Friday, July 15, 2011

On Independence and Letting Go of Second-Handedness

I had an interesting thought yesterday that I just have to get out there, because I'm afraid I'll forget about it and won't think on it any more.

Does that ever happen to you? And if so, I hope you have a blog because I find blogs handy-dandy ways of keeping up with those interesting thoughts. Leave me a link to your blog in the comments, please!

ANYWAY. On to my point...

I was putting gas into the minivan yesterday afternoon, and while the gas was pumping, I cleaned the trash out of the car, which is my usual routine. However, we've had an unusual couple of days in that we've been on the road quite a bit because Brendan's car broke down at his office and we'd been taking him to and from work. [Insert financial- and logistical-related SIGH here.] And we've been eating fast food in the car WAY more than usual (and by that I mean we did it two times, two days in a row).

And as I was pulling what seemed to be an infinite number of fast food bags out of my car (think of a magician and the never-ending rainbow colored scarf) and putting them into the trash can next to the pump, I happened to catch the eye of the lady in the car behind me. And she (or so it appeared) looked rather horrified.

I could imagine her thoughts: "I can't believe this mother feeds her kids all of that crap!" and "I bet her kids have never even touched a real vegetable!" and "How sad for her children that they don't get proper nutrition."

Now I know this is not true--my kids eat plenty of real healthy food and have diverse palates. I know that these fast food bags were evidence of outliers and would not fall on the trend line. But I can also see how this lady might have a completely different impression of my nutritional standards and parenting based solely on watching me clean out my car.

And here's the thing--the fact that this stranger may have been thinking wrong things about me bothered me NOT. AT. ALL. In fact, I'd fully support her conclusions about me and my parenting given the information she had.

Not being bothered by this--this is a really big departure for me, a sign that I have been able to let go of some of my tendencies toward second-handedness. What is a second-hander? (Emphasis added)

A [second-hander] is one who regards the consciousness of other men as superior to his own and to the facts of reality. It is to a [second-hander] that the moral appraisal of himself by others is a primary concern which supersedes truth, facts, reason, logic. The disapproval of others is so shatteringly terrifying to him that nothing can withstand its impact within his consciousness; thus he would deny the evidence of his own eyes and invalidate his own consciousness for the sake of any stray charlatan’s moral sanction. It is only a [second-hander] who could conceive of such absurdity as hoping to win an intellectual argument by hinting: “But people won’t like you!”
Ayn Rand, "The Argument from Intimidation"from The Virtue of Selfishness (via the online Ayn Rand Lexicon)

Yes, there was a time when it would have really bothered me that some complete stranger might have a wrong idea about my character.

But what about when the other person in question isn't a complete stranger, but someone you know a little bit (at least by reputation) and maybe even have some respect for? I've had that experience recently, too, in connection with some of the work I (and others) have done with ATLOS. Actually, there were several recent experiences with semi-strangers, including a rapid and noticeable drop in the number of Facebook friends I had.

I'll admit--I was irked at first, but really, I could see how some of the conclusions that were drawn were drawn. And in one case, I took the time to provide a little more context to one of the people and that turned out to be a positive thing. But it might not have made a bit of difference . . . and that's okay.

With my closest friends and family, it does matter more to me what they think about me. But the good thing about those people is that they WANT me not to be second-handed and would think less of my character if I was like that all the time. So while I think it could be easier to be second-handed with the people closest to you, the kinds of people I'm close to wouldn't stand for it, and would want to help me not be that anyway. (I haven't thought all of this quite through yet, so consider this paragraph a preliminary pass only.)

I am at a point in my . . . I don't know what to call it . . . psychological development maybe? or philosophical development? . . . anyway, I'm at a point now where I am light-years more independent in the virtuous sense than I ever was (and it only took 40 years, ba dum bum!).

People can think what they like about me. People can even think very, very wrong things about me. They can think those things . . . and I will continue to do what I think is right according to my own best judgment of the facts I have before me. It is the only thing I can and should be doing.

And if I make a mistake, well then, hey, that happens. I'll fix it, learn from it, and move on and try to do better. I'm like Anne Shirley in that I rarely make the same mistake twice, and I'm far enough in recovery from paralyzing perfectionism that I am able to view my mistakes as opportunities to improve instead of, well, a sign of the apocalypse.

Mistakes and what other people think of me (even of the Wrong on the Internet variety) are now of less importance to me than what I think and what I do and how I do it. I'm feeling a million times more integrated on this than I ever have in my whole life. Go me!

I judge and I am prepared to be judged. And I am prepared to have others make judgments about me that are not 100% correct because they lack knowledge of my full context. I'm prepared to have people disagree with me, too. It's all fine. Certainly I've drawn some incorrect conclusions about others from time to time and I do hope that my thinking something about them hasn't stopped them from pursuing their values.

I know that the people who care about me most will demand more context if they see me acting crazy, because they will recognize something is off. I hope that people who know me a little bit will at least think "Hey, that doesn't seem right" and in some cases, ask for more information. And I hope that complete strangers like the lady at the gas station yesterday will just think "Oh that terrible mother who feeds her kids tons of McDonald's!" and then forget all about me and move on with pursuing their own lives.

This is a Very Good Thing. :D


HaynesBE said...

Hi Jenn,

I have been having some very cool discussions lately with my 15 y.o. daughter and this post segues very nicely into some of them. I have sent her it in an email. It will be interesting to see her response.
Thanks for sharing.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hey, Jenn, I think there is a reverse form of second-handedness, and that is the propensity to make judgements about total strangers based on a casual, out-of-context observation. I used to do that a lot, when I was also concerned about what others might think of me. Now I may note something, but I realize that I don't have the context to form an informed opinion, and with practice, I let it go by, like passing clouds. It leaves my mind free to do with it what I'd like, and interestingly, this indifference to making judgments in situations that I do not care about anyway, has gone hand-in-hand with my indifference to what others think about me. I can hear my grandmother's voice: "So let people think! It's good for their brains!"

Rory said...

I have that feeling about needing to get something good down lest I lose it.

I read an interview with Stephen King a couple months back though, and he said that he gets that feeling and ignores it. He doesn't do the usual writerly thing of "jot down all your ideas in a notebook" - he says that if an idea is an good, it's the kind that'll keep niggling at you and demand to be written.

Inspector Clouseau said...

Nice blog work. I came across your blog while “blog surfing” using the Next Blog button on the blue Nav Bar located at the top of my site. I frequently just travel around looking for other blogs which exist on the Internet, and the various, creative ways in which people express themselves. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I ran into this point and it melds well with a repost of selections from Ayn Rand's "The Argument from Intimidation" with commentary and footnotes:

Ayn Rand's Answer to Political Correctness

Will be reading more of your thoughts, Rational Jenn.

By the way, Rory makes an excellent point via his Stephen King anecdote.