Thursday, June 26, 2008

"A fish can't whistle and neither can I."

Nobody is perfect. That's just a generally accepted truth, right? We all have faults, we are all human, that's fine. It's normal to have faults. And I believe, fervently and earnestly, that we would all be much better off if we could acknowledge and accept those faults. If we could all just admit to ourselves that, yes, we are all imperfect and I, too, have flaws, it would be so healthy and productive. And yes, admitting that you have a flaw is the first and most important step in attempting to overcome that flaw. But I'm not even necessarily advocating that people need to overcome their flaws. Just admitting them would be enough, I think. It seems like such a small thing that we could all do to make our lives easier and more pleasant. And it would eliminate such a lot of conflict.

But it seems to me that almost nobody is actually willing to do that, and I just can't understand it at all. This unwillingness is deeply frustrating and disheartening to me. It stands in the way of self-improvement and communication, and it leads to hypocrisy and misunderstanding. I have infinitely more respect and admiration for people who are able to acknowledge their shortcomings and take responsibility for their choices. But I think a passage from The Tao of Pooh explains this concept more gently and eloquently:

"A fish can't whistle and neither can I." Coming from a wise mind, such a statement would mean, "I have certain limitations, I know what they are." Such a mind would act accordingly. There's nothing wrong with not being able to whistle, especially if you're a fish. But there can be lots of things wrong with blindly trying to do what you aren't designed for. Fish don't live in trees, and birds don't spend too much time underwater if they can help it. Unfortunately, some people - who always think they're smarter than fish and birds, somehow - aren't so wise, and end up causing big trouble for themselves and others.

That doesn't mean that we need to stop changing and improving. It just means that we need to recognize What's There. If you face the fact that you have weak muscles, say, then you can do the right things and eventually become strong. But if you ignore What's There and try to lift someone's car out of a ditch, what sort of condition will you be in after a while? And even if you have more muscle than anyone alive, you still can't push over a freight train. The wise know their limitations; the foolish do not. . .

A saying from the area of Chinese medicine would be appropriate to mention here: "One disease, long life; no disease, short life." In other words, those who know what's wrong with them and take care of themselves accordingly will tend to live a lot longer than those who consider themselves perfectly healthy and neglect their weaknesses. So, in that sense at least, a Weakness of some sort can do you a big favor,
if you acknowledge that it's there. The same goes for one's limitations. . . Once you face and understand your limitations, you can work with them, instead of having them work against you and get in your way, which is what they do when you ignore them, whether you realize it or not. And then you will find that, in many cases, your limitations can be your strengths.
The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff

I have plenty of faults. I know that. And I'm okay with that. I am so critical that it sometimes makes me unintentionally mean. I am so easily carried away by emotion that it sometimes makes me intentionally mean. I become intensely impatient when faced with incompetence. I am inept at small talk. I am often lazy and undisciplined - particularly in terms of chores like cleaning, going to the gym, or forcing myself to write when I'm not feeling spontaneously inspired. And I fear I may lack the ego necessary to drive me creatively and ensure that I live up to my artistic potential. These are, as far as I can tell, my most fundamental weaknesses. I am constantly striving to change and improve. Eventually, I will overcome some of these limitations. But others, to some extent, will always be an integral part of who I am. I have accepted that, and I am far more content as a result.

Strive for self-awareness. It's worth it, I promise. Turn your gaze inward and see if you can dig up a few personal flaws or limitations of your own. And I don't mean flaws like having bad handwriting or biting your nails or needing to lose a few pounds. I mean the fundamental faults and foibles that define you as a unique individual. It's okay to have them. I mean, you're human, so you definitely have them. Just own them.


Anonymous said...

Ah, but how much baggage is one willing to carry around? I think it is a rare person that will recognize their failings, own them and then seek to remake them.
I have struggled all my life to overcome my lack of discipline and blame the lack of progress in the pursuit of my artistic ambitions.
just write everyday, inspired or not, that's all I ask. It doesn't matter what comes out. It is important for you to write though. Write, Write, Write.!!!

Paulina said...

You write very well.