Saturday, May 14, 2011

A face in the crowd

"You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else. "  
    - Tyler Durden in "Flight Club",  by Chuck Palahniuk
Maybe it's because I'm in the dead center of being middle aged. White, American and male. What I have come to observe is the underlying reality of life and the quantities that God, or nature, depending on your belief system, throws at this adventure called life, amazes and amuses me. Because, beyond our myopic focus on our minuscule lives, exists a larger system that we are a part of. It's survival of the species. In order to assure that survival, large quantities of individuals and lives are thrown into the cosmic void in order to assure that this system we exist in continues.

When we look across nature. Fish lay eggs in the hundreds in order to make sure that a variable quantity survive to return to the spawning ground to repeat the cycle. Insects do the same. And, while we tend to look at our numbers relative to the size of our families, when you look at the aggregate total across the globe, they are not disimilar.

Where we differ is that we are nurtured and cared for by parents for significantly longer. We exit the womb unable to care for our selves for several years. So, as a result, we humans have fewer offspring per pair than other organisms in the animal kingdom. But that does not give us an out in the scheme of things. Malaria, cystic fibrosis, famine-all cause deaths in huge quantities. There is also a stasis that balances deaths and births with a slight advantage to birth over death. Now there are several billion of us roaming the earth.

No, when I look at masses of people lost in their daily lives going through the motions of existence that I become sad. There is always an elusive something that sends us down another mental rabbit hole and away from our daily existence.

"I see all this potential, and I see squandering. G** **** *t, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s**t we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."
 - Tyler Durden in "Flight Club",  by Chuck Palahniuk 
Believe it or not, I'm writing this from an optimistic viewpoint. The moment of the reality came as I looked in the mirror and saw myself for who I really am. An average guy who lives an average life. There is a need for life in the middle of the bell curve in order to set apart the exceptional people who make our species the remarkable life form that it is.

When I was younger, I dreamed of fame, fortune and success. The reality is that there is never enough of anything. There is no point where there is never enough wealth. At what point is the perfection of beauty achieved? By who's standards would that be established? If we ever achieve the level of perfect we seek, there will always be the desire for more. We humans have an amazing ability to acquire and desire. Our threshold for acceptance will always expand beyond the present state of existence.

So, as I looked in the mirror, I realized that I was part of the aggregate of the sum total of the experience that we all collectively share. As I walk down the street, I am one of the faces in the crowd. Neither exceptional nor offensive. I become another touchstone that people compare themselves against. More often than not, I fall below them in every aspect, and by being who I am, I allow someone else to feel better about who they are. That's a tough pill for most to swallow. But, it is the reality of my existence.

I have a co-worker who spent an extended period of time in Japan. In the culture there, there is a saying, "The nail that sticks up, gets hammered." Too often we want to separate ourselves from all of humanity. To excel and be exceptional. There's nothing wrong with that desire in and of itself. The desire to improve upon who we are. It's when that desire moves from from internal improvement to external betterment, that we get lost in the rabbit hole of delusional desire to make ourselves better than others, that damages our place in society. It's a huge disservice to ourselves as well.

"Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that... Don't compare yourself with others."
   - Galatians 6:4 MSG 

No, when we take a step back and take stock in who we are as individuals is a bold step. To love who we are and where we are in life and to fully embrace the reality of ourselves, outside the self-created fantasy of an ideal of who or what we want to be, takes an incredible amount of courage. It's when we take that step that we can truly start to live.

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