What vs. Who

You’ll have to pardon me a little on this one as I’m coming into it with the reality that I have to tread carefully on how I set it up. This isn’t being done so much for my protection as it is the individual whom I am providing as an example for what follows.

And I would be extremely remiss in my role as a journalist if I did not protect my sources at all times.

A few years ago, someone I’ve known since middle school came out to me. The exact nature of the coming out is truly arbitrary in this discourse, so I will not provide additional detail. I trust enough of you who will read this recognize this is still the 21st century, despite the active and ongoing attempt to return it to something more in line with either the 18th century or Cro-magnon times, depending on how much Fox News or alt-right horseshit you chose to ingest today and can do the math…provided the government hasn’t banned it as yet another alternative fact…but I digress.

This singular event, in and of itself, was not some landmark moment for me, either. I’ve had the good fortune to be acquainted with several people in my life who’ve done the exact same thing in varying capacities and I’d like to think the primary reason why they felt comfortable doing so with me is because they know that while I am many things, a judgmental, discriminatory and Puritanical prick is not one of them.

Editorial Note: At least….I certainly hope not.

In the years since, we’ve kept in touch and as I’ve watched this all unfold from my particular patch of sideline, amidst the pride, the love, and the unbridled support that I genuinely have and try to emote at all times, there came with it a secondary emotion that I neither anticipated, nor was I entirely prepared for.

Envy. Real, raw, unabashed envy.

Now, on this point, I want one thing made abundantly clear. I do understand just how difficult and terrifying this process is, albeit on an entirely different level that most people cannot comprehend in the exact same way that I cannot fathom how difficult and terrifying it is for people to be open about their sexuality.

I am, after all, an asexual, cisgender, white American male. But try sitting down with someone you care about and explain to them that, once upon a time, you did something that landed you in a prison cell and why it happened.

I promise you. I understand just how terrifying it is all too well.

But I was sitting at work last night, trying to get a better understanding of what is fueling that envy and I think it finally clicked sometime between 11:30 and midnight.

What I envy about the ability to come out is that it is a declarative statement to the world that “THIS IS WHO I AM!!” 

And my theory on why this is such a profound thing is that we are all so preoccupied on what we are, as opposed to who we are.

For example. if you were to give me sixty seconds to tell you what I think I am, I could probably bombard you with at least sixty different adjectives, titles and character traits.

But if you were to ask me who I am and give me the same amount of time to respond, I seriously doubt I could give you any comfortable response other than Well…I’m me.

That answer is a total cop-out. The word Me encompasses a physical marker only. Me is a vague, nebulous blob of a response.

The truth is I don’t have the first damn clue who I am. I never really have.

I know the what so well that it’s second nature at this point, as well as the what’s my family, friends and especially those who are either my enemies or have some degree of antagonistic bent towards me would throw out there as well.

But Who? Hell if I know.

Part of the problem, I’ve found, is that because we focus so much on the whats, they are invariably what we turn to in order to construct the who of what constitutes our identity.

That seems both one-dimensional and rather self-defeating though. It also makes me wonder if it’s humanly possible to define who someone is without relying on the whats, especially in this age where we seem to have boiled our views of each other into the uber-antagonistic hashtags of #YesAllMen and #YesAllWomen.

Editorial NoteThere was a time where I’d jump into that debate feet first because it pissed me off just how much we blindly paint each other with such broad brushes when it comes to the terrible things that we do to each other. Here’s the bottom line, folks.

Men and women are both terrible, horrible creatures who excel in treating each other like absolute crap without any real degree of regret, accountability, empathy or regard for the damage we dish out. In fact, a lot of us take some degree of silent pride in it for reasons which defy both logic and emotion. People collectively suck. Here endeth the lesson.

I’d like to think there is something truly liberating in trying to figure out our self-identity of Who am I, separate of the What I am, which is why when someone makes the choice to come out and be their authentic selves, a lot of us tend to be gobsmacked and quick to extol the virtues of their being courageous, brave, real, etc.

I also think it would make it easier for us to be more honest with both each other and ourselves in understanding our own identities.

It’s an interesting question…Who am I?

I wish I had a better answer to give for it. Any ideas?

 

Ghost Protocol

Contrary to popular belief, my social awkwardness wasn’t something that just came about through the wonders of losing my mind like I did six years ago.

I can remember a time when I was eight years-old. I was living in southern New Hampshire, the mid-point in a nomadic period that would see me relocate six times over the next five years, culminating in my being shipped out to the West Coast before the end of the 80’s, but that’s another story for another day.

Despite the outward impressions that I was living a typical All-American life with my family, the reality was far different. Even at that tender age, I was already on the path that would ultimately lead to the greatest mistake of my life. I had also been both exposed to and subjected to things, physical, emotional and sexual abuse being the most obvious things, that had begun warping my personality so severely that you’d have had to been completely blind not to see that something was terribly wrong.

Editorial Note: When you’re a kid, you get the impression that the adults in your life can see everything, even when you’re so sure they’re not paying attention. But then when you really need them to, somehow, they all end up as blind as the proverbial bat.

Among the many problems I had at the time, was an inability to act with any real sense of normality around the friends I had. In hindsight, I can only imagine what it had to be like for them, looking at this kid who was so out of control without having any understanding of why or what had triggered the changes from the kid they’d met not even a year earlier.

There was one friend in particular who decided the only way she could cope with it was to literally pretend like I wasn’t there. If I said something even as innocuous as Hello, she would turn to whatever mutual friend or acquaintance who happened to be in close proximity and ask out loud, “Did you hear something?” and then keep on walking by like I no longer existed.

1984 was the year I was first introduced, albeit in quite rudimentary form, to being Ghosted.

Some thirty-odd years later, I seem to have found myself in the same exact spot, granted for entirely different reasons. What those reasons are, I can only speculate about because I can’t get an answer as to why and if I’m honest, it’s driving me crazy.

Ghosting, for the uninitiated, is the act of disappearing on someone, be it a friend or loved one, through the cessation of all contact without any explanation as to why it is happening, written, spoken or otherwise.

In most social contexts, it’s often applied to dating and the choice to not engage with the potential suitor, be they male or female, out of either the conscious or subconscious choice to not have to tell them why any further attempts to continue a possible relationship will not be happening.

Ghosting is also not gender exclusive. Guys are prone to doing it just as often as women are, so don’t think this is an entirely one-sided scenario which allows for the chance to declare open season on one side or the other.

Regardless of who it is performing the ghosting, however, the rationale for doing so remains constant. Ghosting gets you out of having to have a dialogue that is likely awkward, uncomfortable and could potentially make you the villain, instead of the hero.

What it also does is deprives the other party of anything resembling an explanation, understanding, a chance for reconciliation or even some form of closure.

Now I get it. No one likes to be the person who has to put on the black hat and be the bad guy, especially when it comes to having to say something that could cut someone down to the bone. I certainly don’t like being that person. I don’t know a great many people who find it particularly enjoyable, partly because they possess some degree of both empathy and a conscience.

Conversely, no one likes to have to be told that they might be the ones who are in the wrong for how they choose to treat another person because the absolute last thing anyone wants to have hanging over their heads like some grotesque Sword of Damocles is the moniker of toxic.

Editorial Note: I understand this better than most people, having had to come to grips over the past six years that on the Great Social Toxicity Scale, I seem to have a pH level somewhere between Vinegar and Battery Acid. This is not anything I am in any way proud of, and I’d like to think I’m capable of getting it out of my system through a bit of work. It remains, however, one of the many reasons why I’ve adopted the monastic life of Retirement that I’ve grown accustomed to since, thank you very much.

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat myself because it bears repeating as it’s maybe the most important bit of wisdom I ever had passed down to me.

There is no conflict or situation that cannot be resolved if two people are willing to sit down and talk it out. It may take all day, all night, all week, all year, but the dialog HAS to happen if, for no other reason, you don’t go to bed angry.

Ghosting does not resolve the situation because it doesn’t resolve anything. All it does is raise more questions and make the person being ghosted look to the only place that they might be able to glean anything resembling answers.

That being themselves, only by doing so, there’s nothing objective to be found and considering the potential emotional damage that the ghosting does to a person’s psyche in and of itself, all it really does is make them feel even more responsible for being ghosted in the first place, despite the fact that they don’t know what they did to somehow warrant that response.

Thinking back to that time thirty-years ago and my friend actively disavowed my existence, the thing I find myself remembering the clearest was how much that genuinely hurt.

It hurt then and it hurts now, regardless of the constant voice in my head that loves to remind me that I somehow deserve this because of the things I am indeed responsible for, both in word and action, for allowing this situation to devolve into what it’s become.

It also hurts because I see Ghosting for what it is, which is equal parts extremely passive-aggressive and downright childish, not to mention just being downright cruel. I didn’t understand it as a viable solution as an eight-year-old and I certainly don’t understand it now that I’m within shooting distance of forty.

Choosing to become a ghost solves nothing because it changes nothing. I’d rather have the conversation, no matter how unpleasant or even painful it might be, if it means there’s either a chance for honest reconciliation or the harsher reality that the bridge I’ve spent years trying to keep from collapsing has no other viable option but to be burned to the ground.

I have more than enough ghosts to battle with for one lifetime. That’s unpleasant enough on its own that I’d really like to avoid having to deal with any more.

Emotional Knots

I hate when I get like this. I really do, in part, because it seems to happen with striking regularity at often the most inopportune times.

For about the last week, I’ve been at a mental and emotional tipping point which no amount of exercising, music listening, reading, driving, photographing, ignoring or just good ol’ fashioned deep thinking has been able to remedy.

It’s the classic adversarial duel between my fleeting glimmer of tiny, but resilient hope that things will get better if I can just manage to hang in there like I always have, pitted against the brooding, nihilistic, self-defeating Goliath that is my Depression and self-loathing, who is so certain that not only aren’t things going to get better, but they’re going to get a lot worse because I’m in a city of a half-million people who abhor my very existence, even though most of them don’t even know who I am or why I’m here.

That assumptive observation, of course, is the magnification of my own reaction of fear, confusion and admittedly, a considerable amount of anger because the primary relationship I was hoping to maintain here seems to have completely disintegrated and for all the quantifiable reasons I can consider in answering the question of why it’s come to this, the absence of an actual answer makes the knots in my head twist all the tighter.

In the midst of all this, has come the urge to sit down with my laptop and start writing stories again for the first time in I don’t know how long, but whenever I do, my anxiety gets cranked up so high that after a few minutes, I can’t help but shut down my writing program and either do something else to get my mind off the entrenched belief that I am the worst writer in the history of Mankind, or just sit there and let that fester away.

Part of the problem, a honkin’ huge part of it, if I’m honest, is that I’ve always been a person who writes for recognition of other people.

For me, it’s a case of wanting to create stories that people not only want to read, but can get to the end of them and say something to the effect of, “This guy’s a really good writer.”

When I was in elementary school, I got my first real taste of that recognition and it was quite the rush when I got my first acknowledgment that I was actually good at something, because I wasn’t all that great at most things, either then or now.

But at one point, even though I was barely 10 years-old, I figured out I could write and write well. Somewhere along the way though, over the course of the ensuing 30 years, it feels like whatever talent or inherent knack I had for it went away. I’m not entirely sure how, when or why it up and left, but it did, and the more I tried to force myself to sit down and try working through it, the tighter the knots strangling my creativity and the fun I once got from conjuring stories out of the aether become.

The other day, I cracked open Neil Gaiman’s book, The View From The Cheap Seats, and in it, Neil touched on something I seem to have forgotten I don’t know how long ago.

“I like writing the stories that I want to read,” he said.

I don’t remember the last time I wrote a story like that, which is really bizarre, the more I think about it. But the weird thing was as I kept reading his essay, I felt something I can only describe as the tactile feeling that comes when a knot starts to unravel. It felt rather disconcerting, especially considering it came at around midnight on a semi-occupied Boston subway train, so I suppose it wouldn’t have seemed to far out of place to act a little kooky, but I both went to bed and woke up this morning with that same feeling lingering in my head.

I have a couple ideas for some stories I’ve been wanting to write for a couple of years now and I’d like to think there’s something good that can come out of them. The question, I guess, is whether or knot I can untie all the knots in my head separating me from being able to put them down on paper.

I’d like to try, if for no other reason than I’d like to write a story that I’d want to read.

Sounds like that’s as good a place as any to start.

Camera Shy

There was a time, back when I was still in middle school and even high school, where I was more than happy to get my picture taken. As a kid, I was an absolute ham and found just as much enjoyment in having someone click a pic of me as I was to find something to get on film myself.

In the Age of the Selfie, where we’re expected to show off ourselves virtually all hours of the day, I know I’m supposed to be all too happy to be clicking my phone and advertising my life wherever, whenever.

Except I may be the only photographer on the planet who has no interest at all in turning the lens back in my own direction.

The last time I voluntarily took a picture of myself was just over two years ago as I was sitting atop a ridge overlooking Banks Lake in the middle the Washington high desert and even that one felt like the emotional equivalent of pulling teeth.

Now one would think that for a person who loves photography as much as I do, I’d have a stockpile of candid snapshots of my own face large enough to crash most of social media.

But I don’t. In fact, of all the pictures I still have collected over the entirety of my life, I may have no more than thirty in which I appear. Before leaving the desert, I ran all my old high school and college photos through my paper shredder and I’ve reached the point where I have very little interest in even using a picture of myself as an identifier on social media.

In fact, if there’s one thing that puts my anxiety on edge more than being made to interact with people, it’s the idea of producing a photo in which I appear.

The reason why has nothing to do with ego or the need to be contrarian or anti-establishment, either.

The No Selfie Rule exists because they embarrass me.

In the 30 years I’ve been using a camera, I know all too well what amazing things they can produce and I’ve been damn lucky to be in the right place at the right time when I had my Nikon ready to shoot. It’s that pursuit of things that are worth immortalizing in an image which always inspires me to keep exploring and trying.

I am not one of those things worth immortalizing. I’m a pasty, pudgy, middle-aged guy with a gimpy chin and a hairline that looks like a pencil with the eraser bitten off. Instagram material, I am most definitely not.

My life being what it is has made it clear to me that when all is said and done, the better course of action is for me to fade into obscurity, that sort of person who maybe one or two people can say they knew, but there’s otherwise no documented record of existence.

And you know what? That’s okay. Not everyone is meant to be remembered.

I am more than happy to show you the world I see through my camera. I’d like to think that it’s something I’m good at and I can find things that go against the grain of who I am as a person.

But when it comes to my being in the frame, sorry, but I don’t do that anymore.

My eye is way too critical to find that an appealing photograph.

Inconvenient Truths

So I finished watching the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why last night and for all the heavy-duty subjects they cover in it, the lingering thought that’s been banging away in my head after waking up this morning, is the notion of truth.

In both our current political and social discourse, truth has become both a dirty word and a grossly distorted one.

According to Webster’s, truth is defined as:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we’ve learned over the past few months especially, however, truth is one of those rare concepts which is both subjective and objective. In the face of no matter how much empirical data or ironclad research you want to throw at a person to quantify an objective truth, they can very easily choose to either ignore it or reject it outright with the help of whatever subjective truth they cling to as a means of insulating them from the reality that the world which fills their own bubble of beliefs, ideas and emotions is somehow incorrect.

No amount of objective truth can penetrate the subjective truths constructed by someone capable of leaning on alternative facts in order to prove that they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

But that brings up the question of where do personal truths fall into this spectrum?

If there’s one thing I took away from both watching 13 Reasons Why and reading some of the reviews of it, it’s that as a culture, we are much happier being straight lied to and living in an absolute illusion than having to confront even the slightest bit of truth that we are not as wonderful as we like to think we are.

Editorial Note: In keeping with managerial policy, I won’t be leaving any spoilers about the show. I trust that if you’re interested, you’ll either watch it or you won’t.

In a lot of ways, I understand why. No one likes to think that they’re a bad person or whatever more exponentially negative adjective you wish to apply. It doesn’t change the unpleasant truth that we are, though, even if no one has the courage to tell us as much.

We excel at treating each other like shit.

It’s something I’ve personally witnessed since I was old enough to start comprehending what the world is. We all know how brutal we are to everyone from the people we work with and the kids we go to school with, to the people we call family, friends, lovers. What’s worse is we collectively nod our heads to one another before burying them in the sand of, that’s just the way life is.

 

That, I suppose, is one of many unpleasant truths I’ve never been able to accept, regardless of how many people remind me of its validity.

But what bothers me more than anything is the seemingly constant battle I feel like I have to wage every day just to be able to convey my truth, in whatever form that needs to manifest itself in.

I’m the first to admit that my personal truths are not pretty things. They are often dark, cynical, unforgiving and even incredibly brutal in their honesty and assessment of my world, based on the experiences I’ve had with those who occupy it.

I wish they weren’t. I really do. I wish I were one of the lucky ones who got everything they wanted and never really had to struggle for anything, like so many people I know who believe their truth is a lot more dire than it actually is.

 

But my truths, whether you want to consider them or not, did not come about arbitrarily. Truth, like everything else, is brought about through experiences both good and bad. And the fact that I feel the need to express them through things like writing about them maybe a gross inconvenience to you, but for me, it’s the only constructive way I know of to both examine and deal with them.

It’s how I’ve done it since I was a kid, because even back then, no one seemed all that much interested in the truths I had to tell them either.

And until I can find a better outlet for them, I will continue to do so, because the truth is this is one of the few things I’ve ever felt good doing in my life.

That enough truth to suit you?

Inferno

You find me in a bit of a philosophical crisis.

For the greater majority of my life, I’ve clung to the belief that any relationship can be salvaged as long as the two people involved are willing and able to sit down like two reasonable adults and talk, regardless of how long it takes to reach a mutually-beneficial conclusion.

And maybe it illustrates my innate Pollyanna-esque attitude to such things, or more of my sheer bullish stubbornness to not let go of those people who matter to me emotionally, the older I get, but I feel like I’ve reached a point I never wanted to be at.

The point where, as much as I don’t want to, I may not have any other choice but to let some bridges I’ve tried to rebuild burn back down to the ground.

Even the thought of it as I write those words down twists my heart into a very uncomfortable position, but I seriously don’t know what else to do that I haven’t already tried.

Two months ago, things seemed to be okay. I had asked for an opportunity to do exactly what I’d hoped to do, which is sit down and talk. In my defense, it was a tall order on my part because I was nothing if a live-wire ball of anxiety for most of the day and even after our conversation started because I was constantly on edge about saying the wrong thing, which is something I have a made a living off of, much to my chagrin.

Editorial Note: I have had the incredible misfortune to spend my life in the presence of some seriously terrifying people. People who have actually killed another person for reasons so arbitrary and insane that they defy logic, as well as all other manner of cruelty and diabolicalness. But if you told me that the person who’d genuinely scare me the most in this life stands all of about 5’4″ and spends most of their day reading books or hunting Pokemon, I’d say you were a complete loon.

I walked away from that conversation feeling hopeful that there was a chance that this bridge I’ve spent years trying to hold up might be saved. I knew it would take a while and it was likely going to be far from easy, but I was hopeful all the same, because its preservation mattered to me.

And maybe, that’s my big mistake in all this. I don’t know.

Look, I’m not blind to the reality that people change and that in the course of that evolution, they don’t always become the person you hoped or even subconsciously wanted them to be. It’s our own arrogance to presume that we can compartmentalize someone into a neat little box with a one-word label on it, thereby stripping that someone of all the complexities and sub-layers that makes them who they actually are.

And in our knee-jerk, hyperactive world, it’s even harder to try and convince someone that you are capable of being more than whatever image of you exists in their mind. I know this better than most. People still tend to look at me as if I never grew a day past my 13th birthday, or worse, which is saying a lot, that I haven’t managed to attain any level of evolution after my life imploded six years ago.

I’d like to think that I have, even if that progress has been glacial at times. But the only way I can prove it is through the interactions I have with other people and that becomes a bit of a problem when all that’s coming back to you in the attempts to maintain a dialogue is nothing but silence without explanation.

If I had a reason, that would be one thing. And before you tell me that there’s not always a reason for why people do things, allow me to politely call that out for what it is, which is complete and utter bullshit.

Everyone has reasons for why they do everything they do, myself included. No choice or action is made in a bubble, otherwise said actions and choices lose complete traction when it comes to justifying or rationalizing them to both ourselves and others.

The problem I have is I can only theorize why this bridge feels on the verge of going up in flames. I don’t have answers. I don’t have reasons. I don’t even have the person on the other side willing to respond when I simply say, “Hello.”

I feel like I’m talking into an empty telephone because the other end of the line won’t pick up and I don’t know why.

That leaves me with the moral dilemma of whether or not I keep trying to span this chasm that’s clearly dividing us, or do I finally concede that as much as I absolutely do not want to, it’s time to strike the match and let it burn.

Every fiber of my being is telling me not to because I know doing so is going to hurt like few things I have ever experienced before.

But what the hell else can I do?

Rebuild

I won’t lie. The purely infantile and macho side of my ego would love to say that this is me…but it’s not even close and that’s okay.

About two weeks ago, I was faced with a decision of what I could do to pass the time between getting up in the morning and going to work in the afternoon. Living in Boston, there’s no shortage of things to do. But with the cost of doing so being rather considerable, I knew I needed to find something which was both productive and worth the investment.

It’s been about six months since I was last able to do some boxing, having left my heavy bag back in the desert, and I miss it. Looking into a couple of gyms, I realized that for now, they’re a little out of my budget, but after doing a bit more digging, I discovered there was a YMCA gym about 10 minutes from where I’m camping out.

So I looked into it and decided to sign up, figuring there was two benefits to consider.

1.) My current situation of living in my Jeep means I need some way to make myself presentable when I go into the office.

2.) Considering I’m officially a middle-aged man who’s never been in the best physical shape, there are worse things I can do than get some exercise in everyday.

I’ve been at it for a little over ten days now and though this might sound way too cliche for its own good, I am already starting to feel and see the results of getting myself to just walk in the door every morning.

When I wake up, part of the motivation for me to actually move and get into gear so I can get on with my day is the fact that I have to go to the gym and do something, either jumping on one of the bikes I like to ride, playing some shoot-around basketball for a bit, or even taking some weights out for a spin.

Editorial Note: If the Y ever brought in some heavy bags, I swear I’d have found Shangri-La, but it’s a small concession to make in the long run, really.

In some ways, it’s disconcerting and rather ego-deflating to be surrounded by people who have the physical appearance which makes them the envy of others. They’re toned, muscular, healthy, very much the antithesis of what I’ve been for the majority of my adult life.

The simple truth, though, is that they got that way by putting in the time by walking in the door. I’m sure they have days where they feel far from good, but they manage to get through them nonetheless.

When I started two weeks ago, I didn’t really have much of a plan. I still really don’t other than the goal is to go in every morning and do something for as long as I can, in the hope that that simple action will bring the dividends of my pants starting to fit a little better and I’ll hopefully live a little longer.

If there’s something I wasn’t really expecting, though, it’s been the mental boost I’ve been getting, even on the days where I’m not capable of doing everything I want for one reason or another. In reality, I shouldn’t be surprised, considering physicians and psychologists have long explained how exercise boosts serotonin and dopamine levels, along with the mass influx of endorphins that wash over the brain.

But as someone who, by the opinions of most doctors, should be on antidepressants so powerful they’d make Oscar the Grouch giddy, I guess I wasn’t expecting the degree of what I feel when I walk out of the gym.

I know it’s a combination of having done the work and fulfilling my goal for the day, which thereby earns me the right to get on with the rest of my day. I can go get lunch, do my routine on my laptop, and then go into work knowing I didn’t half-ass it this morning. I walked in the door. I got myself sweaty and sore in places I didn’t know I had…but I did it.

If that’s what it takes for me to feel that much better about myself when I look in the mirror, I’d like to think that’s far from the craziest thing I could do to get me there.

Surviving in the Sea of Horrible People

For the past few days, I’ve been rolling the idea in my head over and over about the criteria for what defines a horrible person?

During the course of my life, it’s been made abundantly clear on multiple occasions that I am nowhere in the vicinity of a saint. I’ve been labeled every synonym of the word I can think of, including monster, freak, sociopathic, psychopathic, evil, the Anti-Christ…even the physical manifestation of Satan himself…and that was because I was playing a silly little card game when someone I’d never met or even knew existed until that moment formally declared me as such.

No one likes to think they have the capacity to be horrible to someone else, and yet, I see it manifest in so many people I know every day and often, for the most arbitrary and spiteful of reasons.

The frustrating part is waking up every morning and realizing I’m surrounded by horrible people who will argue to the ends of the earth that they are anything but horrible, even though their behavior, their attitude, their expectations and perhaps most importantly, how they treat other people paints an entirely different picture.

When I was a kid, there was a certain degree of fun and dare I say, even a little romanticism, in the reflex of responding to horrible people in kind. It was that eye for an eye mentality that children tend to subscribe to because it’s the fastest way to achieve the results you want. Someone insults you, you insult them back.

Simple. Direct. Gets the job done.

As we get older, though, we learn how to add varying degrees of complexity to our horribleness. Sometimes it can come through the passive-aggressive demands we place on others out of our own sense of victimization, or the subtle manipulations of a person’s emotions, knowing full well they hold no impact and the ensuing damage that realization will have on said person doesn’t either.

The worst part is we rationalize our own horribleness, try to justify or minimize it behind excuses and defenses that make it somehow seem warranted or worse, deserved.

Except there is no justification for being horrible to someone else. None. If you’re one of those people who tries to, then it simply further defines how horrible you actually are, because it shows you don’t care about anyone else’s feelings or intentions.

As I approach 40 in a couple of weeks, I know I still have the capability for being an incredibly horrible person, if I chose to be. The truly scary thing is, with the way my life has gone and the impact of being repeatedly subjected to the machinations of horrible people, it wouldn’t take much at all for me to slip into that mode, either.

After all, love is an inherited human emotion we are all born with and are exposed to from the moment we enter this life, whereas hate is a learned behavior built up through repetitive exposure and practice interacting with horrible people. And based on those experiences, some days it feels like I have enough hate stored up in me to blacken the sun if I really wanted to let it all go.

What stops me from fully committing to my own horribleness, however, is a fairly simple question:

What do I gain from it?

The answer, of course, is nothing. Not a damn thing. Being horrible would satisfy my vindictive ego and the parts of my psyche that fuel it, but beyond that, it doesn’t achieve a single productive goal or make any relationship I wish to have be worth a damn.

It comes down to the simple matter of choice, I guess.

You can either choose to treat the people around you like shit for your own satisfaction, or you can accept that being a better person means making the occasional concession and realizing that for as many times as you’re the hero of your own particular story, you can turn on a dime and become the villain as well, and we do it to ourselves all the time to the detriment of both ourselves and those around us.

I wish more people were willing to understand that.