Dear quarter lives,
Do you remember those moments when you were a toddler and you would crawl under the table and forget that you were under one and stand up and hit your head? Do you remember what happened after? Did you cry or fall quiet? Did someone console you and assure you it’s all okay, that you’re going to be okay? Or did your mother hit the table ‘bad table, bad table‘ in your defense helping you identify who to blame in this situation? Or did your father shout at you and ask you — a mere two year old still learning how to navigate gravity and corners — the ridiculous question of what were you doing under the table anyway?
The reason I am asking you to recall this moment or moments similar to it is because there are many moments like the one I just described that happen in adulthood, not literally but metaphorically, where our curiosity perhaps led us to crawl into a cave or under a table and when we decided we needed to get up, we hit our heads and forgot the space we had gotten into had a low ceiling. The reason it is so important to recall how others reacted to our hitting our heads when we were children is because it can be very useful in helping us understand how we learnt to react to our own accidents and mistakes. It will help you understand why it might be easy or hard for you to forgive yourself. It will help you understand your ease or dis-ease at releasing yourself from the guilt and shame of making a mistake. It might show you where and when you might’ve acquired the habit of blaming others and constantly pinning them down with an it’s all your fault-a-day.
But having said that, it’s also not as simple as that. We might’ve picked up something like this in childhood but got it enforced and reinforced a million times by teachers, fellow classmates, society, culture, and one hundred and one other factors. So it is important to remember that when we look back, we are not looking back in order to find the one culprit or reason for why we are the way we are, but rather in order to know ourselves a little better and to understand how complex the making of us was, how there was no one person, or one time period, or one school, or country we lived in, or style of parenting to hold responsible for our entire being. We look back to understand that our being is complex, that it cannot be separated from the world that was there as we were being formed, and that we are still being formed, not in a vacuum but in the world. And so, as much as we can hold ourselves accountable and responsible for ourselves, we cannot hold the weight of our entire lives on our shoulders, for we will almost certainly collapse underneath it all and so will anyone who we attempt to put that weight on, including and especially our parents. Why I say especially parents? Because when we look back, parents are almost always the usual suspects. It is very easy to latch on to any one of the many mistakes parents make. In fact, I would say that the latching on to blaming the parents might be one of the necessary steps we go through as we learn to view our lives as part of the bigger picture of all of life. And so I must warn you of the threat of getting stuck in this cycle of blame. It is certainly tempting to shift all that responsibility onto someone else, and it’s not only responsibility that gets shifted but anger too. It is much easier to be angry at someone outside of us than to have all this anger directed inwards towards us. But if we do that, we must know that we have not put to rest the habit of blaming, we have merely shifted the object of that blame. One of the main learnings of this inner work with ourselves (and there are many) is to learn how to refrain from saying ‘it’s all your fault’ to anyone and everyone. Firstly, because it gets us nowhere to point fingers. Secondly, it’s untrue. Our predicament, who we are, why we do what we do, is no one’s fault. Thirdly, we always have a part to play, and it is this part and only this part that must be recognised by us and taken responsibility for. And in this way, we take our power back by taking ownership of that part we do play. In doing so, we must be careful not to inflate the size of that part and attribute too much responsibility to ourselves when much less is due. At the same time, be careful of giving anyone too much power over your life that it is all their fault. And it is not just people we blame, sometimes it’s places, sometimes even emotions. Fear, for example, is a big one people tend to blame their failures on. But it is of course more complicated than that. So the moral of the story is stay away from blame and instead take just enough responsibility for yourself, and don’t take responsibility for anyone else. In doing all of this, you give yourself back the power of choosing again, the power to alter the course of your life, and the power to make decisions boldly. This doesn’t mean you will be to blame if you hit your head again on the ceiling of a table; all it means is that you have accepted the fact that you are human and that all you can be responsible for is acting to the best of your ability at any given moment. We cannot see what we cannot see. And so it was with our parents, and their parents, and their parents.
May we all learn to forgive ourselves, our parents, our teachers, our friends, our partners, our communities, our cultures, our histories, our gods, and the whole world we find ourselves in today. May we all remember that we are active participants in the creation of this world. You, as much as I, as much as the largest corporation, we are all working together and separately to make this very world we share.
With love and always for peace,