Sunday, December 30, 2007

You Too Can Be Your Own Action Hero!

Maybe I've been too hard on us monkeys. After all, maybe our insanity, if that's what it is, is there for a good reason. Maybe our insanity is a survival mechanism, there to protect us from our enemies!

A new translation of Milton's Paradiso has just been published. One reviewer of the book has pointed out the fundamental problem of trying to tell the story of paradise. The story has no villains and therefore no tension. We need villains in our stories, it turns out.

That's a hard lesson considering we can consider the reality we live in to be a story, one we tell ourselves, both individually and collectively as we encounter it. No wonder we can relate to stories told on a large screen, stories which have internal structure and enough clues so we can guess what's coming, what to believe in, what to accept as accidental and what as purposeful, and who shades toward the darker side and who toward the lighter.

So we create our villains. If they aren't there, we are more than ready to invent them, insane monkeys that we are.

And life is so much more interesting when we have villains, isn't it. It gives us a reason to get our backs up, to feel superior, to feel victimized, to get angry. It allows us to rationalize and continue indulgence in our negativity. It absolves us of all guilt for our thoughts and actions. After all, our villains have forced us to be reactive, to complain, to gossip, to backbite, in fact to indulge ourselves in all of our bad habits, because, after all, they're our bad habits, and almost define us, and we must be who we are, because they, our villains, are who they are. And whatever we choose to do, if we see it as opposing our villains, is justified. The end justifies the means, and the meaner we think our villains are, the meaner we feel justified in becoming.

And so, little by little, we are able to ratchet ourselves into behavior that, if looked at rationally, there might be little or no reason to indulge in.

Just who are our villains? We may imagine them to be people who, incomprehensively, have adopted ideas and behavior we can't (and aren't willing) to understand: people who eat only vegetables when we eat meat, or vice-versa; people who attend that “other” church; people who cook in their front yards when you would only cook in your backyard. The next door neighbor who, despite generosities in other ways, refuse to cut down a tree you feel threatens your patio or garage. You may start out feeling your villains are on the other side of the globe, until you spot someone at the grocery story who looks like they have come from the other side of the world. Your villains become increasingly more local when you let yourself think in terms of “them” and “us”.

Your life is a story, and you are the principal, maybe the sole, author of that story. If that story's about conflict and anger and even violence, it's because you wrote that into the script. Your villains, big or small, local or distant, are also there because you want them, because you invented them. Good, bad, or indifferent, you must be prepared to live with the story you've created. If in your story, you're the victim, then you are in fact the victim. If in your story, you're the strongman or woman, the one who shames and defeats your enemies, then you will be the vanquishing hero, and all of your enemies will suffer and perhaps even die. If like many, you aren't willing to devise a role for yourself, then you are and will be the passive recipient of the many forces generated by the many stories going on around you.

So I must ask you, if you are willing to author your story, who do you really want to be?

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