Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A State of Grace

Hello Bluebirds,

There are two good things to report.

One, I have received an extremely generous financial aid offer from ASU.
Two, I have been selected by my political science professors to receive this year's Outstanding Student Award. (This was a huge surprise because I had no idea I was even being considered.)

Anyway, these are great things, good things, and I am very grateful for both.  But I wanted to write today about the experience of being on the receiving end of good things.  It's not just as simple as receiving them and being happy, period.

It's not simple because every single human being has an ego.  This part of the brain performs basic protective functions in certain situations.  But it can also butt in at wildly inappropriate times and sweep you off your feet and run away with you.  It's any ivy of the mind that can grow quickly and strangle and suffocate and take over.

The ego is fed by gifts, awards, praise, and approval from others.  We each like to think we are immune to the seduction of external validation, but then a letter, an email, a phone call comes, saying, "Congratulations!  Because of your ______, you have just been awarded _____."  Or, "I am delighted to inform you that you have been chosen ______."

And then all bets are off.  The Sirens are calling, the ego responds and writhes up, a rabid dog snapping its chain.  Because what are awards, really?  They're people telling us that they approve of our actions, and when others approve of us, we feel strong, confident, competent, and in control.  Validated.

And then we tend to start picking on people.  Usually just mentally at first, but we get loud and argue more, even saying shit we don't believe just to be "right."  Our eyes focus on judgment, criticism, comparison, and winning.  I am smart, they are stupid.  I am right, they are wrong.  I am strong, they are weak.  I am a winner, they are losers. 

It is a sick, seductive, alienating, destructive path.  And it often feels icky--kind of dark and weird.

Eventually we remember that we're wrong a lot of the time, that we will always have a critic somewhere, that very little is truly within our control, that much of our success is due to the hard work of others or to dumb luck, that we are brimming with failures and faults and probably are not worthy of anything.  

This is usually the impetus to let our guards down, to allow ourselves to be confused, vulnerable, fragile, unsure.

But this vulnerability is a state of grace.  Meaning, when we're in this state, we behave in a more gracious manner.  We tend to be a little more quiet, to listen more instead of talking (or arguing) so much.  We tend to see people with a softer eye first, rather than with a harsh one.  We stop trying to control and dominate and be right.

This is good for our personal health and good for humanity.    

So in layman's terms, awards and praise are nice things, but because they are ego food, they can seriously fuck with your head, so you have to be careful. 

That's all I'm saying.