By Troy Headrick
I want to start this one with a warning. I’m not for sure what I want to say, where this is going to go, or what my real subject is. I want to discover all of those things through the process of putting words on paper.
Lately, I’ve been suffering from a weird admixture of feelings and emotions. I am only able, with any sense of certainty, to name one of these though: frustration. Yep, I’ve been feeling terribly frustrated recently.
Without getting into too many details, let me just say I think this frustration is rooted in the fact that I feel like I’ve been treated terribly unjustly in recent months. On one or two important occasions, doors were closed in my face that shouldn’t have been. I tried to be a big person when this injustice took place, but I wasn’t able to do so despite my best efforts. I did not complain or cry or anything like that. I did feel like a victim, though, even as I tried to tell myself that none of it really mattered.
Let me drill down just a bit because I think I need to go deeper. Human beings are social animals. We are born into families and spend the formative years of our lives being shaped by them. We learn who we are by seeing ourselves in relation to others. Once I was old enough to begin to figure out how things worked, I learned that I was my parents’ son. When my adopted brother came into our family, I became a sibling to him. I was also a grandchild, a nephew, a cousin, and so on.
Then I went to school, made friends, and my network began to expand and become more complex. After receiving my high school diploma, I went to college, got degrees, and became a professional who was surrounded by colleagues and bosses and underlings. In many ways, my worth began to be defined by how well I was able to meet my social and professional obligations. Then I got married, and I found that my happiness was very much affected by how happy my wife was. In other words, I learned that it was important that I love her if I wanted to be loved in return. (Because I was and am crazy about the woman I married, this wasn’t very hard to accomplish.)
In other words, there is a very interesting dynamic at play. We find ourselves through others and others play an important role in making us feel valued and valuable.
Let me get back to the feeling of frustration I started this thing off with. We spend our entire lives playing roles, building connections, and becoming partners and collaborators. This means, for all intents and purposes, that we end up in all sorts of power-sharing arrangements of greater or lesser complexity. So here’s the rub: As soon as a person shares power, he or she gives up some control. Power sharing comes with a loss of absolute self-determination.
Ergo, it is absolutely unavoidable that we measure our own value by the yardstick of how well we are able to fulfill our obligations to others. Conversely, the value others see in us is determined by how adroitly we are able to do all that fulfilling.
The events I alluded to earlier have brought home the ugly reality of how vulnerable I am (and all of us are). The injustice that was meted out made me feel powerless and worthless. (“Worthless” is too strong a term, so I should say, instead, “worth less” than I would have liked to have felt.) Deep down, even though I felt like I was treated unfairly, I knew that I had value, but because I am not the sole arbiter of my worth (for the aforementioned reasons), I was shaken and frustrated and saddened.
There! I’ve been able to name the full list of feelings and emotions that have churning inside me for months!
What came to your mind while reading this? I am certainly curious to read what you have to say in response.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy: Blog & Art.