I ran late to my dance troupe rehearsal this evening and was impatient to get to the studio because of it. So, while the car in front of me was traveling at a perfectly reasonable rate, I decided to pass. While passing, the vehicle began matching my speed, accelerating right along with me. “What a dick!” I said to myself. I wondered what kind of game he thought he was playing. He slowly returned to his previous rate of travel after I ratcheted up the acceleration. (Don’t be a bonehead like me, ok?)
Shortly after that, a driver maneuvered to pass me. When his vehicle seemed to hover next to me instead of advancing, I wondered what the hell kind of game he thought he was playing. “What a weirdo!” I thought to myself.
But then I looked down at the speedometer and saw that my rate of travel had increased significantly. Without realizing it or meaning to do it, I was matching this driver’s speed.
A few decades ago, whenever I found myself feeling frustrated about something someone did or said, I tended to declare that “I hate people!” Mainly, I declared this to friends: friends who continued being friends despite my many declarations of hate. (I was a ball of frustration at that time.)
I’d forgotten about that hate-spoutin’ phase until recently when I saw a few social media friends write that they hated people. Seeing those comments served as a time machine into my psyche.
What a strange contradiction: to hate people even as I loved, or at least tolerated, them.
I didn’t believe I literally hated people. And I don’t believe my friends hate people now; Most of the folks I know are generous and loving. So, what was this ‘hate’ thing really about and how did I come to stop slinging it around?
It all comes down to my use of the word, ‘nice’. Bear with me on this…
I recognized a disconnect between describing a former boss as a ‘nice’ guy, and his shady business practices. This helped me see what the word ‘nice’ was for me: a meaningless, lazy, go-to descriptor that I bandied about without thinking.
Seeing that, I vowed to eradicate ‘nice’ from my vocabulary. This forced me to thoughtfully consider the people, places, and things I wanted to more accurately describe. My boss, for example, became charming, polite, soft-spoken, gentle-mannered, and crooked as the day is long.
The new practice made previously anemic compliments impactful. I would no longer quickly say, “He’s a nice guy.” Instead, I’d take a moment to think about the person. If I liked them, what was it about them that I liked? “He’s a nice guy” became something more to the tune of “He’s thoughtful, caring, intelligent, and funny. He’s the kind of guy who’s worth letting your guard down for.”
Likewise, insults became more accurate and complete. “What a jerk” doesn’t say nearly as much as “He wouldn’t know manners if they pissed on him.”
When I got away from lazy thinking and language, I more carefully considered the world I experienced. My perception of the world changed as a result. It became a richer, more vibrant, and more nuanced world. It was no longer the two-dimensional, black and white, lifeless place that ‘nice’ and words like it made it out to be. My new world popped and hummed. It danced in technicolor. My perceptions and feelings finally grew up.
“I never said most of the things I said.”
When I feel brave enough and aware enough, I wonder how much of “me” is really me and not the fabrication of me that I cobbled together. It’s a fabrication built of social protocol, coping mechanisms, and family history, and it tends to run on autopilot.
Occasionally, I hear myself repeating things my mother said when she was alive. Things I thought were terrible then and make me cringe when I hear them come out of my mouth now.
Hearing her come back to life through me is like a bucket of ice water dumped on my head. It snaps me out of autopilot mode if only for a fraction of a second.
I did yoga nidra a few years ago and had an even more jarring experience. (Yoga nidra is sometimes referred to as sleeping yoga. Right up my alley because sleep is my favorite activity.)
In at least one session, I managed to detach from everything I normally associate with my personhood. All the social constructs, the jumble of thoughts and emotions, even the meat sack I inhabit and identify with fell away until all that remained was awareness inside an eternity of space. Almost as soon as I experienced that, I felt myself free-falling and grasping for all the bits of identity I’ve built up over the decades.
I watched the building blocks of my persona fall back into place beginning with early childhood. That was when I started to develop the quirks that might allow me to say, “This is who I am. This quirk right here. Yup. That’s me.” Only, it wasn’t really me.
It was just a reaction to my mother telling me to “just be yourself” to make friends. Until then, I was mostly an unnamable observer checking out the world around me. I had nothing discreet within me that I could point to as “me”. So I slowly built all those things: preferences, affiliations, language use, carriage. All of it. And what I’ve built is so familiar to me at this point, that I think the construct is really me.