On Sunday, I spent three hours writing about learning to think for oneself. It was thoughtful and provocative.
But you’ll never read it.
In the post, I discussed an issue I had with a famous documentary filmmaker. Surrounding a tragic event, he summed it up with a remark that was flippant, disrespectful and because it involved an area in which I used to live and have knowledge of, untrue. That remark was a pivotal moment for me: if someone I once admired could fabricate a conclusion just for the sake of drama, what other information was he manipulating?
That was the basis of what I wrote. Because I didn’t want to emulate this director, after I wrote my post, I did even more research. That is when I decided to scrap my work. To make my point, I would have had to exhume the ghosts of the heartbreaking event. For those still living who may have put the pain behind them, my reflection on the tragedy in support of my argument seemed not just tacky but heartless. As manipulative as the filmmaker with whom I had an issue.
Of course, my ego suffered momentarily; it was a very good piece of writing. But the best part of me knew that what seemed like one thing was actually another: it was a lesson in learning to mind my tongue, but more importantly, in trusting my instinct. As soon as I finished writing, I didn’t feel good about what I wrote. I suddenly felt defensive. To me, that was warning enough.
I haven’t always listened to my intuition.
In fact, I often gave people not just second chances but third and fourth and twentieth ones until I crumpled on the floor under the weight of my own stupidity. Usually that occurred with men. But with every encounter, I got better. After a dramatic relationship which continued a few sour years after high school finally ended, it got easier releasing danger from my life. Like the chef I dated who looked like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear: he complained about his long hair. When I suggested he cut it, the violent look he gave me scared me so much I never went out with him again. Or, even years later, after I was married and I waited in line at a customer service counter: a coiled spring of a man stood at the corner of the counter and stared at me so maliciously, I walked out of the store without taking care of my business, car keys in hand like a weapon.
When it comes to personal safety, my intuition, now hardtack wise, seems to be pretty accurate.
But when it comes to other things—the people who are enthusiastic and yet prove to be vampiric; the praise or gift that comes with expectations; the person who promotes himself as victim but turns out to be a perpetrator—my intuition has a more difficult time sifting through the many ways people lie to themselves and manipulate others. Why? Because at my core, I believe that most people are good. Everyone has the capacity for bad behavior and even evil deeds, but I believe most people react to life rather than think about it. Those reactions cause chaos and drama. Yet through it all, I can manage to find compassion: He behaves this way because this happened when he was a child or She says the things she does because she knows no better; her mother was the same way. None of us was raised in a vacuum; we all have a story for why we do the things we do and believe the things we think. Ultimately, most of us are deserving of compassion. That is what I zero in on.
There is also a greater component, however. One that I don’t want to face because it is driven by ego: when I’m praised, given a gift, sought for advice or put on a weird pedestal, I am validated at my basest form. I am liked, accepted and worthy in the eyes of the world. That is a little bit addictive. At one time, when I felt less than about myself, it was a lot addictive. Seeking my value in others shifts my center; it becomes easier to quiet the warning in my gut: surely, someone who is so enthusiastic about me would never hurt me. Until they do, until I remember: Ah yes, something was not right and I knew it then. Shame on me.
I am getting better at recognizing my instinct, at acknowledging the distaste I feel rising when I’m with someone who is not good for me, or I’m doing something that does not support my greatest good. Sometimes, it still is a battle to step back and look at a situation with a sense of soul sobriety. And sometimes, it’s a matter of surrender. After all, if I hadn’t listened to my gut, you’d be reading an entirely different post: one that manipulated a tragedy for my own selfish ends.
Thankfully, my intuition reminded me I am so much more than my ego, than my basest emotions.