‘Don’t Compare Your Insides to Others’ Outsides.’
So much of our suffering is based upon the ideas we have in our heads, the values we hold to and the expectations we have.
I have often felt flawed, alone and unworthy. Estranged from the reality I have to face every day.
We can suffer because of other peoples behaviour towards us. Prejudice, persecution, discrimination.
In particular, we feel worthless and ashamed because we don’t think we’re good enough.
But where does this attitude come from? The thing is we are not born with such ideas, we pick them up from those around us. They were given to us by the society and culture we grow up in.
A life in prison
‘….you are a slave Neo, like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you can not smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind’Morpheus, The Matrix
Ever since you birth you have been trapped. The people around you, well meaning though they are have constructed this cage believing it was for your best interests. They did not know how it would one day limit you. It was made bit by bit over many years, before and through school even now others try to keep you in that cage.
Where did this cage come from, who constructed it, when was made?
You listened to them because they were adults. But you did not learn by yourself, you were trained. Trained by culture and society.
You learned not to get dirty or hurt yourself. So the pattern of avoidance became stronger. Each time you failed to challenge your beliefs they grew stronger.
Just do what we tell you to do and you will be fine, happy. Do well at school, get a steady job, work to get possessions and wealth and you will be happy for it.
Over the years playing it safe became a habit. You didn’t really think about it.
Now we come to the real problem. because you ended up in a place you don’t want to be. Or the future you see before you is not a rosy as you were told.
You are now confused and lost.
The problems of this world are myriad and far reaching, yet society creates these problems.
Being judged by others and their sometimes silent condemnation is what John Stuart Mill called the ‘Tyranny of the Majority’.
Society beyond the government has it’s own mandate to judge and police its inhabitants. This is the collective moral code of the people and it can be remarkably intolerant and punitive.
The worst part is that we take onboard their voices so they become our own. We start to punish ourselves with those same values.
The most insidious thing is we’re unaware it’s taking place and it becomes the habits you don’t even notice you follow.
In essence we feel we can’t fit into the box that society is trying to squeeze us into. So we blame ourselves or we blame others.
Yet who is the one at fault here?
Is it you, that doesn’t meet other people’s expectations. Or it the unreasonable expectations and values of society, friends, family and peers?
How much are we aware of these ideas?What harm are they doing to us?
My unhappiness was in part because I was ignorant of the role society played in how I think about myself.
It demonstrates just how much ignorance governs our lives when we are not aware of why we do what we do.
‘The most powerful forces in this world are the one we don’t even notice.’Richard Collison
Our internal critique is a manifestation of what we’re told by others.
If you told your worthless enough times by people you look up to, you begin to believe it. If you fail repeatedly enough you feel powerless.
Our worldview, is spoonfed to us, our values, identity, aspirations.We are all products of our culture, we all live in a context.
This prison requires two moves.
On the one hand its the ideas foisted on you by society. You have been born into a particular time and place.
The second is that you uncritically accept them because it was constructed around you as you grew up. We choose to remain in this cage.
There is a part of us that wants others to make the decisions to take responsibility. Someone to take care of us. So we accept partly through choice, partly through ignorance the limitations placed upon us.
Mediocrity is safety. We want to be part of the herd.
All this create the prison of your mind, the ‘I can’t do this’, I’m no good at this’, its what keep you small.
It seems to be how so many of us think. It stops us thinking for ourselves and let others exploit us for their own ends.
We want to be sheep because, to be different is to feel separate, alone, vulnerable.
Being an individual means taking responsibility, and that’s tough. Fighting back also seems like such hard work.
So we sleepwalk through society just doing as we’re told because it’s easier, safer.
Worst of all we feel we deserved it, because we feel worthless.
Becoming yourself / Breaking Free
‘Waking up to who you are required letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.’ – Alan Watts
I learned that I needed a more critical attitude towards the world around me and the messages it sends.
I found my strength, my sovereignty by protecting myself better against the toxic influences that society injects us with.
I’m not going to go into detail about what those poisons are, there are so many and it’s not the point of this post. But by way of examples, here’s three.
Some examples include…
- -The talkative ideal, where extroverts are considered to be better at relationships (personal, professional) because they talk a lot more.
- -Capitalism and the consumer society that tells us happiness is to be found by accumulating possessions, and wealth.
- -Another is perfectionism. Having the ideal body, the ideal home, the ideal life that we strive to live up to.
I came to see that I was a fool to believe what I had been told, what I thought.
It all begins with awareness.
The first step, being aware that your unhappiness and is influenced by the world around you But also awareness helps us learn about ourselves.
It shows the studying culture is a useful exercise in liberating oneself from its negative influences. It also shows some introspection and self examination is necessary.
The most dangerous prisons are the ones you don’t know you’re and the values of culture so pervasive that you overlook them.
We were spoon fed these ideas as we grew up. This is one reason why personal growth is difficult. Because it’s a process of liberation. The casting aside of authorities.
Whether that be old habits, old ideas, parents, previous identity, surroundings and circumstances. Then accepting new forms, new ideas that will guide us and become who we are.
The roles we play have been defined before we are even born.
The world tries to squeeze us into definitions, pigeon hole us into types. In so doing it simplifies us.
The value of studying society is that it allows us to see these falsehoods and lies.
Once seen the illusions loose a lot of their power.
Without awareness, we can’t decide what’s best for us.
I learned to better protect myself from the falsehood, lies and negativity that in my youth I didn’t notice.
Responsibility and power
The next step is to take responsibility and power for yourself. Don’t play the victim or wallow in self-pity. Take action! There are things you can do.
It’s far too easy to blame others for our troubles, even if they might be reprehensible. But we do have power in our response. To make choices and decisions, who we hang out with, what we watch and how we behave.
No one else is responsible for how you live your life. I learned I need to step up and do something about my suffering.
Boundaries and critical thinking
All this shows the importance too of having good boundaries. That’s to filter the influences that affect us to only the good stuff gets in, but if that’s not possible to let go of the negative influences.
Boundaries are the separation between ourselves and the world like a cell has an outer wall. There’s an inside and an outside.
Without good boundaries, we become vulnerable to toxic influences from outside.
Good boundaries mean we don’t accept abuse from others or waste too much time of distractions and trivia.
We don’t take insults personally, nor do we loose our heads when then happen.
Part of good boundaries is in the critical analysis of ideas, and the skill of Discernment. Does an idea help or hinder us? Do our habits aid our health or lead to ill health?
Just like health, what food we eat impact on how healthy we are. The same must be true of ideas, thoughts, opinions of others.
Do they aid understanding? It means accepting the constructive criticism and ignoring the trolling.
What we consume creates our bodies, our minds and we need to pay special attention to what we let in.
It also includes what we let out, what we offer other, our opinions ideas, behaviour. We can cause others to harm by what we say. So choosing our word carefully, understand nuances in language and body language can help prevent us from being a toxic influence towards others.
To break free requires us to face the mistakes we have made. Our shame about our actions can poison us further.
So we need to come to terms with the fact that we can’t change what’s happened and stopping the war against ourselves. By attending to our pain with kindness we can accept our past and move on.
It’s about accepting reality, the truth. Letting go through forgiving ourselves of the mistakes we have made through our ignorance.
Self-compassion is an essential practice in moving on.
From my own journey, growth often seems more to do with leaving behind limiting ideas.
Letting go of those things that cause us pain. Harmful relationships, addictions, bad habits etc.
Questioning and letting go of the narrative we tell ourselves that were never good enough.
It’s one of my biggest successes to recognise these personal beliefs are false. But it’s still a struggle.
Letting go is the hardest thing you need to do, yet it’s the fastest way to growth and happiness.
Do the people around you accept you regardless, love you unconditionally? Do they want you to succeed, see you grow, let you be who you are without judgement?
If not then it may be time to find some new friends.
Ubermensch and balance
Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of the Ubermensch embodies a lot that’s written here. An Ubermensch is someone who sees the system of values and rules society tries to foist upon them and rejects it. Instead, he breaks free and chooses to live a life according to his own code.
It’s a seductive idea, but impossible because we are still social creatures.So we are stuck with a society that tries to squeeze us to an acceptable shape.
‘So much of our suffering is trying to fit square pegs into round holes’
Society and the complex changing culture we live in both blesses us with knowledge, security and empathy. But it can also, keep us ignorant, ashamed, afraid.
It can stifle our growth, judge us unfairly and get us to act in ways that create our suffering. It can propel us to greater heights, but it also leads us astray or hold us back.
This is the paradox. We need people to help us, but those same people may try to stop us.
It’s finding a balance between you and society. Between who you want to be and who society wants you to be.
Although we’re not perfect, some of the blame can be laid at society’s door and the values and ideas that are passed on.
It’s not so much then as escaping society, but rather being the one who defines your place in it.
It’s not about rebelling for its own sake, but rebelling to find yourself. But it’s also going one step further and working to create a more tolerant society.
‘Anxiety is the worry we have in fitting in, depression, the possibility we never will.’
The solution is to forget trying to so hard to fit in. Discover what life means for yourself, rather than have a package deal handed to you. Your own values, passions, needs, this is what makes your life your own.
Be unashamedly who you are.
It’s like finding your niche, a player that’s part of a team and what position do you fit in?
Society can be a help and a hindrance, we need to find out which and be more choosy with what we accept and reject.
Ill finish with this classic Brazilian story,story I discovered.
The fisherman and the businessman
There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.
As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”
The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”
The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”