Merry Christmas! Let’s start with that, shall we? Why not?!? Can I tell you the unbridled holiday merriment that infected my listless soul this year? I was a regular Miss Holiday Cheer! And I say that without guile or cynicism. I hung holly, turned on the lights on the tree every single day (which we had day 1 of December thank you VERY much) made a Christmas banner, listened to Christmas music until snowballs shot out of my ears, baked cookies, wrapped presents, went to holiday parties, and have generally been soaking in holiday splendor since Black Friday. Why the sudden onslaught of yuletide cheer this year? I think it has something to do with the fact I opted-out last year (and also because of the below! You thought you could get away without a picture of my little guy? Think again!)
Yes, opted-out. I went on a cruise to the Mexican Riviera. Why? Well that’s just a lot of blather about wanting to not deal with "that" or face "this" again and mainly – school had usurped the holiday anyway so I figured I might as well add my on usurpation too. Share the load. So I usurped on a beach in Cabo. An excellent decision. In fact, it’s made my “opt-in” Christmas all the more merry as I’ve demonstrated above. I guess it’s true what they say, you only appreciate something once its gone. Shame, that. But never the less… next year I’m planning to opt-out to Costa Rica so the next opt-in will be as full and lovely and magical as this year was.
And now for the profound thought…
I feel that every year of my existence tends to have a theme; or themes a guess. I feel our lives are sliced and diced into sections, experiences, yes even categories and reference logs. In fact, I’d say the media could be partly responsible for this OCD tendency to categorize and organize things… creating order out of chaos.How many books have you seen displayed in bookstore windows exclaiming "For the Mind, Body, and Spirit!" as if ourselves are divided into these various categories like a tossed salad rather than a gooey melting pot. Ordering our lives into sections and then creating benchmarks make improvement and organization less daunting, "This month! I shall work on "the mind!"" and proceed to create a list of ambitious activities and goals to help create a Zenful state of mind which will likely include lists of classical texts, a subscription to Scientific America, and signing up for that Spanish class you've been meaning to take. It helps to order things. After all, we are naturally beings of order and fear chaos; that is to say, we fear the unpredictable, uncontrollable, and heaven forbid the unclean. At least, we don’t thrive in it… the “uns”. Not even nature herself, the most organized of mass organisms, permits chaos for too long. She must order it. Make sense of it. Categorize it. We thrive in established patterns! Even those of you reading this right now claiming “spontinaty is my creed! I answer to no schedules! A pox on organization!” still appreciate an organized shoe rack, your breakfast at 8:30am, and a cup of tea before bed. So take that spontaneity! No more is your disaster of an apartment spontaneous, rather, it’s just disgusting and you and I both know a little order out of that chaos would do everyone a world of good. You're a closet organizationalist or you're just plain unnatural. Pick your poison.
Back to themes and years having them...
The particular theme of this year I’d like to discuss has to do with a valuable lesson I've learned. That’s what I mean when I say “every year of my existence tends to have a theme.” In short, there is a lesson I am to learn each year, philosophical, spiritual, existential, however you’d like to categorize it (and you will categorize it! Stop pretending). I don’t choose the lesson, rather, it chooses me. All I need to do is recognize it. In fact, I don’t even know I’m learning it until I start to notice a pattern, some order in the chaos, pieces of my life that come to form a complete and circuitous whole. In short, each year I hope to have progressed as a human being in some significant way; ideally, a positive way. For if it were a “negative” change, it would in fact be a digression. And no one aspires to digress, rather, is awakened to it on some cold December evening when you look back and realize, “I’m not even where I was before… but somehow less.” A miserable realization that is. In fact, that's almost as bad as realizing you've not moved forward NOR backward but have stayed perfectly stagnate in every way. At least with the other two options there's movement. Thus, I find stagnating slightly worse than digressing. Anyway, I digress (ba dum chi!).
My lesson/theme this year: we are beings meant to act, not to be acted upon. I think my schooling over the past few years primed me for this valuable lesson in that there was extensive discussion on the idea of accountability. To Webster!
Accountability (Accountable): 1. the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable 2. Subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable.
I find the avoidance of accountability to be the road most traveled by the majority of society. To me, accountability is intricately connected to choice. And what always follows choice is consequence. You must be held accountable for your decision, which makes decision-making risky in some respects. Therefore, the very indecisive are also the incredibly risk averse. It is risky to make choices. It is even riskier when in choosing, you may be called up to be accountable for them. You must justify them. You must stand by them. And in this way, I find that although we perceive that we have very little control over the elements around us, we do have control over ourselves, our reactions, our actions, and our inaction's. We choose to respond. We choose to be effected. We choose each day our own state of mind. Even in not choosing, we are indeed choosing. Action through inaction. There's no avoiding it.
Thus, herein lies the rub. I find that in most instances, we avoid accountability. We don't want to commit ourselves to something and thus, we opt-out. We choose not to choose and in not choosing, we assume we are not answerable to whatever consequences may follow. We prefer to let others make decisions – we choose to be acted upon – and then allow events to unfold as they will all the while knowing that if things should unfold negatively, well heavens we had no hand in it! We made no choice! We’ve chosen apathy instead of agency and feel in this we are safe.We have let life happen to us, rather than leading a life.
Likewise, blaming environmental circumstances that are justly out of our control (or seemingly so) for our bad attitudes, and apathy, missed deadlines, errant accusations, is something I’ve noticed happens more often than not as of late. Broken homes, irresponsible parenting, societal oversights, unrealistic expectations, all of these things are circumstances that some may think force us into a reaction or state of mind or choice and therefore, we cannot be answerable to the choices we make within these less than ideal circumstances.Oh blame you scapegoat for cowards! I believe to exclaim in the throes of trial, “I had no choice!” is false. There is ALWAYS a choice. The devil never "makes" you do anything. He simply, offers an option, and you either take it... or leave it. Thus it is with undesirable circumstance. You can internalize it, blame it for your life of mediocrity or hardship, or you can leave it for what it is and make an attempt anyway. People who sleep on dirt floors in Madagascar find reason to smile, can we not find reason to rejoice despite our own extremity?
Circumstance, particularly in a democratic society we are privileged to participate in, does not replace nor control choice. I also feel “circumstances” are more controllable than we would like to believe. It’s easy to let things unfold as we, the weary and subversive soul, are merely a victim of circumstance and cannot help our sorrows or disenchantment. We cannot help that we act the way we do because we were raised in a broken home. We cannot help that we are not living up to our potential because society has dealt us a heavier lot. I say that in fact, we can! I’m not diminishing the reality that there are greater barriers created for some than others because of factors beyond their control, what I’m saying is we choose to let those barriers contain us, and furthermore, hang garlands of accountability on its fence posts. I blame the barrier that I am sitting at the bottom of instead of at least attempting to scale its walls!
Perhaps our melancholy is justified, but it does not justify our stagnancy! We ignore our own ability to choose. We ignore the truly vast ability we have to utilize our agency to its utmost extent and instead, “cop-out” by shaking our fist at the sky or pointing to “environmental circumstance” and saying “you are making me sit down in the dirt and pout!” We are content to be the victim… we visualize ourselves as the unselfish martyr… bearing an unjust punishment for something we didn’t do, but alas, we will bear the burden like the round shouldered Saints we are! And we do so very easily accept defeat because it is easier than choosing to pull ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and exclaim, “ I will not be the victim here!” When we victimize ourselves we've given up. Accepting circumstance is not the same as enduring circumstance. To merely muddle through does not take initiative or strength nor does it build character, but rather, justifies us simply patting ourselves on the back for drowning in an experience rather than attempting to swim to shore. Perhaps we cannot change the deep waters we are asked to tread, but we can choose if we sink to the bottom and wait for the proverbial rescue boat to bail us out. And even then, we WOULD get the most rickety row boat when we deserve a cruise liner for our saintly heroism! We demand reward for our inaction! We demand reward for opting-out! For sitting down in the rain.
“Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can MAKE us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation.”
– Elder David. A. Bednar
This my profound thought #1 and the lesson I have learned for the year, is that we are beings that are meant to act, and not be acted upon. We may find ourselves the heavy in less than ideal circumstances, but that does not define us as a “victim.” We choose to take on a “victim mentality” and allow circumstance to choose for us… which really in the end… we are still held accountable for our indecision as much as we are for our decision. At least with decision, you’ve gone out with a fight rather than blending neatly into the background.
End profound thought #1. And Happy New Year! Choose to make it a good one.