How do we cope?

I have detected, in almost every person I’ve met, including myself, some soft spots, or areas of weakness. Everyone I know is laboring gallantly despite some feelings of inadequacy, guilt, weakness, fear, loneliness, or sometimes a benign form of insanity. Now this all sounds pretty emo I guess, but that’s not the goal. Instead, the goal is just to realize that we cannot a streak of self destruction that attacks us from the inside.

It’s usually not debilitating. We all get through our days, filled as they are with work and responsibilities, by kicking back, reading a book, taking a walk, doing drugs, mocking others, having sex, singing in the shower or screaming obscenities to ourselves as we drive on the highway.These things give us strength, and they are momentary. They don’t usually take up our whole lives (those who get sucked up into these behaviors as a constant past times suffer from depression or some other psychological disorder).

Even more significantly than all of this though, we take comfort from others. Our friends cheer us when we’re down, and our families tell us we’re good even when we’re not. These small moments of support are how we rejuvenate ourselves in a deep way. When a parent is abusive or friends are corrupting (the wrong crowd) that’s when we find some of the most stark examples of psychic breakdown. Those who were abused as kids often go on to repeat abuse in others, and those that were betrayed by someone close can develop paranoia or extreme anti-sociality.

We know then, that at the very least, that other people and how they relate to us are profoundly important for our ability to shrug off psychological trouble spots. What I sometimes wonder though is: how does this work?

I mean, suppose you’re honest with yourself and admit to yourself that you are sorely lacking in some area of life that you deem to be important. Pretend you think it’s important to raise kids and to help raise the next generation of inhabitants of earth (I know my language flies to the grandiose, but humor me), but you can’t find anyone to marry. Or maybe you think its important to conquer some character defect, but you just can never do it. What then. How does friendship or family help? Of course, having friends can help you from obsessing over the flaw, but are friends just a glorified amnesiac so that we can’t help but forget our problems when we’re with them? That would be a powerful ability of friendship in itself, but if that’s the right model, then friends and family can never CURE, but only address SYMPTOMS.

Or maybe friendship helps us put things in perspective so that we see our life is so rich and fruitful that we look at our own shortcomings in a new way that reduces them to manageable size.  Again though, do social networks just trick us and momentarily let us mock our problems without actually taking them away.

My answer is that yes, even the deepest types of love and friendship leave something untouched, which is that we, in living our lives, brush up against the limits of our capability. In these moments, we are confronted with the choice of honesty or deception. We can hide our flaws with timidity, arrogance, or any other device, or we can be honest with ourselves and simple say “I can’t do X. I’m defective somehow. I know X is worth doing and valuable, but I’ll never touch that value or get around that failure.” In that moment, nothing can help us but ourselves, and maybe not even that.

What I wonder is if there is some attitude or response that can ennoble us? Is the best thing to do to simply turn back to something productive and try to look away, or should we stare at our inequity unflinchingly. Someone like Nietzsche would say that in these moments, the noblest thing we can do is to accept and make peace with our failings and to “give style” to oneself by taking flaws and trying to dress them up as pros. Or should we do something particular with the pain and despondency the realization of our limitations brings? Not sure how this would work either.

In any case, my standing policy is fairly Nietzschean I guess, but a little more positive at the same time. My method is to try and take these flaws as the starting point for a life’s work.

Dr. W.C. Minor, a figure I’ll write more comprehensively at a later date, helped write the Oxford English Dictionary, a massive undertaking spanning roughly seventy five years. He was instrumental to the dictionary’s progress and ultimate success, but he did most of his work from a sanitarium after shooting a man. Later, he cut off his own penis to try to escape from a paralyzing nymphomania and possibly pedophilia (also, he may have slept with the wife of the man he murdered). This is a dramatic case for sure, but the point is that this man could not escape who he was. He was a deeply flawed human being, and yet his commitment to being more than his flaws eventually resulted, through historical accident, in an unbelievable contribution to the English language. I guess this is a kind of dignity…


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