On Attraction and Rejection
We live in a culture that bombards us with messages about who we are almost all our waking moments. One of the main themes behind these messages is, “you are not good enough.” I don’t know if it is possible to grow up being bombarded by this message–not just from the media, but from the people in our lives (friends, family, teachers, coaches, bosses, etc.)–without coming to believe it about ourselves, at least a little bit. I think this is the reason that most of the people I know put a lot of effort into making themselves more desirable to others in order to attract the people they want as friends and family. I do this too.
In order to describe this phenomenon I am going to use the metaphor of food, specifically, of coating oneself in sugar in order to be more appetizing to the real and imagined objects of our desire. The problem with coating oneself in sugar is that it doesn’t only or even necessarily attract the people we want into our lives; it attracts anyone who is hungry; the hungrier the more attracted by the quick sugar rush we offer. The inevitable consequence of this strategy seems to be that we become increasingly surrounded by the starving, because they will try the hardest and the longest, forming a plaque around our person, blocking access for the merely peckish and frightening away all but the most desperate competitors. If this state of affairs is allowed to continue to its logical conclusion we will be eaten alive. I’ve seen this happen, and it’s not a pretty sight.
Fortunately, for most of us, our survival instincts kick in and, after escaping and repairing the damage, we develop filtering strategies to protect us from such cannibalism. The two main filtering strategies I have come across as well as employed myself are: 1) becoming a more acquired taste — by reducing the amount of sugar coating, substituting a less immediately gratifying and addictive substance, and/or mixing some (high quality, well-aged) vinegar in with the sweet; and/or, 2) building a more closely guarded gate by learning to spot the warning signs of potential danger in those surrounding us and rejecting these threats, either actively or, more commonly because it’s easier, passively.
Of these two strategies, I believe the first one is more compassionate, as the second one involves rejecting someone who was attracted, however unintentionally, by our actions. It is easier for other people to hurt their feelings on this strategy. That’s right! I don’t believe it is necessary to be hurt by rejection, or at least to remain hurt after our initial reaction. We remain hurt from rejection for two reasons: 1) we hold the other persons rejection of us as externally valid; and/or, 2) we feel loss at the removal of our imagined future with this person in it enriching our lives.
In truth, the person we desire owes us neither acceptance nor their company. To think otherwise is to be presumptuous and entitled. Furthermore, and more importantly, both of the aforementioned reactions occur entirely within ourselves and, as such, remain under our control if we so chose to exercise it.
I’m far from mastering this control, but what seems to help is being appreciative of all the good things I have in my life and, as much as modern life permits, being fully present. In order to develop and maintain an appreciative attitude I leave notes, both physical and mental, to remind myself to be thankful – for all the people and hard work that led to the food I am putting into my mouth when I eat it; for all the brilliance, innovation and dedication behind the technology that enables me to connect to the rest of the world and be a part of communities of affinity, unhampered by physical limitations, when I am online; for my good fortune at having a soft, warm bed in a safe, comfortable apartment when I lie down; etc. etc.. In order to remain present and focused (as much as my damaged and deranged flea brain allows) I also leave physical and mental notes reminding me to look, listen, feel, smell and taste what is around me (as appropriate, of course~). Holding something in my hand and trying to feel not just its shape and weight, but also its temperature and molecular make-up is another strategy that works well for me. Feeling the weight of gravity on my feet and legs when standing and on my butt and back when sitting also helps me stay in the present moment. Finally, trying to make sure I fully understand why I am (re/inter)acting in the way I am (re/inter)acting really cut down on unintentional hurt feeling–both mine and those of the people around me.
Of course, like you, but even more so, I am far from perfect. That’s why in doing this I think it is essential to remember that you are just a silly, fancy monkey, and so are all the people around you, so don’t try to be a machine or a god, just try.
Wow, it looks like this essay started out as one thing and turned into something else. That seems to be the way of things when you let them happen.