Friday, March 09, 2007

We are the authors of our own story

The first worlds I moved in were entirely created by other people. In fact, I had no concept they had been created at all: they just were. The world of my parents, the world of the classroom, the world of the playground, all existed as places to discover the rules that made survival possible. The quicker these rules were learned, the less pain and humiliation followed.

Then there came a time when I began to realise I could influence these worlds in minute ways, that I could mould small parts of these worlds around me. In some places I could create a Kim-shaped dent.

Gradually I moved from shaping other people’s worlds to creating my own. Granted they were still within the confines of existing ones, but I realised there was space to build worlds that would not have existed had I not been there.

Finally it has dawned on me that I am free to create any world I like. The constraints around me are all human constructs with no great Truth or Authority behind them. Knowingly or unknowingly they are built by other people and we are expected to conform to the rules they lay down, even though they are nothing more than words and chalk lines.

Because we are trained to follow; to trust those who speak loudly or confidently enough; to assume that other people know what they are doing and that we are the only people in the world who are clueless; to live in fear that one day we will be found to be lacking; we believe these words and chalk lines to be high walls with guards and electric fences. We internalise these beliefs to the point where we don’t even attempt to step across what are nothing more than chalk lines in a playground.

But now I know, now I finally understand, that if I draw my chalk lines and speak with enough confidence then I can create whatever world I want and it will be as real as any other. I can be the hero of my own story, and I can create any story I please.

25 comments:

PI said...

Self belief is so helpful. Years of nursing gave me an involuntary air of authority which has been enormously uesful at times. I may be a quivering jelly inside but people have been known to look to me for direction - which never fails to amaze me.
after my first driving lesson the instructor said 'When you got in the car I thought you were going to be hopeless but you are quite good.'
That taught me a lot about body language and helped me impress the examiner when I took my test.

Carole said...

Hopefully the stories you create will either only involve you or will follow some constraints (chalk lines if you will) that already exist. For instance you can jump off a forty story building and the truth of gravity will end your story quickly. But it will not end the story for your wife or children. They will suffer for years. I think if you are a genuinely good person, creating your own world might be okay, but perhaps I have seen/experienced to many damaged people, survivng other peoples steps over the chalk line of good decent behavior. I think there is no possible way to not live in chaos if there is no authority, no truth.

SheBah said...

Kim, everything you say is so true. Too many people blindly follow rules without question (you only have to look at the SS for a perfect historic example). I think you should always question rules. If there is a good reason for them it will be pretty obvious. I have absolutely no time for the excuse "It's not my fault, I was only following orders". Obviously one doesn't disregard rules that may damage or disrespect other people, but down with sheep, I say!

justin barker said...

That's it! Banish the police man from your heart!

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

kim, I haven't read this yet because there's no time. You have to go and check out this project at Troubled Diva's now!

http://troubled-diva.com/labels/rednoseday.html

Mary Witzl said...

It is odd, but some people seem to have this attitude from a very early age. My daughter was born creating her own world, making a Hannah-shaped dent, as it were. I was born timid, nervous about my own impact on the world, fearful of creating any kind of world of my own. I still can't figure out how I got such a confident kid. Yes, I like to think that I tried to give her this, but then my mother tried to make me confident and that got her nowhere. Is confidence inherent in our natures?

I came back from my first day at school horrified to have been the tallest girl in my class. My daughter came back from her first day at school filled with pride: she was the tallest KID in her class and had found that she was strong enough to pick up every single boy; only one of the boys could lift her. All I could do was look at her and wonder where she got her confidence.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I like the progression you used in this post, going from childhood to adulthood and the realisations that help us to become autonomous, confident adults. It's wonderful you've been freed up to live fully as an adult who's realised that he is master of his own destiny and happiness and the happiness of other. Some people are never able to be as comfortable as that in their own skin. I know that you think deeply and feel much and that you've earnt this realisation. It's lovely to hear how positive you sound.

I think, like everything though, it is a question of degree, and please do know that I don't mean you when I say the following:

Creating your own story without regard to societal restraints is cool but taken too far can also be called being mad. Or it can be called being George Bush: there's a man who created his own story and lived it while all the world was screaming at him to stop. You could call his self-belief arrogance or self-delusion. I doubt he even realises when it happened, or even, if he ever will.

Here's a story from my own life that might explain my point of view better than I'm doing: When i was a student in Glasgow there was a year I drove myself very hard in a perfectly rational way. I was living on the outskirts of Glasgow, about 5 or 6 miles from the university. I got up every morning at 6, and rather than take the 2 buses it takes to get into uni, I walked, because walking's healthy and I was saving money too. I was at uni 'til 1pm and then I went to work a full-time job in the union kitchens. I knew I was being sensible and hard-working. And then at 8pm I would walk 5 miles back to Renfrew. At ten pm I'd have turnip, carrots and broccoli for tea because they're healthy. I would have a yoghurt for protein and go and study 'til 1am on the dot. At weekends I'd walk into the uni gym or library and be home by 8.

As time went on, I started carrying heavier and heavier books I didn't need in my backpack for uni, because I was undisciplined if I couldn't even make myself do that. I was walking through Govan every day - one of Glasgow's roughest spots and the degradation got me down, I knew that. I was surprised one day though when a wee girl I'd never seen before asked me on my way into the walking bit of the tunnel under the Clyde, why do you cry a lot? I hadn't realized I was ever crying but I realised I was, even as she asked me this. How could I not know that? Never mind - brush it under the carpet. Friends worried so I cut myself off from them (part of the reason I moved to Renfrew); and over the phone i sounded fine, if a little tired, to my parents. I had a great year academically and won a Cell Biology prize and some money; I saved all kinds of money (I was saving to come to America) and achieved all the things I'd wanted to that year. At Easter, I went home to Lewis after completing my final year thesis. normally I would have gone by bus and ferry the long way but my parents got me a plane ticket home as a treat. My mother took one look at me as I came off the plane and called the doctor. I slept for almost 2 days straight and can't remember all that much for the bit after I woke up. I ended up in the psychiatric ward, catatonic, as the nurse told me after. I was there for 3 weeks and avoided ECT only because I had powerful advocates against it on my side. My mother had it at 16 and it made her far more aggressive from that point on. My uni professor's daughter had had it and a similar reaction to my mother's. He wrote a letter and in the end i saw my mother's psychiatrist who gave me the extra time I needed for my medications to work properly. The point is that throughout I was convinced that my way was the right and only way for me. I didn't feel overtly unhappy, I was just busy. I was accomplishing all sorts, wasn't I? Why were my friends conspiring to stop that. I grew increasingly paranoid. My own world which i felt at liberty to create for myself bit me in the backside, hard. I never saw it coming, I couldn't see the damage I was doing to my health. I was happy in a wierd kind of a way. I don't feel the need to talk or think about it much and is so dissociated now as to make it seem as if it happened to someone else.

But ignoring the chalk lines got me into a lot of trouble.

The way you structured this post emphasizes how striking it is that, as children, when our imagination is wider and freer than it'll ever be again, we are so tied. As we age and gain more personal freedom, our horizons shrink and we think a lot smaller. I'm wondering if there is some sort of natural safety mechanism in that; that some of society's chalk lines are there to prevent our worlds from adversely affecting the often overlapping worlds of others.

You're right, authority ought not be taken as Gospel, probably on most topics, but I know that if I'm not as informed as someone else, say the obstetrician who helped birth my children, it's best left to experts in their worlds.

Done it again 'mafraid, Kim. Another mammoth comment. I don't know why I always do that here!

Great post, Kim. Thought-provoking as always.

quinn said...

This post was very inspirational for me. I continue to learn and grow from reading the words you write. I am working on finding my own self confidence one day at a time.

Spider63 said...

Speaking with confidence is the key.

Anonymous said...

Creating our own world? Hmm. Needs our own "country" to do that really. If I really created the world that I'd want, I would imagine that the people here saying in general "Good on anyone who steps outside the lines" would leap on me and hang me as quick as they could. We'll find that people who praise those who step over the lines, are only willing to allow it if it is actually inside "their" lines.

Kim Ayres said...

This post is just the briefest of outlines of a concept that has become clear to me over the past week or so, and I wanted to put something down about it. I could probably quite easily write an entire book, but that wouldn't fit into a digestable blog post.

Because there is so little detail in this post, and just the outline of an idea, what I find interesting is that the responses echo the thought patterns of the commenters so clearly - it's almost like the Ink Blot test where what people see relates to their own subconscious fears and desires.

Some are encouraged by the potential freedom where others see danger.

To the anonymous commenter, I have no idea if you are a regular reader, someone passing through, or someone I know who is scared of me knowing their identity. If you come back, I would encourage you to leave a name - I prefer conversations to have a personal element.

Kim Ayres said...

Pat - Self belief comes from how much control we feel we have in any situation. Some people empower us and some seek to disempower us

Carole - Don't worry,I'm not attempting to defy the laws of gravity. Primarily I'm tlaking about social structures and human behaviour. I'm not even saying that chalk lines are a bad thing - we need structures and frameworks of reference in order to function. Where the problem comes is when we mistake these frameworks for reality and truth. Some of these narratives benefit us, and some only benefit those who would constrain us. When we realise that they are all man-made, then people can not have the same level of power over us.

Shebah - From a young age we are trained to follow orders. Why should we be so surprised when people do? Indpendent thought is like a muscle that needs to be exercised- first you have to realise you have it, then you have to use it

Justin - if you see the policeman as an arm of the oppressive state control, then absolutely!









Kim Ayres said...

Mary - Our views of the world are shaped by those around us, especially our parents and siblings when we are younger. Sounds to me like you must be doing something right :)

Sam - Thank you for taking the time to write such an indepth comment - I really appreciate it.

What it says to me is that you were unaware of other narratives, or chalk lines, that you were responding to. And this is one of my key points. It is only when we become aware of the constraints that have been placed on us can we really do anything about them. Many of our ideas about how we should behave are placed so deep that we have internalised them and don't even know we respond to them. They are as unconscious as our heart beating. But when we start investigating our behaviour, if we look in the right way we can begin to uncover these internalised chalk lines. It's not always easy and it certainly doesn't happen overnight, but the more we find, the more we can step away from them and be free.

Quinn - thank you for your kind words.

Spider - Understanding what is going on underneath is the key. That will then help you to speak with genuine confidence.

justin barker said...

Oppressive state control starts from within.

Kim Ayres said...

It cannot begin to succeed if we don't doubt ourselves enough.

restaurant gal said...

The best thing about chalk: It comes in pretty pastel colors, too, and it washes away so easily when it rains. Chalk lines are impermanent lines, thank goodness. --The Gal

Dr Maroon said...

I’ve printed this off so I can mull it over. You may be onto something here.

Jen said...

Well said! I've always said that if you act like you know what the hell you're talking about, people will think that you do. As usual, though, you've said it more thoughtfully and eloquently than I ever could!

Dr Maroon said...

The quality of the comments is tremendous.
You've done something here today.
Something good.
I've totally hijacked a theme from here, by the way. Couldn't help myself.

Attila The Mom said...

Wow. Really. Wow.

Gonna have to go think this one over.

Kim Ayres said...

Restaurant Gal - I'll maybe expand on this point in a later post, but actually my point about chalk lines is that we stay within the boundaries long after they have been wahsed away - we internalise them to the point that we don't even know they are there anymore

Dr Maroon - I need to write another post on this, then I'll be over to comment on yours

Jen - we're conditioned to believe those who speak with confidence. It's like the the fact that the greatest disguise that will get you into just about anywhere is a white coat and a clipboard. everyone will assume you are supposed to be there and no-one will question you in case you write their name down.

Attila - your thoughts are always welcome

Spider63 said...

Sometimes knowing what is underneath is not a confidence builder. So where do you go to build up what is lacking?

Kim Ayres said...

Knowing what's underneath gives you knowledge, and knowledge, especially self-knowledge, is power.

If you know how you are being manipulated, you are in a better position to stop it from happening. If you know your weaknesses you can more easily avoid putting yourself in situations where they will play against you.

Once you accept who you truly are and what you are capable of, you can create yourself in any guise you want. It doesn't happen overnight, but you can programme yourself over time.

Create a clear vision in your mind of who you want to be - the kind of person you can feel proud of. Create this image in your mind, maybe write it down, draw it, create a symbol representing it or even a ritual that helps you focus on it - whatever is most powerful for you. Then every day write/draw/enact your vision. This way you programme yourself to become that person.

Become the kind of person you can be proud of, someone you would want as your best buddy, the kind of person who if you met you would think - I want to be like him.

Then your confidence will grow like nothing else.

gleaner said...

Just visiting via Eryl's blog - love some of your posts and this one is great at illuminating how narratives shape our lives. I'll return for more reading.

Kim Ayres said...

Gleaner - welcome to my ramblings and thank you for taking the time to comment.

I'm pleased you enjoyed this post. There are (at the point of this comment of mine) over 500 posts on this site covering philosophy, religion, mental health, and inane ramblings. Do use the Labels system on the menu bar, and I hope you find more posts of interest :)