Choosing who to become

So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there.
— S.Chbosky/The Perks of Being A Wallflower. 

They’ll hurt you and desert you,
They’ll take your soul if you let them,
Oh yeah, but don’t you let them.
–J. Taylor/You’ve Got A Friend

One of the things I have really wondered  about over the last few years is how much control we have over who we become. There are a lot of things in life that are entirely out of our control. Maybe most things. Where we are born and raised. Who raises us. A loving or abusive upbringing. 

A lot of the things we don’t have any control over have a huge impact in how we turn out. Does someone teach us to control our impulses? Does anyone read with us? Does someone teach us manners?

Then there is a certain core part of us that is us. The self, whatever that means. Two people with the same upbringing can turn out very differently. There are elements of the personality that we seem to be born with. 

Eventually, we grow older and reach a point where we do have more control. We have choices. 

Maybe our core self doesn’t change. Overall, I think our personality traits are often born practically the second we are.  I have always been someone who ponders things. Some people are naturally spontaneous. Does that mean I can’t work on not overthinking everything or that I can’t be spontaneous? Of course not. We have a whole lot of choice about how we live, and even more choices when it comes to how we react to life. How we react to how people treat us, or to things that happen to us. 

Do we assume the worst or have faith?

Do we let ourselves be consumed with anger and hate or do we try to steer ourselves in a different direction and become someone  who reacts with empathy and compassion? That part, I am convinced, is a choice. Not always an easy one!

Here’s what I think:

It’s not about the answers. It’s about continuing to ask the questions. It’s about wondering if you like the person you are becoming every day. Asking what you can do to compensate for traits that you find less desirable. Trying things out. 

Never stop wondering. Never stop asking “what if…”

Never stop becoming who you want to be.  Accept that you will never be finished becoming you. 

Always be a work in progress. 

Disclaimers

I have a really hard time dealing with people who are hot and cold, people who love me one day and are indifferent the next.  It triggers reactions that are intense, especially if I pretend I  am really OK with it for a while and it happens over and over.  Which I try not to do, but hey. Human.

Of course I also have equally intense positive reactions, which results in things like pulling off the road because I have to stop and watch the sunset right NOW and text everyone to go outside and look. I say “wow” a lot. I stop what I am doing and try to see beauty in things. 


So it is, like many things, both a blessing and a curse. 

One of my disclaimers would be:

 

Warning: expect extreme emotional responses.

 

I am living a far more open life than I ever have before. I say what I think and feel, and prefer that in others as well.  There is still an inherent introversion, and my first reaction is still to go quiet when I am experiencing some sort of intense emotion. How do you tell the difference between being quiet and happy and being quiet and angry? Well, you might see me smiling or scowling…but the easiest thing is just to ask me. I will talk about anything now. Even things that are hard to talk about. Sometimes I just don’t quite know how I feel, sometimes it can take me a while to sort things out in my head. I will tell you that, too.

Sometimes all I am thinking is “should I have popcorn for dinner?” Other times I am thinking if I should bring something up or let it go. These days, I seem to be opting more and more for bringing things up before they start to get to me, but first…silence.

This would definitely be one of my warning notices:

 

Beware of extended silences.



As I keep trying to make myself a better person, there is one thing I continue to struggle with. It is difficult for me to deal with stupidity. Not innocent ignorance, but willful ignorance.  Ignorance can be overcome with a willingness to learn. The sort of stupidity that gets to me is the sort that doesn’t even want to learn. My behavior on this has improved only slightly from the first grade when I told my teacher that I didn’t want to help a boy named Wayne with his work because he was stupid and mean. She made me do it anyway. He still tried to beat me up at recess. He was stupid and mean. Where I was wrong is not in my assessment of Wayne, but in my lack of empathy for why he was the way he was. It is still a character flaw I work on, but not as hard as I should. 

My biggest disclaimer would be:
Warning: does not play well with stupid people.
If people came with warning labels, what would yours say?



What’s your job?

Yo, what a freak

I’m a tree

(No you’re not)

I’m a tree

(Stop lying)

–Imani Coppola/I’m A Tree

Driving home from work, stuck in traffic, I noticed three trees at the side of the freeway. All the same type. One was sort of squat–stubby and scarred. One was tall and robust–the only one that really seemed to be flourishing. The other was thin and scraggly. 

It made me wonder, the way things always do, if  trees notice differences between themselves. 

Does the spruce envy the weeping willow its pliable branches and soft leaves?

Does the willow envy the noble fir for being so tidy and green all year?

Does the fir envy the cherry for its flowers and fruit?

Does the cherry have a superior attitude because it doesn’t have scratchy needles like a pine tree?

Not likely. Given the lack of brains, trees probably aren’t big on labels. Classifying isn’t something they get called on to do in life like animals do. They reach for the sun as best as they can with their branches, and send their roots down for as much nourishment as they can find. 

Trees know their job and they do it. No worry. Probably no pleasure, either. 

Humans love to compare and label. We classify. We sort. 

We wish we were taller. Shorter. Thinner. Darker. Straighter. Slimmer. Better. Worse. We’re happy when we’re doing better than other humans. We’re sad or anxious when we feel like we’re not doing as well. 
We don’t spend a lot of time just being. 

It’s the thing that makes us build things, but also the thing that leads to excess. Avarice and war. Caring and compassion. Because we are so successful at adapting, the only thing that keeps us in check is…us. 

Mostly, we run rampant. At some level, I think most of us know that. We feel a need to rationalize it by claiming a higher purpose, or a better spot in the evolutionary chain. 
Ultimately, the Earth will win. 

The trees won’t care either way.