I find myself in a curious position. You see, I’ve been considering deleting The Used Life, or at least, making it private. I haven’t told anyone that until now, but I’m just not deriving as much enjoyment from the blog as I have in the past. I’m not as engaged. More importantly, I don’t feel like I’m making any real progress or aligning with a greater purpose—which is what this blog was always supposed to be about.
I’ve been reflecting on it a great deal. Working to get to the roots of these feelings—of this profound lack of enthusiasm. Also brainstorming about what can and should be done to infuse more life into this project, or say definitively that it’s run its course. And to my surprise, I found there’s one feeling—one very distinct and rather nagging sentiment that resurfaces every time I contemplate the fate of my beloved little blog: I can’t stop feeling like I’m hiding.
But, why should I feel that way? Surely, I am being myself. I make poetry and art as I choose. I write about topics in psychology and philosophy that interest me. Of course, there are subjects I have always chosen to stay away from: politics and religion. Anything controversial, really. And normally that kind of thing doesn’t matter…But here I am. I have arrived. I know it in my bones. I have struck the root of my problem. As I’m sure you know, there is sometimes a very fine line between staying away from a topic in order to avoid conflict or maintain an image and intentionally silencing oneself when one has something to say.
If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. – Rollo May
And ironically, it is this post—this very discussion on values—which seems to betray me. You see, I can’t write it honestly without being honest about some of my political views. It’s simply not possible for me to say what I have to say without actually saying it. It’s also not worth it to me to keep this blog if I’m not going to use it as a space where I can express myself honestly and freely, no matter how many followers I have (or don’t have).
But that’s just the dilemma, isn’t it? The very dilemma that’s at the heart of living a values-centered life, whatever your values are. Whether I smile, put my head down, and look the other way or conduct myself in a manner that’s innately satisfying, or meaningful to me, even though it might be unpopular. We all know these feelings. And the higher the penalty is for standing up for ourselves—for what matters to each of us individually—the more likely we are to just smile, put our heads down, and look the other way. But here’s the rub: it’ll eat you up from the inside. Just getting along. The feeling that if I just do what I’m supposed to do, everything will be fine.
Except it won’t be. Because at the end of the day, no matter what’s happening in the world, you still have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and be someone you respect. There’s no getting away from it. I remember one night early in the summer, drinking beers with a few neighbors and having a conversation like, I imagine, friends and neighbors all across America are having: What is happening to our country? What are we allowing to happen to our country? What is going to happen to us? It was just after our governor had issued a statewide mask mandate. One neighbor looked at me and said, “Everyone’s got to have a line in the sand.” I looked back at him and said, “I’ve reached mine.”
I had, of course, been researching the science and arguments for and against universal masking for weeks, as we expected that mandate would come. And when it did come, I found myself curiously unmoved. Or rather, I found I had reached a point at which I would no longer be moved. And while I respect others’ rights to do as they choose, I could no longer smile, put my head down, and look the other way. Even in times of pandemic, I will not accept that the government can violate my personal liberties in that way. (I have no doubt some of you think I’m a terrible person for saying that. You’re entitled to your opinions.)
Whether you agree with me or not, I bring up this issue to make a point. If you are not living according to your values, then you are cheapening your own experience. It is a curious thing how our pursuits begin to lose meaning the moment we start doing them for the wrong reasons. Even those that are nearest and dearest to us. The moment we begin dulling ourselves, silencing ourselves, quietly betraying ourselves just for the sake of getting along, doing what we’re supposed to do, or not incurring criticism. Indeed, whether you agree with me on masking or not, if I had chosen to talk about any other topic here, then I would have missed the point.