Avoid Being a Critic.

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As I struggle to understand the world around me as well as my own emotions and role, I realize how often I judge people in my mind.  You would think that the more I discover about humanity, the more I would come to dislike people who go against the grain of what I think is the right way to live.  On the contrary, it’s been quite the opposite.

I used to be haughty and swing around the opinions I’d been raised on like some kind of righteous sword without even having a cause for why I felt that way.  It was strictly due to my environment.  Moving away from home – and then eventually traveling independently – gave me the priceless ability to view myself from the outside.  And I didn’t like what I was seeing.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the toxic wave of judgment.  Someone says one thing, a few people nod in agreement, no one wants to be “that guy” who stands up and protests.  It’s important to remember people come from different backgrounds, experiences, comfort zones, and beliefs – and all of those things drastically influence their actions and choices.  Even if something seems wrong to you, that person might not be viewing it in the same way.

Let me take a very simple example:
When I was living in Ouidah, Benin in West Africa this time last year, it was perfectly ordinary to walk out onto the street from my compound to swarms of children with outstretched hands.  They would chant “Yovo!  Yovo!’ on account of me being a foreigner with lighter skin.  They would sing “Yovo, yovo, bon soir!  Ca va bien, merci!” without even knowing what they were saying.  They would then tug at my dress and beg for a “cadeau”.  The parents would chuckle and watch.  Yes, these children were taught to racially discriminate and demand money, to disregard personal space, and to taunt.  That’s at least how some people saw it and it angered them.  They’d spit out mean words and curse at the children.  I just smiled and played along, rarely given out any francs.  These kids were raised to believe this is how you treat people, this is how you survive.  And there’s nothing wrong with that because that is how they survive.  That’s how those kids get the coins they need to go to the Internet café.  Some of them probably give the change to their mom, and that’s how they have bread for dinner.  No harm done.

Probably the hardest part in avoiding being a critic, for me at least, has been realizing not everyone is so determined to live righteously.  Some people choose to just live and get by within the common rules.  They don’t strive to find some inner-peace or to travel the world or discover themselves.  They’re content like that.

I used to hate that.  I used to resent that and call it being lazy, selfish, stubborn…but really, it’s a choice.  In fact, I preach so much that morality is just a human-made concept in order to function in an optimal society – that we are really just animals.  So isn’t that perspective more animalistic?  I guess so…I just couldn’t see it before.

I think I always just wanted the best for myself, and then to see the best in others and help them bring it out.  It’s a tough line to walk, but there is a point when your suggestions should stop before intervention.  I see it between me and my peers, the ones who don’t say they’re inspired by my ambition and who continue with the same mundane life they grew up into.  The ones who don’t move or don’t try to make changes.  I’ve got to let them decide for themselves; they’ve already seen the things I have done and how those things have helped me.

So before you’re hasty at judging someone, consider why you’re doing it and why you think you’re better for what you do.  You might find you don’t have a legitimate reason after all.  You might realize you should remain a worst critic to only yourself, and I think you’ll be a better person for it.

Is This Progression?

I just got back from a long day full of work, my first dance class in a new studio, and attending Market Garden Brewery’s Brews + Prose as I always do – this time with special company.  It’s the same old routine, a few new tweaks, and yet these are the moments when I feel like my “year of discovery” hasn’t progressed me in the slightest.

I’m still in the same dull town, one year later.  I’m working a real job, but it technically doesn’t answer my calling.  I changed studios because I am not cut out to be a full-time, successful dance competitor and am settling for shows.  I went to a favorite event at a favorite place with a favorite person and felt just as ORDINARY as I did with said favorite person a year ago.  Not my intentions.

While traveling the world changed me internally, these external qualities are depressingly static.

So depressing that I can’t help but feel another wave of depression.  It’s not because it’s winter; it’s because this is life, and life strikes at inconvenient times.

I’m exhausted from a day of internal struggle.  I long for freedom and self-expression.

I also long for a second of that last pale ale because, darn, that was good.

The Butterfly Circus

All of this reference to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (namely the quote “We accept the love we think we deserve”) got me to reflecting on the 20-minute short film, “The Butterfly Circus”.

Circuses usually give me a peculiar feeling because always imagine the same cliché acts in merely a new setting. I imagine smoke and mirrors juxtaposed with human strength and flexibility that I do not have the patience to personally obtain. I also imagine ordinary and unordinary animals being ridden, tamed, and otherwise confined under a tent. Perhaps the only exception to my view of circuses is “The Midnight Circus”, full of magic, or…well, as of now,…The Butterfly Circus.

This short film has bounced around the Internet for quite some time but never made a particularly large splash. That’s probably because it’s not funny at all. No, really, it’s just plain old sad. And TRUE. And no one likes to see the truth, especially when they can subconsciously identify the ridiculed guilt within their own personalities.

So what’s the plot? Essentially, it’s about a limbless man who is a sideshow as a freak, but another man intervenes with his wondrous “Butterfly Circus” and gives this man a shot at redemption. At redemption? For being stuck the way he is? Yes, for redemption – because this man has accepted this transposed role of being a freak, accepted that he was cursed with his disabilities, accepted that he deserved no better. So the story shows us how a less-than-average caterpillar can go into its own mental cocoon, make a transformation in itself – using only what it’s been given, and then come out something refreshing and beautiful and unique.

It makes you wonder what kind of lies you hear about yourself, believe, and then “live up to” without surpassing.

How often have you heard how you are perceived so often that you inadvertently accept it? That you’ve been given a niche by others, so you strive to fill it? That you’re afraid to break away and stand up for your diverging qualities? What are you really and do people see you for that person? Do they know the real you? And if someone ever suggests that you could overcome the impossible and be something incredible, don’t you just scoff at the thought of it? Doesn’t it take some convincing before you can accept an outlandish suggestion? But it’s not impossible.

I like how the film sifts through the rubbish and reminds us that no one decides our lives but ourselves. Stubborn confidence can be just as flammable as toxic insecurity. And my favorite quote from the film, coming from the ringleader as he talks to Will, the disadvantaged, is when he looks at him and says, No, you have the advantage — because:

“The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.”

Life on the End of a String.

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It’s amazing how independent I aim to be because, when it’s all said and done, I’m an attached, clinging mess.  I say I don’t need people, but I really do.  A lot.  But it’s true that our relationships – or lack of them – with other people really define who we are, how we spend time, how we think, and how we set our standards.  In the words of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

And I like to think I’m undeserving of much, but I certainly accept too less.

“Too less” — what an oxymoron.

Today I spent some amazing time with someone close to me.  He probably didn’t mean to, but he made me feel normal and like I can accomplish anything.  Maybe it’s just an ego boost I get when I can see how comfortable he feels with me, like I’m some safe-haven of normalcy in our mutually chaotic lives.

But I also couldn’t help but realize how opposite I felt just a few days ago while in or lacking his company.  I didn’t feel that security then.  I didn’t feel like his go-to for normalcy.  I felt like the outlier.

I guess that’s why I so often feel like I’m living life on the end of a string – someone else’s string.  I’m always tethered to them and always dependent on them, but they’re only dependent on me when they want to be.  I kind of orbit around them, each of us caught in the eddies of our own lives, but we only collide when they tug my string and pull me back.  It’s a fragile string, but I don’t resist and they don’t pull very hard…but it’s a string nonetheless.

I don’t like feeling like a convenience.  But at the same time, I’m fairly convinced I’m the only one who thinks I’m being treated that way.  (Why am I always overreacting?)

around and around and around
aroundandaround
around

I wish I could see things for what they are.