A matter of conviction

One of my character flaws is that I like to control things – or, at least, be in a situation where things are controlled. It’s not hard and fast, and it applies much less to social situations than professionally. And the truth of it is that some things are best enjoyed without control by letting go – but those are rare.

I’ll feel uncomfortable sometimes when situations are confused and unmanaged. It’ll frustrate me, and if no-one steps in to take control, I’ll often do so myself. Note, it doesn’t have to be me managing things – I’m very happy for someone else to take the lead, just as long as some order is restored. In my experience, most are unwilling or uninterested in taking that part – and into that vacuum, I’ll step.

It’s one reason I find myself taking the lead in things so often, or directing the conversation. It seems convenient, as oftentimes, others are happy to fall into line once a direction has been set. I admit, there are elements of a control freak in me.

It’s much less obvious in a social setting. When everyone’s talking at once trying to decide what we’re going to do or where we’re going to go, I’ll often jump in to hush their baying voices and break the deadlock. I’ll seek consensus by leading the discussion. Generally, I’m the one who’ll go and speak to an official or organise things formally. In actual fact, it pisses me off sometimes that it’s always me, and often I’ll encourage others to do that instead. But, people fall into roles, and mine is as the organiser, for want of a better word.

On Thursday night, at the restaurant, I became frustrated by JV because I thought he was being wishy-washy. It was such a trivial thing – waiting to be led to our table – but it was the lack of decisive action that riled me. It was unreasonable and unusual, and I knew it even as I urged him, repeatedly, to do something, but it didn’t stop me from doing it.

It was a small thing and soon forgotten, but afterwards, it seemed significant. This is the sort of thing that happens when I’m under stress – it’s behaviour that is symptomatic of something deeper. In this case, I was unwell and had been feeling it for a while. I was tired, and I had other issues I was dealing with, and continue to. Basically, I’d have preferred to be home, but that’s no excuse. It’s not how I want to be.

As I do, I seek patterns. In the time since I’ve paired this moment with our tour of the vineyards on Wednesday.

Wednesday was benign, but it was also indicative. I noticed throughout the day how every winemaker was mainly addressing themselves to me. I thought that was because I was the most curious: because my gaze didn’t shift from them as they spoke and I listened to them with intent. I asked questions of them, genuinely interested. I was a good audience.

But then I realised that this was happening even as we walked in the door. I was the one that they went to first as if my presence was greater than the others. I thought, intent communicates itself. If you have a purpose, people observe it, even if they don’t consciously understand it. I was the one that entered their space boldly, and so to me, they turned.

These are probably related attributes. It’s possible to be one without the other, but I’d suggest there’s generally a high correlation between the two, as they are different aspects of the same thing.

What did I make of this? I wondered how much of this was instinctive behaviour, and the answer must be ‘most of it’. That’s important to note because I’ve been feeling very vulnerable for a while, but it appears that it’s not evident to others. In my mind, I see myself as much frailer and uncertain than ever before. It embarrasses me sometimes. Occasionally I feel a kind of shame. I feel diminished, and as if I’m a lesser man.

It tells me that how I see myself and how the world sees me are two different things. It tells me that no matter how I see myself, many of my ‘old’ behaviours persist. What then, is the truth? Is there a truth? Is it one single thing? It comes back to the question that has dogged me for a while now: who am I?

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s always been important that I’m strong and masculine. It’s as if that’s the persona I found suited me best as I was developing and adopted it as my own. What are the attributes of that? Calm, decisive, brave, resilient, honest, steadfast, generous, determined, perhaps a little stubborn, and with some fierceness thrown in there. They’re not a bad set of qualities to aspire to, but the point is – I needed to be that man, and any variation from it was a blow to my psyche.

That’s where I’ve found myself in recent times. For many years I think I embodied many of those virtues, though my perspective is biased. The important thing is, I believed I did. In more recent times, that belief has waned. And I guess that is at the core of my recent problems – the loss of belief, and with that, a sense of identity. I’ve lost conviction.

I guess one solution is that I could become that person again, or at least, convince myself that I was. I could go on my way blithely then, as I did for years before. I have no issue at all in becoming that person – I think he’s fundamentally a sound character, but it’s not as easy as wishing it. The important thing here is not how other people see me, but how I see myself.

The healthier solution is to remove the meaning from it. Be that man, by all means, but remove the soul-deep need to be him. In a way, this is what I’ve been trying to do for the last couple of years – to remove myself from moral need.

We’re talking about the ego, which places unreasonable expectations on us. As soon as we feel the need to be something, or be seen as something, then our ego has us in its sway. It’s human nature that we are subject to its claims. Such is vanity. But are we fully ourself if a tyrant within us demands all for itself? I see it in others sometimes, am embarrassed for them, and wonder what others see in me.

I don’t know how to do this – how to separate myself from my ego. I’m sure it can’t be done completely – the ego has a role – but I’m guessing that recognising the need for change is a good start.

This is an ongoing challenge, but if I’m to find peace, something that must be overcome. I won’t always be well behaved, but if I’m to find my way I feel sure humility is a key to it.

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