How, then, shall we live?

Lately I am often proved wrong.

Intellectually I like being proved wrong, because I like learning. Although it’s more important than it should be for me to be right, when I manage to tamp down the ego and accept a different viewpoint it’s a very good thing.

And when one of my depressive or pessimistic beliefs is sunk it’s cheering. Not frequent, but I hang on to those.

The last year or so has been full of “evidence to the contrary” and most of it has been unpleasant. Whether it’s been an educational or destructive experience remains to be seen.

I’ve always thought I could trust people implicitly if we got along, and someone showed me that wasn’t true. I’d been screwed before, but not by someone I respected like that, and it’s still shocking when I think of it. The aftermath was in some ways worse, because the ambiguous reactions of other friends made me question the quality of my friendships and the validity of all those feel-good assumptions I had. The statement “I can trust my friends without worry, and they will stand up for me when I have clearly been wronged” was invalid. Still not over it.

Similarly, I’d also had the habit of believing what others said if there wasn’t evidence to the contrary, and assuming they were mistaken rather than dishonest if such evidence existed. That one was blown up and sunk also. It’s been hard to me to see that there’s a continuum from the pathological liar who is ill to the sociopathic liar who uses truth and untruth as weapons, and that a lot of people are in between those two bad extremes. It’s been another huge trust failure. The people who lie because they want something to be true, or because they know what they are expected to say, or because they think someone else will feel better, arrived in force this time.

The hardest grade I got, though, was on my world view. Events, people, and various therapies have conspired to show me that I’ve had it wrong the whole time. Something about my whole relation to the world — particularly socially — is just cracked. Social relations are clearly more brutal than I had seen before, and the gulf between what others say are their values and how they live is far bigger than I’d been able to grasp. I’d always seen relations among friends and families as community. This was the year I saw them as an economy, where people exchange tokens for desired things, and where the money is only visible when you’re poor. As much as I might have faux-cynically said “People do what they want!” a million times before, now I lived it.

So I managed to remain socially innocent until I was 40, and by 41 I’d learned for real the things others seemed to learn in their teens. It doesn’t feel like a good kind of “proved wrong”, though.

I never wanted to believe people who said cynical crap. You know, people would say to me that you get what you take in life, or that you need to be pushy and dishonest and maybe a little threatening to get the girl, or that trust is a mistake, and I’d write them off. “I don’t know anyone who behaves that way and gets anywhere,” I said, “and the people I like and spend time with don’t.” Wrong, and wrong.

Before, I saw basically good people trying and often failing to do the right thing. Now, I see the apes stealing each others’ fruit, abandoning the injured one to the tigers, and raping each other. And they’re doing way better than I am; I’ve been proved wrong.

Damn it’s cold out here.

13 thoughts on “How, then, shall we live?

  1. I feel sort of like that right now. I think I’m even more confused because everyone I thought was cool still is, they’re just running away from me. Bluuuuuurgh.
    You can come here and pet the cats or dog if you need creatures around that are totally guaranteed.

  2. I never wanted to believe people who said cynical crap. You know, people would say to me that you get what you take in life, or that you need to be pushy and dishonest and maybe a little threatening to get the girl, or that trust is a mistake, and I’d write them off. “I don’t know anyone who behaves that way and gets anywhere,” I said, “and the people I like and spend time with don’t.” Wrong, and wrong.
    For what it’s worth, I think it’s just as much of a mistake to think that’s always the way the world works as it is to think that it never is. I’ve had people let me down in ways that leave me wholly gobsmacked because I would never do what they’ve done. In fact I have no idea why anyone would. But most of the time that doesn’t happen.
    Your experience may be different. Still, I prefer to think that people are mostly good. And regardless of what other people do, I feel I have to do what I think is right, regardless of how many people acheive by being shits. Not that it makes me better than them (although I suppose it does :-), but I have the comfort that I know I’ve at least tried to act well. And I didn’t have to become someone I’m not to do it. It may not be much, but it’s something.
    Granted, that’s all about me, but I hope it does something for you.

  3. If it’s any comfort, you have a lot of companions ‘out here’, many (like me) who have also learned those same lessons in a very painful manner.
    In fact, one of my experiences is very recent, concerning someone I thought was trustworthy.
    Hugs,
    L

  4. “I can’t trust anyone” is just as destructive as “I can trust everyone”.
    The hard truth is that you can trust most people, most of the time. Trust them to do what? Two things: a) to do as they have done before, and b) to surprise you.

  5. Similarly, I’d also had the habit of believing what others said if there wasn’t evidence to the contrary, and assuming they were mistaken rather than dishonest if such evidence existed.
    As someone who’s been recently in the position of one of the “others” you mention here, I’ve got some comments, but they don’t really fit well in this particular context. Catch me on AIM for an explanation if you wish.

  6. Finding a modus vivendi that allows one to approach (if not achieve) a life in which there is at least a measure of trust and safety for those around you is one of the highest goals a person can realistically aspire to.
    Surviving the truth is the only way to achieve it.

  7. Before, I saw basically good people trying and often failing to do the right thing. Now, I see the apes stealing each others’ fruit, abandoning the injured one to the tigers, and raping each other.
    If you’ll pardon my simplistic way of thinking:
    The question every human must answer after coming to this revelation is: how am I gonna respond to it?
    After all, as far as anyone can tell, the apes don’t care. The tigers don’t care. The fruit doesn’t care. They’re all just acting according to their natures. The scorpion stings the frog halfway across the river and dooms them both to a watery grave since, well, it’s a scorpion, right?
    Of course, no scorpion ever told this fable. Only humans tell fables–again, as far as anyone knows–because caring and thinking and wondering and storytelling only enter in when the human brain gets involved. Nobody else in the animal kingdom is gonna look at the animal behavior going on in the vicinity and contemplate the rightness or wrongness of it.
    But after contemplating it, what next? Descend into despair? Join some doomsday cult or other? Rail at the world from atop a soapbox? Write talking animal stories? These and all the other options–sainthood, knighthood, white hood with a couple eyeholes cut into it–are
    available only to humans, for good or for bad. And no one way is gonna work for everybody. Heck, no one way is gonna work for an individual person: that’s why LiveJournal gives us so many slots for icons to set beside our posts.
    Or as John Prine says: “It’s a big old goofy world.”
    That Annoying Mike Guy

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