Like attracts like. Seems like a cliche. Surely the people who came into my life got there by chance, and of course, to some degree people with like interests and backgrounds will come together. But, any time I found myself asking why these kinds of people again, why are these types all around me, all I had to do is look a little deeper at my intentions and my actions. Yes, I might have said on some late night that I wanted to wake up and be surrounded by a bunch of cosmic, liberal-minded Christians who were a lot like Thomas Merton. However, there were too many old patterns of thought and behavior still running in the background. I ended up in yet another work or church environment where everyone was more like me than I was willing to admit.
The work environments were probably the hardest to face. At the translation company, people had been there for so long that they all started to act like each other or bring people they were like into the fold. If you were the GM and her sales team, you were blonde and probably female and Christian. Many of the women downstairs in operations were angry, bitter and probably Christian. The editing department was full of bitter old men, who were atheists for the most part, and a couple of young guys who were quietly hanging on for something better. My department, the Production Department, which was a poor man’s desktop publishing unit, was full of mostly atheists, humanists, non-religious, with the exception of two older ladies. We took to our kind and didn’t mix well with those who weren’t of our kind. It was an enormous step for me to go from Production to Sales, and I never fit in with the Sales team.
When I moved to the non-profit, I expected there to be at least a few souls like me who were Christian, but ones motivated to do some social good instead of just happily ignore the poor and give to their smooth-talking pastors. There was an Egelical who stood out like a sore thumb, and a few other Christians who turned out to be Christians like me, but I didn’t even know they were such until later–like, years later when I was still connected with them on Facebook. Again, I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to insert myself in a community of like-minded individuals.
It was to be the same story at a lot of other places–the people I got along with best and who seemed to be on the right track when it came to caring about others turned out to be atheists. Partly, I get that this is due to the fact that I have chosen to participate in a strand of Christianity that is not necessarily the most popular one in this country. I vote Democrat almost exclusively, I generally agree with the need for better science education in our schools, don’t question the theory of evolution or the age of the universe. I am almost always on the left on any social issue. Perhaps where I differ the most is largely around abortion and the ability for government to be a panacea for all of our problems (but, I think that most people who call themselves conservative want the government to solve all of our ills as much as a lot of liberals do, it’s just that they have a completely idea of what ails us and where/how to spend the money). At any rate, I think more like a lot of atheists do when it comes to the material and social world. My inner world, which is my business and where I depart from atheists, is primarily a spiritual one, and Jesus has been the answer for a lot of my questions for many years.
To be for sure, I don’t broadcast my Christianity to everyone like a lot of Egelicals do, but I generally don’t broadcast my politics, either. It could be that we all just end up feeling comfortable around certain people. However, there are a lot of people I’ve felt comfortable around in work places who turn out to be miles away on matters of faith. My theory is that while I have spent some time trying to change to be more like the person I hope to become, a lot of the old habits and the old self still linger on. On some level that is mostly under the surface of conscious thought, I still am inclined to swear and use the Lord’s name in vain and think about the world from the point of view of the callow youth who was mad at the world and sought authenticity by way of how rebellious or punk someone was.
You might think that this isn’t really much of a big deal, or shouldn’t be for me. After all, I have met my wife who tracks pretty closely to me on spiritual and political issues, as far as I can tell. I have very slowly made inroads in the church environment, though the progress is about to be reset as we move away from this town. I have managed to get a lot of the old me cordoned off and pushed to the dustbin, in spite of the occasional temper flare-up or descent into some other un-Christian thought or behavior pattern. I am more inclined to resort to prayer at least once during the day, instead of waiting until night or morning.
It’s sort of like a large water-filtering tube like the one I remember from Chemistry class. I think it was primarily a charcoal filter, but had some other filtration in it. At the bottom was the pure water. The bottom is where the self I show the world resides. I am not talking about my core Self as I know that self to be, but the true Me of the world. As someone who very much hates the sight of an inauthentic person, I often do try to play my cards close to the vest and keep a tight control over what I reveal about myself. But, in spite of that, the world is going to see not whatever I am putting in at the top, but the end result of what has percolated through many years of good and bad habits around thoughts, words and deeds.
I don’t know anything at all about Chemistry and water filters, but for the sake of my analogy, I’ve dumped some other chemical into the filter in the past and it is still percolating through, even as I poor water into it. I am working to get the other chemical dumped out at the bottom, and no longer put any more of it in at the top, but old habits die hard. The pure water I want people to see is just not there yet.
Speaking of inauthentic people, I was reminded of one fellow I worked with at the non-profit. He was a relentless promoter of the self. He knew it, but like a lot of other self-promoters in the non-profit community, tried to masquerade it behind promoting the mission of the non-profit and broadcasting out how much good he was doing in the community. Maybe I was just seeing your average community organizer face-to-face–your guy who is good at mobilizing a crowd with charisma and words, but then goes and schmoozes with the politicians and business leaders while the crowd disperses to do the actual work. I never saw the guy sign up to get his hands dirty. He would probably argue that he had done those things when he was in college, and now he has advanced to be a thought leader and community organizer.
I couldn’t say whether such a mentality is valid or not. I don’t think you are going to change the world if you only sign up to beautify parks, mentor kids and work in soup kitchens, but I do think you are going to see firsthand what needs changing and keep yourself more authentic if you at least do some of those things now and then while you take a break from your consortiums and seminars. But, that’s my opinion. Almost everyone loved the guy, or at least took him as he was at face value. I liked the guy, or tried to. But, I could see that there was a lot of him under the surface that wasn’t much like the friendly, happy guy he projected. I think that he was able to see that I tended to look below the surface at people for their authentic selves, and he didn’t like it. He wanted friends, associates and partners who responded to his personality–or maybe just a persona, if you will.
Clearly, it worked for him most of the time. Most people do take you at face value, and if you are projecting a lot of kindness and graciousness and happiness out past whatever demons are lurking underneath, they will see you as being an upstanding person. If you are someone like me, who has been inclined to clean up the demons and not try to fool people too much, you will probably project an air of hiding something or even project out some of the demons. In the short run, I’ve been pretty miserable with my approach. I think it will eventually pay off huge dividends for me…but, I have missed a lot of opportunities to connect with people who I think might have been good for me to have as friends…or lovers back when I was single.
What’s more, I have begun to see some value in projecting a smiley face even when there isn’t much of a smiley guy underneath. A lot of time, I am at utter peace with myself, and am feeling pretty neutral. However, I have whatever the male equivalent of resting bitch face is, and people seem to think I am utterly miserable and pissed off all the time. So, I have to project some happiness just so that people see I am not pissed off. Complete and utter peace for me isn’t a state of euphoria. Euphoric states brought on by artificial stimulation–be it just getting myself psyched up or imbibing some chemicals are not peace, and they tend to have negative backlashes at the end of them.
But, that is something else I should be working on, too. While there might be Newton’s Third Law in place for our physical universe, there is no law saying that after a period of intense joy, when the feeling dissipates, you must now commence a period of intense sorrow. I have learned to start catching myself when I want to dive into a pool of sorrow. It has felt right for so long to go there, whether after a time of happiness or after a time of anger when I lose my temper and feel bad about it, or after a time when I screwed up socially. But I am learning that you don’t have to go there if you don’t want to. Because, once you do decide to go into the pool of sorrow, you are kind of stuck there and it can pull you in pretty deep into a world of self-defeating negativity.
This is exceptionally different from faking it until you make it, or just pretending to be positive-minded until the negativity goes away. It is about paying extremely close attention to what is going on inside of you, and making micro-tweaks to the flapping butterflies that are on the verge of sending you into hurricanes of depression or anger.
I used to be rather hypercritical of the self-promoting types following my departure from the non-profit world. They are certainly not the kinds of people I am ultimately hoping to become, but I wouldn’t say they are bad for non-profits or the community, either. Everyone in their twenties and thirties is hustling, trying to have a career, and will often do and say things they never thought they would do or say. The demons that the self promoter is trying to avoid having to deal with will be there for her someday–I feel sorry for anyone who is putting that day off until they retire, but it’s really none of my business if a person has chosen to make an artificial shelf of a persona be who they are for this world, and keep that shelf as separate from their real self (examined or not) as possible.
I don’t have a complete grasp on how my self of this life connects with a higher Self who connects with God. I think that there is probably some of that percolating going on with the higher Self, the immortal Self, as much as there is with the true self of this world that people see on display via so much non-verbal communication. By percolating, I mean that the thoughts, words and deeds of this life do matter and do change the Self. If it were utterly immutable, then what would be the point of even being alive here?
But, I wouldn’t even begin to say I know what I need to know about the world beyond this one. I would like to think that we will be treated a bit nicer than all of those graphic descriptions of wheat and chaff. I, for one, feel like most days I would probably be tossed into the eternal fire if I died that day. I mean, for sure, I have accepted Christ into my heart and believe in Him in a way that is deeper than simply believing in His existence, as the devils do. Yet, I am nowhere near ceasing some of my patterns of behavior that cause me to sin. I think I am still at least ten years away from getting through a lot of my shit. Which is to say, I am now at the age of 40 your average man–not a bad man, mind you, but only a good and decent man by most worldly standards. By God’s standards, I’m pretty lousy, I would think.
I may be too hard on other Christians. I have often expected more from them, as I think I probably should, but much of their and my behavior that seems so incongruent with the behavior of Jesus could be the result of them doing as I am doing–trying to be real with ALL of me, not just my lovely public persona. If you don’t believe in a soul, and think that your unconscious self is just a wasteland, and that the you you present to the public really is the only you there is, then you might be most inclined to craft and perfect your so-called personality. Though I think even someone like this will at times have glimpses into something deeper inside of them, or catch someone else having the glimpse, and grow extremely uncomfortable because they are doing nothing whatsoever to change who they really are inside. I wouldn’t be capable of speaking for all Christians, but there must be at least a few who like me are striving to know their deeper selves and change those selves even if it means unleashing the ravening wolves now and then. Better to get the ravening wolves out and met and dealt with in this life, I suppose.
One more insight that came to me regarding how like attracts like concerns the fact that a lot of the people in the workplace who I gravitated towards were people who, like me, had been raised in pretty religious homes of some sort, be they Egelical or Catholic. And so, it may not just be my learned patterns of behavior as a mostly agnostic during my teens and twenties that are affecting my non-verbal presentation of self, but also the deeper things we all learned as children that we have tried to run away from, namely proper Christian ways of treating each other. Or, to be more succinct, a light was lit in many of us once a time and many of us tried to put the light out, but it still shines on, hoping to be set up on the hill again some day.