Friends and benefits

               One of the biggest obstacles in life is our inability to judge reality, to evaluate it and formulate basic principles about how things work. I’ve done some complaining over the first 30 years of my life, frustrated and bitter because nobody gave me basic instructions on how to live and apparently mocked my every attempt. I managed to stop, just in time, refocus and begin again. It was catharsis, like I was born again, clean and sin-free. I know now just how bad I’ve screwed up – and why. You see, the why is really important because it’s an obstacle I now see reflected in every single individual around me. It’s not that I wasn’t given a guide to life, I was given the wrong one. I thought I was failing because my education didn’t cover social life, professional success or marriage guidelines, only it did cover those. What I learned, however, was not about success but survival. I was taught to live, think and behave exactly as others needed me to live, think and behave. I was given a guide on how to make their lives better. Not my life, theirs. And that’s the thing that broke first.

               From birth ‘till death, we’re surrounded by teachers; our parents, our tutors, our friends, our co-workers, our bosses, our society, everybody tries to teach us something. Have you ever considered why rules even exist? No, not laws, rules. The ones they tell you in school or at home, like “be nice”, “listen to your teacher”, “do as I say”, “don’t punch other kids” and so on.. Why do they exist? Why should you be nice, when as you get older you actually meet lots of people who aren’t “nice”? Why should you do what your ma’ or pa’ say, when after you actually cold-boot your neurons that survived school you see half the things they said were wrong? Why and why? Because they aren’t rules designed for your benefit, they’re there to make others happy, so why should you even listen? Well, I’m the first to recognize the actual use of those rules – they’re there to make sure everybody has an equal chance at happiness, to make sure society survives and grows and because there’s more advantages in living in a society than there are in living alone and isolated. And it’s a hell of a lot safer. And yet, a line’s been crossed.

               You see, we’ve stopped thinking. We have been taught a great deal about everything but we stopped questioning what we’ve learned, they taught us what to think but not how to do it. It’s not just school, it’s everything. Our biggest obstacle in life used to be the lack of information, but we got tons of that now. That barrier now got moved up a bit – it’s how we use our brains that’s making us not achieve our full potential. How many people you know are stuck in dead-end jobs with lousy benefits and horrible, toxic work environments but aren’t even trying to get out? I can name at least 20 and that’s just the first minute. You know why they aren’t challenging the toxicity of their environment? They literally can’t, unless it affects their relationship with their family. But why? Because they’re stuck in survival mode, survive at all costs, no reason to change anything because social ties are preserved. Yeah, about that..

               Let’s say you’re living in a rented apartment, close to your family and friends (and you’ve got lots of friends), you’ve got a nice above-average salary, a nice car – but no stable relationship. Your work life is filled with angry, abusive bosses, hateful and bitter co-workers and your clients sometimes hate the products you’re supposed to sell to them. Would you look for another job in another city? How about another country? What if you’ll make more money, your work satisfaction goes up 150% and you’ll get a shot at going up the ladder every 5-10 years? Would you? Well, I’d say from experience that most people with lots of friends and with their family living within 100 kilometers won’t ever consider living elsewhere, especially if their job is sort of stable and paying at least above average. You know why that’s a bad decision? Besides the ulcers, panic attacks and the occasional depression, I mean.

               You’ve never tested your friends. Believe me when I say this, you haven’t. I’m writing this so I’ll remember it every few years – you don’t know if they’re really your friends. Most people don’t even think about it. The reason you won’t move to another city far away or a different country entirely is you want to be close to what you know, close to family and friends – because you think you need them for support and happiness. That’s usually not the correct answer. Usually, you just think you need them but are actually avoiding the possibility of hurting them. You think you’ll cause them pain by depriving them of your company. Yes, that’s what you’ve been taught, even before kindergarten. You know you like them and you think they like you back – that might even be true, therefore you avoid hurting them. You try to put yourself in their shoes, imagining how hurt they’ll be if you leave and try to run several scenarios in your head to see their supposed reactions, and yet you look at everything through the filters you made up. If John or Jane is your only friend, you assume you’re their only friend, too. You imagine their feelings yet you assume their feelings are like your feelings. You assume too much.

               I can say many things about family and friends but I won’t. Not now, anyway. But I’ll tell you this: you think too much. You are not responsible for your friends, they are people with minds of their own. You are not responsible for their happiness or for the decisions they make. All you are responsible for is yourself, your happiness, your future, your health. That’s that. If you get married, then each of you are also responsible for the other – but you have to remember, you don’t ever get to stop being responsible for your life. Ever. You might pass over a promotion because you’re a good friend of some of the fellows who’d have been under you and you think that’d ruin their friendship. You might stay in a job that’s slowly driving you insane or sand-blasting your health away. You might even take a lot of shit from everybody else because you want to be close to your parents. You place their wellbeing above yours. You’ve been educated from birth to do that. Have you even considered why many others don’t do that? Sometimes not even your family does that. Sometimes they want to keep you close for their sole benefit, not even thinking that they could join you when the time is right. Sometimes everybody will tell you to stop thinking only about yourself for the wrong reasons – they want you to fail, they’ll need you to fail in order to rationalize their own failures. There’s always a way out, however, if you’re willing to look for one.

               Think about it, if your friends or family wanted you to be happy, they’d accept your decision. Together, you could make it work – together. If they don’t want you to be happy, then why even care? It’s true your friends and family, some of them anyway, will be hurt – but either that goes away with time or you find a way to make it work. You could help them improve their lives somewhere else, because when they move they won’t be alone, they’ll have an easier transition. Your parents, if you’re that close, can travel anywhere they like when they’re retired – they could come and live close to you and if they say they can’t give up their life to move someplace new, then why should you be expected to do it? I may be wrong here, it’s true, but I don’t think I am. I’ve seen 70% of my “friends” disappear after I lost my job in management. I’ve seen “friends” talk crap behind my back because I wasn’t in a position to retaliate anymore. I’ve seen them gloat and point fingers at me. I’ve also made many mistakes myself, and the last 30% of them disappeared because of those mistakes, so there’s that. I’ve had my parents question my choices and leaving something they called “a very promising, high-paying, high-status” field of work for agriculture – even though they were aware my former jobs proved quite toxic for the mind and bad for my health. They couldn’t understand why my life was better, because all I’ve been taught from them was to suck it up and take it, because any risk is to be avoided and feared. I’ve had them growling at me for not pursuing more management jobs even when there weren’t any. I’ve had an aunt call my job “unskilled labor” because bullshit. To hell with that. I’m not saying I don’t make mistakes or you won’t make mistakes, I’m not against criticism – but them criticizing something they don’t know and using social standing as a reason for it seems like bad mojo. If somebody can’t give you objective reasons for a criticism (like expenses, money, opportunities and so on), ask yourself if they’re doing it for your benefit or their own. Sometimes we can’t see the forest because of the trees. Sometimes people don’t understand because even though they hear your explanations they filter them through their own filters. Sometimes you do that, too. If you were taught to avoid risky behavior, if you were taught to want a stable job for average money working for somebody else, would you teach your kids to be self employed? No, not you, your kids. Would you? I’d say not. If you made good money from hard work, decades of very hard work – you’d tell your kids to do the same? Even if you were happy and made good money out of it? I’d wager you’d pay for their law school and be happy about it. Even if life turns out right for you, you’d still teach your kids to do things differently, because you want them to avoid your mistakes and hard life but you forget one thing: your mistakes and your hard life made you who you are. Your mistakes and hard life made you happy in the end. Who else can say that?

               There is no easy answer to life, if there were, we’d all be living in a happy utopia right now. But the answers we received aren’t the ones we need. Sometimes you have to accept a swift kick in the arse to go forward. Sometimes you get more good from something bad than you get from something good. Not always, though, and never with certainty, because only death is a sure thing. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good path for a happy life, because there is. It only involves looking for it. People will try to get in your way, try to stop you, hell, even your brain does that. You’ve learned to make others happy but not yourself. You’ve learned to do the right things for the wrong reasons, you’ve been manipulated into believing life and behavior is a two way street. It isn’t. You might be Mother Theresa for all human kind and there’d still be an angry moron trying to slap you for making him appear selfish or maybe not so generous as he’d have wanted to appear. You might save somebody’s life and get sued by them for it. No good deed goes unpunished, you know.. Nobody “has to” follow the same rules you follow, they might even have different rules hammered into their heads. Think religion and religious fundamentalism for instance – why is everybody so worked about needing “rules” when those happen to coincide with their rules, all the while rejecting “rules” for other people if they’re breaking their own. No two different religious groups can live side by side if their faith is different and they’re unwilling to change, adapt. They can’t say “this is my place, I do things this way and that is your place, you do things that way” – that’d mean flexibility of mind. They don’t have it. What rules do you think they teach their children? How do you suppose their kids will think and act?

               Your life is your own and there’s nothing to do about it. Stop anybody trying to take over your life and your choices. Stop believing their lies. Stop thinking so much. Look after your life, control it, direct it and help others do the same for themselves. It is your life, after all.


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