I have a bad habit of qualifying my experiences based upon the experiences of others. I think about my bad day in context to all the harsher realities of the world, I think about my losses compared to someone else’s losses, I think about my need in relation to the needs of others and I can pretty much talk myself out of the right to any of my own thoughts and feelings.
I probably started the practice as a way to gain perspective. It’s not unhealthy in that respect, to see your own life in the larger context of the world. To understand that a bad day doesn’t make a bad life and that you’re not the only person around running up against obstacles. But when it becomes a method of erasing the meaning of my own experiences, it leaves me without my own context to build from, voiceless and without any vision for my own story.
I love observing and ingesting and learning from the stories of the lives around me. But lately the words of the world swirl around me and leave me wondering what the point of my own words are. My experiences fall somewhere in the middle of it all and I can’t help but feel like the steady beat of the lives around me, once a tribal-type of comfort, has transformed into a roar that has deafened me to my own voice.
Is it possible to pay too much attention? By diving into the thoughts and words and experiences of others, am I distancing myself from my own thoughts and words and experiences? Am I over-saturated and unable to soak in anything else? If so, how do I squeeze the excess out and make room for my own insights? How do I unburden myself from the need or desire or habit of trying to qualify for or prove my own thoughts and feelings and stories?
With so many words are out here every day, everywhere, the opportunity for input is endless- and so is the backlash. I watch sometimes equally horrified, exhausted, angry, and overwhelmed at the almost immediate backlash people receive for their words. Whether I agree, disagree, or just don’t care doesn’t really matter anymore- it’s the tidal waves of words that have me second guessing ever saying anything publicly again. I wonder, is anyone listening at all or are we all just standing in a large room yelling at one another?
In the larger arenas, It seems like the only time you can tell someone heard something is when money is involved. Even then, it’s sometimes not so much that anyone actually heard or cared about the details of anything being said, but more that they heard a lot of noise that felt threatening or annoying and handed the noisemakers a pacifier to temporarily quiet the rumble.
On smaller fronts, it looks brash lines drawn between family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and church members. Constant culture wars (about absolutely everything you could ever imagine), gossip, assumptions, and criticisms erupting endlessly around every corner. You just never know what landmine you’re about to step on and you just never know who your enemy is until you change your profile picture or share a news article. Somehow, being “for” something, automatically places you “against” something else, regardless of your actual thoughts, understanding, or opinion on the situation. Sometimes it appears that there is no middle ground, no room for discussion, and no time to think about it.
Discouraged (and maybe kind of disgusted), I want no part of it (though I have been part ofit). Or is it just that fear talking?
Haven’t I always known that there are critics out there? Haven’t I always known that there are other experiences beyond my own? Haven’t I always known that words have power to hurt, to heal, to connect, to divide, to destroy, to bring hope, to speak life, to ignite change? Haven’t I always known that not everyone will agree with me and that no argument is truly perfect? Haven’t I always known that my experiences are both unique and universal? Haven’t I always known that I’m a writer?
So why is it so hard to just own the words that go with my life and thoughts and experiences? Why is it so hard to just know that whatever I write or say will be loved, hated, ignored, embraced, argued against, championed for, shared, and disregarded and that doesn’t have to subtract from the value of my own experiences or creativity?
Shouldn’t those experiences and creations hold enough weight in their own right, with or without confirmation from external sources? As comforting and invigorating as it is to hear someone say “me too” in response to something I’ve written, shouldn’t the curating of my own life and creativity bring enough comfort and energy in and of itself? And when someone reads my words and hurls something else at me – a criticism (valid or inane), an argument, a disgruntled observation, why should that scare me or shame me or hurt me or incite me or change me? It doesn’t have to.
While I believe in living a life of service, I’m learning there are boundaries, and those boundaries exist in regards to what I write as well. I don’t have to only write safe things. I don’t have to try to encompass everything, every time, or ever. There is no flawlessness. To be chained to that stronghold is to allow my voice to die a dull, pointless death.
The freedom to be just who we are is a freedom we have to choose. The freedom to change how we are is also a freedom we must choose. And maybe, most importantly, the freedom to not need anyone to approve of any of it is a freedom we must fight our own self for, daily.
I can’t change the way people use words in our world. I can’t control what people will do with my words once I share them. I can only choose the freedom to write it all anyway.