Simple Complaining

I am moderately overweight (30-40ish lbs).  I’m actually smaller now than I have been in a long time. I’ve been fat since I was 10 years old. It took a diet (caused by poverty, not choice) of one can of green beans a day and some pretty intense exercise to drop fifty pounds and I’ve managed to keep most of it off (I’ve gained back about 10 pounds). This month I’m doing a planned semi-extreme diet (not as extreme as a can of green beans a day) to hopefully drop another 10-20 pounds. Here’s the thing though, I gain weight if I eat much over 1500 calories a day for any extended amount of time. At about 1500 calories a day I can maintain my weight, at 1000 or less calories a day I might (key word here) actually start to lose weight. It’s definitely a losing battle and sometimes I wonder: what’s the fucking point?

It’s not that I don’t want to look good. I’ve even at a point now where I have several forms of exercise (martial arts, lifting [sometimes], elliptical machines, and yoga) that I actually enjoy. However, 1000 calories a day and 2 hrs working out a day is hard to maintain on a busy schedule. Of course, this is also when thoughts like ‘there’s no point, no one will love me anyway’ start to worm their way into my consciousness and wiggle around inside my head. Little thoughts like that can cause huge problems for my battle against my weight, my health in general, and my emotional life at large. Nonetheless, they are there. The fears, the worries, the negative self-esteem, all present and accounted for.

That being said, I’ve talked about self-esteem in general before, and I view negative self-esteem the same way. Just like positive self-esteem, negative self-esteem is a bad thing, not because it builds a poor self image, but because it isn’t based on anything real or true. Self-esteem is, at its core, an over-focusing on ourselves, and an under-focusing on others. Whether that self-esteem is negative or positive doesn’t actually matter, both are equally bad. Both equally over-focus the mind on the self, and both are built on lies that we tell ourselves, not on actual experience that reflects who we really are. Self-esteem is fragile precisely because it is fragile and selfish. The fact that it doesn’t have any basis in reality makes it much harder to disprove (no, seriously, try to actually prove that Unicorns or Dragons don’t exist sometime). The experiential evidence of life doesn’t matter, but at the same time, anything (whether experiential or equally as unreal as self-esteem itself) that throws our self-esteem into doubt is immediately counted as a threat and attacked.

I fall into this the same as anyone else. I fight back against the idea that there might be a point to trying. I argue that I’m worthless, stupid, pointless, and undesirable. I make a point of convincing myself about these things precisely so that I can convince other people. Honestly, I’m doing a lot better about this than I have in the past, but its something that I still struggle with. My ‘self-esteem’ isn’t based on any kind of reality. Honestly, a lot of it is based on the fact that women keep rejecting me. However, the fact that I’ve had a lot of rejection doesn’t actually say anything about my value as a person. The only thing that it might provide real evidence for is the claim that I’m undesirable. It certainly says nothing about my worth, intelligence, or purpose. Not only is my self-esteem unrealistic, but it is entirely self-involved. I can get so busy throwing myself an idiotic pity party that I forget to consider what’s around me and miss opportunities to actually be a worthwhile person.

Like I said, I’m getting better about this. It’s still a work in progress, and still far from completion, but I am getting better, and I hope to keep getting better. So, right now my answer to the question: what’s the fucking point? Is: I want to.

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Confidence is Overrated

Any discerning reader will note that confidence, that lauded American ‘manly’ trait, didn’t make it onto my list of character qualities, and this reader may be wondering why. The first and foremost reason is that confidence is not a character quality, it is a result of character qualities. Like the man who earned $20 million dollars, we do not respect a man for his confidence in and of itself. We may admire his confidence, we may envy his confidence, but our respect is reserved for the qualities that have lead him to be confident, not for the fact that he is confident. Even when we do not know the reasons for his confidence, our respect is based on the assumption that there is a good reason for it. This is why we ‘fake it ’til we make it’ (a horrible idea by the way), because this faked confidence implies real experience that would normally inspire such confidence.

The second reason that confidence did not make it onto my list is because confidence is situational. We have confidence in those areas in which we have particular skill or expertise. For instance, I have been teaching for almost 4 years, 3 years with the same institution. I have dealt with a variety of difficult students and difficult situations, and I know my subject matter well. In the classroom and in my conversations with students I am very confident. I have been practicing martial arts for 20 years, I am not a small man, and I have been in a few fights. In a fight I am fairly confident. However, I have never had strong social skills, and I’ve had repeated negative experiences with women, so when it comes to wooing a woman, I am not particularly confident. Real confidence depends on how well our knowledge, skills, and past experiences match up with the situation in which we find ourselves. This is because real confidence is based in real skills and real experiences.

Self-esteem may be differentiated from confidence in that it is not based in real skills or real experiences. Self-esteem is, in common practice, based on the viewpoints of others, and often one’s self-esteem is most affected by those acquaintances who know one the least. This is because people tend to assume that someone who does not know them well will have little reason to lie when giving their opinion (generally this is often not true), but that opinion is also based on an extremely limited experience of the individual in question. Thus, these two bastions of the American mindset are both built on faulty ground. Self-esteem does not encourage a right view of oneself (i.e. humility), and confidence is based on the situation and one’s skills.

Confidence is, however, generally a boost both to oneself and to others. It is good to feel confident in oneself and what one is doing, and it is easier to follow someone who is confident. However, confidence should be a reflection of one’s actual ability to handle a situation, not a reflection of one’s ability to fake one’s way through life. Confidence is born out of courage, endurance, devotion, the skills that those character qualities have allowed one to develop, and the experiences that have tested them. True confidence is the child of strong character, not a part of it.

Sources of Satisfaction

It’s amazing how easily we can shift our focus, our reliance, onto such a wide variety of things. When I first started this blog a few months back I really, truly didn’t want any followers. Seriously, go read some of my early posts. I was honestly and truly angry every time a new person followed the blog. It just plain made me mad, and I expressed that a few times. eHarmony has not been great for my self-esteem. Note that I used the term self-esteem there, not confidence… though I’m not sure that it’s been great for my confidence either. So far, the women who seem interested in me, I have no interest in, and the one’s I’m interested in have no interest in me. That’s often the way it goes though, isn’t it? I also passed on the chance to try asking T’Amber out again this afternoon… I think I had a good reason (she was on her way to a funeral and it just didn’t feel right), but I also have a feeling that there was a little bit of cowardice involved. I’d feel better about it if I was more worried about her feelings, and less worried about being rejected again. In other words, I think it was probably the right choice, but I’m not sure that I made it for the right reasons. I’m also coming down with something… still pretty much physically broken (though I found some yoga that I can do), needing less work for my health, but more work for my wallet, and I can’t bring myself to do a half-job on the assignments my students turn in.

So, all in all, while I’m not completely in the pits, I’m not entirely doing great right now. I’m trying to keep up a good attitude, but things are a little rough. That being said, a few minutes ago (right before I started writing) I found myself looking to see if I had any new likes or followers… trying to make myself feel good. I think this is understandable to a degree. It isn’t exactly a terrible thing to look to things of value or things that you do well to give a little boost, and it doesn’t mean that I’m comparing myself to anyone. I just kind of want to feel wanted at the moment, and I really don’t. I even just completely failed to cheer up a friend who’s having a rough day, something that I’m usually pretty good at. Still, like I said, it’s amazing how easily something can go from ‘just a thing’ to ‘a source of comfort, desire, happiness, confidence, etc’. I don’t know when this blog went from being just a journal to something that I take pride in and want people to see, and I have to wonder if the desire for people to see it has affected how honest I am. I think that I’m still being forthright… at least I’m not consciously trying to present myself in ‘this’ way or in ‘that’ way. Anyone who reads what I’ve written here can tell that I spend a lot of time moaning about my lack of a love life, and I still can’t really figure out why people keep following in the first place.

Nonetheless, it’s been a rough week for me. Everything above is a part of that, and I’m still dealing with some of the struggles that plagued me last Thursday and Friday. Not to nearly as great a degree. I haven’t sought anything out, but there have been a couple of times when my thoughts have gone to less than desirable places and stayed. A while back I wrote a post that started with the phrase ‘sometimes I just want to fuck’, and this is true. However, right now that isn’t my problem. Thinking about it honestly, lately I’ve been putting myself out there a good bit. eHarmony is a part of that, asking out T’Amber is a part of that, there’re a couple of other rejections that I don’t think have made the blog, and then the whole thing with the girl at my martial arts school on Monday… suffice it to say that I’ve been rejected a good bit, and more than anything else, at the moment I want to feel like someone that I might want might actually want me in return. Right now, at my core, I feel profoundly unwanted, and I probably need to have a long conversation with God about that. I think anything else is probably just a temporary fix.

I’m not sure if I’m ready for that yet. As I write this I can see how everything over the past week has worked together to bring me to this point. This point of specific dissatisfaction, frustration, fear, and pain, and I know that what I need to do is run to God and beg him to make it better. However, I’m not actually sure that I can do that at the moment. I know that I should, there’s a part of me that even wants to, but there’s another part of me that is afraid… of losing something… of sacrificing something… that God won’t be there maybe… I’m not even really sure what I’m afraid of. I just know that I’m afraid.

So, I’m going to stop writing about it, and I’m going to take a long, hot shower and take some time to talk to God about all of this. Hopefully he’ll have a solution.

The Way of Breaking Glass

In martial arts there are many ‘ways’. Aikido means ‘The Way of the Harmonious Spirit’, Karatedo means ‘The Way of the Empty Hand’, Tae Kwon Do means ‘The Way of Fist and Foot’, Kendo means ‘The Way of the Sword’, Tang Soo Do means ‘The Way of the Chinese Hand’, Judo means ‘The Gentle Way’, Kuntai means ‘The Way of the Fist’, Ninjutsu means ‘The Way of Stealth’, etc. Obviously there are many martial arts that don’t include ‘way’ in the name, but each includes it’s own philosophy or fundamental concept. Of course, we all have a philosophy of life as well which might also be described as a ‘way’, and every culture has a philosophical underlay that might be described as a ‘way’.

The title of this post is, I think, the best way to describe the underlying philosophy of American culture for the past three or so generations. Just like the names of many of the above martial arts, I chose this name for a specific purpose. Just like glass the philosophy of American culture emphasizes appearances over strength or usefulness. American culture develops people that generally look good, but are very fragile. In part this is because we emphasize self-esteem over confidence. As a culture we have convinced ourselves that self-esteem is the most important part of human development. However, self-esteem is based on our view of ourselves in comparison to others. We build our self-esteem by being ‘better’ that someone else.

I am reminded of a woman I passed in the park perhaps a year ago. This was a minor incident, but one that has stuck in my mind. This woman was walking with her child, trying to reassure him because he wasn’t doing well in math. The boy was suitably distraught, feeling that he was dumb and worthless, but the mother, instead of guiding him to areas in which he excelled, consoling him that math wasn’t the end all and be all of everything, or explaining to him that our worth doesn’t come from our appearance or abilities, exclaimed the he was the ‘smartest fifth grader in the world!’ A claim that obviously wasn’t true, even to the boy himself. Instead of actually reassuring her son that perhaps he didn’t have to be the best in math, the woman propped up a demonstrably false and very fragile image of excellence. We train ourselves to ‘look like the best’, instead of understanding that being ‘my’ best at something doesn’t necessarily mean being ‘the’ best as something.

Similarly, like broken glass, Americans are full of sharp edges. In general we are fragile, easily broken, and very quick to hurt others in order to boost our own self-images. In focusing so heavily on appearances we have developed into a culture filled with insecure people who look good, but have very little to offer. We have to be right, we have to be the best, we have to excel, and if anyone tells us that we aren’t or don’t then we accuse them of jealousy, bigotry, targeting us, or any number of other horrible things. We seek out people that are weaker, dumber, poorer, uglier, or in some other way ‘less’ than ourselves, and trade the ability to actually ‘get’ better for the questionable boon of spending time with people who make us look good. There is nothing wrong with taking the time to actually help others, but there is something wrong with avoiding the chance to be better in order to avoid looking worse.

I use the word ‘breaking’ instead of the word ‘broken’ to emphasize the continual nature of this insecurity. We are continually breaking and repairing our images, continually hurting others to rebuild our own broken pride. I have used the term ‘we’ throughout this post because, while I’ve been the recipient of immature, insecure behavior plenty of times, I’ve also dished it out plenty of times. I recognize this way in my own life and, while I’m trying to change it, I’ve been seeing lately how much work I have left to do.

I’ve come a long way over the past decade, but I have so much farther to go that sometimes the distance simply staggers me. I am consistently amazed by God’s patience, love, and intent in my life, and eternally thankful for the time that he has and is putting into me.

Seriously?!

What is wrong with you people?! I am doing my best to keep my post count above my follower count, and you people keep following me. I do not understand this in any conceivable way, but it is a serious amount of work to keep up. I get my post count up, and then a bunch of new followers appear. It’s really very annoying. Anyway… jerks… okay, I really am done now.

I just read yesterday’s post and realized that I seriously need to take my own advice. I think it was a good post, a little ‘high and mighty’, but the ideas in it are solid. Here’s the thing though, I talk about doing hard things, and being confident in things that we’ve earned, working hard, developing a legitimate, realistic confidence instead of the insecure confidence that so many of us live with. All of these are good things, necessary things, things that we should be doing. The thing is, a lot of the time I don’t.

I’m just as American as anyone else, and just as insecure as any other American. I like to be comfortable, and I hate feeling like I’m less than someone else. I want my confidence to be validated, and that the problem. Real confidence doesn’t need to be validated, it understands what it is and where it stands. I love being right, and I love being respected, and I love it when people listen to me, but when I have to be the one who does the listening… too often I try to avoid it.

This is the ridiculous part. I’m finally getting to a point where I’m happy, where I actually like myself, and yet all too often I still want others to validate me. To some degree I think this is natural. We all want to be liked, respected, validated, etc, but when that becomes my focus and I avoid doing the hard things… then really I stop growing.

This summer has been hard so far, and I think that’s a good thing, but God still has to make me do hard things. He still has to force me into them, even though I encourage other people to do the hard things. In the end… I’m a hypocrite. However, I’m hoping to change that, little by little.