2/12/2010 | Share this article:By Carl S --
On Thanksgiving day, 2009 my wife and I went for dinner at a couple’s place. The husband’s brother and his wife, both high I.Q.‘s (she a retired college teacher), were there from California. I had several interesting private discussions with both of them. She was apparently into some new age spirituality. As we were leaving, I remarked that, “I’m happy with myself just the way I am.” This stunned her, judging by the reaction of her wide-eyed face. Later on that evening, the thought came to me that this is a great way to be and speak out.
Now, you’re thinking, “Who gives a damn if you’re happy or not with yourself?” Well, go into a church, temple, mosque, look at all the “self- help” books at your local library and bookstore, tune into Dr. Phil, pick up tracts by every religion, and you’ll find out fast. They all have one message in common: There’s something innately wrong with you that’s in need of fixing and/or, perfecting.
But, you can’t sell a product to someone, on a say so alone, to someone who is perfectly satisfied with what he already has. Usually, you have to make that person discontented, as selling autos or Playboy bunnies, for examples. Being happy with myself , with the way I am (no thanks to, and in spite of Jesus, the Dalai Lama, etc.), doesn’t mean I’m “perfect” (whatever that means) or “forgiven” by some abstract fantasy I’ve never known, and am incapable of relating to, because I leave such things to the mentally ill. No, I’m much too involved with reality, including being realistic about myself and all my mistakes, dumb decisions, rash judgments, even hurtful ones I’ve made and will undoubtedly make in the future. On the other hand, I find this attitude a good one towards other people, not expecting anyone else to be perfect either. Just don’t expect me to forgive the malicious actions, the injustices, against other human beings, whether by tyrants, well-meaning people, or the religious righteous. For being a caring animal often means, even demands, becoming angry. There is none who can dictate how I must think and feel. My feelings are my own and they tell me who I am; I recognize, not deny them.
And being happy being myself? What’s wrong with that? Tell me that I must love the taste of eggplant, the music of Mozart, want to be a better person, by your standards, whoever you are, copy Jesus, Mohammed, bow myself down, prostrate myself, and I’ll ask, “Are you crazy?” Waste your own time, life, on religion. Cripe, if I were a god and had a choice of any era to be born in, wouldn’t this be a great one, after 150 years of evolutionary evidence, space journeys, wonderful advances in communications, medicine, etc, etc, rather than a time when everyone around me believed that demons caused epilepsy and schizophrenia, neighbors slaughtered each other, where people crapped into a hole in the ground, and wiped their asses with who-knows-what?
When I was in the Trappist monastery, there was a weekly practice , a tradition carried from the very beginnings of monastic life, called self-flagellation, where you beat yourself with a whip made up of knotted cords, in some kind of penance for your “sins”. This was supposed to make you a better person, as was fasting. You don’t let someone else beat you, you do it to your own unworthy self. (Don’t laugh. In Spain, on a certain religious festival, they do it with metal hooks attached.) Fasting, “self-denial”, public penance, public and private “confessions”- you name it. (And there’s egotism in being that way, beneath the surface. Look at me, I’m a bad boy, forgive me, a god came down from his place of heavenly bliss to have himself tortured and murdered for my paltry sins, that’s how important they are.) Even when people become ex-Christian, there’s still that inadequacy mentality pulling and poisoning, covertly or overtly, via preacher, culture, well-meaning friends. They’re victims of that same scam tradition. One wants to shout, “Stop beating yourself!”
Reminds me of a young guy I knew who was built like a linebacker. When he was growing up, his father would beat him (his father was a small man). He told me he trembled in his father’s presence even as an adult.
Allow me to tell you about when I was really bad, at the age of seven.(This was after my mom told me I had to go to confession, and I said I couldn’t think of what to confess, and she said “Make something up.”) All of a sudden, I was “playing hooky,” getting beaten regularly at night with the strap, and so unpopular and “odd” that I was picked on. And when I came home with a bloody nose, my mom insisted that I must have done something to provoke the boys. I stole from her purse, using the money to buy friends. One day, a local merchant phoned the house to ask my mom how I got a twenty-dollar bill, and this was in 1944!
One day I looked in the mirror, stared myself right in the eyes, and said over and over, “You know, I’m happy with myself, I’m really happy with myself the way I am.” How this “badness” came to be was only cleared up with me many years later, and not revealed to my mother until she was 84 years old. My parents had a habit of asking me to run errands to the local grocery store a few blocks away, to pick up chips or root beer, things like that. On the way back from one such trip, at dusk, a young man asked me to help him change a tire. Oddly, he led me into the back of the nearby church, and made me perform oral sex on him, and he did likewise to me. I do feel sorry for pedophiles, even now, but this experience really screwed me up in ways I could never had predicted. All the time I spent in grade school, I never went to the rest room if someone else was already there or would be. And my parents would have been of no help since their attitudes made them unapproachable, and besides, if you “acted up”, then punishment was the only way to deal with you. Spare the rod... Well, we moved not long after that, but the trauma went with me, buried but gradually eroding away.
Growing up in the years until my teens, I’d have to admit I enjoyed myself, with my young brother and the countryside. I think my parents were happier, too; my dad got drunk, but our bedroom must’ve been too far away for him to hear us.
Research is showing that most violent offenders in prison were beaten as children, during formative years, and that damage to the brain’s prefrontal cortex can cause non-empathy, indifference to the feelings of others, and antisocial behavior. This damage is greatest in psychopathic killers.(Meanwhile, prison ministers are visiting to tell prisoners that something is wrong with them and needs fixing, and guess who and what is going to “save” them from themselves!?)
One day I looked in the mirror, stared myself right in the eyes, and said over and over, “You know, I’m happy with myself, I’m really happy with myself the way I am.” I’m still smiling whenever I think about it. It’s not someone else’s affirmation, but a fact I live with. Such a great responsibility and freedom!