Guest post: Out of control (and I don’t mind)

June 11, 2008

Hi all 🙂 Curious Bunny here – F and SJ very kindly invited me to guest-blog. Thank you, ladies. It’s nice to be here.

Several recent posts here have discussed fear and control. SJ needs to be in control and taking action to feel calm about her life; F needs to admit her lack of control and turn her life over to a higher power to achieve the same end. This dichotomy got me thinking about whether or not I fear the world, and the extent to which I believe I can control it.

I realised that, when things feel out of control, if there’s nothing I can do to change them, then nothing is exactly what I do.

I usually come out of those self-test religion quizzes looking like a secular humanist. That’s probably a close enough approximation, though perhaps best served with a generous dollop of nihilism. I believe that I was born because my parents (inexplicably, but who doesn’t think that?) got it on, and not for any other reason. I believe that when we die, that’s it. I believe that what you do with the time in between is up to you, and the only consequences of that behaviour will be those mandated by whichever society you choose to live in. I believe that none of this has any real, objective meaning at all, and that any meaning we do project is entirely subjective, egocentric, and in all possibility entirely wrong. To me, even the moral absolutes of our society (societies?) are pretty arbitrary*.

However.

I believe the world is generally a much nicer place when people are nice to each other and obey the (near-universal) basic rules pertaining to good conduct. I believe it’s nicer still when people help each other achieve their potential – experientially, it’s a better ride for all concerned. I don’t think it buys anyone any karmic poker chips, but wouldn’t we all rather have a better time while we’re here? I know I would.

Naturally, when people flout this world view (usually just by being thoughtlessly selfish, but sometimes by more pernicious and organised means), it pisses me off. Some days, I go bury myself in movies or music or writing. Other days – better days – I do something. Email my MP. Vote. Give money to Amnesty. Work myself up into a froth so I don’t forget that the world is fragile and will require my attention if I want it to continue being a nice place to live in.

So despite my belief that it’s all fairly arbitrary, I do believe in taking action, because I think everyone would prefer to lead a positive existence. And I believe that even small actions can have huge consequences. When I act, I don’t do so in a vacuum: I can have an effect on others around me and lead by example, if I behave in a way that encourages that. (And I hope that I do. I find myself in the position of being a potential role-model both at work and in my leisure time; this alarms me, but it would take an amazing lawyer to argue convincingly that I got here by mistake.) Change can start small, in the manner of grassroots campaigns, and swell to become prairie-sized. Most change is incremental: working out can have negligible impact over the course of days or weeks, but over months or years, it can transform your fitness, your shape, your weight, your self-esteem. And those effects have knock-on effects. So when I act small, I don’t expect the results to be small.

Of course, I could just be deluding myself. Seeking to reduce cognitive dissonance by justifying to myself why my actions are small, and not epic. But much as my ego would like me to be an overwhelming force for good in this world, complete with full plate armour, occasionally I need a reality check. So I do the things I can, and try not to beat myself up about the things I can’t. Because in the end, it’s all pretty arbitrary, and while others might find that thought terrifying, I find it oddly comforting.

* though I find merit in some of them. Personally I am a big fan of washing my hands after using the loo and before eating, and of not sleeping with members of my immediate family; YMMV.

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6 Responses to “Guest post: Out of control (and I don’t mind)”

  1. Francesca Says:

    I believe that I was born because my parents (inexplicably, but who doesn’t think that?) got it on

    My parents had sex twice. Once for me, once for my sister. They did not enjoy it and the light was switched off throughout.

    More seriously: you’ve talked about what you believe and what you do, but not so much about how it feels. My decisions in this space are in response to feelings that threaten to overwhelm me, and my impression (which might well be wrong) is that SJ’s is similar. In contrast, you make this sound like a very reasoned procedure. To what extent is this the case?

    Also, I don’t think that washing hands is an arbitrary convention?

  2. curiousbunny Says:

    Clearly, my parents loathed sex even more than yours, since I am an only child 😛

    You’re right – I didn’t talk much about my feelings. I almost never feel overwhelmed by them, so I don’t know how useful this is going to be. I can be quite mercurial in my responses to fear and anger and all the rest of it, but it passes really quickly (in fact the older I get, the more fleeting it is). I don’t consciously do anything to rationalise any of it, though I’m sure there must be something going on under there.

    When I am overwhelmed, I get through it with some variation on “this, too, shall pass”. I go through the motions otherwise the terrorists have already won and wait for my brain to catch up with my body. Sometimes it takes a while: I was, in retrospect, properly depressed for a long time after my mum died, when I was still a PhD student. I spent a lot of days just staying in bed or sitting on the sofa looking at nothing, but I wouldn’t have said I was unhappy. I guess the thing is that even when I am having a shitty time, it’s still interesting, in the way that the pain from a broken bone is interesting. Or at least livable-with. Perhaps I just have quite a high emotional pain threshold. (Of course, when other people are having a shitty time, I feel awful for them. I think I get much more emotional and afraid on behalf of other people than I do for myself.)

    I don’t think washing hands is entirely arbitrary either, but I know that there are people out there (possibly even entire societies) who don’t bother with it, and not all of them have died as a result. Scientifically (and probabilistically) it’s a smart thing to do, but how many of our handed-down rules do we observe because we think we understand the science? Most of them we do because our parents taught us to.

  3. Francesca Says:

    There is a gorgeous quote – I can never remember what it’s from – that goes something like this:

    You never want to think about your parents having sex, because when you are little sex is too disgusting, and when you are older your parents are too disgusting.

  4. curiousbunny Says:

    Ha, yes! I have a vague idea it might be Woody Allen, but not really sure. Thank you 🙂

    I’m sorry if this post wasn’t desperately useful. I realise that it might be hard to relate about fear if you live with it and I rarely experience it.

  5. Francesca Says:

    Oy. I thought we’d established that this post is great.

  6. Francesca Says:

    Also, of course, it is nice to hear that there are people who do live without fear – particularly people that I consider to be kindred spirits. It gives me hope that I might get there one day.


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