On Growing Up, Reflectively

I think the greatest tragedy of maturing into the massive mire that is adulthood is the realization that good doesn’t always trump evil, and that sometimes there is no “right” answer, action, or outcome. It’s been so hard for me as the eternal optimist, the idealist, the ever-hopeful to have to grapple with the fact that justice isn’t as pervasive as I was led to believe.

I still cling desperately to the idea of karma, because it can’t be proven (and therefore can’t be disproven), and as such, may still exist as some ultimate force of actual justice in the world.

The disillusionment I feel stings at my very soul, and I’ve found that even I’ve settled into the acceptance that all is not right in the world, I may never be fully immune to the waves of heartbreak that I feel from time to time as the recognition of injustice rolls through me. Our world is one that is so full of beauty, from the smallest acts of kindness to the sweeping majesty of nature, and in between, I wonder if the darkest places are starting to get darker.

Maybe the acts of violence, hatred, or greed that I hear about and come face to face with on a daily basis are merely a side effect of human nature, the result of our inability to remove ourselves completely from our most basic, animalistic state. But I don’t think that’s the case. I understand that violence among animals is a given, and thus will be present in humans for as long as we walk this earth.

Humans are so tethered to emotion, even when they vehemently deny it. Our constructed social hierarchies don’t come with an instruction manual, and the navigation of all of the different subcultures and systems that comprise our ever-changing world is damn-near impossible. We are told how to act and how to be from birth. It’s very restricting, but it’s not without reason – even animal groups have hierarchies to maintain order and provide protection.

We act or we react. There’s very little else. One can argue about motivations, but a healthy dose of mindfulness can get reactions under control, and most actions are based on a desire or a need, so if we can get a handle on those, we’re in theory in a good place for creating and sustaining fructuous forward progress.

(Haha, it’s almost Thursday and last week, I chose “fructuous” as the word of the week this week. I was going to try to work it into as many protests as I could possibly write at work. My friend is in on it too. So far, neither of us have used it. On the plus side, it’s like the word of the week warded us against the specific types of protests we were going to use it for, so that’s definitely not the worst thing. But dammit, I’m going to get it into a protest this week. Watch me.)

It’s not that clear at all though. It can’t just be actions and reactions. It’s actions and reactions influenced by any number of things, everything. And it’s terrible, because in all of my murder mysteries and romance novels and crime thrillers during childhood, the bad guys were easily identifiable. Their color schemes, their sweeping entrance music, their purely evil motivations. You never saw the Walter White character – the one who starts out “good” and eventually turns “bad-but-with-semi-legitimate-and-complex-conflicting-motivations.”

You saw stories describing pure greed and heartlessness, with nothing redeeming about them. You saw redemption and hope, but mostly, you saw the ultimate triumph of all things good. Justice was a thing – the thing – in the stories I consumed as a child. I’m not sure it’s something that exists sufficiently in the world around me. It’s heartbreaking. We’re given a very modified, whitewashed, exfoliated version of history and we imagine how happy our diverse, multi-cultural, fully functioning society is, where we can trust police officers, follow our dreams, buy a modest house, retire, and live happily ever after, too! Wouldn’t that be magical?

But it’s not the truth. The stories I read were much like social media – a glimpse of an ideal world, where anything is possible, like being tan and having abs and still eating brunch every day. (Oh man, I want in on that — or at least the Instagram filters to make it happen.)

We’re weighed down by conflicts: internal; external; political; social; emotional; financial; ….I mean I could just keep adjectiving until I’ve got early onset carpal tunnel. We aren’t part of a single event at any point in our lives. We’re a tangled web of thoughts and feelings and obligations, and often, doing one thing means sacrificing another. We have murders, wars, hostages, racism, greed — all of the things. All for what?

My wish is for storybook happy endings. My wish is for clarity in intention, for neatly wrapped-up story lines, and for justice, everything we get so often but rarely get in the real world. That’s not how it’s going to be, but it never never hurts to imagine that’s how it could be. It wouldn’t be the worst thing.

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