and into the river we’d dive August 24, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: boundaries, fear, river tubing, summer
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I have a thing about heights. Being up high, or even just standing next to subway tracks, is a source of sometimes significant anxiety, and it has always been that way. Thus, whenever I have been invited to sit on an outside patio on a high-rise building, take a look at a beautiful view from a cliff, or found myself in a position were falling was a possibility, I have a stew of unpleasant emotions stirring within me.
As a kid, when waiting for the subway (which I rode to and from school, and later work, every day), I would occasionally be faced with the reality of my mortality, and of the fear how easy it would be to just jump into those tracks at any moment.
Or slip. Or be peeking to see how close the train was along the tracks, and then lose my balance and just fall.
Or, you know, what was actually stopping me from jumping? And this last thought was not about depression or suicide, it was just a realization that I could, if I wanted to, just jump off that platform, that cliff, or that high-rise patio. This was a disquieting realization, that I started having when I was around 7 or 8, if my memory serves me.
Later, when I was in high school and I discovered philosophy, I read bits and pieces of Jean-Paul Sartre’s work, and was somewhat relieved, but also somewhat gobsmacked, that this experience was not mine alone.
Sartre describes the experience of radical freedom, and being burdened with the realities and consequences of that freedom, and I felt like I had found someone who understand what it was like inside my head, most of the time.
Because did I distrust myself? Was there reason to think that, given the radically free choices I could make, I could make one which could end or significantly damage my life? Always.
Sometimes, what becomes most clear to me is how easy it would be to destroy everything, how fragile it all is, and how even if you were to act in such a damaging way just because you can, you cannot take it back. Because knowing that you could have not done something (whatever that means, right Dan Dennett?*), when in fact you did is not sufficient if you did it, right?
Perhaps. But I think that we know ourselves best when we can tell the difference between something we could not help doing and something we could have done differently, but didn’t do so for bad reasons. And what’s worse is that when those who have been on the receiving end of those actions cannot understand, will not hear, or don’t care about that distinction.
River Tubing, Ropes, and climbing that tree
Cut to this past weekend.
A few weeks ago, I went to party at a college-friend’s house. I had not seen him in a couple of years, I had the day free, and so I drove out to the Lambertville area to see him with my girlfriend Kristen and some other people close to me, and we had a great time eating, drinking, and enjoying his well-kept grounds on a lovely summer day.
At the party, my friend mentioned that he was going river tubing on the Delaware, north of New Hope, PA, and this sounded like a lovely idea and so Kristen and I planned to go. While tubing (which was awesome), someone mentioned a rope swing. Having a good time and being carried away by their enthusiasm, I proclaimed some interest in swinging out on a rope. And we floated on some more.
And then I saw the rope.
I saw people swinging out, and it looked like fun. And then I saw the rickety steps going up the side of the tall tree from which the rope hung, and as I thought about climbing up to the platform (which was essentially some wood nailed to a tree), I felt my stomach tighten. But I climbed up anyway (not to the highest platform, because I’m not crazy like Kristen is, who climbed up there like she was strolling in the park), and grabbed a solid hold on the rope and felt the acceleration of gravity swing me over the water, until I felt the rope reach it’s maximum height, before it would swing back, and I launched myself into the air and landed safely into the water.
It was so much fun that I did it again. And, of course, my stomach clenched as I climbed the side of the tree the second time, but it didn’t stop me. The fear was still there. It was unpleasant, but I knew that the effort would be worth it. I would not allow my fear to prevent me from enjoying the thrill of flying through the air before plunging into the cool water on a hot summer day.
And then we got back onto our tubes, rafts, and inflatable boats and kept drifting down the river with friends.
And I’ll do it all again, if I’m lucky enough to have the chance.
We all have our internal emotional and psychological landscapes, and we all have these little things that are terrifying to us which seem like nothing to other people. Climbing up on that tree was not easy for me, but I knew there was a payoff that I wanted. And the second time climbing up? It was slightly less scary. Perhaps the 3rd and 4th, next time I float down the river, will be easier yet.
Boundaries are important to recognize and to communicate, both with ourselves and to others. But we need to push those boundaries from time to time, or we stagnate. Is something scary? Fine, but don’t let that, alone, stop you from making the attempt to find out why it is scary, if perhaps the fear is unfounded,, and maybe to see if there is something on the other side of that fear which is worth investigating anyway.
If you don’t push your own boundaries, and if you ask that others do not do it for you, then you will never grow. And sometime, the scariest things are the things we should challenge the most.
Carpe Diem (et noctis)!
FYI, The title of this post is derived fro a lyric from Bruce Springsteen’s The River, which was a favorite of mine from my childhood. Here it is, for all of you not familiar with The Boss’s deeper tracks.
* “l have not yet touched the central issue of free will, for I have not yet declared a position on the “could have done otherwise” principle: the principle that holds that one has acted freely (and responsibly) only if one could have done otherwise. It is time, at last, to turn to this central, stable area in the logical geography of the free will problem. I will show that this widely accepted principle is simply false.”
“The “could have done otherwise” principle has been debated for generations, and the favorite strategy of compatibilists – who must show that free will and determinism are compatible after all — is to maintain that “could have done otherwise” does not mean what it seems at first to mean; the sense of the phrase denied by determinism is irrelevant to the sense required for freedom.”
A bit of optimism, if I can allow myself to see it July 31, 2014Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: fear, friends, illusions, lies, trust
I have a lot of people who love me. I know this, intellectually. Most of the time, I can feel it as well. But sometimes I can’t feel it. Sometimes, my own lies get in the way. My lie, an illusion which obscures reality all too often, is that I’m not worth being loved.
Therapy, over various points in my life, as well as many open conversations with loved ones, has shown me the deep feelings of lack of self-worth which are responsible for this set of experiences, so I have a fairly good grasp of the nature of this problem. But this problem is one that expresses itself in a different way, as a polyamorous person, than it did previous to that. In a strange way, a way which has become a focus for my continuing personal growth, therapy, and knowing myself, the more people in my life who love me, the more my own lack of self-worth becomes exposed.
It’s almost as if hearing, feeling, and seeing acts of love towards me keeps poking at the part of my mind which whispers, perpetually, you don’t deserve this. This voice is not merely the voice of all my past mistakes and transgressions. No, that’s too simple. it’s deeper than that.
The feelings of little self worth are not the result of mistakes I have made, the mistakes I have made ultimately come from this feeling that I do not deserve love. This is an old realization, and implementing the changes which would help heal this wound is not a quick and easy fix. Were I capable of merely snapping my fingers and fixing it, I’d be further lying to myself.
This feeling compels a strong desire to be loved, as a kind of cover or disguise for this feeling, and when I get it I feel guilty as if I had manipulated that love out of people. I have trouble believing, sometimes, that the love I receive is because of who I really am. I don’t really have an alternate explanation for why it exists, but my mind flutters away from this uncertainty and insists that it must be some illusion or lie.
In moments of sober reflection, it becomes repeatedly obvious that this feeling itself is the illusion. The distortion in reality, the lie I tell myself, is the persistent sense of something being wrong with me. Not that I am perfection incarnate (as if that idea had any meaning), but that my lack of self-worth does not spring from anything real. There is a difference between the recognition of responsibility and the illusion of worthlessness.
It’s a very specific kind of illusion, one which not many people share. And for those close to me, understanding that this illusion is persistent and deep is the key to understanding how I hurt. Not understanding this illusion is the first step in mis-attributing my insecurity for something else.
It’s a problem which belongs to me, ultimately. And I’m becoming more and more aware of how used to an environment of cold, persistent, lack of validation I lived in most of my life. I’m coming to the realization that I grew up in a world where vulnerability was seen as weakness, encouragement was rare, and love felt like it was something to be earned, and taken away as punishment if I didn’t follow along the right way.
The polyamorous world is not immune to such things, being full of people. Having the intellectual, cultural, and often selfish insight into the possibility of “loving” more than one person does not imply the necessary creation of an actual healthy environment. A world of transactions, rights, and rules follows from this, all too often.
But, because the polyamorous world is full of people, sometimes it is actually wonderful. The problem for me, right now, is allowing myself to see the good. The other side of that problem is to trust my instincts when I sense something is off. In other words, I need to trust myself, trust other people, and allow what’s happening around me to inform me, rather than the fears in my mind.
Allowing people into my world
Ginny has been having a good summer. She has made, strengthened, and re-connected relationships (we both have) which have extended our immediate group of friends and acquaintances significantly. Our social life has grown, and Ginny has people close to her who are providing her with joy, pleasure, and love.
And this has been an emotional challenge for me, especially since the last few months have been hard, emotionally. All the while this has been happening, that deep and uncertain part of my mind reaches its tendrils up to my consciousness and says she’ll be happier with them, forget about you, and you’ll eventually be alone. But those voices are not reflecting reality. Those voices are dark reminders of the deep places I have been in my life, the fears of loneliness and of the impending solitude of dismissal, separation, and death.
These deep feelings are instincts I desire, very much, to be quiet. Because there is another option, one which will lead to greater happiness, fulfillment, and health. These people are not trying to take anything from me. These people just see what I see; a beautiful, intelligent, and loving woman and they are drawn to her. My feelings of fear, pain, or jealousy are from a place which has no real foundation.
But the fact that they are not real does not mean I can afford to simply ignore them. No, they must be dealt with. They must be communicated. They must be taken into the sunlight, to either whither away and die or to be exposed for what they really are. Only by examining the illusion can we hope to counter it.
So, rather than keep these people at bay, I should be inviting them in. In a non-polyamorous context, these people could be threats (although, not necessarily), but as a polyamorous person I have no immediate reason to fear them. This fear is my illusion insisting itself into quasi-existence, forcing me to move left, right, down, and inward like a puppeteer. And if these people are any possible source for harm, I will see it; not through the hazy fog of fear, but with the sober, intelligent perception of experience.
To allow my experienced perception to operate at full capacity, the haze must be cleared. The shining brightness of daylight, of trusting and open seeing, must not allow the lies to tug at my leg, begging for attention. I must learn to better trust myself. I have cognitive and physical powers which have been honed by time, places, people, and circumstances. The time for fearing has come to an end, and I must move forward believing not only that people love me, but knowing that I love myself.
Because I deserve that. Because we all deserve that. Because the surest way to act such that I wouldn’t deserve that is to believe the lie.
We all have our own lies. Mine is lack of self worth. Finding what our own lies are are the only way to avoid the traps which they set all around us. If you have not yet spotted your own lies, the conclusion is not necessarily that there are no lies to be found. A person who cannot admit to their own flaws, illusions, and insistent uncertainties either cannot see them yet, or the lie covers so much of them that they become lying incarnate. Such people are a danger, ultimately to themselves but in the mean time to people around them.
Luckily, for us, the people we surround ourselves with seem to be aware of their own imperfections. We may not all have solutions, at least not yet, but at least we’re trying to see past our own lies. I cannot say the same for others.
Screw them. There are other people worth my time. I’ll make more effort to not allow my fear become a distance between us.
On feelings: expression vs. endorsement March 2, 2014Posted by Ginny in Culture and Society.
Tags: fear, insecurity, jealousy, relationships
Courtesy of two great conversations I had recently, I’m pondering the difference between having a feeling, expressing the feeling, and endorsing the feeling. And, specifically, how to operate all three when you’re having a feeling that you think (or suspect) is unjustified.
Having a feeling is, well, having a feeling. Whether you feel it as a surge of emotions, a pattern of thought or sensations in your body, the feeling is there. Feeling angry. Feeling scared. Feeling resentful. Feeling elated. Having the feeling is the strictly internal experience.
Expressing the feeling is making the feeling known to people outside yourself. That can be verbal and direct, (“I feel really angry,”) it can be nonverbal (punching a wall), or it can be verbal and indirect, (“That person sucks and I hate them!”) In both the nonverbal and verbal-indirect expressions, you don’t ever identify the feeling as anger, but it’s fairly evident to observers that anger is what you’re feeling. (Sometimes, it may be obvious that you’re feeling something but unclear what. Or you may express a feeling in a way that’s easily misinterpreted, such as someone who expresses anxiety by acting cold and standoffish, leading people to assume they’re feeling something like contempt instead.)
Endorsing the feeling is saying, implying, or believing that the feeling you have is justified and appropriate. Or, if you don’t like applying concepts like “just” and “appropriate” to feelings (I’m not sure I do either), it’s affirming that if you were the ideal version of yourself, you’d still have that feeling in response to the same circumstances. It may (but doesn’t necessarily) involve believing that you should continue to have that feeling, or that other people should share that feeling. It’s believing that the person you’re angry with really has done something wrong; believing that the person you’re giddily in love with really is the finest human specimen to walk the earth; believing that the people at the party you’re anxious about really are all judging and criticizing you behind their smiles.
Having vs. expressing
There’s a common trope around emotional management that goes something like, “Feelings aren’t bad or good, they just are; it’s what you do with them that’s bad or good.” In general I agree with that statement, but it really only deals with the gap between having a feeling and expressing the feeling (where “expressing” can be anything from, “I feel resentful toward you” to leaving flaming bags of dog-poop on their doorstep.) Bringing in the endorsement piece adds another dimension. So you’ve decided that a flaming poop-bomb isn’t the most beneficial way to express resentment in your situation; that still doesn’t address whether you feel that your resentment is, on the whole, justified.
Having vs. endorsing
The gap between, “I feel this” and “it is good or right for me to feel this” is an uncomfortable one, and a lot of people try to erase it. You can do this one of two ways: you can assert that any feeling you have is justified, that of course any right-thinking person in your situation would feel the same way. This gets in the way of critical thinking ability at a fundamental level. The most easily identified people who do this don’t use any kind of rationalist or justifying language, just state their feelings as if it’s self-evident that their feelings are justified: everybody they’re angry with is an asshole, everything they’re anxious about is a dire threat, everybody they love is awesome and wonderful. Those of us who are steeped in rationalist and critical thought principles, though, still do it: we just rationalize our feelings, and sometimes we do it so skillfully that even we don’t notice it’s happening. (I feel fairly confident that every human on earth does this to some extent, even those of us who tend to err more in the opposite direction.)
The other direction is to suppress and deny any feelings you have that aren’t in line with your ideal self or sense of justice. This is the direction I went (hi, religious upbringing!) and it’s pretty crippling. “I know that anger at this person would be unreasonable, therefore I’m not angry. The grinding in my teeth and obsessive-hashing-over of imaginary arguments with them must be something else.” It’s a quick road to completely blinding yourself to some of your emotions. Over time, it leaves you unable to interact sincerely and authentically with people, because everything you feel has to go through the justification-filter, and you will strenuously deny having any feelings that you don’t endorse.
Contrary to both these approaches is being able to acknowledge a feeling without endorsing it. “I’m really pissed at Ryan. I know what happened was both our faults and I might have done the same thing in his place, but I’m still angry.” Once you get past the cognitive dissonance, this is really liberating. The emotionally-reactive self and the critically-evaluative self are not good harness-mates: they have different jobs to do and yoking them together impairs both of them. Freed from the need to rationalize or suppress, it’s possible to process through emotions effectively while retaining your sense of justice and critical thought. (At least, this has been my limited experience so far. It’s still very much a work in progress.)
Expressing vs. endorsing
Once we’ve settled with ourselves that we can acknowledge a feeling without endorsing it, there comes the question of whether, and how, we express it to others. On the one hand, there’s the view that your feelings in the moment are what they are, and honesty demands openly acknowledging them even if you’re not necessarily proud of them. On the other, there’s the view that expressing a feeling is tantamount to endorsing it, so you don’t express anything that you don’t also endorse. This latter view makes sense if your natural tendency is to suppress or deny feelings you don’t endorse: if you struggle even to acknowledge it to yourself, of course you’re not going to admit it to others.
I think in general there’s a lot to be gained from openly expressing feelings, even if they demonstrate that you don’t meet your own standards. They’re a real part of you, and people close to you deserve to know the real you, not just the filtered, approval-stamped version of yourself. (I’m still working on this, and it’s hard.) Expressing these feelings aloud can also help you work through them and bring them into balance.
I also think there are pitfalls in doing this, especially when you don’t make it clear (to yourself or to others) that these are not feelings you endorse. Group consensus is a thing, and when you express a feeling you automatically make it easier for people to justify having that feeling themselves. If we’re not careful to demarcate the line between having/expressing a feeling, and endorsing it, we’re in danger of creating a social feedback loop where one person admits to feeling something (say, an unwarranted level of resentment toward someone), and others feel more justified in their feeling and voice that, leading the original person to begin letting go of the cognitive dissonance in favor of justifying their own feeling. And suddenly the resented person is the scum of the earth within that social group.
Expressing the feeling as well as to what extent you endorse it is a way around this. Saying something like, “I know X meant well and isn’t entirely to blame here, but I’m still furious and right now I’m not able to move past that” is a fuller and more accurate expression of your overall state of mind than just, “X hurt me and I’m pissed.” It also encourages your social circle to continue viewing the situation in a complicated light, rather than sliding towards, “I’m angry and therefore this person sucks.” To my view, it’s maximizing honesty and self-awareness, and people who express themselves this way tend to earn my respect.
We are not all swimming in the same river October 26, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: Anger, Borderline Personality Disorder, fear, intimacy, Mental Health
When I was younger, I really wanted to be wise. I had a vision of me being the kind of person that when I became old, other people would respect me and come to for life advice. I was fascinated by books such as the Dao de Jing, by the historical character of Confucius, by Socrates, and many other figures who are considered wise. I tried to cultivate a cultured and educated manner. I tried to be intellectual. It was not all pretense; in fact, it was mostly genuine, if not sophomoric and (as Gina would say) “full of shit.”
Over the last few years, I have begun to understand this drive from a different point of view. I have come to realize that this motive comes from a combination of the desire to be loved, respected, and to not become the kind of person that people avoid, rather than come to. In short, it was a reaction that people often had to me, and for good reason. There are people who are no longer friends of mine and who want little to do with me, and in many cases the fault is mostly mine.
When I was introduced to the concept of Borderline Personality Disorder by a therapist a few years back, it led to a set of realizations. When I was younger, back when I wanted to be wise, I was struggling with feelings of confusion, fear, and guilt about my erratic behavior. Other people didn’t fly off the handle, yelling and throwing things, when they got angry. Something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was. I wanted to be the opposite of out of control, so I wanted to be a symbol of control. I didn’t want to be seen for what I was (a violent and unpredictable boy with a tendency to be moody and sullen), I wanted to be seen for what I valued (intelligent, rational, calm, and likable). So why was it so hard for me to do so, when it seemed so easy for so many other people?
Because I am swimming in a different river.
And as I started to reflect on this over the last few years, another angle of this became clear. It was struggling just for normal, acceptable, behavior. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be some wise guru, living on a mountain (perhaps next door to Zarathustra) who everyone respected, it was that I was struggling against a current that other people didn’t experience. I was simply trying to appear normal while struggling frequently.
But before I started to understand this, I had built up so much resentment, anger, and frustration at seeing other people so easily deal with emotionally trying circumstances (compared to what I often did, anyway). I didn’t understand that they weren’t actually succeeding in struggling against the an overwhelming current of virulent emotions like I was. I didn’t understand that such a current of emotions was rare for them, rather than constant and overpowering. But I was so angry, ostensibly at them but really at myself, about it that it has led to many deep wounds and scars that I still have work to understand. There is still work to do.
See, for so long I thought that at some moral fault, rather than simply dealing with a shitty situation. I thought that when I got angry and made a scene, I was the only one in the room who had not succeeded in stifling the urges. I thought everyone else around me was struggling with these feelings, and doing it better than I. And so I strove for that power to restrain and repress it, to appear calm while hurricanes blew in my head, and to appear calm. And so I built invisible armor for myself, holding in the feelings i assumed everyone else was having and restraining as well.
And I did this for years, until it became habit. I did it for a long time, with periodic explosions as the armor shattered against the pressure.
Anyone who meets me for the first time will probably assume I’m relatively non-emotional. I’ve been told this by many people, including some ex-girlfriends (before i started to become comfortable with my emotions, which is still a struggle) even up until quite recently. I appear robotic, hyper-rational, and even cold sometimes. It is a defense mechanism that I have built over many years, and deconstructing that wall is not easy. It may take the rest of my life to do so, assuming I ever can.
(I hope I can)
But now I understand that most people aren’t walking around with a chaotic storm within them. Most people don’t have frighteningly violent thoughts several times a day, aimed at people who are guilty for minor annoyances. Most people aren’t swimming against a current that sometimes takes all of their mental fortitude to not be pushed back by or drowned in (because depression is a thing).
And yes, there is another side to this. There is the overwhelming feeling of love and intimacy that I am capable of as well. Of course, the problem is that especially in the beginning of a relationship, it is terrifying to show this. I’m afraid that, much like the potential harm I am capable of, the level of intimacy I can show would be too much for someone, especially when things are new. I’m afraid of pushing people away. i was, in some past selves, the guy who was too into that girl after one date.
But you know what is even more terrifying, to me than all of that? Intimacy with other men. And, I know, this is common in our culture. I also know that part of this is due to my relationship with my own father, who is a sort of foil for me (the Darth Vader to my Luke Skywalker, as I sometimes think of it). Men are hard because they reflect myself too much. I see the same fear in them that I show, and I hate it because I hate that part of myself. I hate that we keep doing it, and that I don’t know how to fix it.
It’s easier with women, because the sexual and romantic feelings open the door to other kinds of intimacy. Perhaps it would be easier if I were bisexual. Perhaps not. But either way, this lack of intimacy can lead to the problem of relying too heavily on sexual and romantic desires becoming too prominent when befriending women, but for the most part I have been fairly good at mitigating this. But with other men?
I have no interest in the machismo game of our culture. I don’t want to play dominance games, and usually simply avoid them for the sake of peace and not escalating into a situation where I will very likely lose control of my temper (which, to macho men, probably seems like weakness. But man is it hard sometimes…). I am a little amused by such games, but I feel more sadness at it. I feel sad because it is so often the source of the barriers that men put up between each other, this machismo and dominance games. Sometimes I’ll walk away with a smirk, feeling superior for not playing, and other times I walk away feeling angry, for ‘letting them win.’ Neither are the right attitude, I don’t think.
I think the right attitude is to come away from such things feeling sad that another path could not have been taken. I think that in such games, nobody really wins. I don’t win by being emotionally superior, and they don’t win for having me back down. There simply is no winning there, only loss on both sides.
So, have I become wise? Will I ever be wise? I don’t know. At this point, I find the whole question to be a rationalization for a conceit. That isn’t to say that I no longer care about being wise, but that this caring is fading over time.
I hope, one day, that I can stop trying to be wise, so that perhaps I can just be content whether I’m wise or not.
ah, just more conceit….
Quiet and Afraid January 13, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
Tags: fear, insecurity, Mental Health
1 comment so far
Depending on my mood, I can be rather outgoing and gregarious, or I can be quite and shy. Especially around people I do not know well, I tend towards shyness. But I don’t want to be shy. I want to be warm, engaging, and have interesting and revealing discussions with people. But I rarely do.
I think about why this is the case quite often. And, depending on my emotional state, my feelings vary. That is, my rationalizations for my fear of speaking up shift with my mood. So, today I want to compose two related, but emotionally distinct, reactions to being shy while not wanting to be shy. I don’t know if any of this will resonate with anyone else, but perhaps it will. These are the kinds of thoughts I have while battling within myself whether to contribute to conversations, especially if they relate to religion, relationships, etc, in mixed company.
Narrative 1: You will hate me.
I overheard something you just said, and I think that the worldview you seem to come from is misguided, and if I told you what I thought you would find me distasteful and you would rather not talk with me (most likely). If I talked with you about the topic you are currently engaged in conversation about, the dialog would become awkward and you would wish I would have not said anything. Thus, I should remain quiet because otherwise you would hate me, and I would just be wasting my time bringing up my views on your topic of conversation.
This is often followed with a false feeling of superiority; I feel somehow better, more evolved, and I pity those around me. This feeling is often then followed by the sensation that such thoughts and feelings are a defense mechanism, because I’m afraid that my own worldview is misguided and inferior. This sometimes leads to the second, but intimately related, narrative.
Narrative 2: I hate me
Man, I really should stay quiet. These people might be wrong, but my thoughts are just fueled by anger (fear) and I would be better not making an ass out of myself. It really does not matter how much I have thought this through or how certain I feel right now, because all of that confidence is an illusion. My ideas are not interesting, my point of view not insightful, and my false pity for them is not warranted. I wonder if they have these kinds of thoughts too. I wonder ow strong they doubt themselves….
And this trails off into unrelated or merely tangential thoughts about all sorts of things.
But then, usually later (like right now) I think about the fact that I perceive a sort of mainstream set of cultural expectations and views which I often think I can see through, and then these sets of insecurities play out at a meta-level. I think things like:
1) Is there actually a set of cultural narratives which I understand and see through (even if only partially)?
2) Can most people really not see it, or do they see it and either don’t care or understand it better than I do?
3) If those narratives do exist, and I can see them better than some people, is it something which I can explain to those people or do they have to either discover themselves or be perpetually blind to it?
The basic fear that informs my silence, at least as it is rationalized, is whether I am actually seeing something which is real, or whether I’m perceiving a delusion. Do I understand something about human behavior which is real and invisible to most people, or am I creating that narrative to explain the fundamental fear which is the real reason I remain so quiet?
The thought that seems most awful, thus I suspect it is at least partially true, is that the narrative I perceive is real, but I’m just afraid. It’s not that I’m really concerned with annoying people or being seen as idiotic (although those feelings seem real enough), it’s that I’m just afraid. Not afraid of anything in particular, mind you. Just afraid.
And then I have to explain why I’m afraid, which doesn’t help it go away.
It is a perpetual and strangely comfortable sensation, fear. I am almost afraid to not be impeded by it. I’m not sure what I would be like if that fear disappeared.
To those that read is blog, I may not seem afraid to speak my mind. But that is only when the first narrative, above, dominates. All too often the second narrative dominates, and I am left quiet and unsure of myself.
That’s enough honesty for right now. So now I commit my fears to the internet, were they shall never be forgotten. Great…now I cannot pretend they don’t exist….
Is doubt opposed to faith? October 20, 2011Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: doubt, faith, fear
1 comment so far
Yesterday I wrote up some comments about doubt and faith. I am quite happy with it as it stands, but a question was emailed to me from an acquaintance that led me to wonder if I had not been sufficiently clear about one thing, so I wanted to publicly clarify a related question.
The comment emailed to me was this:
Doubt is not the opposite of faith – fear is the
opposite of faith
It was followed by a question about whether there is a difference between religious faith and the belief in things that you simply don’t know for sure or don’t have evidence for (yet, due to lack of sufficient information, etc).
I responded thus (edited to exclude unnecessary specific information):
I have heard that comment about faith, and I don’t buy it. I think that the fact that you don’t know [some specific fact] and faith in supernatural things, or at least things for which there is no evidence, are very different questions.
I make a distinction between a reasonable expectation and faith. Based upon your limited experience with me, your understanding of human behavior, etc you can assign some rough probability to my potential actions. You have empirical information upon which to make a guess, even if your certainty about it is shaky. But if you have a belief in a thing that you truly cannot prove, or at least that you do not have evidence to support or rational reason to accept, that is a qualitatively different question epistemologically.
Also, I would be cautious in using the word “prove” or “proof.” In questions of empiricism, such as science, we don’t ever prove things. We gather information, create a hypothesis to explain the information we have, and if that hypothesis stands up to scrutiny then we call it a “theory” which is further tested and stands or falls upon that further testing. But we cannot deductively prove such things because that is only applicable to purely logical/mathematical questions; things that only exist in the abstract. Questions such as what will happen in the real world are not subject to formal logic, and so cannot be proved. There is always room for doubt, even if it is very small.
So, to accept something like “there is a god” or “a soul exists” despite the lack of supporting empirical evidence is faith because faith is the belief in something despite the lack of evidence (or in the face of conflicting evidence). To believe something that has not yet been given support (in this case because it is a proposition about the future) is a probabilistic process; you can assign probabilities based upon experience with similar situations. But since we have no evidence which supports certain types of claims (like a soul, for example), we cannot assign any probabilities because we have no supporting data to work with. A probability assigned in such a situation would be purely fictional and arbitrary.
In short, they are not the same thing.
Fear is not the opposite of faith because it is possible to be in a position of believing something that you have no evidence for because of fear or at least while experiencing fear. Not that it must be the case, but that it is not logically incoherent. Therefore, they cannot be logically opposed. While doubt (the state of recognizing uncertainty about some question) is not the opposite of faith, is not easily consistent with it. My claim is not that doubt and faith are always incompatible or opposed, only that faith often does not long survive in the presence of doubt.
To truly doubt something means that the belief becomes mitigated. To be a skeptic (which includes doubt but is more than that) is the opposite of faith. Skeptics only believe a thing based upon evidence or reason. I am a skeptic first, and that leads necessarily to atheism and the lack of belief in many other spiritual or religious things (because of the lack of supporting evidence). Until supporting evidence is presented, this is the only rational conclusion for a skeptic. Someone who does not care about evidence to support their belief is not concerned with rational conclusions, so asking what would be rational in that case would be irrelevant.
I care what is true, and want to have as many true beliefs as possible. As a reuslt of this, I doubt things for which there is spurious or no evidence (often to the point of lacking belief in them). I still may believe untrue things, and am open to being shown that this is the case. I have not found this attitude to be true for many religious or spiritual people, although there are obviously many other exceptions to this observation.
I hope that clarifies my views on this.
Comfort with insecurity December 3, 2010Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: fear, insecurity
I’m going to step out from writing about polyamory or religion for a moment. I want to talk about insecurity.
Yes, I am well aware that this personal issue which many people struggle with is applicable to both religion, relationships, and sexuality. And I am further aware that atheists and polyamorous people both can point to how insecurity and its various cohorts are relevant to their points of view, and I occasionally do make that point myself. But today I am not as interested in those issues as I am interested in a thought which occurred to me yesterday in a new way, and that is this;
It is important to be comfortable with your insecurity.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I struggle with insecurity. I have struggled with feelings of fear, inadequacy, and pessimism all of my life, although not consistently. For many years I was unable to recognize this for what it actually is, and then to subsequently look back on my life and recognize at what points these feelings were responsible for acting in ways which damaged friendships, romantic relationships, etc was valuable in shifting how to live my life. It has been a new struggle with mixed success, but one perseveres in failure and partial success towards a goal that may be ill-defined.
(And, of course, eventually it lead me to recognize when the fault was not mine, where at previous times in my life I may have blamed myself for the mistakes of another. Anyone who knows my story about moving to Atlanta with my ex and being abandoned and screwed over by her will know precisely what I’m talking about.)
My personal story aside for the moment, I was thinking yesterday about how there is a significant difference between people who are insecure, afraid, etc and who are aware of it, and (on the other hand) those for whom such a fact would be rejected or suppressed. It is my contention that the level of willingness to accept such an emotional foundation to how one interacts with and views the world is the beginning of transcending such insecurities. It is, in fact, the beginning of emotional security. Because while the fundamental hormonal and chemical realities open which the edifice of behavior is mounted are more difficult to change*, a willingness to be aware, observant, and proactive in planning our actions based upon this knowledge may be essential in behaving in less insecure ways.
Knowing you are insecure, you can be aware of how you will tend to act in situations of anxiety, fear, and discomfort and plan a set of actions that will counter-act such proclivities.
But this requires a willingness to introspect. You must be willing to see what lies inside the caverns of your (for a lack of a better word) soul in order to be aware of your personal psychological landscape. As was written upon the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece, yνῶθι σεαυτόν (‘know thyself’). This remains part of the core of my personal philosophy (along side carpe diem et noctis; ‘seize the day and the night’.) Without the willingness and ability to bare your whole self to, at least, your conscious self to the extent that such a feat is possible, there will be behaviors that will not really be wholly yours.
As Stuart Hampshire has said:
A man becomes more and more a free and responsible agent the more he at all times knows what he is doing.
And the more we know about the psychological mechanisms behind our thoughts and actions, the more we can be aware of what we are doing, and possibly why. And when we are willing to be honest with ourselves, possibly sharing those realities with those close to us, the more we can find ways to grow, mature, and generally better ourselves.
For good measure, I’ll add this quote of Hampshire:
As self-consciousness is a necessary prelude to greater freedom of will, so it is also a necessary prelude to a greater freedom of thought.
Because in the end, all life is but a footnote to George Lucas….
In Star Wars, Episode I, Yoda is faced with the young Anakin Skywalker in the Jedi Council. I don’t remember the exact words, but Yoda asked him something like “Afraid, are you? Miss your mother, do you?” The young man seems to be confused what that has to do with anything. Yoda’s response is memorable and prophetic, as he says that it has “everything” to do with it, then continues:
“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
And, of course, we all know what happens to Anakin’s fear on his path to becoming (spoiler alert) Darth Vader. We track his story of once where his fear of losing his mother become the key factor in his anger and hate for the village he slaughters, and the suffering he portrays in telling Padmé about his actions. And while most of us don’t slaughter villages of sand people, we do have moments like these from time to time.
We know that bullies act the way they do for a number of reasons, much of which is being abused themselves along with the subsequent feelings of insecurity, fear, etc. But there is also jealousy, which I think is related to this same insecurity and fear. In fact, I think much of human behavior which is damaging has an element of personal fear and insecurity to it. We will not all “turn to the dark side,” and become our own Darth Vaders, but many of us will act in less than admirable ways, clam up and retreat into ourselves, fail to tackle challenges, or pass up experiences because we are not feeling secure about ourselves, are afraid, etc.
This is my experience, and I have talked with others who share this experience. And I am sensitive to this part of human nature in a way that others may not be, and often see it in others. This should be part of growing up and maturing, but the simple fact is that many older people suffer form the effects of insecurity when I would expect to see them have left such things behind. It also effects young, beautiful, and intelligent people just as easily (that reference is for Ginny’s sake, who knows exactly who I’m talking about. I blogged about her about 6 months ago, if you are curious enough to put the puzzle together.)
I picture a world where people are willing to challenge themselves both intellectually and emotionally. I think it can lead to a world where people are less susceptible to the trappings of faith and of interpersonal jealousy. It will not solve the world’s problems, but it will help.
But, honestly, I’m not really hopeful that this will happen on a large scale. I can only work to make sure it happens for myself, and to assist others for whom I care. Know yourself; examine your behavior, your reactions to criticism and different opinion, and push yourself beyond your comfort zone sometimes. And yes, internet trolls, this applies to myself as well. I have not claimed to have mastered said request, only to be aware, and comfortable, with my own insecurity.
And, finally, do seize this life, for it is the only one we have. Life is too short to be paralyzed by our fears.
*–I am aware that medication is useful and effective for many people, even if I leave it aside in this analysis.
Growth: the result of challenged insecurities and fears February 18, 2009Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: challenge, criticism, fear, growth, insecurity, maturity, respect
The longer we go in not challenging ourselves and others, the longer we will continue to live in a world that will crawling towards progress.
We are weak, insecure, fearful, and habitual people. I speak primarily of Americans, because that’s the culture I live in, but I think it is true everywhere to some extent. We are afraid of challenging the mythological assumptions of the world around us. Most believe that faith is good, monogamy is the default, and that success is more important than integrity. We believe these things because the structure of the culture that dominates the world is populated by people that were taught these things and perpetuate these things. Thus, in some perverted sense, they are practically true because they are tradition.
But what is the basis for these beliefs? How many times have I heard that to not believe in something, to simply believe that the world in blind processes without the faith in a god, some paradise, or at least some ultimate meaning, then life is not worth living. Fucking bullshit.
People believe such things because they have never challenged themselves to actually think about this seriously. People are emotionally attached to their beliefs, and so their is a kind of pain when some fact, idea, etc comes to mind that contradicts their worldview. More common is the cognitive dissonance that arises in people who accept contradictory ideas.
Then there are the insecure, lazy, and ignorant hypocrites of the world;
Sunday Christians (those that really are only god-fearing at church, and otherwise don’t give a rats ass except when they meet an atheist). You have never really challenged yourself to figure out what you might really believe if you looked at the claims of your religion. You rely on the support group of the others around you (many of which are using you for the same thing), and have probably never even read your holy book.
Monogamous couples who cheat. You know very well that you want more people in your life sexually, and most even still love their spouses. Yet when you are asked what is wrong with polyamory you say it’s wrong, unnatural, or “not for me.” When you say it’s not for you, you mean its not for your partner, or that you don’t have the guts to open yourself up to the jealousy and insecurity that come with thinking about sharing yourself and your loved ones. Yes, there are some people who just make poor choices and really aren’t into being poly, but I think that a lot more of you out there are just scared, insecure, and fearful of the concept of you not being enough for someone else.
The worst part is that we don’t talk about these things. Religion and politics. Ok, sex too, at least insofar as challenging the fantasy of the soul-mate or the “one for me” mythology; the things that we are not supposed to talk about. Bullshit. The only reason that is true is because when we do, we expose the insecurities and fears of those that refuse to challenge themselves. We tell ourselves that we do it out of respect, but respect for what; Insecurity and fear?
Stop allowing your fears, as well as the fears of those around you, from preventing these discussions. Challenging the worldviews of people we disagree with (hopefully after honestly considering your own position), is how we can help our culture grow out of this insecure and fear-ridden infancy.
Grow up, and help the world around you grow up.