Nostalgia

Inspired by my own tendencies to gravitate towards fond memories and a blog post from Raptitude.com, I’ve decided to tackle this issue.

Nostalgia is something that I feel very often. I realized it first when I was around 13 years old. It was about the time when I was beginning to become conscious about the fact that I was dramatically different from most of my peers. I had moved to the U.S. four years earlier but never felt like I could be a part of the culture. I started to become nostalgic about what I thought was a society where I fit in in a more definite way – the USSR. In a lot of ways, this is absurd. As a 9 year old, I was hardly aware of how the country ran and yet to me it seemed like this was the way life should be lived. I was conscious of the way that I rejected U.S. materialism and attached my values to a political ideology which seemed to express that. At 29, I understand that I would not be happy living in Soviet Ukraine, but to date it’s hard for me to kick the idea that it was somehow more pure or better than Ukraine or the USA now. The nostalgia just won’t go away, despite logic.

Fast forward to my ongoing divorce and I see a similar situation. My relationship with my wife is to me something that I look at fondly now that it’s over. I forget about the fact that it was something that I chose to end (actually it was mutual, but it’s nevertheless a choice I made). Or at least I forget the reasons for the decision and begin to gravitate towards making that same mistake. It so tempting to make a change and not want to follow through with it. Or to make a change and only look at one side of the issue – the one you want to see.

Nostalgia is only the half of it though. We often say “you can’t live in the past” and it’s just as true for reliving both good and bad. We want to think our successes are permanent and be afraid of repeating failure. The past haunts us whether it’s good or bad, but either way it’s the past. The best you can do is to try to repeat your successes and avoid your failures. The past is certainly a part of that learning experience, but it’s not the experience itself.

And so, this is why I have to tell myself to stop being nostalgic about things. It’s the past. It’s the realm we get obsessed with when we’re not facing forward. Hopefully, we have learned from it but it’s gone. All that’s left is this moment right now and the moment immediately after it. That’s the moment we want to live in and I want to put myself in the best possible position to do it.

Love of Power / Love of Freedom

One of my favorite quotes of all time is Michel Foucault’s – “The strategic adversary is fascism… the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.”

The quote initially seems to be political in nature, but I think it goes much deeper than that. It is talking about how humans live and the contradictory nature of our desires. I believe that every person wishes to be free. That is, not to be impeded in their attempts to realize their goals. Many people in the world do not have freedom – they are impeded by political, sociological, and economic forces. They are oppressed. I believe that the vast majority of the people in the world are oppressed, including many of us in the developed world.

However, even the oppressed often oppress others in one fashion or another. That is, take away freedom from another person for the sake of realizing their goals or boosting their egos. This can take many forms – parents pushing their children to go to a certain college, a husband telling his wife she needs to quit her job to take better care of the kids, a girlfriend telling her boyfriend she’ll dump him unless he proposes and so on.

To me, this is the most fascinating aspect of power. That is, how and how often we use it in relationships with people we love.

It’s quite possible that avoiding the use of power is impossible. In almost any situation, one person has more leverage than another. What’s particularly sad though is that we often don’t realize the subtle ways in which we manipulate other people, or if we do use our power consciously we only think of what we stand to gain, not what the other person stands to lose. What they lose, in my opinion is their sense of control over their own lives – their freedom. It is a humiliating defeat for that person that over time can erode their sense of self.

I have never thought of myself to be as the kind of person who seeks power over others, at least not directly. However, what’s difficult for me to understand is the consequences of my actions on other people. Am I unfairly influencing other people? Are they making a decision because it’s best for them or is it because of my approval/disapproval? I know how it feels on the receiving end, but it’s so hard to imagine how it feels when I’m the one forcing the decision on another person. Are they making the decision or are they reacting based on what they think I want the answer to be?

Though it’s hard to answer for other people, I can answer for myself. I have realized that I have been in a relationship where I have been under pressure to be a person other than myself. There was very little concern about how I felt about the things I was asked to do for the sake of relationship. I feel good about choosing not to bow to that sort of pressure anymore. However, a few questions still linger. To what extend did I pressure her? Did I force her to make choices by taking things for granted? Was her decision to pressure me based on the pressure she felt herself (from me or from society)? These questions will probably be forever unresolved. However, what I want to ask myself in the future is when I make decision is: Am I trying to exercise my power or my freedom? Do I want something from this person or do I want something from myself?

To me, this is the crux of an equal relationship. Essentially, it means to let other people be themselves.

There are two types of people in this world…

That’s the old prefix that we give to an idea that we’re about to overgeneralize in an extreme way (and quite possibly to such an extent that it loses the meaning that we intended for it to have). More often than not what it describes is the differences between people and even more likely the choices that they make (that we perceive as being right or wrong).

On this topic, I recently started to wonder about how we treat strangers. Depending on our jobs and daily routines our lives might even be dominated by our interactions with strangers rather than the people whose lives we have some sort of stake in. People treat strangers in different ways, and I’ve been trying to pay attention to it lately. Sometimes, it seems like these people are a hinderence – people making you wait in line, slowing down traffic, employees at a store not doing their jobs, angry customers demanding a service when you’re tired after 8 hours of work, etc. In a city, if you stop and look around you’ll notice tens or even hundreds of people who you don’t care about one way or another. It’s a sobering thought to realize they don’t really care about you either and have no concept of you, just as you have no concept of them. Every now and then, there will be something that prompts you to interact with them and then you have two choices: 1) to treat them as someone you don’t care about, or 2) to make them into a person and treat them like you would someone whose feelings you have a stake in.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the overwhelming majority of people fall into category #1, or at least choose to react that way most of the time. They may be polite or impolite about it (depending on their attitude toward good manners), but that person isn’t someone they’d go out of their way for. People who fall into category #2 are those who I have tremendous respect for. Having noticed them, I understand why some people I like right away without understanding why. I think these are the people who lift you up when you’re having a bad day or make you feel more connected to humanity for a brief period of time. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the world is better when people treat each other as people. In reality, it’s so difficult to be this way in modern society – where people are physically close but emotionally separate.

Personally, I want to try to be someone who is that type of person. Still, even after realizing it, it’s so hard to do because you’re often thinking about what’s your next task or action. You hardly even realize you’re interacting with a human being because you’re so focused on what’s happening next. The good news is that every time I notice myself doing this, I get one step closer to treating the next person I meet as an actual person. Even if I am thinking up a storm.

Hello world!

The blog was born out of restlessness, out of the idea that something isn’t right and that I need to do something to fix it. The idea of blog itself has been kicking around for a while but it is in these restless moments that we decide that we’re either going to give into past temptations to receive temporary solace or we’re going to do something productive. Today, it’s the latter. And I hope I’ll continue to make that choice in the future.

Still, a blog isn’t something you just do. Well, I guess you can but no one honestly wants to read some guy ranting and raving about his life. People read blogs mostly because they’re like-minded or because it stirs something within them. I guess what a blog needs is a theme. For now, that part is to be determined – though I heavily suspect it’ll just be random thoughts about culture, life, and existence. I have a lot of ideas about what to write about, but one post a day is enough for me and just getting this far has made me feel better. I’m saving the next post for another restless moment.