Choices

I want to laugh out loud, so just pretend I did. Now I’ll tell you why.

A few days ago I wrote a piece about how racism and discrimination can make one want to do horrible things (like bake a disgusting cake to serve your nemesis) and watch them have at it, gleeful in the knowledge that you underhandedly got the upper hand by introducing something they would never touch otherwise. I guess you’d call this the cherry on your passive aggressive cake.

This was a piece of fiction. I never baked such a cake, nor did I ever think of doing so (the mere thought of it churns my stomach). I merely combined some of what I read in Esperanza Rising with some of what I read in The Help, and mixed it up with some fragments of real experiences.

My neighbors weren’t monsters. They really are nice, kind, generous people, who on a couple of occasions did sh**ty things. Who doesn’t? They have insecurities and acted out on some of them on unsuspecting people and got away with it. That’s not nice, but it’s human.

Were the feelings I had real? Yes. But unlike the reaction I expressed in the piece, I rather felt heroic by realizing that whatever they did was a reflection of their own insecurities, and not of my worth. How I chose to react to such ignominies is, likewise, a reflection of what I think I deserve, not of what they think. Like Jesus (PBUH) said: “Treat others the way you want to be treated” (Mohammed (PBUH) also said this btw). I am quite sure they didn’t mean that we should return in kind, although we might have the right to do so, but rather, that we answer to a greater Power, and leading by example never goes to waste.

After publishing that piece, I got messages of concern from some dear friends, who asked if I was ok, if there was anything they could do to help, if these people were real! While I truly appreciate the friendship of these readers, who immediately felt the urge to rescue me from an abyss of negative thoughts and feelings, I am a little surprised that they would take it all at face value. I guess in some sense it’s to be expected, since I don’t often write fiction, but mere thoughts, essays, and other reality-based articles. Also, writing about such vile reactions and experiences might have the unintended side effect of “giving people ideas.” In a way, I guess I should feel elated that I wrote in such a compelling way that people actually thought it was real! But in the end, although fictitious in my case, they are real emotions, and the obnoxious ending might be a real possibility for some. Sometimes, giving to such “unthinkable” possibilities allows them to be exposed for their ridiculousness and futility, and in this sense, it’s a positive exercise. “A Modest Proposal” comes to mind.

But all jokes aside, I am now reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k , which, once you get over all the swearing, is actually quite an insightful book. The author is basically saying, in non-spiritual terms, what religious leaders tell us to do all the time! Part of it, which is what got me to my laptop at this very moment, is that how we choose to react to things happening around us can have a tremendous effect on how we live our lives and how satisfied we feel. Each one of us has a different set of “metrics” by which we measure our successes and failures, and this perspective can make our lives feel great, or awful, depending on how we judge them. This isn’t the same as saying that everything is up to interpretation, or that you need to find the silver lining in everything, but rather that we need to pick our fights, choose what we value, and be true to it, realistically. It’s hard to explain in one or two sentences; you should read the book!

The main point I want to make is that we are not the product of what happens to us, or what we talk (or write) about, or even of what we do. Rather, how we choose to use life’s experiences to make our lives meaningful largely determines how we ultimately feel we have succeeded or failed in life. In other words, taking responsibility for how we choose to react to whatever life throws at us gives us more control over how we feel about it.

I rather enjoyed writing that piece, despite the fact that I used language I disapprove of on a regular basis, not because I stuck it to them, in fact quite the opposite. It was a way of writing out a version of reality the way it might have happened, if I had chosen to take that route. That’s the beauty of fiction: you can write things that you’d never do, not because you want to secretly do them, but because you want to explore the potential effects without suffering the consequences. This in turn exposes the ridiculousness of it all, and brings you back onto your real focus: that kindness is its own reward, and malice its own downfall.

I hope this “disclaimer” doesn’t dampen your like or dislike of my previous piece, and hopefully you’ll feel emboldened to write about something you’ve experienced, and fictionalize it with an unexpected twist, just to see what surfaces! I do think it’s cathartic to write about things, positive and negative, because we often relive our experiences in our heads, but we can never take them back. Actually writing gives you the power to change things, and perhaps accept that, in the end, you’re quite happy with the way things turned out after all! This exercise allows you to check your “metrics” and be a bit more realistic about your expectations. Which, LOL, is sometimes what satire and comedy do most effectively! Enjoy the process!

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