Saturday, February 11, 2012

What is Self-Awareness?

On Facebook earlier today, someone on my friends list whom I don't know personally (only online through our church affiliation) wrote as his status: "Watching 'Portlandia' so I can understand Nicholas." He was referencing the popular TV show that has brought even more unwanted attention to Portland, Oregon. I have not seen the show, but want to. Season 1 was on the cable channel IFC and since I don't have cable, I was not able to see it. However, some local theaters do show an episode each Saturday evening, but its usually late night and I don't feel like going all the way to the theater for a TV show (especially since it means a 45 minute bus ride or longer, and longer wait times if I just miss a bus). The first season is on DVD now, so as soon as my social life calms down a bit, I'll watch it (since returning from my vacation to Atlanta, I have hardly been home. Between work and a social life, I'm only at home to sleep).

I wrote in response: "I doubt that show will help you much. I'm not a Portland hipster." And I'm not. The stereotype of a Portland hipster is one who wears skinny jeans (which I absolutely hate), has a plug in one's ear to stretch out the hole (so ugly looking!), at least one tattoo but more likely five or more in an ongoing work in progress, too cool to believe in God or spirituality, into their social scene (still can be quite shallow), and deliberately does things to make people believe that they are "weird" (which is different than believing things that people think is "weird"). However, I am flattered that some church member in Independence, Missouri whom I've never met is watching some silly satire about Portland life in an attempt to "understand" me. I think most people are incapable of understanding me because most people put others in boxes and I have never been an easy person to put into a box. I'm a racially mixed guy who grew up in the post-Vietnam War syndrome, so I faced all kinds of rude comments from other kids telling me to "go back where I came from." I'm an American citizen who never felt truly at home in America, and then I spent six years of my life in Europe (three as a teenager in Germany and three as a young man in Italy). I love African music and my heroes tend to be dissidents in other countries. It is difficult for most Americans to really "get me", but one person who does is my best friend Nathan. He once said that I'm a "collage that somehow fits."

To help this Facebook friend "understand" me, I suggested some movies to watch, music to listen to, and books to read. Basically it was this:

"If you really want to 'understand' me, watch Casualties of War (I'm a lot like the Michael J. Fox character), Dead Poet's Society (my senior year in high school was a lot like that movie and three characters were similar to me), and Forrest Gump (my life has had quite a bit of amazing experiences like Forrest Gump's). Listen to the music of Johnny Clegg, Midnight Oil, and Youssou N'dour. Read books by and about Jack Kerouac, Vaclav Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi, Robert F. Kennedy, and Al Gore. Also, read the novel Lord of the Flies (because I'm a lot like Ralph and my experience as a teen in the Boy Scouts was a lot like that novel)."

I thought it was a cool summary. If someone did all of that, they would likely "get" me. I'm a nonconformist, idealist, spiritualist with a universal world view who does not like bullies, ignorance, and people who abuse power. It really is that simple.

Well, it wasn't good enough for Aaron, the anti-government church member. He posted that I did not understand myself, which got me into the debate. Aaron claims that people who know me don't think I have "self-awareness." He wouldn't name names or give specifics, so I can only assume he's either lying or just trying to get under my skin. If some members of YAPS did say things to him about what they thought of me, I wouldn't put too much stock in it. As much as I enjoyed participating in YAPS / MAYAs events, I always walked away feeling a little put off because of what I feel is a shallowness in other people. I enjoy having conversations of depth and don't feel comfortable with small talk. I've always been this way. In fact, my whole preferred way of being is one-on-one. I've always found it much easier to have a deep conversation with people when its just two of us. When there's a group scenario, I'm always the "odd man out" and I tend to be quiet, listening to what people say in hopes of hearing something profound. Usually, I don't hear anything worth my attention, so I get bored and disinterested. I truly believe that most people prefer to stay on the surface of things and that's not what I'm about. Shallow conversations really do bore the hell out of me and I'll always look for an exit sign.

So, I told Aaron that only one person in YAPS / MAYAs made a true effort to get to know me and spend a lot of time with me. True, she was the one that broke my heart in the most devastating rejection of my life, but I still think of her as a true friend. No one took as much interest in me than she did and she proved time and again that she was a great friend. I wanted to spend most of my time with her, and I hope to God that I find a lady who captivates my interest as much as she did.

Aaron's problem is that he is often contradictory and likes to play the contrarian role. I'm actually thinking about blocking him on Facebook so I never have to read his anti-government rants again. He has no idea that I refused to give an FBI agent his name, which caused the agent to look at me with suspicion for wanting to "protect" an anti-government "sovereign citizen." I only refused because of the principle (giving up the name feels like an East German commie thing to do, and I couldn't do it to a fellow church member, no matter how much I disagreed with his opinions). Anyhow, Aaron denied my claim about being self-aware. He doesn't think people believe that I am. Well, the ones who know me best would all probably say that I'm incredibly self aware. You don't live 40 years in the body of a reserved, introverted writer and not have self-awareness. If people think I don't have understanding or that I'm not self-aware, they truly don't know me. I'm not one to share most of my thoughts with people. But in the times when I've shared my thoughts about the likelihood of a certain event to happen or my impressions about people, others have told me that they thought my analysis was pretty accurate (this was especially true regarding various employees at That Place That Shall Not Be Named). I'm an observer and I see a lot of people who lack awareness. I see people who aren't "present" in conversations with others. There are a lot of distracted people, not to mention shallow people. Shallow people tend not to have self-awareness. They are afraid of depth and keep away from deep people because of a fear of being found out.

In the dialogue (which eventually got deleted), we didn't reach agreement, which doesn't surprise me. My view of Aaron is pretty simple. His brother works for the IRS and they have never really gotten along all their lives and it offends Aaron to the core of his being that the taxes he pays goes towards his brother's salary. I believe all his anti-tax, anti-government rants boil down to something as basic as brotherly rivalry. It sounds reductionist, but I have not met anyone who hates the American government and the taxes we pay as much as Aaron does. And Aaron is so fanatical in his views that he lacks a perspective. Its completely Ayn Randian approach: it boils down to his ego. He is completely unable to see that people in Somalia, Burma, Sudan, and Zimbabwe have a real knowledge about what a bad government looks like (or no government, as in the case of Somalia). My one wish for Aaron is for him to gain some perspective by spending a year in Burma or Somalia or Zimbabwe. He will return to America with a different view. Everyone I know who has been overseas has been transformed by their experiences. I learned this at my last job when I tried to understand why I did not like certain co-workers and why I liked others. The common trait in the people I did not like was that none of them had ever traveled outside the U.S. Those I got along with the most did travel overseas. This trait is not absolute, however, as it did not really apply when I served in the military.

One of my favourite films is I Heart Huckabee's, which is about the entire deconstruction process and learning about the source of your emotional reaction. One line that I loved in the movie is that Naomi Watts tells her shallow boyfriend (played by Jude Law): "You can't deal with my infinite nature!" That line is so accurate in regards to superficial people. They are afraid of depth. It's all about projecting a certain image to people to increase your stature in the eyes of others. I'm not interested in social status or popularity. I only want to be real and honest with people. You may or may not agree with me, but that is the principle I choose to live life by. If people doubt my intentions, well, they are entitled to their opinions but they are likely not my friend. They aren't the people who will be there for you when you need them to be, so why value what they have to think about me? As Wayne Dyer says: "What you think of me is none of my business." Those are wise words to live by.

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