I am an arrogant bastard. Sometimes I’m well aware of this fact but sometimes it comes as news to me. Which isn’t news. I think my emo-psycho-ovo-lacto-beefo-chicko-porko RSS feeds are backlogged.
But when the bulletin reading “EXTRA! EXTRA! MAN REFUSES TO THINK, THINKS HE’S PERFECTION INCARNATE” reaches my noodle at long last, it often surprises me. I guess egotism is like that. It’s hard to really care about the bodies surrounding me when I’m too busy being my own little prince peering down at them from on high. It’s even harder to really care about them when I’m convinced they desperately need my tender, loving benevolence.
My benevolence. What a bunch of hogwash.
So there I am, wallowing in the fragrant sludge of my own self-importance. I’m spending more time plotting my next response than listening to my wife’s earnest pleas to simply be heard. I’m feeding the hungry to glut myself. I’m rooting for the underdog because it makes me look cooler when they win. Pretty disgraceful, huh?
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I’ve done this my whole life. For many youthful years I “liked” Sigur Ros and experimental jazz and earth toned tee shirts and being socially aloof because that was my idealized existence. But gosh dang it, I’m a shameless EDM man! I adore tasteful floral prints. And being aloof with people does NOT make me unattainable and sexy. It makes me a painfully awkward sillyboy.
And yet it took me an entire young adulthood to realize that I was doing acceptable things for unacceptable reasons. It took me years to realize that I was just listening to a really loud, really invasive social mixtape.
These days my idealized existence is more properly focused. I don’t just want acceptable things, I want good things! My desire is to deeply commune with those I love and assist the weak and needy whenever I can. I like Chopin because I LIKE IT!
But the desire to do right by the world doesn’t go hand in hand with the ability to do so.
I start doing the “right” things. Doing these things deserves a pat on the back. I proceed to pat myself on the back with so much satisfied gusto that I’m flung deeper down into that putrid self-soup. Now I’m doing good things for bad reasons. And after a couple more years I’m starting to realize what a snob I am. Again.
You’re probably wondering why that’s not ok. Good things are good things, right? Nobody else knows you’re an egotist pig on the inside. Maybe that’s true. But I don't think so. Why?
Because I don’t determine what’s good.
I don’t know what’s best for my wife. I don’t know what’s best for my friends. I certainly don’t know what’s best for the country or the world. My internal concept of good might not look very different from real and meaningful good, but those small differences become chasms when dealing with infinitely complex and exceptionally intricate human beings.
Soooo the answer is to just stop trying to do good things. Kick back and listen to Miley Cyrus.
OK, I won’t do that. The answer isn’t to stop doing good. The answer is to stop and figure out what IS good. And not just once. For each situation. With each person. On each social platform. And in each conversation. The answer is to listen before speaking. The answer is to admit how arrogant it is to think that I have all the answers and to start paying attention to the painful but beautiful abundance of questions.
News flash: It’s a lot simpler to see the sadder and realer parts when kneeling next to people than when sitting on a dais overlooking them.
It’s a lot more possible to love and do right by someone when my thought process doesn’t start and end with myself.
It’s a lot easier to hear when my ears aren’t permanently doing the mannequin challenge.