Love is a common subject when writing and though this specific idea has not featured in any of my writing it does occur to me often while contemplating love, and I have seen it explored by others.
What happens when one person, in a relationship and possibly even in love with that person meets someone new and falls in love? What if, through the course of human events, that person neglects the original relationship or cannot avoid allowing the new one to blossom to the point that everything compels them towards the new romance?
Does that person honour the obligation to the first person even if that means a passionless, distant relationship moving forward? Does the person embrace what is most important to themselves and make the decision to end the current relationship, however painful that might be for either or both of the parties, knowing that they must pursue this new course and severing that tie is the only fair way to do it for the other person?
I consider it within the framework of love because I consider love a paramount thing. We can leave a philosophical discussion about the existential, absurdist influences on my worldview for another time. What matters for our purposes today is the idea of love, passion, or that which is important to the individual.
It is my considered, albeit layperson opinion that we are each of us at the mercy of our psychology. Any person could be made to do any thing with the correct understanding and application of psychology paired with a thorough understanding of the person. Plant the seeds of ideas, play on our cognitive biases, and, when the time is right, place that person in a situation where of all the options imaginable only the desired one makes the most sense to that person.
We see and hear of people doing unimaginable things all the time. We see a person a think, “What would compel a person to do that?” Yet with the benefit of hindsight we can often reverse-engineer the events leading up to that decision and see at least the shadows of causality, right?
Thus what governs my life is not the simple morality of “choosing the right thing.” In a simplified situation where one has two choices, one good and one bad, a decent person chooses to do the good thing no matter how difficult. What I came to understand as I grew older was that lived experience and other psychology pressures would cause a person to cast the same situation in a new light, in ways that might make the easier or worse option the more appealing or even obvious path.
Living, then, must not only be in the moment, because every moment before will colour how one sees the present. We can divorce our past from our present. This is also at the foundation of my anxiety. If one wear to scale to some ridiculous height, one might have the rational fear, “What if I fall?” The anxiety of my moral-psychology philosophy here is the thought, “What if I jump? What if something in my mind compels me to jump and I reflexively obey?”
This anxiety reflects perhaps no where better in my life than at work.
I have financial obligations that come with living in a society. Unless I want to scrounge as a voluntarily homeless person (and decision that is still punishable by society and therefore unappealing), I must make the decision to adhere to certain obligations. I must pay rent, for example, and taxes associated with that. I pay utilities so that we have water and electricity. We must secure food and, being unable to grow sufficient quantities of our own, we must do that through purchases. And of course student loan debt – we are Millennials.
For all of these things I must work, and I do not object to that arrangement. It seems fair that to receive these things from others I should provide something in exchange.
There exists a calculus to this work arrangement. My wife, who began her career in social work, aided those who were homeless, orphaned, mentally ill, abusing substances, or otherwise debilitated to live a life of basic comfort. For that society compensated her poorly. They did not value that work as much as they did mine, which consisted of collecting data from her efforts and developing charts and graphs through Excel. My knowledge of Microsoft Office granted me considerably more than did her knowledge of rescuing those most at risk.
One might ask where we are now with our careers. My profession sounds like one of analytics or information technology, yes? One would be partially correct. I perform both tasks in that I developed the skills to perform both tasks, though I am officially trained in neither. I have no certifications. My degree is in accounting. I have no interest in the advanced mathematics of analytics or the further study of computing languages.
Computers, in all their logical glory, fascinate me. The human application of computers disgusts me. The way companies collect and sell (or lose) vast amounts of personal data – the ability of peoplr and organisations to leverage psychology the way I described earlier and manipulate people. Yes, I realise this is a pessimistic view if technology, but asking me to change is like asking me to wake up tomorrow and be a Buddhist. I could pretend, but it’s not what I believe. Eventually, pretending breeds resentment.
I allowed my career to develop naturally, choosing a path of least resistance. Now, I’m in a loveless marriage with it. The logical next step from where I am is to pursue advanced statistics or learn some computer languages, neither of which appeals to me. I understand the tangible value of those pursuits, but my heart is not in it.
As in college, my mind looks around for options. “So we don’t do analytics or information technology. We have other options.”
I look at field after field. Not qualified. Not interested. Not qualified and not interested.
I look at things I do enjoy. Writing, philosophy, history – do something with them? Nothing that satisfies my need for routine and relative stability. Research is awful and I listen to my friends who are teachers talk about battles over lesson plans and such. Those politics annoy everybody, but they will drive someone with my mind into depression. I will find no satisfaction in that.
This is my anxiety. The things I enjoy most do not provide the living that I need. The things that provide the living that I would like do not appeal to me.
“That’s part of being an adult,” some of the other adults might tell me. “You just deal with it.”
What if I can’t? What if, in the pursuit of my quality of life, I must sacrifice all of the things important to me? To do their work on their schedule, to be away from home on holidays and arriving home late from work most nights? What if paying rent or a mortgage means working so often that I am never home to enjoy it? What if my life becomes so much about future planning that I never have a life because I wasted it “paying my dues”?
An amateur theory of mine is that one of the causes behind the increase in mental health diagnosis is this evolution in society. Some mental health diagnoses are physical or the consequence of some injury. Many, I believe, are the individual’s response to having no place in the structure of modern society. Our ways of living, guided by the few according to a system that yields the greatest profitability, are at odds with the basic nature of humanity. It drives people to depression, anxiety, paranoia, rage, narcissism, and the like.
For me it is the existential awareness of how I do not fit that drives my anxiety. Like most mental health subjects, this presents no danger to anyone except perhaps myself (always an important teaching point on mental health). I’m conscious of my effect on others and do not wish to despair them with my grief, or to burden them by neglecting my responsibilities. Even at a job where I am miserable, I would never so much as neglect a minor duty because I am aware of how it makes things worse for other people. Not other coworkers. People. Fellow humans who are just doing their part to take care of themselves and those they love.
The idea that my near-constant state of existential crises frustrates, disappoints, saddens, or otherwise upsets others is itself a point of frustration, disappointment, and sadness within myself.
How can one be anything other than who they are? What is anyone to do if who they are does not fit with the design of things?