Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Confession and Self-Improvement

The fog has lifted, the air is still, and on the inside, there is peace.

For most of the last year plus, I've been yearning to reach the place I am now. From this more peaceful place, I can see the road traveled more clearly, and reflect on what's been learned.

The end of 2014 brought a lot of pain.  Some of it, regrettably, I have written about here.  This regret is something I think is important for me to talk about now.  It has been my good fortune that most of life has been free of long-term, deeply emotional pain.  There have been patches, for sure.  My experience of the puberty years were confusing and mostly filled with depression and self-loathing.  The months following our miscarriage were acutely painful.  But mostly, my life has gone pretty well.

Because my life has gone so well, I hadn't learned how to go about my day to day life while in pain.  My enneagram personality type is type 5, which includes a tendency to run and hide in the face of conflict, and more importantly, the ability to repress emotional to the point that when I can recognize that I'm feeling an emotion, it can be a devastating experience.  Emotions simply aren't a regular part of my internal monologue.

So at the end of 2014, with all its pain, I panicked.  I behaved in ways that are not consistent with the person I want to be; The person I spend a lot of energy trying to show to others. In my pain, I wrote publicly about things that did not concern the public. I shared an email with the public that was not written for public consumption, and I painted a church community with broad strokes over actions that very few of them were involved in.

In my head, I think I justified what I was doing by comparing myself to what people do all the time: emote publicly over perceived injustice.  Liberal culture rewards people for calling out bad behavior, and in my head, I had been wronged, and being wronged warrants public shaming.  Perhaps sometimes it does.  In my case, it did not.

Looking back on it now, I can name a few ways I've harmed myself in the name of catharsis.  Firstly, by showing a willingness to speak publicly about things that did not concern the public, I showed myself to be a person who cannot be trusted to be disagreed with.  If I am willing to go public with my disagreement with you, you will learn to avoid any topics in which we might disagree.  If I show that I am a person who might put your email to me on my blog, you will learn not to send me emails.  Both of these things are violations of trust, and I want to be a person that can be trusted.

And it wasn't only me who was harmed.  Things didn't go the way I'd planned within my church community, that's for certain.  But entertaining the notion of having an atheist be a member is going out on a limb for any church, even a liberal one.  And by acting outside my own values as a civil person, I lessened the incentive for the church to go out on limbs.  If my behavior is the reward for such a risk, it would be reasonable to circle the wagons and give less leeway to people whose ideas fall well outside the accepted norms.  That's not to say that the community will react in that way, but if they did, it would be understandable.

I am taking my failures over the past year as a challenge.  It is a challenge for me to practice civility in times of pain.  It is a challenge to live up to my values even when it's easier to abandon them for a quick atta-boy or a cheap signal to my in-group.

I am the only person who will be there for all of my life events.  If free will exists, the person over whom I can exert the most control is myself.  Therefore, if I want to be the happiest I can, with enough emotional reserve left over to focus on others, I have to view myself as an ongoing project.