0487 – progress is cringeborne

One of the best signs of progress is when you find yourself cringing at your own work. The more recent the work you cringe at, the faster you must be progressing. I find myself thinking about this on two fronts. (And multiple other micro-fronts popped up– I started thinking about drawing, and then film and music.) But really the two fronts I care about are socializing and writing. I’d like to pretend that I don’t care about my social status and standing, but I’d be a liar. I’m a human being, human beings are social animals, we’re all wired to care about how we socialize. As I get older it becomes more obvious that I should limit the pool of people that I care about, but that doesn’t change the mechanics of fundamentally bad socializing.

So here I’m at a decision-point. I can try to talk about cringeworthiness on two fronts at once, or I can pick one. I guess I’ll pick the socializing thing.

I was never very good at socializing. This is a strange thing to say. I’ve always been outgoing, extroverted, noisy, rambunctious, loud, naughty, a clown, a performer. But I’m not actually all that good at building relationships, at sitting and listening, at paying attention, and being thoughtful and attentive. I’m not good at interpreting what other people are thinking, how they might be feeling, how they might be interpreting me in turn.

So when I look back at old statuses and exchanges on Facebook, for example, I cringe. I see myself acting with a sort of bone-headed insensitivity, oblivious to the feelings of the people that I was talking at. I suppose there’s a chance that 10 years from now I’ll look back at my behavior today and feel the same way, and that’ll probably be a good thing. I would like to commit to progressively becoming more and more sensitive, more and more subtle, compassionate, kind. The first rule is to spare people shame and embarrassment. There was a time (and it wasn’t as long ago as I wish it was) where I thought it was somehow okay or acceptable to shame people if it was entertaining, witty, clever and so on. I grappled with that for some time, and I think I now definitively agree that it’s something that shouldn’t be done. [1]

But in general I guess I was just really naive and ignorant about the nature of social interactions. I do think I subscribed to some vague sort of Nice Guy theory, remixed with Clever / Funny Guy theory. I wasn’t stupid enough to insist that people had to pay attention to me or like me for what I was doing, or owe me anything at all, but I mistakenly believed that they WOULD. Which, of course, they’re not at all obliged to.

It feels like I’m skirting around something and not talking about it. What is it that I’m not talking about? Well I think I was an ignorant idiot, obtuse and oblivious, and I think it’s amazing that people put up with the stupid shit I was saying– probably because they weren’t “Putting Up” with me in an active sense, but sort of just going about their lives with me as a sort of background annoyance– not quite worth the effort to put down.

I wonder, 10 years from now, what I’ll be cringing at today. Probably that I’m so focused on myself still, and that I’m not spending more time actively cultivating the relationships that will matter to me 10 years from now. That’s what I should be doing. I should be building relationship capital, helping people out, being kind and generous. I’d like to think that I already am, but I’m hardly systematic about it. And to this I know a thought is “Goddamnit Visa, not everything needs to be systematic”, but you need to understand that I’m overcompensating for what feels like a lot of waste. And maybe one day I’ll wake up and stop feeling the need to overcompensate– but in the meantime it definitely feels like there’s a lot that I could do.

Of course, “there’s a lot I could do” is vastly less useful than “there’s a little that I am doing”. So the the thing is to keep doing. The people I’m best positioned to help are myself, my wife, my colleagues. After that, there’s the loose network of friends that I keep in contact with online, I can and should keep meeting people for coffee and talk to them.

It feels like I’m still avoiding something. I suppose it shall be enough to put a stake in the ground here, to remind myself that I want to think about my cringeworthy past. And also I guess at this point I’d like to remind future me that everybody does some cringeworthy shit in life, and that in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter all that much. (At all, actually.) Schools aren’t enough to teach you everything that your parents leave out. So you gotta figure stuff out on your own. So let’s keep doing that.

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[1] I do admit to sometimes trolling and baiting people– for instance, I remember commenting on a Malcolm Gladwell Facebook post on school shootings that America was awesome in its global leadership of death and murder, and that it’s no surprise that they’re killing their own children considering their violent history. Why did I do that? I was curious, I guess. And I predictably got people sending me personal attacks and insults. It’s simple physics, practically. Once you’re aware of it, you can’t really pretend otherwise. I did make it a point to treat all my repliers with respect– which I think confused them. I suppose on hindsight I’ll think of this as a waste of time, but it really was interesting to be in the midst of it and sort of manipulate what was going on. I do feel bad about it, but I feel like I learned something from it. It’s like how dissecting an animal requires killing it. Maybe next time I’ll write something inspiring and see if I get the predictable responses to that.

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