In truth, there’s only ever us, and then there’s life outside of us.
There’s me – my painful knee, my anxiety, my fear of spiders, my dreams, my guilt, my aspirations – and then there’s life out there – the dripping tap, the thunderstorm, Brexit, a spider under the sofa, a garden full of leaves.
These are two very distinct things. I am me, and those things over there are just, well, those things over there.
I control me – I determine my emotional state, my level of well-being, my industriousness, my laziness – and all that is within my control, but I don’t control all the things happening out there – the rain, the wars, the politics, the insects, the plumbing.
And yet, whilst I don’t control any of ‘that’, only ‘this’, I seem to be often held hostage by ‘that’.
Let me give an example …
I see a spider, I feel frightened. Before seeing the spider I might have been quite content with life, but the moment the spider does an 8-legged trot out from beneath the sofa into my line of vision, I become a pissing, gibbering wreck.
Yet I am still me, still the exact same person I was pre-spider – same body, same genes, same blood, same brain, same thought processes.
So what happened? I am now frightened and scared, whereas before I was happy, before that damned spider appeared. Except the spider didn’t appear, the spider was always there, it’s just that I couldn’t see it. What really happened was the spider had a thought, made a decision to walk left, out from beneath the sofa. Had it chosen to stay put, or turn right, I would have remained happy.
Think about that, a neuron fired randomly in a spider’s brain and it spoiled my day. Go figure.
I spill my tea, I cross the road and a car beeps its horn, it’s raining out, the news on the radio is all bad … and yet, in none of these cases could I have affected the outcome. Other people will always piss me off, whatever I do, rain will always fall when it’s ready, earthquakes will always happen, Brexit is Brexit.
Far better surely to live a life where a spider neuron firing doesn’t make or break your day? Far better to live a life where one feels good or bad because of ones own actions?
If, on my way to work, I call in on my elderly neighbour to check if they’re OK and perhaps make them a cup of tea, then surely I deserve to feel good, because there is a genuine cause and a genuine effect, instigated by me.
And more broadly speaking, through such actions can society not be incrementally improved? Whereas when the spider turns left, well, society doesn’t change one iota …
Nor does society change when the lorry driver angrily waves the wanker sign at me as I cross the road and I do the dickhead sign back. What happens is two people become angry, two people’s health suffers and that part of the world becomes a little bleaker, a little angrier.
Let the spider turn left, let the lorry driver wave his chubby, fat, porky, gammon fingers a certain way, let the rain fall. Throughout I can still be me, only ever me, exactly me, before and after.
I think happiness needs to be earned, dictated by the ‘self’, not commandeered by others (such as a spider). Happiness shouldn’t come from pride, but from action – by making a brew for the elderly lady next door, mending that fence, writing that poem, unblocking that drain. These actions make society better and are in turn worthy of happiness.
In a similar vein, nor should we be defined by our jobs or careers. We weren’t born as Accountants, Shopkeepers or Teachers, we became them. But we didn’t change into them, we didn’t switch from being a human being to suddenly being an angry lorry driver – the two things co-exist. And whilst one is permanent, the other is only ever temporary.
I happen to be a Yorkshireman and I work in Sales. I will always be a Yorkshireman, but I won’t always be working in Sales. At least I fucking hope not.
Our occupations are simply cloaks we wear, uniforms if you like, but the mistake many of us make is that we rarely take them off. Many of us might have been working for so long that we feel like we’ve become someone else, like we’ve shed our original skin and grafted a new one, that of an Accountant, for example.
Think how we often greet strangers:
Them: “Hi, what do you do?”
Me: “Hi, I’m an Accountant”
Time to stop, perhaps. Time for a different tack …
Them: “Hi, what do you do?”
Me: “Hi, I do life”
Them: “Oh. You’re weird, a bit of a dickhead in fact.”
Me: “Look! A spider!”
Hmm, perhaps this ‘concept’ piece needs more work …