Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Tools of Well-Roundedness

A generally absent but essential part of the conservative diet.

In keeping with the theme from my last post, I'd like to proffer one last confession.

Every now and again, due to an unfortunate combination of boredom and recurring non-sexual sadomasochistic tendencies, I find myself watching the Fox News channel. It's the strangest thing. I'll have just finished viewing another enjoyable rerun of Avatar: The Last Airbender - which, in case you're unaware, is one of the finest dramas on television - when, before I know it, I've flipped the channel to the Right Wing's most popular propaganda vehicle. I've realized that I can only subject myself to the Fox noise machine for ten or fifteen minutes at a time before I have an overwhelming urge to rinse my eyes out with bleach.

Having admitted that, not very long ago I happened to be watching The O'Reilly Factor when it suddenly dawned on me what Bill's biggest problem is. It's not that he's a combative, self-righteous hack with no integrity who's managed to strike gold by telling bigoted, unquestioning Americans exactly what they want to hear (though I do not fault you if you've incorrectly reached this conclusion.) Nor is it that he somewhat successfully cocoons himself by staging "debates" on his show during which he'll regularly tell his opponents to "shut up!"

No. Bill's biggest problem is that he, undoubtedly, has never had his ass thoroughly kicked. I can't tell you what a good, solid beatdown - or the threat of one - will do for your clarity. When one comes face-to-fist with one's own vulnerability, one is forced to re-evaluate things. This realization got me to thinking about other humbling experiences that one should pick up on the road to self-actualization. They are..

a) Heartbreak. I will put this a simply as I can. You are not a fully-formed adult if you haven't had to recover from heartbreak. I mean the kind of heartbreak that strips you of your appetite and your ability to trust, makes you hear songs you've listened to your entire life for the first time and forces you to take a vow of (temporary) celibacy. I'm talking about the kind of heartbreak that makes you question the universe. The kind of heartbreak that makes you regard the source of it with equal and unhealthy parts love and hate. Only after you emerge from this emotional malaise can you consider yourself whole.

b) Having Something of Moderate Value Stolen From You. When I was eight someone broke into our house and stole THE television. I was devastated. When I was ten, someone stole my brand new Schwinn. I was inconsolable. When I was seventeen, it was a very bad year because someone stole close to one hundred dollars from my room. By the time I was twenty-six, when someone broke into my car and relieved me of my stereo, instead of being disappointed I was just happy that they hadn't trashed my car in the process. Being ripped off allows one to put things in perspective.

c) Being the Subject of Ridicule. When I was sixteen, I was riding the bus to my job one day when a kid got on the bus with two very attractive female companions. Shortly thereafter, and for the remainder of my trip, they all took turns looking at me and laughing uncontrollably. There was NO mistake that I was the source of the laughter. When I finally reached my destination and walked past them to debus (I find it intolerably elitist that one can say "deplane" but not "debus") the laughter escalated into a full out howl. To this day I don't know why they were laughing at me. What I do know, is that it wasn't the first or last time and that I've managed to get on with my life, and form thicker skin, after each occurrence.

d) Being Fired or Laid Off. Last Friday, I was responsible for overseeing the removal of an incompetent employee from the building - a regrettable but necessary part of the HR process. She was canned for unfailingly screwing up the payroll. She was given six months and she never managed to flawlessly negotiate the numbers. As I helped her carry her things out to her car, it occurred to me that once the embarrassment and sting of rejection wore off, she would do well to learn from this and move on. Many of us have been fired for far less than screwing up folks' paychecks. I've been fired in the past for what I thought at the time was no good reason. Many of us have. It forces us to regroup. This isn't an altogether bad thing.

e) Being Temporarily Uninsured. It might do wonders for your outlook to temporarily experience the pain of roughly 16% of Americans. It might, for example, lead you to believe that a single-payer health care coverage system is at least worth discussing.

f) Going Without a Car. A good friend of mine leases his cars and trades them in for newer models every couple of years. I'm driving the same '99 Toyota Camry now that I'll be driving in 2010. I haven't yet reached the point at which I'm used to the idea that I actually own a car that can't be repossessed. I didn't get my license until I was twenty. I couldn't afford to buy my first car until I was twenty-four. My friend John and I walked home from my high school graduation and I came this close to walking to my senior prom. Going without a car all of those years made me thankful for what most people take for granted.

g) Having to Choose Between Two or More Equally Important Needs. I've had to go to the market and choose between produce and deodorant so often that I didn't even recognize it as a sign of deprivation until after I got married. Yet, in the midst of this want was forged an uncanny capacity for self-denial. One thing that being broke provides is a remarkable ability to prioritize.

h) Not Being Good Enough. A commonly accepted Americanism is that if a person practices and puts forth enough effort (and believes!) she will succeed in whatever it is she does. It makes us feel good about ourselves to accept this as the Gospel. Unfortunately, it is not always true. Sometimes folks simply aren't good enough. There's something to be said for giving it your all and coming up short. Look what it did for Jimmy Carter.

i) Having to Issue an Old-Fashioned "I Take All The Blame" Apology. Surely you've heard them. Those "apologies" that are invariably issued after someone says or does something repulsive that make it seem as if you're the one with the problem because of how you interpreted what he said or did. Or those culprits who issue non-committal apologies for "what happened" and not "for the shit that I actually did." What I'm referring to is when a person who has clearly fucked up says, clearly, that he fucked up. What happened to that kind of apology? We all make mistakes. I believe that being put in a situation in which we're forced to publicly recognize a blunder builds character.

I've built this list from my own experiences. There isn't anything I've included that I haven't had to endure at one time or another. My advice to those of you who haven't experienced some of these things is to leave your car unlocked in Gary, Indiana or go to NYC and talk shit to a random Jamaican. Some time after the inevitable repercussions, you may find that you see the world more clearly.



At 8:39 PM , Blogger Clifton said...

I would like to respectfully add letter J.) Losing a close friend to senseless violence at a young age to this list.

Is it good or bad that I have experienced everything on this list?

At 9:31 PM , Blogger Another Conflict Theorist said...

Peace Cliff,

I'm sorry to hear about your friend. You know, I was about to add something about loss but I didn't want to sound too flippant about something so serious.

At 1:20 AM , Blogger Sara Rosell said...

*YES* I had never thought about the O'Reilly problem in that way, but it is right on target. I know that I have been privileged in several of those areas, but the ones I know all too well:

definitely the being ridiculed--all my life...beaten to a pulp, but when I came to college my boyfriend led me through a re-birth of the ego.

recently in college I really know what it is to RIDE the BUS. Invasion of space and grotesque experiences. Man.

As for additions, there are some I have recently experienced myself:

-experiencing some level of sexual harassment. I have experienced this as a developing woman, but this summer I was touched on the street on a lunch break and it really REALLY put everything into perspective. I know that others have had terrible experiences themselves, but it really crushes your sense of dignity for a short or long period of time.

there will probably always be more, I think even positive ones. Like how amidst all the crap, you become closer to your family. When you don't experience all the negative, you don't really get to appreciate the little positive you have (kind of like what you were getting at with not caring about the radio by this point...since well you still have family!)

thanks again for this post, it's very real, very fresh, and if only more people knew, really *knew*

PS: I snapped several times throughout the post!

At 8:42 AM , Blogger Breez said...

some of mine are female specific experiences:

having to take two pairs of hose, each with one defective side and joining them as one one (my family called the term "surgery").

being an new mother having to hold your screaming kid on "the throne."

just hearing "no." (did you mention this? sorry if i'm repeating.) realizing that the world is not your oyster is a crucial part of development.

At 12:07 PM , Blogger Tha L said...

rite of passage list, absolutely. i can say that i've successfully made it thru each of these things and know that i'm a better person because of them.

do you think that the road to self-actualization ends at a certain age, like puberty, or that it's an ongoing and staged process?

all these checkpoints seem to be relevant to our youth, but what about the checkpoints that we don't get to until we're 40 or 50? like having to take care of an elderly parent (coming to grips with mortality)...or the day you realize that your kids don't need you anymore (dealing with the feeling of purposelessness).

great post...peace!

At 12:44 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

First time coming thru....definitely wont be my the commentary!!

At 1:35 PM , Anonymous Viece said...

I also would like to add a letter: realizing that the people who raised you really honestly and truly did the best that they could. If they even bothered to try at all.

At 2:29 PM , Blogger BLESSD1 said...

Man...this truly is one of your more brilliant posts. I'll be damned if I haven't experienced one of these things listed AND what Clifton said. Excellent post, ACT!

P.S. I'm available to dole out that ass-whuppin' that Bill-O has had coming for YEARS

At 5:49 PM , Blogger Another Conflict Theorist said...

Peace Everyone,

Sara: I love your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by again. I happen to agree with you, of course, that hardships help define us and create empathy. As a man, I hadn't even considered sexual victimization. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.

Breez: As always, you give me new things to think about. I'll have to ask the women in my life if they've ever performed "surgery."

Tha L: What's happening? I don't think the journey toward self-actualization ever truly ends because we are eternally flawed. I also hadn't thought about those things we endure as we grow older. I was driven to write this post mostly (I have to admit) because I truly believe some folks have missed out on their share of instructive ass-whippings.

Yazmar: You're always welcome here. I'll be visiting you shortly.

Viece: You need to come up here to visit. You ain't that far away. At any rate, once you can see through your parents eyes you've reached another level of awareness. I think I was focusing more on the first steps to self-realization.

Blessd1: Respect! I appreciate the kind words - despite the fact that you find Lil' Wayne a "gifted" mc. That cat stinks. "..and here's another hit Beh-reh Bones." The wack.

At 10:25 AM , Blogger Breez said...

*starin' down your blog in my best "beat it" stance*

i got a new post up! WHAT'S REALLY HOOD!

At 11:48 AM , Blogger BLESSD1 said... don't know how much flack I get about Lil Wayne here! Almost EVERYBODY in Louisiana loves him. Me? Well, he spits a nice metaphor every once in a while, but suffice it to say, I've NEVER bought any of his products. I just don't much like him. He's about as abrassive to me as a cat licking your eyelid.

At 1:39 PM , Blogger Lola Gets said...

This list was truly classic!

At 9:58 AM , Blogger Joyce Vaughn said...

If you can't listen to another's opinion for more than ten or fifteen minutes, you may want to wake up tomorrow morning and ask yourself some serious questions. It took me a while to watch Fox News. It made me angry at first, but then I realized that most people who are on the Right can't stomach CNN or MSNBC either. Both sides have their heels dug in. When you learn to listen or watch what the other side says or believes, you'll come out more evolved. I can listen to all sides, and see them as equally foolish.


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