“If I could go back, I would understand that I don’t need a stage or a mic to make a difference, because who needs riots, anger, and violence, when the truth for peace lies inside of every one of us?”
I penned these lines in a corner room in a fifty year old school for the hearing impaired on the outskirts of Iowa, and voiced them in a suit and tie banquet setting with hundreds of eyes looking upon me. I motioned with my hands, and verbally dismantled the idea that one must focus externally in order to begin changing internally. I convinced myself, and those around me that I swept up the cobwebs of my own soul, and so I was clean enough to preach the methods of finding peace. I walked like water was underneath me and it was my duty to show the light of truth to the blind. I was thoroughly convinced that I, at 21 years old, had figured out the keys to peace, and that I was ready to share them.
Last friday night I sat up until 2 am and sobbed. Every morning this week I stared into the mirror into eyes that weren’t looking back, and I felt the cleanliness of my soul slowly slip away, and now, while turning to the paper to pen my thoughts on an essay originally titled: “What Has Gone Wrong?”, I realized that I never knew anything. And while writing that, I know now that I still know nothing.
I believe that life is odd in the way it tells us that we are off course. Sometimes it is a subtle nod by way of feedback from a peer or social distress, while other times it is a full blown push into a new lane by way of betrayal, loss of employment, or mental angst. This will happen to all of us, eventually. Maybe life is showing you that your attitude needs to change by way of social isolation, or that your love needs work by way of lingering emotional hang ups. Individually, I’ve ignored every slight nod until the universe had no choice but to knock me over and scream, “Look Again!” I continued my path until walls were erected, I ran the course until those around me had to leave, and even now, I continuously convince myself that I have cleaned out the closet and re-built my psyche, only to be told, “Look Again!” by a failing interpersonal relationship or an unfulfilled potential.
Why do we tell children that they can change the world? Why do we tell 18 year olds fresh out of their parents home that they can identify and fix what ails society? Why do we create whole armies of social warriors who are determined to clean up what they perceive as injustice when they can’t even keep their rooms clean? Who told me that I was qualified to speak how I did? I should have been laughed off the stage, and my director should have sat me down and said, “Son, your ideas are nice, but before you can even think about solving the world’s problems, go and fix yourself first. I’ll see you in 10 years.”
Instead, we tell ourselves and others that we are special, that we are worth all that the world has to offer, and like fish we bite the bait and run with this idea that we are the saviors the world ordered until we are alone, resentful, nihilistic, and seemingly unaware as to why. Then, when we feel this way, we are able to be manipulated, we are able to be coerced and convinced into becoming puppets for whoever knows how to pull the strings. We convince ourselves and our youth that they deserve greatness, that they have success in their veins, and that any semblance of failure is not their fault. Therefore, when we stumble, when we face the inevitable, but now invincible obstacle that tells us to “Look again, You are off course”, we blame the system, the government, the establishment, the historical patriarchy, (or we feel something is wrong deep in our core). Instead of looking internally, we glare externally at what we can place the blame on.
How was this my fault? That is what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn forced himself to ask in the Russian Gulags. That is where he penned the phrase: “The battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.”
Granted, I have already admitted that anything I say should probably be ignored, but it seems that this is our current issue. Instead of finding the evil inside of us, accepting it is there, and working to tame it, we only allow ourselves to see the evil in society, or to create it in our minds, because it is easier to blame the problem on something other than ourselves. It is sexier to raise a big fuss and scream with big signs saying, “Down with the system!” than to make a sign saying, “Oftentimes I am lazy and forgo responsibility so the lack of opportunity in my life is my fault.”
I guess where I am going is this: Who told me that I was cured of all future work on myself? Who allowed me to join an organization that told me I could save the world? Who let me speak words into others, and air into my ego? See, because the idea that I could fix the issues that plagued me with a few books and some fancy words seemed to have led me to exactly where I am now: mental angst and internal isolation.
How do we let go of the past? How do we cease to fill our kid’s soul with historical trauma, and our relationships with reruns of past failures? How do we let go of the anchor that pulls our souls down? How do we stop youth and adults from turning to nihilism in the face of obstacles? Because when the world is a place full of snakes and dragons, what is the other option? When your body knows the shiver of hell, and every slight rejection sends you back to the bottom, how do you not see the world, everyone within, and every interaction as futile, pointless, and potentially harmful?
When we spend our time lecturing of oppression, hatred, and trauma, and fill our student’s veins with resentment towards the system, towards society, and towards fellow humans, how do we not expect this epidemic of nihilistic depression and aimless angst? Do you know what an army does during peacetime? Prepare for battle. There is no such thing as peace time when you’re cultivated to be a fighter. Therefore, what do we expect when you spend 4 years at university creating warriors (Social justice warriors)?
I sat at the edge of a lake in the mountains of the Chugach National Forest and saw everything reflected off of it. Like I was staring at myself in the bathroom in the morning, only now I could see everything behind me, everything in front of me. I shouldn’t have been able to speak back then, but the words I muttered at the end should have been said. I don’t think that they were my words, but like Og Mandino said in “The Greatest Miracle in the World”, they were written through me by the universe. And now, at the edge of a giant liquid mirror, I see the problem: I am scared.
I was scared to confront what lived inside, so I ran into fancy job titles and unseen lands. I was scared to love, so I filled my heart with quotes and stories. I was scared to find the blame in me, so I blamed western Society, the government, or my parents. I was scared to hurt again, so I never tried. And I was scared to see that this was the truth, so I never looked.
Where was I going with all of this? Well, like the mirror lake of before, I needed time to reflect. Why do I feel so Nihilistic? Why do I feel my soul crumbling in two? Why do I watch peers get so riled up about issues that seem manifest for the sake of tribalism, or for the pure sake of riling up? Why does my soul hurt, and am I the only one feeling this way? Why does it seem, in some capacity, that we are all scared?
How do we teach young adults to fix themselves before they consider fixing the world? How do we prevent the seemingly inevitable downfall into nihilism? In a world that truly consists of snakes and dragons, how do we teach trust? How do we teach our children to trust until broken, and not to turn trees, people, and anything that moves into a predator? How do we let go of the past, of the trauma, of the resentment? And why should we try?
We teach responsibility. Not in the social justice or civic engagement way, but in the individual, clean out your closet, cure your soul, then help those around you sort of way. We preach growth through work, and opportunity through failure. We refuse to set unrealistic expectations of fame, money, and material success, especially the expectation of achievement of those at a young age, and we idealize the struggle, the process of becoming better. Because if we don’t, if we continue to praise violence, anger, resentment, and hatred (in whatever capacity), the only path is nihilism. The only way is through late night sobbing sessions and consistent reruns of the same fears. It is an upward climb through consistently feeling empty, and misaligned efforts to solve it. Until it ends with a sudden descent into the pits of hell.
Fix yourself. It is truly the only thing we can control. Weed out anything that isn’t yours, any ideological words and affirmations, any jargon and political agenda, and resentment and unsettled angst. Take responsibility to become the person the world needs. Because the alternative is a lot worse. Trust me.
But then again, what do I know?