Friday, 17 April 2009

Being an Adult

There's this vague subject that's kind of been troubling me for the past three days. That is to say, it troubled me greatly and acutely three days ago, until I'd resolved to write about it here, and then I never got around to it and it kind of hung on. It is this: Adultness. Responsibilities. My duties towards others.

It's too long after the fact for me to remember precisely where this very broad subject met me, so all I can do is try to take this on in an organized way, chronologically. So, context:

As most people who know me know, I've been inside of variants of clinical depression ever since four and a half years ago. "Been" rather than "am" because (since probably not much more than a month ago) I now consider myself to be out of it completely, at least as far as I'm concerned.
But I was definitely in it for quite a long time. My depression could probably take up more than a few blog posts all by itself, but I want to address a very specific thing that happened during it; it was The Shedding of Obligations.

Everything was becoming exceedingly difficult to do, and I decided to focus most of my efforts on just getting through the day to the night. I felt, and thought (and I still feel and think this was right at the time), that there was need for some urgent prioritization as far as my mental energy was concerned, and I stopped doing things. Quite early on I stopped going to school. I stopped hanging on to the vestiges of what very technically constituted my "social life". I stopped a bunch of the more ritualistic "binding" religious activities, without at the time doubting for a moment that they were indeed incredibly important. I stopped even trying to do housework. I stopped worrying about hygiene to some extent, but even just mentioning it like this is probably already a little TMI. And I stopped even trying to care about matters that did not immediately concern me - by which I mean my life-long obsession with ethical philosophy and politics. It's not that I washed my hands clean of these things completely - more that I indulged in them occasionally when it took my fancy, without feeling any sort of responsibility towards it.

It is, obviously, this last "shedding" that is on my mind lately. I have, largely, started again all these things that I have stopped, but my - let's call it "ideological passivity" remained curiously stable. It has kept on the level of a hobby, rather than that of a duty.

Now, a part of me says this is nothing to worry about - it's normal - nobody obsesses about abstract concepts and the dealings of their government, because they're all too busy trying to eke out their own living. But another part of me says bullshit; the fact that "everybody does it" never makes anything right and it doesn't necessarily mean it's even advantageous or sensible in any way. And it's simply untrue that I'm too busy to care. These issues - mainly violations of human rights and casual (and complicit) indifference to suffering - genuinely boil my blood. I'm not not caring. I'm just not doing.
I'll break the suspense here. The second part is right. My apathy towards the affairs of those not in my immediate vicinity is a distant relic of a bygone era.

Which is wonderful, and an observation I expect of myself to act on in the near future, but it seems only to touch the tip of the iceberg.
I have thought a lot in past months about being a citizen - voting in my first elections, etc. I feel that a state of democracy and freedom confers a duty upon the citizen to do what is in his power to ensure that his country is doing what he believes is right, as what the government does is now his responsibility. This is a very sound concept, and it may be why my present total inaction is so patently absurd, but I wasn't a citizen at 16 when I stopped caring. I hadn't stopped doing my "citizenly duties" - I had stopped doing something else.

I suspect that what's brought this on was my recent reacquaintance with Doctor Who. I was a fan before, but I'd just found a site where I could download full episodes, and I think the good Doctor has been knocking about in my brain ever since.
The Doctor seems to me a kind of spookily flawless moral prototype. He has his very clear ideas of right and wrong, which fairly often seem to me to err on the side of kindness and empathy - that put trust in what are very clearly untrustworthy people - but the fact is he walks the way he talks. He walks. He's a man of action. Men of action inspire me as a rule, complacent and inert overthinking slob that I am, but The Doctor somehow towers far above the rest.

I think I know why. It has occurred to me, that what is striking about The Doctor is the way he treats everybody he meets like human beings, even when they're aliens. Which says it all, really. The Doctor sees people, wherever and whenever he meets them, without prejudice, without anger - without even fear getting in the way. He is always forcefully aware of the humanity of the person before him. I'm not. Most people aren't, but that is simply not good enough. It's the coward's way out. We deal with people in our day-to-day. If we can't come to grips with that then we've never really become adults. We're still impulsive, self-centred children.

That's what I'd stopped doing. I found the strain of dealing with people too much to bear, so I both limited it and diluted it. It is possible that this was justified at the time - if doubtful - but it certainly is not justified any more. I should be aware of the fact that a human being is standing before me even before it is somehow emphatically illustrated to me. It's not that I'm insensitive - trample over people and humiliate them and insult them and whatnot - I'm probably too passive in my dealings with people to even be able to do that. It's just that I forget about their existence when they're not in front of my eyes talking to me very candidly. Generally speaking, if I can't see you, deeply - if I can't penetrate into the depths of your soul - you might as well not be there.

So that's the problem - overlooking my responsibility to recognize a person's humanity in fact always no matter what. Everything else is derived from that. From my interactions with friends and acquaintances to any kind of political activity (including mere discussion) I might feel compelled to take part in. It should all follow naturally. If I want to truly be able to call myself an adult - a basic decent human being - I'm going to have to learn to recognize the constant and continual existence of people outside of me. Once you realize that they get inside of you anyway, but that's metaphysical babble again, and while enjoyable it's probably not the best thing to do if I'm actually trying to communicate something discernible here.

It feels like this post is badly missing all of the reasons why it's good to be a child. That's what I think about most of the time. It's probably most of what this blog will eventually be about, though who knows. Generally speaking, I believe we need to be adults towards each other and children towards ourselves. I don't doubt I will elaborate on that later. The stuff I've been talking about in the previous two entries is to do with "being a child".

The holiday went perfectly well by the way. I didn't feel like I was lying to anybody this week about anything. I didn't do much, as it happens. I've been rather sick, and that's been occupying most of my time and energy. Here's hoping healthier and more eventful times are coming.

The last thing I want to mention, apropos of this recent inactivity, is that the fact that I hadn't watched a good movie in ages was really bothering me, and finally today I took action and went to see Gran Torino. It was awesome. I feel a need to pass on the word that it is indeed awesome.
I've also just watched the latest episode of 24, and that's completely ridiculous.

1 comment:

  1. You'll get the hang of it. For the most part, being independent is liberating and fun. You get to take control of your life, do what you want to do and be OK with it even though other might not be.