in the era of navel-gazing


When I was younger, I was far more of an idealist zealot than I am now.

I had high (read: unrealistic) expectations for myself and for everyone I knew. Of course, anyone who knows anything about expectations knows that they will, without fail, blow up in one’s face, and it’s generally counter-productive and perhaps unhealthy to have expectations for everyone. No one should conform to what you want that person to be, unless you like being violated by sociopaths, and most aren’t masochistic enough to want that.

That said, it’s not unreasonable to encourage someone to be better, especially when there is potential within a someone. Those who have been around me for any length of time in my life can tell you that I’m a cynical person and that I tend to see the downside of any given circumstance. The truth is that one can’t be cynical without having the ability to see the potential for good. And I’ve been blessed to have encountered many people who had veritable wellsprings of amazing within them.

Very few of them ever tried to even access that potential, or seemed to care it was ever there in the first place.

Nothing breaks my heart like untapped potential.

In the aftermath, I’m left to wonder if what my intuition saw was actually there, or if it was projection, if I was wildly off-base and about 42% crazy. (I haven’t ruled out the latter.) The turmoil I go through–internalized, of course, because I’m a good American male with good upper Midwestern-Scandinavian roots and a penchant for Russian literary classics–is entirely unwarranted: these are individual people with individual choices and individual responsibility and, ultimately, what they do is their choice and I have no choice but to respect that.

Who am I to tell someone else they can be something more than what they are?

That’s the naturalistic fallacy talking; is = ought. We are culturally conditioned to accept our lot in life, go to work, go home, go have a drink, lather, rinse, repeat. We don’t want to think of what we could be, lest we realize that we were made for more than drudgery and fall into the existential abyss. Low expectations of ourselves and others require effort, so we’ve done away with expectations at all.

All things tend to disorder when left unattended.

That which is does not have to be. Mediocrity doesn’t have to be accepted, corruption need not be tolerated. ‘This is the way it’s always been’ doesn’t have to settle everything. People are often so much more capable than they ever realize.

I would have thought these to be encouragement, but then I realize encouragement is en-courage-ment, and the last thing anyone seems to want anymore is courage–the strength to stand against unfavorable circumstances. “[T]he quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear.”

With that in mind, isn’t it odd that we place soldiers on a pedestal? Twain once said, paraphrased, that classics are books that people praise but never read. Our ‘heroes’ are those Americans honor because we never want to risk our own neck for anything or anyone. Soldiers aren’t a reflection of us, they’re the pawns a government places in harm’s way so that we can continue to be a coddled and complacent people. That’s what it means to ‘protect our way of life’, and that’s insulting to both civilian and soldier. We don’t want to be better, we just don’t want to be reminded that there are those who are intrepid enough to be more than average, whether it’s a soldier, a star athlete, a scholar, a sage, a savior. We’re not inspired by any of them, we’re entertained by them.

In the era of navel-gazing, being forced to look up and around is too much to ask. And it leaves someone like me feeling like a stranger in a strange land; a man out of his own time. A novelty act to be enjoyed and disregarded in favor of whatever can be milked for more enjoyment. What friendship can be had in such a time? What work can be done here? Whom is willing to expose themselves to bonds of love which can demand selflessness and surrender?

Who is willing to say I care about a person enough to be the best possible version of myself for the other? I am, or at least I would like to think that I am and have been. Then I realize the myriad times when I haven’t been or am not.

Nothing breaks my heart like untapped potential.

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One thought on “in the era of navel-gazing

  1. You have articulated what I thought could not be…one of those times when you not only reached your potential but exceeded it.

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