I'm thinking about who I am as a person right now, as opposed to who I was at the beginning of last year. I think there is a difference (although I wonder whether this difference is evident to others.) This past year has afforded me the opportunity to learn techniques to help me deal with others, and this in turn has very much influenced my thinking.
One of my favorite methods of looking at people now is to try to find what is similar between them and me rather than looking for the differences. This is distinctly different from the person I was at the beginning of this year or even the person I was when writing my "Templars" post. There is a distinction to be made between accusing and trying to understand. In order to understand, I have to really feel like I am the person in question, but in order to see through another's eyes, I must find the commonality, the point of connection between him and me. Once I find that, I can link myself to them and am afforded an entirely different perspective. This works best when I need not judge someone at all, and can simply connect to them in an emotional sense, which is why I look for the suffering the person hides. Connecting to people in pain is instinctual and breaks down all barriers without actual effort.
It is more difficult when I must exert myself, either because I do not know the person that well or because I do not know of their particular pain. In this case, assuming this is someone with whom I cannot agree, or whose philosophy or ideology I find flawed, I look for similar flaws in myself. Often the people I dislike most are those in whom I recognize aspects of my own character. It is easy to love oneself, and therefore easy to extend that love to others. Once I recognize the flaw in me that matches the flaw I see in someone else, it is far easier to judge them compassionately. Because wouldn't I judge myself that way?
To put it simply, I see people very differently from the way I did at the beginning of this year. And I try to resist placing labels on them, even good labels, such as "beautiful," and attempt to see them as simply people, people who are unique and have their own talents and skills but who are also similar to me in very important ways, and therefore people whom I must and should understand. I try to see them for what is good in them, but if that fails, I look for their pain, and if I can't find that either, I look for what is bothering me about them, their flaws, and I succeed in finding a similar flaw in myself. And so I find that I am connected to all people, no matter how seemingly different, and there is a way to see them all and to accept them.
I think I have evolved over this year, but I have done so with many setbacks and mistakes. I have fought bitterly against ideas I did not like, only to come to understand them later on, when I was ready. But the very fact that the ideas were presented to me helped me immensely.
I think that I have reached a point where I not only intellectually understand but really believe that there is no shame in saying that I do not know something. For a very long time I have felt it necessary to pretend I know things I do not know, mostly because it was suggested that anyone who did not know such things was a perfect fool. It's hard to say "I don't know" but I have practiced it this year and now use it more frequently, especially because it is true. And if someone mocks me for not knowing, this is not my problem- and I think I really believe that now, which is different from what I had believed before.
I think I also realize now that I do not need to be in control of everything, that indeed, I cannot always be in control of anything. This is similar to saying "I don't know;" it's a way of letting go, of relinquishing my grip upon my safety device or security blanket and walking into the unknown. And at the same time that it's scary, it is necessary and even freeing, because I feel like I have shed so many burdens I did not even know I was carrying.
I am noticing now that the common thread between the realizations I have made is that of shame. Did I really believe that if I admitted that I had my limitations, that there are some things I do not know or cannot control, I ought to be ashamed? Yes, I really did. But I am trying to figure out why I thought that and I can't say that I know why for certain. Was it I who placed such unreasonable expectations upon myself? Or is this something I somehow felt was expected due to the need to mantain the impressions others had of me? I can't say for certain. It's amusing that the more vehemently I protested that I was free of guilt or shame, the more shame I would feel for not knowing or not succeeding or not being in control of a situation.
I think that is what I have learned this year, and what has most empowered me: the ability to let go of this shame. I am not ashamed of being a flawed person, of admitting that I have my limitations, I cannot do everything, I do not always know what is going on, I am not always in control, and that many things are not whatever I originally thought them to be. I am not ashamed of admitting I am wrong because I now see that this is often the first step to growth, to moving forward and realizing that my ideas were correct at the point in time where I could only see so far, but now that I can see farther, my ideas must change accordingly.
There is no need to be ashamed of any of these things. I do not know why I thought there was; I only know how powerfully I felt that if anyone found out any of this, I was somehow in a position of vulnerability. But I feel stronger now. It is probably illogical to feel stronger after admitting one's weaknesses, and yet I do. Perhaps it is because it takes more strength of will for me to admit them than to constantly hide them.
I used to be so quick to express my opinion. I realize now that my opinions evolve based on the information at my disposal. It is not wrong to change one's opinion if new ideas or facts come to light, but the only honest way to exist. And it does not make you flighty or unreliable if you do this, but it means that you are looking for what's really true, and this is subject to change based on what you know or have the capacity to know at a particular point in time. I am even a little hesitant to write my opinions now for fear that people will think I must hold by them forever. This is impossible, for as I grow, how can my opinions stay the same? As I change, they too must change, for I see things that I did not see before and could not see before, because I am not speaking from the same place I was a year ago. There are ideas I could not understand before, being the person I was last year, and having only had her experiences. But now I see them, and I have had more and different experiences. It doesn't matter how much anyone would have tried to explain these principles to me before; I couldn't have grasped them, no matter how I would try, because I did not have the necessary background.
But now I see a little farther, and I am not so stubborn as I was before. Ideas begin to make sense to me and the curtain is pulled back a little further. This is how it always must be, each year the unveiling takes place and I see a little more, and the ideas that I once vehemently opposed suddenly make themselves understood. I smile a little and chuckle to myself as I remember my reaction to them at first, and then I nod and think, "Ah, so this is what he meant."
I am learning that it does not pay to take offense to most statements, as most of them are not made with me in mind at all. Nor does it pay to always speak up in order to express a particular view, or even to always speak out at class. In effect, I am learning the value of listening.
I no longer feel the need to prove myself with every step I take, assert myself as some kind of superior being or feel concerned if others do not view me as such. In fact, I take a very gentle but amused view of this person I was last year, this girl who cared so much about how she was viewed and yet refused to admit she cared, choosing instead to arrogantly assert otherwise. But she honestly believed what she stated! And that is one thing that can be said for me, or for her- that she does honestly believe what she says at a particular point in time; it is only that there is always more to see and understand, and with that new knowledge comes a new way of seeing and a breadth of understanding.
I don't know if any of you have noticed any of this in me; probably not, because you often see me when I am laughing and happy and not in one of my more serious moods. The only problem is that sometimes I feel so old, and I look at the things I once cherished and valued and see the way that others long for them, and I wish I could show them what I know now, so that they would see they need not be so sad after all. But I understand what it is like, now, to be unable to spare someone the pain of discovery, and realize that nothing in the world that I say will make sense to them as they are right now, because they do not have the necessary background, just as I did not- and do not still, for other matters, certainly.
I hope that everything ends as beautifully for them as it does for me, and that our journeys of self-discovery are similarly helped along by kind and compassionate guides such as I have had. People have been extraordinarily patient with me; when I look back at some of the things I said this past year, I can't imagine how anyone could have dealt with me. It is intensely frustrating to tell someone something you know to be true, but something they cannot yet grasp, but I appreciate your trying and hope that you will always have faith in me and believe that one day I will grasp the precious ideas you are trying to share with me.
My father hates to see me make mistakes and learn things the hard way, but he knows by now that there are certain things he cannot teach me or explain to me, but that I must learn myself. And it is very hard to step back and watch someone flounder about until they find their footing, especially when you wish they would just listen to you instead of having to learn through experience. But I have learned, and I hope to continue to learn, and I am different now than I was before, and it is because of those of you who have taught me.
This has been a very good year for me, and I hope the next one is even better, for me and for all of us.
Ksiva v'Chatima Tova to all.