Among my New Year’s resolutions, of which there are many, is the singular vow to write more. So here I am, trying to overcome the obstacles of fatigue, uncertainty, perfectionism, or whatever fill-in excuse happens to fit best.
Among my other resolutions, is to be more assertive with regards to pursuing and achieving the things that I want. What a marvelous irony it is that we all must balance our own needs against those of our friends, families, coworkers, and loved ones. Taking too much or not giving enough; the delicate equilibrium of our social and professional lives can weigh heavy on one’s mind. With even the smallest of decisions, like which pair of shoes to wear to see Django Unchained, I’ve found myself second-guessing. Should it be the new running shoes I got that still give me a blister on the heel? $115 fucking dollars and they’re still giving me blisters? Gotta break those fuckers in. What if they rub me raw during the movie and that’s all I can think about the whole time and the movie is ruined forever? You can only watch a Tarantino film for the first time ONCE. [30 seconds of tying and untying shoes].
The internal decisions, the ones that affect only yourself, those can be more easily solved. More sleep, better diet and solid doses of exercise, I’ve found, help guide me through the neuroses and paranoia of daily life. Staying busy, thinking positively, and when all else fails, reminding myself to just make a decision and stick with it (“go with your gut” they say) has helped. I’m less inside my own head than I was before and have been able to avoid those double or triple layers of consciousness by simply willing it away with rationality and optimism. Ideally, this has made me a better person, or at least more at peace with myself.
The decisions that have direct effect on others, however, those are a different beast. Is there a way to make a decision that maximizes the interests of all people involved, including yourself? If so, how much time and energy can realistically go into this process? If there has to be an unequal distribution of gain, as so often seems to be the case, how does one determine the allocation? These are the types of variables that can drive a well-meaning young man mad. Laced within these decisions for all of us is a thought process underpinned by motivations associated with our social makeup and economic vantage point. One’s emotional and psychological disposition is also an important player. I became well-acquainted with the factors that affect individual and group (mass) decision-making in college. As a sociology major, I learned about the interconnected nature of social factors such as race, income, community, gender and sexuality, education and upbringing. The fact that I’m now having trouble in my own life trying to make decisions based on the most common good, makes all too much sense. Social factors and personal preferences are endless and the quest to satisfy everyone leads inevitably to disappointment.
Some scientists have argued that humans, despite the complex and interconnected world we currently live in, cannot make a decision that is not at least in some ways self-serving. For years I identified the mark of a truly good person as the ability to put someone else’s needs before your own. I was mystified by the way certain figures in college could navigate every social group with ease, simply by paying attention to and investing themselves in those people’s interests. Only now am I starting to understand that there is no benchmark for goodness, but rather that to live well and to do good is to strike a balance between your own needs and the needs of others. Forsaking my own needs–an act I thought embodied the essence of goodness–was in fact a strangled, self-serving validation of my own capacity to care for others.
Everything in moderation my folks used to say. It’s not just a good parenting technique, it’s withstood the test of time and turned out to be a solid personal motto. It seems to me that we are presented with opportunities to do right by ourselves and to do right by others on a daily basis. Taking the time to remember to do both, in my opinion, is the mark of a truly good person. Using positive, rational thoughts to avoid suffocating under a blanket of indecision, I’ve also found, is a fine way to keep your head clear. Then, when it comes time to make a decision that affects someone else, you’ll be confident in your ability to do the right thing.