inherent self-worth

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Dashing a lot of well-planned plans, I slipped on some melting ice this weekend falling right on my back and down a set of stairs. I’m in pain and trying my best to move as little as possible. I will eventually have to move to see if this pain is just soreness that I can overcome with some stretching and mild painkillers.

But in lying here in immobile self-pity I am thinking about a Twitter thread I read the other day in which a woman considered how her therapist asked her how she planned to reward herself for accomplishing something the woman should have done/needed to do anyway. This tweet received a tremendous response from people saying that they struggle with the same thing – beating themselves up for achieving less than perfection rather than rewarding themselves when they’d done something (well or not), regardless of whether that something was required.

I’m conflicted about this. I think most of us are too hard on ourselves a lot of the time and don’t stop to take a breath and think, awake with a moment of self-awareness, that we’ve done something – whatever it is. I think that would be enough. Someone responded to the tweet: “It’s called inherent self-worth”. I think they may have meant that someone who has inherent self-worth will reward him/herself. But I really believe that a true sense of grounded, inherent self-worth is reward enough itself. Why are we being pushed in a direction that we should be rewarded for everything we do? This is the other side of my conflict about this. Sure, I think people should set goals and perhaps reward themselves when they reach them or hit milestones or sometimes even when they fail because they tried. But rewarding yourself for every single thing seems like a bridge too far. Where is the line? And what is a ‘reward’ anyway? (A lot of people, in fairness, did not even know what a ‘reward’ might look like.) As I said, taking a moment to identify a job well done or getting something done that I’d been putting off – living in a quiet moment of self-awareness – should be enough.

What more does a person need? Does anyone have thoughts on this?

As inconsequential as a fruit fly

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In trying to describe to someone how pesky another person was – not annoying enough to think about, but still there when you didn’t care for her to be, inserting herself into situations in which she had no business, I realized she had become like a fruit fly. Nothing you really notice at all unless you’re close to them (or unless they exist in a giant swarm), mostly harmless but nothing you want around either. To cap off my discussion on how I thought of her, I declared, “If I were to say another word to her, it would be: ‘Get the fuck away from me, annoying fruit fly’.”

This seemed appropriate because she wanted to be so much more consequential than that, to occupy space, time, thought. But do fruit flies occupy that much space, time, thought for most of us? No, not for most of us.

But, for science, yes. As soon as I had made this analogy of woman as fruit fly, every other story I saw on my science and tech blogs seemed to be fruit-fly related. Do I notice them now because I evoked the fruit fly in my mind’s eye? Or is there really such a sudden glut of fruit fly stories?

Everything from “Fruit fly mutation foretells 40 million years of evolution” to, perhaps appropriately in this case, “Family break-ups lead to domestic violence in fruit fly relationships”. Perhaps most relevant of all: “Too near, or too far? What fruit flies teach us about personal space”.

Yes – personal space. My human fruit fly has no concept of boundaries or personal space (so perhaps would not even be good at being a fruit fly, really). Ignoring her or trying to create some distance ignited the kind of drama that I don’t permit in my life. She could never understand that I, like most people, appreciate personal space, and she was constantly invading it. And she knew it but had no self-control. It was not that I hated her (I barely knew her), was angry at her, or never wanted to talk to her again. It was simply that with her pushing and constant presence, she was an uninvited annoyance (exactly like fruit flies), not irritating like house flies, not predatory like spiders.

Simply… innocuous and ever-present, but unwelcome.

Photo (c) 2014 ZEISS Microscopy used under Creative Commons license.

“He who cares least wins.”

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We talked for four hours straight – totally unexpectedly and probably with no intention of speaking that long. Neither of us had the time or wherewithal to manage, but we did it anyway. I heard a lot of fascinating things in that conversation and got some food for thought in addition to finding reason to worry. He had just endured a major and expensive disappointment and a pile of bureaucratic shit shoveled at him, so I think the whole purpose was just to vent. But it ended up being about everything: Japan, Rambo, emotional and physical abuse, China, Africa, Iran, Libya, Lockerbie, chain of command, whether life matters, whether politics matters, Machiavelli, James Spader, the value of therapy, identity crises and unfortunate events unfolding one after another, doing what is ‘right’, sociopathy, cars, morality, comedy, winning and… well, everything.

He told me he had asked a colleague what advice he gives his kids about the world:

“How do you prepare them for THIS?”
“I tell them everyone is full of shit. Everyone. Even them.”

He told me about the total BS and bureaucracy of his work. When he cared, of course he got shafted time and again. When he stopped caring at all and decided to just milk it for all it was worth, naturally they did not know what to do with him:

“You guys have already bent me over the table enough times and fucked me. You didn’t foresee that I have really big balls and I just don’t care. I’m gonna do what’s right.”

Somehow in all the hours of talk, the conclusion is the same: neither one of us cares. He cares even less than I do – there is a part of me that still invests and hopes. But not him. What is there to get all agitated and worked up over? What is there to be fearful of? It’s all entertainment leading to inevitable death, and in some ways, as we concluded in discussing humanity, all humans are just beads on an abacus. They don’t matter except in tallying results.

Photo (c) 2011 Toshiyuki IMAI

RIP Maya Angelou – The Nature of People

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I have given a lot of thought to people, their behavior and what those behaviors mean – what they say versus how they actually behave and the space between those two things. People do give a lot of indications about who they really are in how they handle things – even if their verbal statements say something entirely different (verbally, people project who they wish they were as opposed to who they actually are. Words vary between good intentions and false advertising, but they are never the actual measure of a person.)

I enjoyed, therefore, revisiting some of Maya Angelou’s wisdom on the recent occasion of her passing. One of the starkest, truest pieces:

“I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

RIP Maya Angelou.