in Homs?
I don’t know.
The thought scares me somewhat.
Because I can’t guarantee I would be Me.
Because it seems damn near impossible I could be Me.
Because more and more I look at the lives of others here and around the world and realize that so much of what we call our lives and our selves are given to us, forced upon us, and decided for us. More and more I look around and see that so little of us is from us; that all I consider to be My Self and My Life are only my own because I was born “Adam” in this place, in this time, and not some other person, in some other place and time.
Because to change one thing is to change everything. And to change anything about my story is to change what I have and will become.
And so it’s a scary thought.
That I’m not a jihadist only because my teachers were not.
That I’m not a racist only because my mentors were not.
That I only found the resources by which I could change my depression and improve my Self because my government doesn’t restrict the internet, or burn books.
That even my name is a reminder that I did not choose this life, that I did not choose to be “Adam” at all.
That I write with my right hand because I have a right arm at all.
That I walk from place to place because my legs work at all.
That the only reason I am not a dolphin is that I was not born with flippers.
I can’t help but think that to the greatest degree I am who I am simply because I am; that I owe much of myself to the fact that I was given my parents’ genes and love and not someone else’s, that I grew up there and not somewhere else; that I was born on this rock that juts the sea that people called “America” and not another, on the other side of the world, that people called “Somalia”; born an Austyn and not someone else – son to some coke head, or nephew to some child molester, or witness to some genocide.
All of which was out of my control. All of which are circumstances that were decided for me by whatever god or nature determined it.
I am at all times aware, then, that nothing separates me from the man born on the same day as me, on the other side of the world from me, except the womb and place from which we came, and from those few differences have come all differences that exist now – that allow me to live my life and may prevent him from living the same.
And you must be aware that all that separates “You” – your style, your beliefs, and your personality – from that of the young kid living in a shack somewhere – barefoot, uneducated, and starving – is that you are here and he is there. For if you had been born to his same parents, and his same family, and his same society, in his same culture – if you had lived his same experiences, and shared in his same lessons, you would share his same thoughts, you would share his same life, you would be him.
Because you are who you are. But could have been any other.
…some people think themselves so different.
They think they’re deserving of the opportunity, and freedom, and protection they would deny others – immigrants especially – because they were born here and those others were not.
They think these others ought to be sent home to the misery from which they fled, because their mother is American, and these others’ are not.
They think Syrians should die protesting, and the Libyans before them, because it’s a “Syrian” problem, and a “Libyan” problem, and not their problem.
Not consciously necessarily. Not even logically perhaps. Because maybe they wouldn’t use the words I have chosen.
But in their actions, and their beliefs, and their votes, they perpetuate the false idea that these others are different; that THEY are better, that THEY somehow created the privileges they are so willing to save for themselves, and so quick to deny of others.
We are all the same.
Just people. Just human beings. Just dudes and ladies trying to better themselves and their lives.
We are not different.
These other people are not unlike us. And we are not unlike them.
And so, I struggle watching the stuff that goes on around the world – people hurt, and dying, and in need of help.
Because these people deserve better.
Because only from a small difference am I not one of them, and if I were, who would help me?
Because all that truly separates me from those of another state, or another country, or another land is that someone, somewhere drew a line on a map; one which does not exist in reality, and which you cannot trip over when walking.
And that I call myself “Virginian”, and they call themselves something else; that I call myself “American”, and they call themselves something else; that I call myself “Adam”, and my parents my parents, and my friends my friends, and they do otherwise; that I was born on this patch of grass and earth and they another; that I am a product of life on this rock that juts the sea and they another; when, really, there’s no difference between those rocks, and no difference between the people born on those rocks. When really there’s no difference between those born on one side of a border and those born on the other.
Except, of course, what we have made of it. Except what the countless generations that came before us on our rocks and borders did make of it.
All of which were not of our design, and not our choice, and over which we had no control or hand in.
And yet I enjoy that gift, and those others do not. And the people who would deny others enjoy that gift, and those others do not.
But in reality nothing separates us – across races, and cultures, and nations.
That one person grew up on one rock that juts the sea and you another does not make you different. CLICK TO TWEET THIS!
And what few differences you see are the simple result of what they were taught and what you were taught, what they learned and what you learned, who rules them and who rules you.
That that man, woman, or child was born there rather than here, with that color skin rather than this, with those beliefs rather than your own, does not make them any less deserving of your compassion or your help, of the opportunity and freedom and safety to live their lives as best they can.
It makes them no less worthy of humanity itself, of the ability to be human and do as they please and achieve as they dream.
And so as I have changed
And so too has my view of the world.
And with each passing day, as I observe the lives and struggles of others and read more emails from some pretty awesome people like you, I am made more compassionate, understanding, and forgiving.
More and more I find myself unable to differentiate myself from others in a way which puts us in opposition.
More and more I find myself incapable of hate; unwilling to call one an enemy because of whatever reasons make sense to others.
More and more I am unable to see myself as any different from those I meet and see, on account of how they look or how they behave, what they believe or what they earn.
More and more I see myself in them. I see why and how they came to be, and recognize that – but for forces I cannot fathom – it could easily have been me.
It’s a burdensome vision. Because being heartless is easier.
Those other people may think their way of looking at the world is “best”, but I don’t think it’s right. They may think it’s “right”, but I don’t think it’s best.
And so that’s what changing yourself does.
It helps you understand.
It helps you see the world through the eyes of others – the bully who picks on you, the loner you pick on, the teachers you’re annoyed with, the bosses you despise, the parents you hate. It helps you understand that but for the randomness of life it would be you in their shoes, with their problems, and their struggles, and their imperfections.
Because we are all the same.
After all, you are who you are, but could have been any other.
Comment and share below. It might be the only way you’re different today.