When we use quick fixes like flirting, followers on the net, retail therapy and coffee meets to fix us, does that mean that we know ourselves?
Not making sense? Let me explain.
Chatting with a colleague at work today, we had a moment in which a huge existential question stared at both of us in the face: How much should we know ourselves? And is it actually good to know one’s self? And do we ever, eventually, reach at stage where we know ourselves? The incredible French philosopher Michel Foucault once said ““I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.”
And so it is. There is a certainty and a comfort in not knowing….in not knowing what the next day will be like, and who I will be in that day. There is also a reason why we are not know-it-alls…that has been left for the Almighty to be. There is a reason why we know partly but not fully how we will react to the unforeseen, both the good and the bad.
Self-actualization is an interesting idea. To some extent, it is an inevitability. Knowing one’s self is important. But I suspect the world today may have taken this “know thy self” business too far.
We live in a fast-paced world full of oxymorons and paradoxes and ironies. We quote and write profound ideas which were produced after lifetimes of reflection and contemplation, but we google them within seconds and shrivel them down to 140 characters. Big ideas. Small gratifications.
Why, then, knowing what we do, do we still need these ego boosts and gratifications? Simple. We know ourselves so very well that we treat ourselves like mechanized beings. We know exactly which button to press where, and we know what reaction this mechanized “I” will produce. And this is sucking away the joy that is a by-product of the spontaneity of unplanned human experience.
When we feel down, we want instant solutions. In a world of fast food and faster drinking, we gratify ourselves with things that give us short-lived but sure distractions. Giving in to cravings distracts us for a while. We know the actual issue that is causing us to feel down will come back eventually because we have not really dealt with it, but we also know that we can feel better within an hour for the next 1o hours.
Life slaps you around at times. Failure hurts, both at work place or in relationships. People are not just mean at school….they can be mean even when you are an adult. Loneliness. Feeling unwanted. Or simple boredom. So what does one turn to?
Retail therapy may work for many of us. There is a certain sense of power in swiping plastic money and returning home with bags that promise to make you look and feel better about yourself. So we indulge.
When even that doesn’t work, we resort to fishing compliments. On the net. Flaunting our photographs and strutting on the catwalk of cyberspace with our achievements and our prowess.
Still not good enough? Feeling bored and in need of the human touch and some tender loving care? Flirt! Fickle compliments loosely thrown around in virtual space feel so good, as does the newness of discovering someone new. We experiment, talk, discover, share. We give attention because we seek attention. Mutual flirting is a need-based arrangement, really. It’s even cheaper than using retail therapy as therapy. By the way, even retail therapy is cheaper than going for counselling!
So we know ourselves so well that we know how to fix ourselves.
But what we may have forgotten in the process is that all of this is very very short-lived. It doesn’t last. We may know ourselves pretty well but may have forgotten that inherently we have been designed to feel out things in an organic, slow manner. Quick fixes are unreal most of the times. Even if one is ok with that, all of this doesn’t really fix things in the long run. Those aches and pains and voids come back. And we again embark on an endless journey of fixing ourselves.
The long haul, no-short-cuts approach is problematic and complicated and exhausting, no matter how rewarding in the end. But it IS the real thing. And there is a certain peace in it.
We all know ourselves well enough. We know exactly what we are doing with our lives, and why. And on these crossroads, the choice is ours.
What’s your pick?