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Monday, July 11, 2016

Parading Age as Wisdom

I have been called many things in my life, and continue to have such treatment meted out to me on a regular basis. I cannot deny that not all of these things are unwarranted, but I will say that in my obvious defense, my first instinct is to cry foul and stomp about in denial. Of the more polite epithets that I receive, there is "You are/act older than you look" and even the encouraging, "You are an old soul." On the other end of the spectrum, the most common comments relate to my being impulsive in my show of emotions, reacting like a firearm with an itchy trigger, and not holding back in my vivacious vituperation as I categorically list all the things that I am unhappy with. This, in particular, though I believe I have heard often enough to surprisingly not dawn on those who have repeated themselves in this regard that they might be the problem-end of this equation, is a statement that I have come to view as more complimentary than being feedback of sorts. The compliment to me is that I am not willing to put up with what I perceive to be the proverbial does, or shovelful of the excrement of the male bovine, to put it obfuscatingly so. My tolerance for nonsense has never been high, and while an interesting childhood and the need for emotional rehabilitation thereafter in my early adulthood may have made it appear to people around me that I am willing to swallow anything on the business end of the shovel, nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, and this brings me to the parading of years of life survived as being an indicator as to the greatness of the achievement of fellow human beings, I braved the rod and spared myself the crippling effects of having to bow to the age of people I was related to, by blood or by hierarchy, simply because that was the operant level of wisdom in the culture, certainly a culture that consistently seeks submission to its fallacious parody of existence.

From when I can first remember, I always had a different take on reality than my parents, and in spite of receiving disciplining from time to time, my "unlicensed mouth" would continue to do more embarrassing damage to them than I care to remember. Of course, it was never my intention to show up my parents as being in any way incompetent, but for whatever reason, not only were they terribly afraid of my superpower, but they seemed wary of it in general, and in some strange way even preferred my being quiet in public, feeling it perhaps better to defend the "Your son is so silent" statement than a "How dare your son say that" kind of reaction. When it came to religion, for example, after much patient goading by my mother to be a frequent visitor to Hindu temples nearby, no matter where I was, I must honestly say that I made a sincere effort to accommodate this request, in all areas of my life, no matter where I was living at that point in time. However, especially when I was younger, my curiosity about most, if not all the rituals I saw, got me thinking about what really happened at such places of worship. Now, it was bad enough that my mother found herself mortified again and again, specifically in those rare cases where I was asked to recount my version of a recently "holy" experience and did so without holding back my impression of the events, but more than this, I always found the terror that flashed across her face right before she barked out the final order of "That's enough" a surprising revelation about her inability to rationalize in order to explain. Through religion, and then through questioning our Malayalee culture and heritage, followed by the inanity of politics, drama, and eventually, the idiocy of life as we were living it, I started to piece together a very disturbing truth of my own: these "older" people, the ones who were supposed to take care of us and be shining examples of the things we learned about in school seemed wholly unprepared to be anything of the sort. They seemed more comfortable being newer versions of an older form of being, too entrenched in the way things were, and only altering what could not be retained, if only to feign progress. And so, I started thinking, then worrying, and finally, fearing for myself and my fellow denizens of this planet, most of whom are still being raised on the impeccable rightness of wisdom, gained by being around that much longer.

Now, before I get into a tirade about how physical and mental age have no bearing on real, valuable wisdom that is a result of meaningful, consistent self-awareness and self-reflection, I want to attempt to provide some balance to this equation. First, I will certainly admit and even agree that a greater number of days spent alive on Earth, for no other reason than merely being successful at staying alive and not necessarily having done so because of the ambition that one harbors, counts for something. If I am approximately 13,500 days old, for example, which means that with the assistance of those who have a vested interest in my keeping of this record, and I meet someone who is 13,501 days old, on the face of things, I am more likely to give them a general benefit of the doubt governing things that I may not have seen. But that's about it. Any expectation beyond this point in time has led me down the path of having to contend with "experts" who in so referring to themselves thus, have turned out to be better examples of general incompetence than advanced or expert knowledge. This is not to support any clich├ęs that may exist about how those who do not refer to themselves thusly are the ones who are the truly knowledgeable ones. However, being a college graduate with a piece of paper to prove it myself, I have to say that I have met people much smarter, capable and willing than me, who were far less "educated" than myself. And, much like education as we know and pursue it in today's world, the world of cultural knowledge, or adhering to a religious identity as practiced by honoring its rituals is an example of conditioning, and really, it is the kind of conditioning that does not result in a positive experience for the individual. Coercion in all human societies exists, in varying degrees, but we tend to notice that the greatest negative eccentricities spring from cultures that oppress true freedom by promoting maximum coercion, favoring support of the existing ways of life and thought, hoping that authoritarian regimentation will provide the answer to the fear of death of the society seeking to extend its longevity.

What a sad failure to understand that death is a natural part of life, something that the average civilized, educated mind seems to be in total denial of, favoring laborious futility to engaging vitality, as experienced by a life lived in real freedom. What do I see as real freedom? For want of examples without disclaimers that seek to protect the feeble minds of readers, imagine that a return to a tribal existence is the most fundamental in this vision of mine. Of course, having read that statement, you must have pictured various degrees of clothedness/nakedness of said tribal group, but in doing so, missed the point about the relative simplicity of their lives on all levels, and how, contrary to our strange beliefs, the way of life they adopt has outlived most, if not all civilizations we are currently aware of.

Getting back to how age is not wisdom, having been an “adult” for a while, it soon occurred to me the sheer uselessness that for a large part of my life I believed to be a midway destination in my life, was unfolding in worse ways than I had allowed myself to consider. In my professional life, although I shudder to refer to it so, I have had and continue to have encountered more than my fair share of educated idiots, but not just the normal kind, educated idiots with attitude. These are the kinds of people who, upon graduating college, expect their jobs to come with fully furnished, corner offices, with a driver and team of servants who will respond to every beck and call, whim and fancy, and who will allow them to live like how they imagine people with copious amounts of money normally live. As if this wasn’t bad enough, I have encountered this type in the senior management of places where I have been employed, and regardless of the need to maintain workplace decorum in general, I have always taken it upon myself to let them know what I think of them, whether or not I was asked for this opinion. Needless to say, this has rubbed many a colleague the wrong way, if there was any rubbing involved at all, but most alarming to me is the frequency of this occurrence in my life. I have met so many people like this that it seems to me imprudent to stay in any job “professional”, certainly as a means of having to earn my bread and survive. I have been so put off by this kind of experience, that years ago, I even quit my day job and opted to become a freelancer, no matter how much the ability to support myself declined by making this choice. Now, before you think that I’m sitting here playing holier-than-thou to every person I have ever met in my life, I would like to state, for the record, that as much of a hothead that I admit I may be, at the end of the day, I have been fair and given adequate chances to such people to attempt to redeem themselves. However, this may easily be argued contrarily if you ever meet any of my former colleagues, and more importantly, their opinions of me are bound to be a tad more impolite than the concerted effort I have put in to not cursing when I speak about them. Be this as it may, the fact remains that in the name of experience, or age, or both, or simply by pointing to remnants of hair on the head and/or teeth in the mouth, people tend to claim some form of superiority for having been around a lot longer. However, my argument against this is, by simply being around, or as the case may often be, using the existence of aged flesh to claim power or knowledge of the greater unknown is really a case of vanity. For examples that have struck closer to home, literally, I have my parents to thank, because for as much awe as I was in at the things they seemed to know and were able to do, at the relative ends of their lives, I have come to see broken, clueless people forced to question the rhetoric of their own elders who sold them what seemed to be their generation’s equivalent of “the deal of a lifetime”. It hurts me to see this, but in its own unfortunate way, this is exactly how people have continued living these last few thousand years of our commonly civilized heritages.

Not feeling like pointing out anything personal to me, because such an example, while perhaps illuminating my point, would also risk irking many people I care for, so here is to another analogy I have had to come up with. I remember growing up in India; I used to think that it was strange for people to advertise salt, let alone for it to be done so rather frequently. The message of the advert was how there are many babies and infants who grow up to suffer from iodine deficiency later on in life, and that this problem was now being solved with “iodized salt”, something that parents across the country should switch to immediately, because they would be doing a great disservice to their offspring otherwise. Now, this advertisement had been on television in India, across the growing variety of channels with programming trying to grab your eye, for the better part of two decades, I think. That is a fair amount of time for people, if not in the first few years, to have switched over to this “healthy” alternative for iodized table sodium chloride for their everyday consumption. Then, about five years ago, while walking down the street in one of India’s state capitals, I came across a big billboard that, shockingly enough, said, “Beware the salt monster!” If you are with me so far, that is a major case of reversal in messaging. Surely, it was understood that parents who were being asked to make use of iodized salt for their children’s health were doing so in moderate doses, and not be turning their kids into greedy little salt monsters. The ad wasn’t referring to the kids as the monsters, but really, the overall ill-effects that we have all known about for a long time now, about how consuming excess salt, which is a mainstay of any processed and restaurant food diet. With an utter lack of remorse, it simply reversed what for many would never have been an issue, simply by introducing fear about an existing condition, made the poster for “Don’t let this ever happen to you and your loved ones”, and then waiting a generation or so to sell the opposite agenda, namely, all the costs and pain involved in having to live life with a taste for salt. As a brief aside, I have been practicing the art of eating my food with the amount of salt it came with in the first place, should I be dining out, and by reducing the amount of salt, I myself add to food that I have cooked, when such an occurrence does transpire. This change came about after careful consideration of the fact that most food, in nature, already contains the requisite amount of nourishment that it should provide, hence the importance of balancing one’s diet, not just on a day-to-day basis, but considering longer periods of time like on a monthly or yearly basis also.

The same goes with many things that I have learned and am currently in the process of unlearning. Yet, and this is quite simple to imagine, think of all the things that our parents must have thought inane and stupid while they were growing up, where it was their parents who didn’t seem to understand them as individuals. And then, and this is the part that doesn’t make sense to me, they went through this inanity, “grew up”, suddenly saw it fit to follow suit and settle down like their parents had done, and then went about perpetrating do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do protocols on their own offspring. Not only has this set up a tediously unnecessary cycle of civilized human angst, but it has led me to understand that a large part of growing up has been putting in place things that I will not follow, nor impose upon my offspring, should this come to pass. On that note, and in spite of my disclaimer about personal examples, I cannot seem to help myself. Much like the fact that salt was first hero-worshipped and then vilified, I have been present where my parents have remarked to their contemporaries the nonsense necessity of getting married in the first place, something I obviously wish they had considered before having a child and dragging out a failed marriage, of course.

Therefore, the end result is that no one knows what to do in this world to survive perfectly, or richly, or whatever the preferred adverb. We are all here just sitting around waiting to see who will figure it out, and if they do, how to get a hold of the blueprint so as to ensure our own survival. That, at the end of the day every day, is an inevitable aim to fulfill regardless of how and where we find ourselves. Yet, even as I wrote the last couple of sentences, the one thought I consciously wanted to include is that there are already living beings who have an ideal way to coexist with other living beings. It is what we switch on National Geographic and those kinds of channels for, to see how our world manages to chug along when we seem to have so much trouble with this ourselves. This is the forever-irony of our civilized existence, where not knowing masquerades as knowledge, and rituals and protocols are created to substantiate fears that were created to force us down a path of doing as we were told, with no room to do as we want to do. I have seen far too many people parade their age as wisdom, and while I may have picked up a few points from them, the overall aim has been to maintain a sense of superiority due to a well-aged existence. The problem with this thinking is, that it too is most civilized. In nature, as is the case even among many tribes, beyond a certain age that prohibits an individual from being able to attend to her or his own wellbeing is usually a time for them to retire from the world, whether symbolically or literally. Ageing animals are no longer able to protect their territory, and are more likely to be killed if they attempt this, and the similarity with some tribal forms of existence follows along with this kind of thinking. It’s only we the civilized many, unable to deal with death, who continue the suffering of life long after we are no longer able, or willing, hooked up to machinery that beeps to confirm that we are still trapped in our fragile shells. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great respect for age, but I have grown a deeper appreciation for those who go peacefully on, having seen too many people spend their last few moments, years in some cases, lamenting things that they have always lamented, never achieving a shred of peace of mind, and hoping for the best in name only. From the looks of this blog, and my comeback post after a few long years, it looks like I am setting myself up for crappy advice in a decade from now, when 40 will be the new 85, or something to this effect.

Not knowing is all right, but even more all right is having the courage to acknowledge that you do not know, perhaps anything, as the case may be. Moreover, really, it is the biggest regret of my life, to have placed my life in the hands of people who claimed to know what is best for me, which sadly revealed it to be the fear that they themselves were unwilling to tame, conquer or eradicate. I cannot describe the pathos I feel, for them, for the situation, for their own parents, if they were alive, to see their children approaching advanced age themselves, but still none the closer to the mental peace they sought, after having pursued for a lifetime, the civilized human fallacy of the “everlasting”. I love my parents and all those who have been part of my upbringing. But, the one thing I would say to all of them is, “I wish my lessons were those in courage and being able to stand up for myself no matter what, instead of being forced to learn fear, as a consequence of not following false knowledge as disguised by culture, religion, and a sense of need to ascribe to any civilized identity.”
Here is to being the end of this line, for the sake of generations to come, in the hopes of a world where destruction in the name of creation will be left to those forces created to handle such matters, not us foolish mortals who play God every chance we get.
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