This blog has always been a way for me to record the development of my mind and ideas. The most enjoyable thing about having a blog is reading old articles and realising how much my philosophies have changed over time and how they are continuously changing.
This change has been ever more drastic over the course of this year as I have prepared myself for one of the most important events of my life — marriage. And what I have come to accept as a result as golden truth is that your philosophies are not who you are, just how you think. Changing philosophies is an essential part of growth and learning and maturing, phenomena that must occur in order for us to have rich, varied and wholesome lives. Philosophical change must occur if you want a successful relationship as important as marriage.
But this blog is not about marriage. It is about how we must separate our philosophies from ourselves in order to realise truly who we are. In order to do that I will outline some of my own enduring philosophies which have been completely torn apart recently, to my absolute glee (in hindsight only of course). I may expand on some of these in future blogs so I will try to be brief, giving you a little taste of each, before I delve into them in the future. Here goes:
- Talent validates entitlement: I grew up getting all As, being at the top of my class always, being good at many things including the arts, sport and academics and had the social skills to make friends and a level of attractiveness that turned enough heads to make me think that I was given substantially more than others and thus was entitled to always have more than others. I grew up in a financially modest family but I believed, and so did others around me believe of me, that I would have a model-like husband, an amazing job that paid big bucks, beautiful and smart children and a life among the talented elite. Average was a word that had as terrible an aftertaste as the name Hitler. And everyone without a similar level of talent was truly unfortunate. But being in the real world and finding myself as a cleaner (toilets included) for one year because I couldn’t afford to feed myself with the meagre salary I was making at 24, I was forced to step off my pedestal. There is nothing more humbling than wiping months worth of dried poop off of a man’s toilet, a man who grew up in a poor family and could hardly put one grammatically-correct sentence together even at 45, who tells you of the money he made and the success he had before he was diagnosed with a severe form of multiple sclerosis. Not only was I cleaning someone’s toilet but I was cleaning the toilet of a person who society might deem as unworthy of entitlement. Yet every time he put the cash in my hand I knew that if it wasn’t for that toilet I would struggle to live in London. That’s enough to show a person that talent does not warrant entitlement whatsoever. All it warrants is a false sense of security, a superiority complex, tremendous insecurity and, quite often, mediocrity. Ironic isn’t it?
- Being rebellious and different is brave: The manager of my football team once asked me why I always tried so hard to be different. I am certain my mother asked herself many a time why I always had to go against everything she said and why my report books always reflected a student who couldn’t do the ‘typical classroom thing’ of sitting, listening and learning. Convention was always my enemy. Being different was my identity. After all, if you are different you stand out of the crowd, you do something 99% of people do not ever do, and that is take the risk of countering convention. Because you are in the 1% of people who take those risks you are essentially special and rare. Who doesn’t want to be rare? I believed, somehow, that I was always born to be a rare gem. But while everyone was trying to learn in school I was distracting them with my different approaches to engagement aka being a class clown. The teacher told me that while I was getting 90% in Spanish the people I was distracting were getting 45%. While the intern at Penguin Books was obediently (and mind-numbingly) filing the pictures and press cuttings and sending out the mail, I was finding ways to do what the big shots were doing, writing actual press releases, having meetings with the editors and rushing through tasks so that I could have the most varied experience of anyone who came through those doors as an intern. I wanted to stand out. The other intern got the job. I did not. The rebelliousness that has engrained itself in my actions has made it difficult for me to be on time because time itself is a convention. As a result, despite what I achieve in my job because of the application of my mind, I am not respected or trusted because I arrive between 5-30 minutes late every day. I have been called haphazard, disruptive and domineering. All in the name of being different. Being rebellious isn’t brave. Being rebellious is selfish, it is ignorant and it is hurtful.
- There is a right way to do everything: There are many examples of how this philosophy pervades my thinking and actions so I will just name one and hope that it will make my point clear. I grew up, as I mentioned, in a financially modest household. I was always reminded of the cost of things and the cupboards were never embellished with extra food and snacks that I could enjoy whenever I wanted. My clothes were basic and I had to win a doubles tennis tournament before I got my first pair of proper tennis shoes (which were at the bottom end of the price range anyway). My parents never disclosed the amount of money we had so I always assumed we had only enough to have what we needed. This became the norm to me and a comfortable norm at that. But as a means of accepting my situation, I discoloured that of others. That is, I began to despise the rich and wealthy and made up in my mind that being rich was synonymous with selfishness and greed and elitism. I used the words of the Bible even to prove this. As Jesus often talks about giving away your riches and that the love of money is the root of all evil and the anxieties of wealth. All of these things are true but I misused them in order to support my philosophy that modesty is holy and wealth is unholy. As a result, I felt threatened by people who were wealthier than I was, even my own cousin. I judged them to be self-centred and building their own selfish empires. I made snarling comments towards them while feeling haughty on my throne aka the toilet I was busy cleaning. Yet my hand was always clenched around the little that I had, generosity was difficult for me, and I found myself dependent on others, most often those wealthier people I despised. I was literally fed by them, clothed by them, housed by them and cared for by them. All the whilst I was mumbling under my breath, ‘holier I am than they’. But truly there is no right level of wealth to make you holy or kind.
- You are either excellent or a failure: Because many things came naturally to me and I did well in a number of things, I always considered myself destined for excellence. After all, the Bible says ‘to whom much is given much is expected’. Yet again I skewed that verse, perhaps with the help of false teachers, to mean that because I was so talented, I was was expected to achieve amazing things in my life. I also took it to mean that those who weren’t talented were uninteresting and one-dimensional because they weren’t going to do much with their lives besides eat, work, sleep and repeat, which to me was synonymous with failure. Thus I lived a life of trying to achieve, doing whatever I could to make a mark in some way, by working for a top company (even if it was a one week internship), finishing my degree in three instead of four years, setting up a greeting card business, writing and selling my first book at 22, living in the capital of the world, the list goes on. Because if I didn’t achieve then I was among the ‘slog’ of people who were failures; a grey, unmerry army of depressed people. But the truth is that I never became excellent in anything because I was so busy trying to prove myself in whatever I could. I lacked focus and commitment because I wasn’t concerned with long-term successes but short term ones that would validate my excellence. I was not outward-focused and other-centred because I was busy looking after my own reputation. Ultimately I found myself on the bench of a division 3 football team, in a low-paying job in an field I never dreamed of being, in a house that was slowly being consumed by years of mould and rust, crying on a sidewalk in Angel because my manager called me disruptive, domineering and haphazard. All along I was failing. I was failing to see the value in every person. I was failing to see that excellence is not the proof of intelligence or talent, excellence is the proof of long-term commitment to a cause that helps both you and others. I was failing to see the excellent people around me because to me they were the ‘slog’. I was failing to see that failure is only kept existent through judgement. That is, there is no failure except the action that is judged to be a failure. A person who ends up as a garbage collector is only a failure if you judge them to be one. A footballer who sits on the bench is only a failure if you judge them to be a failure. Failure doesn’t even exist. What does exist is inexperience and lack of knowledge! So instead of seeing myself as talented and needing to prove that, I see myself as inexperienced and lacking the knowledge I need to be excellent in ANY area. That is a FACT. If I truly want to be excellent then I need to work hard to learn what I need to become an expert in something. And I need to work hard for a long, long time if I really want to be excellent. No one is destined for excellence and no one is destined for failure. Every person has the opportunity to learn more, grow more, be more and succeed on their own terms.
That is enough for this blog. There are many more ways in which my philosophies have been evolving and I will talk about them in later blogs. If by now you have started thinking that I am snobby and egotistical then you are correct, or at least you were correct. I was, and in parts I still am. I am ashamed of some of the ways I think and act. But I am much more grateful for the opportunity that I have had to change, that God has opened my eyes and transformed my heart. That ultimately he has revealed to me the darkness within me, the selfishness that colours my thinking, and is constantly giving me an alternative and the help to live better. That alternative was actually always meant to be the primary way of being — selfless, compassionate, egalitarian, obedient, loving, hard-working, self-controlled, joyful, kind, generous.