by Justin Nafziger
“Well we all have a face, That we hide away forever
And we take them out and, Show ourselves
When everyone has gone, Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather, They’re the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on”
The Stranger, Billy Joel
We live in an age bathed in double speak. It seems contemporary culture has embraced the conceit that the transgression is in getting caught rather than in the effects of your actions. Commercials sell (bland) sex, “news” media spout lines like “we report, you decide” and then inform you that they are “fair and balanced”… apparently I decided that at some point. Nice spot of reporting, that.
Fossil fuel based machinery, from SUVs to fracking are sold as “Green” (when did that stop being a color?). Moguls of the dogmatist religious sects have ‘re-branded’ guilt, shame and self-doubt as “Truth, decency, and universal love.” But I’m not here to talk about how Orwell didn’t credit how capable big brothers press agents would be. Let’s focus on the individual.
So, who are you today? Does the face you show the world match the one you wear alone in the dark? If your friends or family ask “what’s up” or “how’s it going,” do you tell them what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling or take the dodge, “same old same old – I can’t complain – you know how it is – another day another dollar,” ad nauseam. How about work? You know, that place/thing that dominates the physical majority of your time – are you up front and direct with the customers, co-workers and bosses you encounter during your daily grind? (If you can honestly answer yes to all of the preceding questions can you please write me and be my new role model?)
It’s a matter of risk management to be less than forthright in the modern age, and sometimes the imaginative can even pull that off without actually being dishonest (an impressive feat in its own right). However, there’s a rub… our psyche is a living, growing and adaptive thing, a force too potent to be directed by conscious will alone. According to the nascent discipline of neuroscience every thought we have contributes to a cumulative alteration of our brains physical structure. But we needn’t break out the beakers and lab coats to see this phenomena. Ever pick up a mannerism or turn of phrase from a friend? Can a song, sight or smell make you smile or grit your teeth at the association it evokes? Who we are is changing both constantly and pervasively.
“I’m not afraid of dying. Pieces of me die all the time”~ Sage Francis
Newtons Law of Inertia states, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”
We are not static beings and our external contexts, as well as our responses/choices regarding them, act upon us as an “unbalanced force.” That is to say they change us. Pieces of use die as new pieces are born leaving us with no laurels to rest on. The oft quoted “you are what you eat” would be more literally true rephrased as “you are what you think.”
“The Sanskrit word karma literally means “action.” The concept of karma includes the idea that action always produces results. According to Buddhist theory the laws of cause and effect are not just limited to the physical world. They apply equally to the realm of mind. So we can say there is a moral law of cause and effect.” – From Sit Down and Shut Up by Brad Warner
We not only live within but we are ourselves dynamic systems – our motivations and actions constantly change us.
So what am I prattling about and what’s it got to do with personality or choice?
While I’m convinced the above loses something in translation, especially in the use of such heavy handed terms as “good” and “evil,” the final line resonates. It is the patterns within ourselves which we feed that are perpetrated, and being as we are not binary creatures those patterns are beyond good and evil. Such an over simplified dichotomy is inadequate to address the realities of life, rather it requires morality, ethics and integrity (see my take here). When you are the context for your own actions, self-awareness is vital. So, who are you today?
How would ‘most people’ describe you, do you think that’s an accurate picture of you?
What are your strong traits? Go ahead and list them, we have time.
Ready? Now read that list, what have you left out? Who do you know that would read it and nod?
Do you have the impulse to toss it in a fire before anyone sees it?
Most folks tend to have aspects they present and aspects they demure. There’s no problem with this in and of itself, so long as the inertia behind these choices is acknowledged. What you present you perpetuate, be sure how you live cultivates who you want to be and become. So, who are you today? Is this you more the you that you wish to be than the you of yesterday or last week?
Much like song, or surfing, ‘in flight’ course corrections are usually required in aware self development. Question everything – especially your most cherished conclusions – challenge yourself.
In my youth I swam out deep into the ocean despite the warnings and fear of my elders. Just as I’d been warned, there was a riptide and the current was stronger than I. It carried me far, very rapidly, and I lost sight of any familiar landmarks. My first push was to swim against the current. I fought it, attempting to maintain proximity to familiar things. As I began to grow tired the last visible queues of the ‘known’ slipped out of sight and I was even a bit further out to sea and all too aware how poorly this could end (I was a child not a fool). When faced with an overwhelming force I had to adapt, but refused to succumb, and so rather than fight futilely or surrender my life to the tide of “inevitability” I swam into the riptide moving with and across it pushing myself even faster into parts unknown until I’d cut free and made my way ashore. Tired and salt soaked I emerged from the waves with a triumphant grin and a new understanding about life. The scope of our lives is vast, and the current of change running through them profound. We can surrender to the tides and let waves of culture, marketing, peer pressure, et al drown us. We can brand ourselves as part of a “counter culture” and swim directly into the tides trying to at least tread water until we’re exhausted. Or we can embrace the exuberance of youth and ride those tides towards our own ends, claim ourselves as sovereign in the face the whole vast sea of humanity and chart our own course.
This is not a parable. My feet were tired and a little burned by the time I found my way home. I ached and my skin stung for salt and sun. And the grin that I wore into one of my best nights sleep ever also greeted me when I woke rested and revitalized the next morning.
So, who are you today? Because it’s your choice. Day by day you are shaping who you are. Living as who you wish to be is based on honestly answering yourself when your questions arise…
So, who are you today?
About the Author: Justin Nafziger
Hello everyone, I’m much better at self-analysis than self-description; besides, you’ll get an idea about my views in reading what I post. I’ve grown up traveling, and in all the time I’ve spent seeing new places, people and things, I’ve come to one clear conclusion: real, meaningful moments and interactions don’t have to be permanent to be valuable, but they do have to be honest or they’ll be leached of meaning. Oh, and that ethics (aka integrity in action) is a very personal proposition and cannot be successfully codified or dogmatized.
“There are as many truths as there are drops of water in the ocean and grains of sand on the beach.”
Reality is collaborative, truth is personal.