FINNERAN K. MUZZEY, MA
While reading through a required class reading, I came across this quote:
The paradox of “human nature” is that it is always a manifestation of cultural meanings, social relationships, and power politics – “not biology, but culture, becomes destiny”
(Butler, 1990 – Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity qtd. in Lorber, 1993 – Believing is Seeing: Biology as Ideology)
I immediately texted a friend some of my paraphrased thoughts on this quote, that: “the idea of “human nature” is a paradox. As humans, we’ve defined what human nature is, claiming it to be destiny – a destiny we’ve created the definition for. “Human nature”…innate qualities of humanness…are, thus, nothing more than self-fulfilling prophecies.” My friend steadfastly agreed with the thought and my summation of it.
Basically, the conclusion we came to, even if I am tentative to it, is that we construct our own destiny. We define for ourselves, who we are currently, who we are going to become, and even who we have been previously. The definition we apply to describe our “human nature,” is who, what, we manifest into. If I am sad, I become sad. If I am happy, I become happy. If I am love, I become love. If I am overwhelmed, I become overwhelmed. The concept, the thought, the ideology, behind this quote and my subsequent summation of it is that it is not that we are actually the thing we have defined ourselves as, but that we become the thing that we have set our definition for ourselves as.
I’m not sure exactly how far I agree with this, but it feels incredibly apt to me at the moment. And, to be truthful, I think I’m about 90% in agreement with this ideology. As a statistician, though, I always have to leave some room for error. We are, after all, nothing more than mere humans.
The past few days, I’ve been telling myself I’m overwhelmed. Today marked the first full week of classes, I’m working part-time under an assistantship this year, I’ve rearranged my home to fit a new life, I’ve been travelling all summer and felt little grounding, little space that belonged solely to me, I’ve officially been marked as being in remission for PTSD and depression (Yay!), I’m still struggling through a crippling neurological condition that forces me to make limiting accommodations in my life, I’m attempting to overcome deep pain related to an important personal relationship, I quit smoking a week ago (yeah, uh-huh, I was a smoker – but I’m not anymore and I’m going to own that non-smoker label so hard.), I find the minutiae of daily living tedious and isolating to manage. In all of this, I tell myself I am overwhelmed.
But what does telling myself I am overwhelmed get for me? It only seems to affirm that I am, in fact, overwhelmed. Telling myself I am overwhelmed becomes my definition for myself. Being overwhelmed becomes my self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m not saying that it’s wrong or bad to feel overwhelmed. It happens. But, in these moments, we always have an option. An option to embrace the negative feelings, or an option to embrace new feelings, a new self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead, in this moment – RIGHT NOW – I am going to choose a new definition for myself. I’m going to choose a new destiny for my life, in this moment. I’m choosing to make my destiny one of love, compassion, and grace. Love for all things, including myself; compassion for those that I struggle to understand; and grace for those things that hurt me. This won’t erase any of the things going on in my life right now. This won’t stop things from overwhelming me in the future. It will, however, change how I approach managing the difficult things that make me feel overwhelmed. It’s akin to when you decide you want to buy (or have just bought) a new car. All of the sudden, you begin seeing your new car everywhere. It’s not because the world suddenly became flooded with your car, but because you have chosen to start seeing your new car. When the facts of our human existence become overwhelming to us, we can chose how we see them and how we approach handling them.
I’ve often said (and will keep saying): every interaction we have with another leaves something with them, what do we want to leave them with?
I might, perhaps, amend this a bit today to say: every day we have an opportunity to define for ourselves who we want to be, what do we want to leave ourselves with?