What I've Learned

We become who we are because of the experiences in our lives - some good, some bad.

Nobody's life is perfect. I have never met anyone who had an idyllic life (maybe I just haven't met enough people), but I have certainly encountered many who have had very hard and difficult lives.

As a general rule, I think my life has been pretty good, but there are certainly things in it that have shaped who I am. I wish I could frame my life in terms of positive experiences, but the shaping forces have been negative. I guess negative forces shape us because they define our boundaries - extend beyond it and you get hurt.

I think the reason positive and pleasant experiences don't shape us in the same way as negative one is because we are amorphous - without clear bounded shape. We extend and expand ourselves in whichever direction we wish to go - stopping if we encounter pain.

As we get older, we become so boxed in by the negative forces in our life that we feel hemmed and trapped. At this point we begin to notice kindness and gentleness. We have become so trapped in our protective shell that a little kindness is an oasis to which we outstretch and extend ourselves.

So what have I learned in the first half of my life?

When I was 3:
  • I learned that people lie. A boy threw a stone through our window. I saw him. When I accused him, he denied it.
  • I learned adults will defend liars. The boy's father was obviously an unreasonable man who was unwilling to distinguish between his son's lie and my truth.

  • When I was 5:
  • I learned that children would say mean and untrue things. "Extra! Extra! Read all about it! All the boys are mental retarded!" The girls would run through the schoolyard shouting, to be followed by a gang of boys shouting the same except substituting 'girls' for 'boys'
  • I learned that there are pointless rules I am expected to follow (like nap time when I was not tired)

  • When I was 6:
  • I learned that children would exclude you from games

  • When I was 7:
  • I learned that friends would steal from you or break your things.

  • When I was 8:
  • I learned that children would pick on others. There was a girl in my class that I frquently defended.
  • I learned that people cut into line ahead of you (this was at a drinking fountain in a park, despite my protestations, the excuse was, "I asked if she would let me in.")

  • When I was 9:
  • I learned that friends thought it was fun to play "Lets run away from Richard" games.

  • When I was 10:
  • I learned that having curly hair made you fair target to be called a girl

  • When I was 13:
  • I learned that an invisible barrier was set up between boys and girls when they entered high school (my high school was grade 7 through to grade 11).

  • While not an exhaustive list, and probably everyone has similar ones. Shorter, longer, less hurtful, more hurtful, it doesn't matter, because we all had imperfect experiences.

    In my case, the experiences taught me one thing: caution. The older I grew, the more cautiously I trusted. The more cautiously I gave of myself. The less I was willing to trust my emotions and the more I relied on reason. So as I wrote earlier, Stoicism is something I came to naturally. I believe in people, I believe in their goodness, but experience has taught me to temper my emotional desire with objective reason.

    Now, I also mentioned that our experiences shape us and hem us in. Enclosing us in a prison of our own making. Only when we feel we are completely trapped to we begin to notice the beauty and gentleness around us.

    The first time I recall what I consider a selfless act of consideration from a friend was when I was 29. Does it mean that until then I had never been nourished with an act of kindness? Or does it mean that I was more receptive to it at the time? I am not sure. I think it is both (on the whole, I think my life has been good and positive without much hardship or trouble and Ipositivesily pick out postive moments, but for some reason the one I want to share always strikes me as the pre-eminent one).

    For reasons I prefer to keep to myself, I plunged into a deep despondency in May of 1995. I wrote an e-mail to a friend - the contents of which I don't remember (I don't think I mentioned I was depressed). But, there must have been something in the tone that concerned my friend, because 5 minutes later she called me out of concern. I don't remember the conversation. I only remember her calling and us talking and the feeling of gratitude that I had. Somehow, the Universe had granted me, without my having to ask for it, without (I think) dropping any hints, the gentle comfort of a friend in an otherwise bleak world.

    "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils." - Hector Louis Berlioz


    Friends are truly a wonderful support when the going gets rough. Can understand how you feel - going through childhood and learning the harsh realities of life. I have learnt many things too because I was forced to grow up faster than most kids my age.

    But as they always say, what doesn't kill me will make me stronger.

    I have mellowed down over the years. Used to be a whole lot wilder and rebellious because I hate to conform. I don't give a shit to most people.

    Somehow, experiences like u said, mould and shape us. The Lord has also worked on me, chiselling off sharp edges that could possibly bring about hurt and pain.

    Bitterness ebb away, replaced by love.

    Though many times, I suffered in the name of love. But I am still hoping.

    I guess I will always stick to one principle - that is not to give anyone who does not mean anything to me - the power to make me angry or sad.

    Life should be less complicated - but hey, chaos is what make it so interesting in the first place isn't it?

    Without sadness, one would never know how to appreciate the sweetness of joy.
    Richard said…
    I don't actually agree with Nietzche's "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.", it can make us more brittle or more vulnerable.

    I can assure you that my friend's car accident did not leave him stronger.

    I am lucky to have only limited experience with sadness and none with bitterness. Some would say that highs and the lows need to go together - you cannot get truly high, if are unwilling to crash down low.

    A general rule (I have many aphorisms I like) I try to apply is "There is no offense where none is taken." (yep, did learn something from Star Trek).

    One sad reality of being cautious with vulnerability is that it denies great people from coming close into your life - since you are afraid to trust them. It is a hard act to balance. I always err on the side of caution.

    I was never wild, but neither was I conforming. I had no need to rebel against authority, nor did I have the desire to join my peers.

    Thanks for your thoughts.
    Bee said…
    Richard said: "One sad reality of being cautious with vulnerability is that it denies great people from coming close into your life - since you are afraid to trust them."

    True. As for me, I tend to throw away my caution too early. :(

    yet each betrayal and hurt brings home the message that I have to fully rely on God, I need to remember that I am just a vistor on earth.
    Richard said…
    Bee wrote: "... I tend to throw away my caution too early."

    Meditate more on patience (or try taking the philosophical stance that life is an illusion and you must peer through the illusion to see the reality).

    Repeating my position, I learned early in life to be less trusting and more cautious. Fundamentally, I want to believe in people, I want to believe in goodness, but I am also afraid of being hurt ... so I close myself off.

    Compared to most people, my life has been very good, with no major disasterous hurts. But, I Am very sensitive and pain is not something I want. So I become cold and serious and stern.

    A nice story along this line is Oscar Wilde's "The Selfish Giant"

    I have not yet torn down my walls.

    Occasionally, though, I meet people who are not angry and bitter and I am willing to share a little more of myself with them.
    Bee said…
    That's a nice story.

    Richard said: "I have not yet torn down my walls."

    For me, I have many repair jobs done by God already... hehe. Well, I am quite tired as far as myself is concern, but I do not want to discourage others who have lots of hope for the future. I wish them well.
    david said…
    Howdy. Love the Berloitz quote. And I agree with you on Nietzche (even if I can't help associating that with a certain Conan movie ...)

    I like your notion that the negative experiences shape the boundaries of life. How do you feel the positive experiences shape you?
    Richard said…
    kwakersaur wrote: "How do you feel the positive experiences shape you?"

    I think positive experiences to not shape in the same way that negative experiences do. Instead, positive experiences nourish us and allow us to grow freely.

    Think of a tree gowing in an open space with lots of nutrients and light.

    I think we take positive experiences for granted because it is the natural state we expect (like good health). Only if we have been severely oppressed by negativity - do we truly notice the good in our lives.

    I think I might blog on this question, since I think it deserves a better answer.

    Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

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