Getting What You Deserve
February 25, 2012
My friend Chris refuses to have an internet in his home. I used to just think it eccentric, but now I believe his avoidance of the internet is a symptom of something more serious. He has applied for many better paying jobs over the years. In his contact information he includes his cellphone, street address and an e mail which he rarely ever checks. He has been invited for job interviews by e mail and because he does not check it he has missed more than a few chances for advancement. It is my belief that what he is doing, unbeknown to himself, is sabotaging himself because a part of him does not believe he deserves to do better.
He is hardly alone in this. Tabloids are full of celebrities who, after years of public adoration, press the self-destruct button. It is almost as though they reach a point where they feel they do not deserve the praise, the fame, the riches. Closer to home, we all can think of teenage girls who have dated rebel boys that are so blatantly not good for them. “I can change him,” they say. Or, “He is misunderstood.” There are the obese women who, after months of punishing dieting, reach their ideal weight, only to put it all back on again. It used to amuse me to see all the smokers outside of the cancer hospital, sitting in their wheelchairs and hospital dressing gowns, tethered to an IV tube, still unable to give up the habit that got them into that state in the first place. And what can the reason be for gay men to still engage in risky behavior despite thirty years of HIV in their midst? It is almost as though we have a little voice inside us telling us “this is what you deserve”.
Less dramatically, but no less damagingly, we limit our selves by the choices we make. My niece settled for a career as a Physician’s Assistant while her brother headed off to medical school. She gets peeved when people ask her why she didn’t pursue an M.D. as well. When I was furnishing my apartment I decided upon Barcelona chairs. The authentic ones were sumptuous, but I was happier with their Chinese knock-offs. I often buy second-hand furniture, or purchase clothing from the discount bins or during January Sales. I call it thrifty but I have to wonder, does a part of me feel that I do not deserve top quality goods?
The opposite of this are the people who brim with self-confidence. They are not shy about aiming high, driving the best cars, living in the fanciest homes, moving socially upwards. Their very body language says: “I deserve only the best”. Sometimes this internal dialogue is conscious, but often it is subliminal. We all begin life with undefined potential, but soon our families, our peers, our culture define us by setting limits. Of course, if we over-step our ambitions others do not hesitate to push us back. Sometimes I think the whole function of the high school guidance counsellor is to mock people’s dreams. Teachers have subtle ways of evaluating us beyond the grades they assign. Bullies make it their life’s work to keep people in their place. Anyone who is not male, not white, not beautiful, is reminded by every magazine cover, every TV show that he is a bit-player in life.
However the fault it not wholly with others, we define ourselves with our choices. As a fiction writer I understand very well that to breathe life into a character I need to describe in detail his choice of hairstyle, his career, his diet, even what he wears to bed. All of this minutiae reflects for the readers the character’s inner personality. It seems to me that we humans are compelled to continually keep defining ourselves to the world , albeit sub-consciously. “That dress is me,” says the fashionista. “Those are my people I am defending,” says the soldier. “My god is the only true one,” screams the fanatic. Artistic/ intellectual/ Conservative/ Buddhist/ bi/lesbian/ young/ old/black/Asian and the rest, are all more than labels, they are the bricks of our very identity. It is as though without these definitions we might cease to exist. We feel vulnerable, unsafe without borders to define us. Are we using fear to feel safe?
But what exactly would happen if we stripped our identity of all its definitions, what would be left? Maybe, just maybe our real selves. And what could that possibly feel like, beyond the initial fear? How would it be to have no gender or age, no race, no sexuality? To be part-less, unassailable, unchanging throughout time and ever the same in every place, to be complete, needing nothing, nothing to prove, nothing to achieve?
It feels like home.