Recently, I posted something about suicide and had some fascinating interactions. Not all were particularly pleasant, but it was all useful feedback, and it got me thinking. (I am writing a larger version of these thoughts for publication soon, but the concept has been evolving).
Of course, suicide makes many of us recoil. We may have seen the damage it does to families directly or indirectly. Many of us have struggled with pains and either rejected the alternative out of hand or went through a period of temptation and got over it. I’ve heard dozens of times now, “I’m glad I stuck with it”.
Me too. I have myself faced periods, albeit rare and very brief, where I despaired of things ever getting better in my life. I told myself intellectually that things would of course improve, and others told me this as well, and it of course helped, but that feeling would fade near instantly. The cognitions reverted back to fear and sadness. I despaired of ever finding someone special to share my life with, I despaired of ever being able to achieve my dreams. Even now, I grapple every day with the despair of being unable to improve this world, whether due to the magnitude of the problems it faces or my own inadequacies. Fighting that despair every day is exhausting, but by God it is rewarding.
These periods are what I call “periods of Cartesian uncertainty” or “a time of hyperbolic doubt”. You question everything. You examine everything. You find yourself being forced to discard illusions. You’re afraid that nothing might hold.
And through this absolute umbra of despair, on the other side, can come a light beyond anything perceived before. Because those things that hold even in those times are proven to us as being true. Just like Descartes found the cogito, I found my duty.
Even at my most hopeless, I never even considered suicide, because I knew I had to survive for others. I knew I had a duty to act. I faced a lifetime of despair that would never improve and I made a decision somewhere deep within, below even the level of conscious thought, to stick it out.
And it’s this duty that makes me realize that it is not just suicide that is a retreat.
In fact, we all retreat. We all face fear and we all sometimes falter.
In my novel, Adelbert Vo: Soul Surgeon, the female lead (Marianne) finds herself facing immense spiritual and psychological damage, and chooses to be repaired just enough to stay around for her family but not to truly find happiness. Marianne was based on many wonderful women I have met who would swallow their pain and turn around to be incredible at their jobs, incredible mothers, incredible daughters. While I may empathize more with Adelbert, I have come to see that I also have been in a parallel position to Marianne and made the same choice.
Now, I have been blessed with the opportunity to have worked with special and very hurt people. I have been blessed with educational resources and love that have given me affective, cognitive, philosophical, and intellectual resources.
Maybe I would not have been so gung ho about making that choice to battle hopelessly if I didn’t have armor, shield and sword to do so.
I often find myself having to articulate my own experiences, not out of fatuous self-aggrandizement (though it is something I grapple with) but because I know I can be authentic to my own experiences and because many of the experiences of others have been given to me in confidence.
Nonetheless, I can recognize that, while suicide was never my mode of retreat, I had others.
The one I’ll talk about today is the retreat of the blase gifted person.
I have been told since I was very young that I was gifted. A genius. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me that I was the most intelligent person they knew.
Yes, it’s great, but this isn’t about my gifts. In fact, while being told all that boosted my confidence, and while I have worked very hard to learn so that I am able to offer informed opinions on a variety of topics, the fact is that having this intelligence gave me a temptation that I often failed against.
See, when you come to class after class, from elementary school to college, and never find it getting harder, find it always being easy…
You can begin to get used to that. You can even begin to get used to taking it easy.
I left myself a little bit of untapped potential, just so I could always smile and say, “Well, I’m not even giving 100%”. To put it into a memetic form: That wasn’t even my final form.
What a crappy attitude. What a waste.
But when I finally vowed not only to fight, which I had always done, but also to fight with every ounce of who I was, and made that a habit, I found myself coming up against this flawed cognition.
Now I am struggling every day against my limits. And it is hard, facing that challenge every day.
But not retreating is worth it ten times over.
So, I strongly suggest you take a solid inventory of how you may have been retreating from challenges. The above wasn’t even my only form of retreat. And I strongly recommend making a vow to turn around and stop running.
Because I have found there’s nothing worse than a life dictated by fear.