I have a lot of time these days to think about my life. It’s a good time to do it, too. I’m not quite 40 yet, but barring any unforeseen circumstances it’s going to happen soon enough. I am at a crossroads in life, having moved back from Hong Kong last year, taking half a year off, getting a job that didn’t work out, and now taking another half year off and counting. It’s about that time when one evaluates where he’s been and where he’s going.
The main conclusion is that despite my age and my experiences, I still very much see the world as my younger and less-experienced self did. I don’t think I’ve grown up. I still surround myself with things from my childhood such as my Sega games and stuffed animals. I tend to be overly idealistic. Despite my experience otherwise, I still expect people and events to behave and turn out a certain way that is unrealistic, and as a result I more often than not end up disappointed and disillusioned. I ask myself whether I want to live the rest of my life feeling like this.
Clinging to Childhood
Last week, I started a cleaning rampage to clean out and dispose of things that take up space that I no longer use. One of these things was my collection of Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo floppy disks, the ones that work with the game copier I mentioned in this post about regretting selling my Genesis games. I had built up this collection in the 90s, and I didn’t want to part with it because I had kept it that long. It was a struggle. There is something special about a thing that’s been kept for decades. It’s not something that’s easily repeatable, and it’s something that won’t come back once it’s gone. And yet, at the same time, if that something is no longer used, then it just takes up space. But it’s not just physical space, is it? It takes up space in me, like I’m clinging so hard to something from adolescence, even though I’m approaching mid-life.
In another recent post I talked about things that we have to unlearn from our parents. Staying at home this past year, I’ve come to realize that our parents tend to (and perhaps want to) infantilize us despite the fact that we’re now in our 30s. Things that adults are supposed to be able to do are treated like some ultra-difficult task and lavish praise is bestowed when it’s done. Whether it’s a narcissistic or a Confucian tactic, it’s a way to keep an adult child thinking like a child child uncertain of her abilities. If I hadn’t seen this happening to a sibling, I never would have done the research and realized it was an actual thing with a formal term. But even though I am now aware of it, I still have to continue to be strong to not let it affect me, or worse, to not do it to myself.
Idealism vs. Realism
Many years ago when I was still working at the longest tenured job I’ve ever had, our company finally grew to a point where it started to offer health insurance. I remember telling my boss that I wasn’t happy with the way the healthcare system works and that I’d rather not have health insurance because I didn’t want to support the system. Her response was, “Yes Jonathan, you’re really going to stick it to them by not buying health insurance”.
When I first attended school in the United States, I ended up being placed a couple of grades above my age due to a placement test. On paper it might seem like something to be proud of (i.e. graduating high school at 16), but in reality it probably made my life more difficult. Because I was two years younger than everyone else (and two years is a lot when it comes to a child’s development), I was socially less developed. That, plus some of the values instilled in me through that point, meant that I had a really hard time relating to people. In the public middle school that I attended, I was picked on frequently. High school was a little bit better (probably due to my school being a magnet school) but still bad.
Because of my experience in school, I learned to treat others the way that I wanted to be treated. It’s really no fun being made fun of all the time. But besides how to treat people, my time in school also helped to shape a large part of my personal philosophy. A lot of the kids who picked on me were minorities. I could never understand how someone who had experienced discrimination could do the same to someone else. I really detested the hypocrisy, and thought that there was no way I would be like that. I’ve tried to live my life free of hypocrisy ever since, to always put my money where my mouth is.
For a while, I’ve been struggling with social media and the internet. My concern is that we are voluntarily giving away our personal information and details of our daily lives, who we know, where we’ve been, and even what foods we eat to a handful of companies that have become supremely powerful. I’m also not happy with the way the World Wide Web has become a massive, interconnected billboard. Too many websites these days value ads over content, which saddens me because I remember what it was like before all the ads.
Well, in order to put my money where my mouth is, I have to stop supporting the companies that are doing this, right? So, I deleted my LinkedIn account. Next, I deleted my Twitter account. I cancelled Amazon Prime. More recently, with the announcement that WhatsApp is going to share information with Facebook, I deleted my WhatsApp account. And since I was already cutting out one Facebook company, I went ahead and deleted my Instagram account, too.
Seems pretty crazy right? But maybe not as crazy as this past week: uninstalling Chrome and changing my default search engine from Google to DuckDuckGo. What a way to stick it to the man.
On the one hand, I want to stick to my ideals and not be a hypocrite. On the other, I’m starting to realize that idealism and reality are very far apart from each other. Has there ever been a human who was not a hypocrite? Even the founding fathers of the United States, who stated that all men are created equal, owned slaves. At my old work, I eventually bought health insurance. How many “evil” companies have I supported in my lifetime by giving business to them, even before social media? Sony? Coca Cola? Hollywood?
The reality is that there are no perfectly principled people, and no perfectly principled companies. Consider a world where no one ever causes pain to another, and everyone tells the truth and sticks to it. In all the books I’ve read, all the history I’ve studied, all the people I’ve interacted with in my almost 4 decades of life, this is not who we, as humans, are. Even in Star Trek, where humans have supposedly reached a state of enlightenment, corruption and greed still exist. That is reality. While we may strive towards idealism, in the end it is never going to be 100%.
So, what does all this mean? Does growing up mean letting go of ideals from youth and embracing the reality of our existence? I don’t know. I continue to struggle. At one point, I re-activated my Twitter account, only to deactivate it again. Censorship aside, it really is a nice tool for connecting with people, for knowing what’s happening around the world, and for following interests. Perhaps it’s a matter of weighing the benefits versus the drawbacks. The biggest drawback would be disconnecting myself from society in order to live up to some phantom ideals. Is that really how I want to live my life? What difference would I actually make?
I think back to a song I heard from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. “The world is still the same, you’ll never change it.” Am I so egotistical that I think quitting social media and not supporting “evil” companies actually makes a difference? Isn’t this just another example of the flawed programming from childhood where we were taught that we’re better than everyone else? By quitting social media, do I think I’m special or something?
No, I think it just means that I’m immature. Always putting my money where my mouth is means there is no middle ground. It is an example of black and white thinking, a way of thinking that does not work for complex issues. Life is complex. Every person, every company, every country, they all have good sides, bad sides, and neutral sides. It is immature to look only at one side of something while ignoring the others. I don’t want to be immature anymore.
I still have a lot of growing up to do. In the coming days, I’ll continue to struggle over whether to re-create my social media accounts. Writing this out has helped. I see a place that I want to get to, and I’m slowly making myself move towards that place. Maybe the first step would be admitting that I’ve made some mistakes, and then rectifying them. See you on social media.