Have you ever had an out of body experience? Not necessarily the "I was dead for three minutes and walked toward the light" sort of thing (though that would certainly count), but more in the "I'm here but not here" kind of way. I realized recently that this happens to ...
There is an epidemic circulating these days, and unless you live under a rock you likely will fall victim to it sooner or later (if you haven't already). The relatively newfound interconnectivity people have with each other due to social media and the like has made it possible for dialogues ...
Like most of the country, I was absolutely appalled at the tragedy in Sandy Hook high school this past Friday. To the point that, after trying to figure out which link I wanted to put into this post for informational purposes of what happened, I decided on nothing at all. ...
Someone sent me a website to look at this morning with the prior request that I let him know what I thought of it. It was a site dedicated to stopping false accusations of crimes, and he thought I might find it interesting. So I took a look. Within the ...
Have you ever had an out of body experience? Not necessarily the “I was dead for three minutes and walked toward the light” sort of thing (though that would certainly count), but more in the “I’m here but not here” kind of way. I realized recently that this happens to me on a pretty regular basis, and when I become aware of it, it genuinely freaks me out–for a number of reasons.
I’ll give an example. My job requires me to be in a fair number of meetings per week, most of which involve me updating people in my department about whatever tasks I’m working on at the time. Almost without fail, I will notice as I am speaking about these things that the words coming out of my mouth aren’t mine. They aren’t anyone’s–they are essentially just an autopilot version of a human being speaking with other human beings. And as this realization sets in, I actually get to the point where I am watching myself speaking, hearing sounds being projected across the room, but not having any true conception of what is being said or why. And the craziest part is that if I am asked to repeat what I’ve said or expand upon something, I can almost always do it without trouble. Or rather, more words are produced by the robot below me that satisfy the people listening.
I can’t remember when I first started disassociating like this, but I can say it is a very good method for inducing panic in me when it occurs. No amount of history or practice can prepare me for the feeling of having “two” selves, the automated version of which is available to others. I wish it were as simple as a daydream that can take place when you are really bored with your surroundings, but there is a difference. When I daydream, I may as well be sleeping with my eyes open. I am not productive, I cannot speak or respond, and I certainly am not aware of it in some second-order way as it is going on.
It isn’t just something that can fly up when I am interacting with others. I can realize that I am doing something productive alone and begin to “float” over it just as easily. I watched myself read a book last night for ten or fifteen minutes. I can recall all of what was read, but I can also recall the realization that I was completely detached from the eyes and brain that were taking in the words on the page.
Maybe this all takes place because my brain is always running at ninety miles an hour, and isn’t capable of focusing on just one thing. But the thing is, it’s not as though the “floating” version of myself starts to dwell on something other than what the autoversion of me is doing. Most of the time I just watch myself, essentially as a passive observer, taking in the spectacle of a body participating in day-to-day life sans depth.
I realize that by putting this out there in the world I am not making myself look too good. I was asked recently why I feel the need to blog about things this personal, and the truth is, I don’t really know. Sometimes I just like getting my feelings on the page and then throw them into the cybervoid to see if someone else can relate. Sometimes I feel like publishing something makes it “real”, where it used to be only in my mind (and therefore not real). Sometimes I want to make a clever point and it can be an ego boost to have affirmation of that by someone else. And sometimes I just feel do it, Nike style, without a cause. Or at least one I am aware of. Beyond that, though, I know people could say I’m trying to characterize myself as crazy to get attention. Or they could say I’m trying to come up with an excuse for not giving people the proper amount of attention when I speak to them. Or they could just read this and not think or say anything. All are possible scenarios. At the end of the day, though, sometimes it helps in a completely non-descriptive way to take something that has been bothering me, write it out in the rambling, disjunctive method that I have developed here, and post it without reason or justification. Just because.
And it dawned on me at this moment that I am watching myself write this as well.
There is an epidemic circulating these days, and unless you live under a rock you likely will fall victim to it sooner or later (if you haven’t already). The relatively newfound interconnectivity people have with each other due to social media and the like has made it possible for dialogues that even ten years ago wouldn’t have been possible. Soccer moms can chat with other soccer moms on Facebook about how their kids are more primed for the big time than their coaches seem to comprehend. Wives to be can Pinterest their favorite wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses to demonstrate for all the world just how superfluously tasteful they plan to be in the upcoming months. Sorostitutes can Instagram their favorite pouty poses and cleavage shots in Cancun to make Greek America jealous for a week or so. And so on.
But while these awesome new trends may seem reason enough to welcome ourselves happily into the new millennium, there is one facet of it all that makes this wannabe reporter cringe every time it occurs. The speed of our networking allows not only for people to express their views about whatever may be on their minds, but also for detractors, hiding in the cyber weeds ready to pounce, to tell everyone why the views are wrong (and make themselves feel that much smarter, cooler, and good looking in the process). Put simply, horses have never been as high as they seem to be these days, and quite frankly, it annoys the living shit out of me.
Here’s a recent example from my own experience. I’m currently reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Why? Because I’ve heard it’s an interesting book, it has achieved canonical status over the past few decades in American lit, and because I fucking felt like it. If you will excuse my obvious annoyance at having to explain myself for the moment, hopefully the rest of this brief story will help it all to make sense eventually.
About a third of the way through what has so far been a very fun to read book, I came across a quote that struck me as both poignant and hilarious. So as a good disciple of the Internet age, I posted it on Facebook. Here’s what I wrote, verbatim:
“Keating leaned back with a sense of warmth and well-being. He liked this book. It made the routine of his Sunday morning breakfast a profound spiritual experience; he was certain that it was profound, because he didn’t understand it.”
Ayn Rand, putting pretentious pseudo-intellectuals on blast since 1943.
If you can’t see why I found this hysterical, you need to get your sense of humor checked out. It’s a good quote, it makes fun of people who in my mind deserve to be made fun of, and it’s easy to understand. So I threw it online for people to enjoy it along with me. That was it. Story ends, right? Not even close. Within minutes I had a response comment from a former colleague in graduate school saying:
“Good thing her argument that A=A entails that all truths are necessary is understood by her followers.”
Jesus Christ. That was my first thought, anyway. My second thought was to explain what I thought should have been obvious–namely that my finding a quote funny shouldn’t implicate me in the funny person’s philosophical agendas from the following decades. But rather than do that, I went back to my trusty standby and responded snarkily without ever really taking the comment seriously. Sixteen messages later, the discussion was over (but not, I might add, before the commenter plead with himself on his own page not to get into “fights with friends on Facebook.”)
The point of this is not to belittle my social media detractor. I don’t hold any ill-will, and I hope he doesn’t either. But the fact that I can’t be sure whether he would “forgive” me for something like this is exactly what I’m talking about in the first place. Why in the hell is it more fashionable to try and rip someone apart than to leave it alone, especially when doing so requires twisting words in the first place? How is this gratifying? Who was being harmed by my quote? If this is what it takes to win intellectual pissing contests, consider me a dribbler.
And even when supposed “harm” might be involved in inspiring someone to sip the haterade and rant, it seems that the usual assumptions of, say, using facts in your argument have gone out the window. Here is another example of what I’m talking about.
“Kristen,” a friend and former grad colleague as well, is the writer and editor of a blog that focuses in large part on the legitimacy of home birthing and doula relationships. Here’s what I know about what it takes to give birth: not much, beyond having my hand almost ripped off by my wife when she was having our son. Here’s what I know about home birthing: not much, beyond reading Kristen’s entertaining stories. Here’s what I know about being a doula: not much, beyond reading Kristen’s entertaining stories. And finally, here’s what I know about Kristen: she’s incredibly smart, obviously a great mother, obviously a beloved doula, obviously a great writer, and has been nothing but supportive to me in my blogging and other similar endeavors. (Check her stuff out here if you’re interested.)
I mention all of this because just recently, a well-known blogger named “Dr. Amy” decided–apparently on her day off no less–to dedicate an entire post to the dangers of Kristen’s ideas and ideals. Fair enough–giving birth is a serious and potentially dangerous ordeal, so if you truly believe that home birthing is problematic, that warrants a response. But here’s the problem–interspersed in the out of context ramblings against Kristen’s posts, Dr. Amy decided to throw in comments like this gem (about Kristen): “YOU aren’t radically unique. You are the gullible, woefully undereducated woman who thinks reading books for laypeople is ‘research;’ who has probably never read a single scientific paper in its entirety…(and are) the typical homebirth advocate, risking her baby’s life for no better reason than your personal experience.”
Damn. Pretty harsh stuff. Except for one small problem: none of it is true. The fact that Kristen is where she is in both the blogging and doula world makes her pretty unique, especially given where she started. Which was by getting her doctorate in philosophy. Which, last I checked, kind of negates the whole “uneducated and never reading research papers” thing. And while I can’t speak directly to her level of gullibility, I can say that she is savvy enough to pay her children off in order to have ten minutes to get it on with her husband. So that has to count for something, right?
(Very) long story short, there are too many people out there who would rather spend their time attempting to create stupidity in others and exploiting it than creating something positive of their own and honoring it. This bothers me, especially as a true hater of stupidity in my own right. There is plenty of real nastiness out there to show off your medula oblongpenis with. Don’t waste your (and my) time with the rest.
Like most of the country, I was absolutely appalled at the tragedy in Sandy Hook high school this past Friday. To the point that, after trying to figure out which link I wanted to put into this post for informational purposes of what happened, I decided on nothing at all. I honestly can’t handle looking at it all again. So if you have been under a rock for the last few days, just Google “Newtown, CT” and you should find everything you need to get back up to speed.
I haven’t written here in a while, and rather then spend my return discussing the disgustingness of what took place–which has been done and undoubtedly will continue to be done ad-nauseum for the upcoming days and weeks–I thought I would venture into an area that I have been interested in for years, but never had the guts to discuss in public forums until now.
The oft-debated “right to bear arms” is understandably at the center of the recent media firestorm, and it is clear that both sides of the political universe are trying to find ways to use the events in Newtown as a catalyst for achieving whatever goals they have generally on this topic. And while I usually find myself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum when I think about people’s rights concerning firearms, I thought it might be a good opportunity to go back and look at what is actually stated in the Second Amendment, and go from there. Here is the text:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
As is common in the rights ascribed by the Bill of Rights, the forefathers made (at least in my mind) a conscious point to remain as ambiguous as possible in the details while still affirming the conceptual importance of what was being discussed. In other words, because the idea of the Constitution was to provide the framework upon which to found the nation and guide it through its various future iterations, the writers had the good sense to understand that getting into the nitty-gritty of the time period in which they lived would provide little help for American citizens living in the more technologically advanced future. Hence the ambiguity. People have the right to keep and bear arms, and that right cannot be infringed by government. What should count as “arms,” however, is (again, understandably) left out of the document, and left up to the individual generations of government and citizens to interpret on their own.
So the question for today remains: How well have we done in this interpretation of what the founding fathers were pushing for two hundred plus years ago?
Rather than get into a complex conversation about the difference in scope between federal and state laws, and who should govern what, etc.–for which I wouldn’t have the competence or background to do well anyway–I just want to consider the big picture for a moment. As to the first question of whether people should have the right to keep and bear any firearms (and I should point out that at this point in time, “arms” can’t realistically be considered anything less than guns), I would give a conditional “yes, they do.” I don’t have a problem with someone keeping a well-protected and maintained gun in the house for the purpose of self-protection, or protection of his family. That alone doesn’t concern me. However, even that potentially benign example, in my view, should require a more stringent licensing process than appears to exist in many parts of the country today. Greater time elapses, stronger requirement classes, psychological evaluations (on a continuing basis), and frequent renewal exams all seem perfectly reasonable to me for those who wish to own a firearm at home.
To the many who argue for the priority of freedom and liberty over potential security, I can only give my staunchest disagreement. This isn’t about the denial of liberty for the sake of governmental control. This isn’t big brother at play. This is about ensuring that those who wish to invoke the rights ascribed in the Bill of Rights are capable of doing so in a competent, safe fashion. And while it will undoubtedly be pointed out that even the best security checks will not stop people from obtaining weapons through beating the system or utilizing the black market, that alone doesn’t provide the justification for abandoning the protection of law altogether. We aren’t anarchists, no matter how imperfect the structure of law may be currently.
Consider the security checkpoints existing in many of the airports throughout the country today. Putting aside the legitimate concern of potential profiling in who is actually checked the most, let’s look at (again, from a big picture standpoint) why these checkpoints became so stringent ten or so years ago. Prior to 9/11, it was pretty easy to get through an airport and onto a plane carrying items that could provide the means for causing the atrocities we saw on September 11th. Now, while it is clearly not impossible to get a weapon onto a plane, it is damn hard. And while I am among the many who get annoyed in the moment when I have to take off my shoes, wait in long lines, and have my liquids kept to a certain small quantity before boarding, at the end of the day I am willing to sacrifice the “freedom” of keeping people from seeing my socks for the sake of having my plane take off and land safely. Just a little quirk of mine, I guess.
Getting back now to the question of what should count as legitimate “arms” for a citizen to keep and bear, in my mind we should take a common-sense approach to this. In other words, what would it take for the average person, who is not in combat, to protect himself and his family while in his home or (less importantly to me) in public? Would a knife do the trick? Well, maybe not if the person attacking you is carrying a gun. Or, worse yet, if the person attacking you is actually a group of people instead. So under these circumstances, what would suffice for your protection? How about a pistol or two, each of which carries, say, twenty rounds of ammunition? That must be enough, right?
I have yet to hear a good argument for the average non-military citizen’s right to develop and maintain an arsenal in his home. What purpose would this serve, beyond simply honoring freedom and liberty for the sake of freedom and liberty? And more importantly, what are the costs of allowing this type of freedom and liberty to exist? As we saw in Newtown, and as we’ve seen in other similarly horrible situations, the damage an assault rifle can cause is massive. The purpose, as I understand it anyway, of an automatic weapon is to provide the user with the capacity to fire multiple rounds as quickly as possibly without the burden of reloading. Add to that the extended magazines, etc., provided in these types of weapons and one has the obligation to ask what do you really want to do with something like that? When is the ability to wound or kill five, or ten, or twenty people in seconds really and truly applicable to self-protection, except perhaps in the most imaginative of exceptions?
The fact of the matter is that while people may indeed have a right to protect themselves with firearms, that right needs to be limited to something a reasonable and rational person would agree to. And while I may not be the paradigm of either, I cannot for the life of me understand why a weapon designed primarily for military warfare is needed for the average person looking to defend himself and his family in a worst case scenario setting.
A final point concerning an analogy that has been–inappropriately–used by many in support of an open-ended right to bear arms. Drugs are illegal, and people obviously continue to have access to them. Abuse is present, and crime persists because of it. But these facts, while tragic, do not imply the necessity of complete deregulation of drugs in America. A change in regulation, perhaps, but not deregulation. And that’s really what we’re talking about here, isn’t it? Your “right” to something doesn’t in any way imply that I have a subsequent obligation to just hand over whatever you want without first offering up some realistic expectations and restrictions. Even the hardcore libertarian has to accept that while government shouldn’t get involved in restricting his freedom, that freedom simply cannot result in the illegitimate harm of others.
Give me liberty or give me death. Well, in this case, giving you one may give me the other. And I’m not ready to go quite yet.
Someone sent me a website to look at this morning with the prior request that I let him know what I thought of it. It was a site dedicated to stopping false accusations of crimes, and he thought I might find it interesting. So I took a look. Within the first minute I found myself conjuring up reason after reason why the testimonials provided were nonsense, and justification after justification for why the site was bogus overall. And then it hit me: I couldn’t have cared less about false accusations or the supposedly innocent people who were being screwed over by a faulty system. I had no emotional investment whatsoever in either side of the debate. My counterpoints just “happened” in my head, as though set off by some mystical philosopher demon whose only purpose in life was to prove you wrong. And yes, I mean you. So I deleted the comments I had constructed in an email to my friend illustrating how stupid the website was and sat back for a moment to ask myself that age-old question: What the fuck is wrong with me?
Now, hours later and on a forum about as lame (sorry bloggers) as Facebook or Twitter, I find myself coming to the same conclusion over and over again. When it comes to my opinion on most worldly topics, I am just a sociopathic malcontent. Which is to say, if you ask me what I think about something “relevant” in the social stratosphere, it will be more likely than not that I simply won’t care one way or the other. Thus the sociopathy (I may have created that word). But it doesn’t just end there. Regardless of my ambivalence about the subject matter in question, I will almost always immediately default to the contrary position of whatever has been argued. I will become the opponent, the adversary, the fly in the ointment. In essence, I become the asshole you should avoid.
A quick word about the so-called “Devil’s Advocate”. John Stuart Mill famously maintained that there is a place for contrary views on just about everything, if only to avoid what he called the dead dogma of those who forget to think about what they believe after a period of time. Specifically, he pointed out that even “…the most intolerant of churches, the Roman Catholic Church, at the canonization of a saint, admits, and listens patiently to, a ‘devil’s advocate.’” So you might think that I am simply performing a public service by telling people how wrong they are to believe whatever they are spouting off to me. But sadly, that isn’t the case at all. I’m not being contrary to maintain some sort of academic living truth. I’m doing it because most opinions annoy me to the core.
Hence the malcontent. I can’t be satisfied in just listening to someone talk or argue or preach. Just can’t do it. Some synapse in my brain causes the wheels to turn immediately with the sole purpose of finding the flaw that I can use as a response, often with the (fake) fervency of the most adamant of pro-lifers standing outside of an abortion clinic as poor young sixteen year old Jill tries to walk in so she can continue her life in peace. See what I mean? I can’t even provide an analogy or metaphor without becoming irritated with both the ridiculous imaginary picketers who refuse to spend their imaginary time getting imaginary jobs, and the made-up teenager who couldn’t get laid without subjecting an innocent made-up fetus to death because she wants to remain a cheerleader in her made-up high school.
“Yeah, but…” is my stock response to something that I don’t care about but don’t feel like staying quiet about either. The two words form in my mouth faster than you can imagine, and are followed by a counter-argument that probably has holes in it but looks good at first glance. That’s the gift and the curse of being smart but not brilliant. I can start a hell of a lot of nice sounding projects without having the brain power to see them to their fruitful conclusion. And it also doesn’t help that I get bored easily.
Even now, with this post, I feel the appeal of writing about my predispositions of contrariness and assholishness wearing off. I am becoming annoyed at my annoyingness, not so much because I don’t want to be annoying to people, but more because it is getting boring to write about it. I am thinking of reasons why this post would not serve the purpose I initially intended it to, which is basically just to tell a (remarkably unapologetic, as it turns out) story about my argumentative nature. So with that, I will sign off by saying that whoever you are, whatever you think, you are probably wrong. And remember, no matter how passionate I may appear when I tell you how wrong you are, deep down I probably don’t even care.
Of all the things I inherited from my father that I hope will not be passed along to my son, my ability to become furious virtually instantaneously is probably at the top of the list. I know it has been there in me for as long as I can remember, and while I have gone to great lengths throughout my life to try and curb it, I’m pretty sure it’s still there and will be for the long haul.
But rather than make this a post about me and my past and stories about how I’ve flipped out and lashed out and freaked out (and trust me, I have them to tell), I thought I would talk about the unexpected ways anger can pervade someone’s life. If you take nothing else from this, just know that I wish these feelings on no one.
It builds and it builds and it builds inside of you until it finally spills over, often in ways and places you wouldn’t prefer. It affects everything in your life from judgment, to relationships, to the simple ability to calm yourself enough to think clearly. And to be clear, it’s not always about who is the loudest or most aggressive in the fight. Anger manifests itself in all sorts of ways, including the quiet storm that can let you know that someone isn’t really mad unless she isn’t talking. It all depends on the person.
So getting back to the beginning , what’s the moral of this story? It can’t be to never be angry, because that isn’t realistic. But for those who have the propensity that I do for allowing anger to sit and fester for long periods of time, do yourselves a favor and at least take it seriously. Don’t blow it off. If you need to talk to someone about it, or take a pill, or climb a mountain, do it. And do it fast. Because the longer you wait, the worse off you will be, and the harder it will be to kick it.
When did I reach the point of my life where I stopped caring about the future and only worried about the present?
Rhetorical question obviously, especially since I might be the only one in the world who could possibly answer it. I’ve never been one to have a hardcore “life plan” for myself, but up until a couple of years ago I always had at least a few things that I wanted to accomplish in the not-so-distant future. They ranged in size and subject, not to mention feasibility, but they were always there….at least in the back of my mind.
Some examples, beginning with the earliest I can remember:
As you can no doubt tell, these are all general “life goals.” They are big deals and I imagine most people share some (if not all) of them too. I was lucky enough to accomplish most of them, but in doing so I’ve found that I no longer really aspire for anything tangible. I don’t have any other life goals that would rival those past ones. Why? I tell myself it has to do with the stress of the moment and nothing more. For instance, here would be the things I want to “accomplish” in my life right now:
Catch a theme in there? When did I become like this? I’ll admit again I was never the most pie in the sky person when it came to future goals, but this is ridiculous. Of course it is practical to want to save, and make money, and get out of debt, but these are things that dominate my consciousness to the point that almost nothing else can come in. I’m deteriorating. To put it eloquently, it fucking sucks.
The problem is, whenever I try to get beyond my stressors and come up with some better plans for the future, I generally only get as far as the most initial stages of thought before something inevitably comes along and smacks me back to reality.
Here’s an example. When I was a senior in college a couple of my roommates and I were really into movies. Not just new releases, but the classics. One of my roommates had the idea to put of the AFI Top 100 Movies of All-Time list on our living room wall and watch as many as he could throughout the year. For no reason other than because it seemed like a cool thing to do. I joined in when I could, and had a great time in doing so. About a month ago I remembered how much fun it was and decided to try it again, only this time with a more regimented and scheduled approach (for obvious reasons). I looked up the newest list, downloaded as many movies as I could from #100 on up, and decided that I would watch at least one movie a week for as long as it took until the list was complete. One a week–two to three hours max. No problem, right? Even in my crazy life I should be able to pull that one off, right? Wrong. Haven’t even started yet, despite the fact that the movies are right there in my queue, ready to go. Pathetic.
The funny thing is, I have never felt old a day in my life until now. Despite the fact that I’ve been actually young so far, I’ve always looked even younger than my age. Baby face syndrome I suppose. But regardless of how I look now (and trust me, I feel like I look decades older than I used to), I am really starting to fear the stagnancy that goes along with forgetting to improve myself. And that means having goals. Future goals. Big deal goals.
So what now? Where do I want to be in five years? What do I want that involves something other than dollars and cents? If I had to come up with a list right now, I’m pretty sure it would be much weirder than my first one. But the hell with it, why not give it a shot:
Cheesy? Trite? Couldn’t care less. Too much of my life, including the years I’ve spent writing here, have been based almost entirely about trying to please. And something I’ve realized lately is that trying to please can itself be an incredible selfish pursuit. If I try to make people happy because it makes me happy, or because it alleviates my pain, or fear, or stress, how altruistic can I really consider myself at the end of the day. So going forward, if I were to have one more goal for the future, it would be this: Do for me, but in such a way that the world around me can be happy with what I’ve done. It’s a lofty goal, I know, but why not shoot for the moon here? It’s only my life we’re talking about…
A friend of mine made a claim recently that got a group of us into a sort of debate for the next few days. After reading about the difficulties associated with caring for older parents with medical issues, he argued that parents should, wherever possible, have at least two children because of the support that they could provide both for each other and their parents once they required it. More was said on those lines, but I’m leaving it at that for the purposes of what follows.
As some know, I am a father of one son (Casey). He is about two and a half years old, and he is the love of my life. I am also the oldest of four children, two boys and two girls, ranging in ages from 16 (my youngest sister) to 31 (myself). So at this point in my life, I have experience both with having siblings, and bringing up a child who does not. Also at this point–and my wife is aware of this–I really have no intention of having more children. I can say this for a number of reasons, including:
You may note that only the fourth item involves something tangible–$–where the rest essentially have to do with my own states of being. And while I have heard other parents say things like “You think you can’t love another child as much as your first, but then you have one and it always works out,” I find myself coming to the same response over and over again. Namely, even though perhaps I could find it in myself to love another child and split my attention between them, I just don’t want to. So with that in mind, I return to my friend’s statement and ask whether this makes me a selfish asshole. Does it?
My friend’s point relies on two premises that may or may not be true for all people. First, it implies that all parents (or at least most) will become elderly and require emotional, physical, and financial support, all of which can be provided more easily by multiple children than just one. Second, it implies that all siblings (or at least most) are able to provide emotional, physical, and in some cases financial support to each other. In my friend’s personal case–from what I can see anyway–both of these implications would be perfectly natural for him. He was raised in a closely knit family with loving parents, under the umbrella of financial stability, and accordingly has developed a good relationship with his sister. Makes sense, at least to me. But the problem that I see in his argument rests on the fact that while he may see his situation as the norm, in reality it may be closer to the exception than the general rule. And if we looks at things with that caveat in mind, his argument becomes less applicable than one might have originally thought.
Consider my case, for example. As I said above, I was raised with two parents in a middle class home with three siblings. My parents were well educated, appeared to make decent salaries, owned multiple cars, and were able to send me to a private high school. So at first glance, you might think that my situation would be the spitting image of the type of familial nexus that my friend seems to be relying upon for his point. In reality, though, it really wasn’t that way at all. My parents did make decent salaries, but they were also constantly struggling from a financial standpoint because of issues with credit, big bills, etc. I did go to a private high school, by my parents had to scrimp and save every penny they had to make it happen. We did have multiple cars, but the payments were often ballooned and late because of problems due to financing. My parents did love us, but they had a very rocky relationship themselves, and this often spilled over into the interactions that had with each other and the four of us.
The point I am trying to make here is even situations that appear to “work” for the type of stability that my friend needs for his argument to go through don’t always have it underneath it all. I speak with my siblings every so often and I believe I am on good terms with all of them. When I see them I am able to have a good time, in spite of our different personalities and lifestyles. But would I classify us as a “tightly knit group” who will definitely provide the requisite support needed if and when my mother becomes elderly? I honestly have no idea. I also have no idea whether we will be able to provide support for each other during this time, if only because times like that–in my experience anyway–tend to be just as likely to cause rifts in relationships (because of opposing desires concerning what should be done, how things should be handled, etc.) as they are to create and maintain emotional closeness.
So getting back to the original question of whether it is better to provide your child with a sibling than not, I think the best possible answer would be “maybe.” It depends on the circumstances, and not just financial ones. Perhaps a better way of looking at it would be to flip the question around and ask it this way: Is it ever irresponsible to not provide your child with a sibling? And for my money (no pun intended), I can confidently answer “no”. There are no circumstances under which a parent should consider having another child out of obligation, or fear of being irresponsible in not doing so. That thought seems utterly foreign to me. I can, however, think of plenty of circumstances where I would find it completely irresponsible for parents to have another child, and I imagine others can as well, whether or not they would be willing to admit it in public.
Having children is perhaps the most important and gratifying experience a person can have, for a multitude of reasons. But the decision to have children is not one that should be based on anything other than free choice. You know why? Because we already know how decisions made by way of coercion (and let’s face it, telling someone that it would be irresponsible to not have another child can be pretty coercive to the decision making process) don’t often end up with positive results. And if we want to take seriously–as I definitely do–the idea that raising a child to flourish in the world requires a great deal of time, attention, love, and positive role-modeling in order to succeed, we need to make sure these components are available and desired completely before we discuss whether having siblings is a good thing to do.
In my persistent quest to figure out the mess that is my psyche, I keep coming back to one unequivocal truth about myself: I almost never manage to say what I (think I) want to say when I want to say it. I have some derivation of “Damn, I should have said that” or “If only I could say that” going through my mind at least once a day, and often more. This in itself is pretty ironic, since–as those who know me at all can attest to–I generally have an inability to shut the hell up most of the time.
But I realized recently that I have spent a great deal of my life in various “what if” phases of regretful contemplation over scenarios–from the incredibly close to reality to the monumentally far-fetched–that never actually took place. For instance, I can recall plenty of morning showers where I replayed events of bullying in high school where I actually spoke out loud to myself about what I would have said or done if it happened again. Inevitably the whole ordeal would end with me crowning myself the victor of an absurd shouting match with some opponent who in reality probably didn’t even have a problem with me in the first place, but I would also develop an increasing anger over the “wrongs” in my life that could only be righted in my make believe fantasies.
As I got older the fantasies would move from the “what ifs” of anger-laden outburst against my teenaged assailants to more peaceful (though perhaps even more painful) imaginary circumstances where I would know just the right thing to say to the girl of my dreams who to that point in the real world may or may not even know my name. And to be clear, there were a number of females who met that description in my teen years. I never had a problem developing crushes–I just had an insanely hard time expressing myself to anyone of the opposite gender. Needless to say, girlfriends were incredibly few and far between until college. But whenever I would drift off into my happy, sedated world of make believe, I always somehow knew exactly what I would say that would manage to not only awaken my crush to my existence, but would also make her realize just how incredibly awesome a person I was. It wasn’t really a sexual thing (not that I was averse to the idea–I was a teenager after all); it was more an intense desire to have a real life connection with someone without the constant worry of judgment over things like looks, charisma, experience, money, and the like. And believe me, I was insecure about all of these things–especially looks and charisma–to an unhealthy extent for a very long time. Still am, to be honest.
It wasn’t until today, however, that I realized how much the fear of judgment really played a role in my previous inability to speak my mind in the moment. Quite frankly, I don’t so much think it was that I didn’t know what to say and when to say it. It wasn’t like the cat had my tongue all the time. Rather, it was that my mind wouldn’t stop extrapolating the 101 ways that saying what I truly wanted to say could blow up in my face. Consider an example:
High School Adam is walking down the hallway of his school and sees “Kristen”, who he barely knows but nonetheless has a huge crush on. She is walking toward him, and because she is a nice person, smiles at him as she approaches.
<Adam’s mind> “Say hi. See if she stops, and if she does, ask her what she’s doing this weekend.”
<Adam’s fear> “Are you crazy? First of all, you know she won’t stop, and even if she does, what are you going to say if she says she isn’t doing anything this weekend?”
<Adam’s mind> “Oh shut up, she’ll stop. She just smiled at you. And if she says she isn’t doing anything, ask her if she wants to get together.”
<Adam’s fear> “Oh, GREAT idea. I’m sure she’ll have a blast hanging out at the mall with you. Why don’t you pick her up in your mom’s minivan to boot? Nothing says ‘I’m the man’ like a Ford Windstar.”
<Adam’s mind> “Who cares what you’re driving, just go for it! You’ve talked to her a few times in science class, you know she’s nice. You’re nice. You’ll definitely hit it off! Plus she’s cute as hell.”
<Adam’s fear> “Yeah, I know, you’re nice, she’s nice, everyone’s nice. That’s great. You’ve never even taken a walk with a girl before, much less driven her somewhere for a date. Why don’t you just go for broke and show her how inept you are at kissing too while you’re at it? That should win her right over.”
<Adam’s mind> “….Good point.”
Kristen passes by, Adam says nothing, and eventually goes home to watch TV and read while playing that scenario over and over again in his mind until he can’t deal with it anymore and goes to sleep.
If this sounds depressing, I suppose it’s because it is pretty depressing. It’s not like I’m trying to give some sob story about my past to gain sympathy. I could, and probably should, have sacked up once or twice and spoken up to the bully who was bothering me or talked to the girl who I really liked. But in reality, I was just too afraid. And it was a fear that, despite the fact that I have come a long way in certain social respects, continues to this day. And I have no doubt that others share these types of fears and anxieties as well in other contexts and situations.
But imagine a world where you could say whatever you wanted whenever you wanted to whomever you wanted? Or forget a world–how about just a day where the fears that have held you back for so long would just wash away, and you could have the genuine emotional freedom to spit it all out at your leisure. What then?
My first thought is that it would be terrifying to not be terrified. You know why? Because not all of the fears that have prohibited me from saying what I wanted to say in the moment were irrational in their foundation. In other words, sometimes the reason why I didn’t say something was because I would have been an absolute moron to do so (here’s to you probably gang banger who cut me off on I-95 this morning). But if we get beyond the obvious ones and focus on the cases where speaking up with a clear and genuine voice in the moment could have some benefit, imagine how different the world would be for each of us under those circumstances?
If I could walk up to the boss who has continually refused to acknowledge my accomplishments and say “You know what? I want you to admit the great work I’ve done for you this past month, and I’m not leaving the office until you do,” I can’t even imagine the response that would generate in the office around me, not to mention in my own sense of confidence (I should mention that this is just a hypothetical example–I actually really like my real boss). If high school Adam could get over his fears and start a conversation with Kristen, just think of how different his perspective toward a similar initiation would be the second or third time around now that he’d done it already?
A quick response could be that we never really know how these things will play out in real life, and that’s why relegating them to the confines of our own fantasylands is the smart and safe play. For instance, let’s suppose high school Adam does talk to Kristen and she completely blows him off? Or perhaps I finally decide to take my stand against my boss and he tells me that I’ll be standing there all day? How might that affect the psyche that to this point only had to deal with the unknown, instead of certain failure? Isn’t the latter far worse that the former?
The answer, in my mind, is “it depends.” As with all of life, the devil is in the details, and obviously there are some cases where just staying quiet is the way to go no matter what benefit could occur. But in other situations I have become a true believer that finding a way to get over one’s fear and just go for whatever “prize” one desires, even if just once, can have massively positive effects on one’s future sense of self. It allows the person to develop some ownership over her existence, and take control in areas that previously have been left entirely to fate, for lack of a better word. And while some of this may resemble the type of pop psychobabble that many people have come to despise these days, I genuinely think that had I given myself a day to “say whatever” when I was younger, many of the fears and anxieties that exist in me today would not have strength that they currently hold over me.
So in closing, if you are one of the people who find yourself struggling with this sort of thing, do yourself a favor and tell your fear to shut the hell up for an hour or two. And then once you’ve done so, do me a favor and let me know how it all worked out. I’d be really interested in hearing, and I’m pretty sure High School Adam would too.
Ever since I can remember it has always been a big deal that I had something that I could call mine. Whether it was a bedroom, however small, that I didn’t have to share with my brother, or a dorm room single, or gadgets over which only I could control their use, it all mattered to me a great deal. The thing is, it wasn’t that I had problems sharing with people. Truth be told, I don’t mind splitting things with people at all, and in many cases I would prefer to give than to receive. But there is still a part of me that relishes the autonomy that comes with owning something without having to discuss how or when it will be used with anyone. Right now pretty much the only thing I have of my “own” is my iPad, and my two year old is making a run at it to the best of his ability. But that’s cool with me, I’m happy he likes this stuff too.
Back to the point, though, I have been contemplating what it is about ownership generally that has appealed to me for so long. You might argue that it all stems from my childhood, where I was sharing a room and possessions with my brother, and there could be some truth to that. Short of an in-depth psychoanalysis of my history, however, I’d really like to know–now that I am married with a child–how the concept of “ownership” can be a positive in my life going forward.
So let’s assume that it won’t be based so much on tangible “stuff” as something else over which I have this kind of autonomous control. What’s left? Well, I could take a look at the personality traits I have developed and exhibited over my adult life. Clearly they have changed since my late teens and early twenties, but they are still as “mine” today as they were fifteen years ago. On that note, here’s a short list of the characteristics of Adam. Note, obviously, that these are based on my own self-analysis, so I could be way off in reality:
I realize it’s across the board, but I think it’s accurate nonetheless. Of these traits, if you asked how many I have worked to put in place, I would probably point to two: Goofy and Loving. The rest came au naturale from birth, or at least from very early on. Most would not be happy to be called “cold” or “angry” or “obsessive”, and I’m not different. But wishing aside, I am aware that they make me the person I am, and to that extent, I take complete ownership over them. They make up who I am, and for better or worse, they are a part of my history and (likely) my future.
I absolutely detest proclamations that someone needs to “own herself” or “look in the mirror” when the person making the claim has been living with a bag over his head for the majority of his life. This type of hypocrisy makes for the worst kind of accusation, because not only does the person at the end of the pointed finger have to consider the validness of the claim simply because of who is throwing it at her (which can be confusing and frustrating as hell, believe me), but the person making the claim feels even more righteous and virtuous about himself after having done so. It’s a vicious cycle, and with the right type of delusional impression about one’s own character, it can go on and on forever.
I bring this up for the following reason. It’s not that I don’t want to create more “good” traits for my personality and rid myself of the “bad” ones. I will always do my best to change for the better. But in the process of doing so, I refuse to pretend that I am something other than who I really am. I won’t fake it, even if the real me is repulsive to those with whom I make contact (and trust me, they’re out there whether they will tell me to my face or not).
All in all, my life has transitioned to the point where the importance of ownership extends beyond the rooms and toys of my past, and into a focus on who I am, who I have been, and who I will be going forward. Not for my friends, or family, or even my child, though presumably all of them will be affected. This type of perspective is important for me as an individual who strives to keep an introspective eye on myself without relying on the biased hazes of booze, or drugs, or others who tell me what I want to hear because they fear my reaction to the truth. Maybe I’m a scumbag in reality. But you know what? At least I can see that with my own unobstructed vision.
I have had a pretty awful past week or so, on a variety of levels. But rather than get into the details of what happened, I thought I’d mention the result of all of it on my psyche. The truth is, I have a complex that causes me to try and fix problems for everyone around me all the time. I do this, so says my therapist anyway, because it allows me to feel functional while also ignoring the deeper issues I have in my own life. She’s probably right, but that doesn’t make my desire to help any less intense when it occurs. Is this my conscience at work? Is it a psychological condition of some other sort? I don’t know, and quite frankly, I don’t care. I just know it’s there and it’s heavy on me.
I spend a lot of time wondering how choices I have made in the past affect my life today. And if I had chosen otherwise previously, would my life really look at all similar now? Generally I focus on the poor decisions I’ve made and their ramifications. The ways in which I have hurt people–sometimes intentionally and sometimes without prior knowledge that it would take place–always result in pangs of guilt that usually get me to the point where I feel the need to apologize. This has been the case for as long as I can remember, and what it says about me as a person with (or without) character is anyone’s guess.
But after this week I am at a place in my mind where I just don’t know what to believe about the world anymore. We hear all sorts of cliche comments like “People are bad, love them anyway,” “Turn the other cheek,” “Love your neighbor,” and so on. But all of these beg the question of why we need to do it in the first place. In other words, why would I need to figure out whether I should turn the other cheek if someone hadn’t treated me poorly in the first place?
Why are so many people so uncaring these days? I hate it when I hear the ramblings of the elderly about how things were so much better “back in their day,” but the truth is, maybe they were right. I can’t find a semblance of politeness, or etiquette, or even basic decency in the majority of interactions I witness that do not involve a further assumption of compensation for acting the right way. You would be shocked if you saw a job candidate insult the hiring manager for the position, but you would be equally shocked if that same candidate held the door for a random stranger on the way out of the building, right?
Where are people’s consciences, and why don’t they function like mine? I’m not talking about the big things in life. I’m not talking about rape and murder. Most people don’t engage in that sort of thing, and I would be stunned if they did in my lifetime. But if I say something that I know has caused pain in someone’s life–even when I know they had it coming–I still feel an overwhelming compulsion to apologize and do what I can to make them feel better. So is that my conscience talking, or is it exactly as I described it: a compulsion?
The way I see it, people have two choices in life. They can try and be decent people who treat those around them with decency as well. They can obey their consciences, for lack of a better phrase. Or they can recognize (as I am beginning to) that the whole thing is pointless, and the people around them are most often mean, cold, and self-centered to the core. And they can block themselves off from kindness accordingly.
My concern with the second option, regardless of how natural it may seem as a reaction to the current state of the world, is that it seems to provide very life in the way of a purpose for living at all. I did my graduate work in philosophy and as such have seen various scholarly conceptions of the meaning of life, but I’m speaking at a much more common sense level here. If you are going to live your life without a conscience and just accept that people around you are hurtful, what is the point of it all?
I continue to try and help those around me, and I feel guilty when I come up short, at least in part because I want people to feel good. And not because I expect some sort of compensation beyond the simple happiness associated with knowing that I’ve helped create that goodness in others. I don’t want to live without that. I don’t want to pretend that I’m on a desert island attempting to continue my days until death as some sort of emotional Crusoe. But the more I see people around me, the more I am beginning to believe that that is precisely what they are doing. And worse than that, they seem perfectly content with it all. It’s like the whole world has been conditioned to expect the worst out of those around them, and they play their roles accordingly. It makes me beyond sick.
I have a two year old son who so far in his life is loving and happy and relatively carefree. I used to be both thrilled and relieved about this until recently, when I realized that no matter how much I try to shelter him from reality and give him something positive to emulate in his own adult life, he will still encounter the same hurtful and conscienceless environment that I see on a daily basis–except perhaps to an even worse degree. And that depresses me more than anything.
Why are we so mean to each other? Why are we so indifferent? Why do we expect the worst? Why can’t we try and help, even a little? My attempts to right all of those wrongs have a propensity to blow up in my face more often than not. But I’ll tell you something–regardless of what it costs me, and regardless of how I come off (holier than thou, arrogant, hypocritical; I’ve gotten them all recently)–it remains the one thing that makes me think there’s a point to any of this in the first place.