When Being Contrary Isn’t Enough

by Mental Health, Resilience

When faced with overwhelming difficulties, the array of potential responses becomes smaller and smaller, and being contrary rises up. That those difficulties become overwhelming, in no small part due to one’s perception of them, does not diminish the feeling of impotence that creeps up like a particularly stealthy predator. Look at global climate change, the ubiquitous persistence of governmental corruption combined with the abject worship of the military, and the puerile nature of identity politics, there is much to be incensed about. This feeling can provide great fodder for a life filled with and defined by angry contrariness, each moment punctuated by protest behavior of various forms. What this does not promote is any sense of being for anything, of standing with something.

In recent discussions, I’ve noted my belief that as far as the future of the human species is concerned, I have little hope. The issues stated above coalesce behind and into an inability for human consciousness to grasp the long-term consequences of our actions. We’re very good, sometimes, at predicting the consequences of behavior one or two steps ahead, but move beyond that and we stumble and fall on our faces. Add in the enormity of societal global-scale influence and it’s little wonder policies, both governmental and corporate, are short-sighted, sometimes gleefully so.

This degree of weary wariness need not lead to being contrary and a fully cynical outlook. While there is a certain passion to be found in bashing oneself against nearly immovable objects, an equal if not more powerful life can be had by focusing on an actively engaged relational existence.

Promote the positive growth of personal relationships.

Whatever one may call family, friends, lovers, partners, co-workers, etc., all provide individual seas of near-infinite exploration. This is life itself, the integrative interactive play of relational dynamics, providing the foundation for every social construct we attempt to mold it into. What we do, each and every one of our actions is a complex relational dynamic with every person around us. Therefore what we do has influence, not because we direct it to be so, but because such influence is inevitable based on the relational nature of reality. Consciously, actively, promoting the growth of each connection means providing a positive space for the exploration of self in relation to others. How many times do we find aspects of ourselves we enjoy, but didn’t know existed, due to a new relationship? This goes beyond new hobbies and interests, though those are true as well, but new sources of laughter, ideas for exploration, and ways of being. Every connection has this latent potential if we but seek to discover it.

Feeling contrary, seek being surprised.

This stems directly from the growth of connections, dwelling happily in the humility coming from the tentative nature of knowledge. Seeking surprise is about glorying in the search for the frontiers of discovery, actively seeking and appreciating being wrong. Doing so doesn’t mean jettisoning all ideas with every piece of new information, it means skeptically inquiring as to the limits of your worldview. This inquiry is not merely external, knowledge doesn’t exist apart from the knower.  Research contributes to the idea that as we actively explore the various selves that contribute to our personal narrative, creativity can blossom into new forms of behavior and ways of dealing with difficulties. Too often we look at relationships as external, as interactions out there in the real world. There are just as many occurring internally, in the interplay of our selves. How does the “work-place” you connect with and expand upon the “at-home” you and/or the “out-with-friends” you? Seeking surprise is as much finding out the limits of our knowledge as it is determining the edges for growth in our self-reflections.

Contribute daily to the happiness around you.

This may sound like an overly long bumper sticker, but in the face of problems larger than I can manage alone, contributing to a smile or a laugh is the kind of victory in the face of defeat that makes each day worth living. Taken together with the previous two points, spreading happiness means humbly accepting that what a person does is not always personally directed and how I respond may very well inspire a connection that otherwise I’d have thought impossible. In every disagreement, there is still shared humanity that is worth exploring, for just as we are not bound by any individual thought we express, neither is anybody else. Happiness is smiles and laughter, but it is also forgiveness and understanding.

I don’t have the solution to global problems, I don’t even know where to begin. The sheer scope of the difficulties facing humanity is impossible for anyone, likely not even a group of people, to define the solutions. These issues should not be ignored, but the weight of that knowledge can be overwhelming, to the point where it feels like empathy is more of a curse than a blessing. Living a philosophy based on 1) positive relational growth, 2) seeking surprise, and 3) contribute to happiness, expands empathy without the crushing impact of the seemingly impossible. Perhaps, just maybe, the solutions will arise when being contrary to is expanded to include what we stand for.

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