Thursday, April 17, 2008

When Boundaries Make Fences

I’ve always been a person with a heightened sense of integrity. Even as a kid, I worried about money, wanting to be as independent as possible, to not put a financial strain on my parents (as if that was ever an issue; my dad was a doctor!). I rarely asked for things that cost money, and I got my first job as soon as I was old enough. Even then, every decision I made seemed weighty. Is it right? Is it good? Am I making that decision for the right reason? When I would go on road trips with my family, I’d see ghosts of the ancient decimated tribes who used to fish and hunt there. Once I understood what patriarchy meant, I spent years reading nothing but books by women and people of color. I always understood in some visceral way the privilege that my white skin and parents’ financial stability gave me. I was a pretty serious kid, as you can imagine.

Rob Brezsny recently wrote a horoscope for Geminis that told me to be on the lookout for, among others, “humble perfectionists who obsess over the integrity of every little thing they do and then mock themselves for being so conscientious.” I laughed at that, because that’s me to a T.

I’m proud of my conscientousness (is that a word?), the importance that personal integrity has in my life. Yet, I can also see how it has the potential to limit me, put fences around me and sap my enjoyment of life, if I let it. Sitting around with some kind of 24-hour flu thing on Monday, I started thinking about someone I’ve just started casually dating. Not a social change person at all, drives an SUV (though a small one), doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about how to be more compassionate or how to change the world for the better. I’m used to people like that – most people I know are basically self-obsessed and don’t have much mental room for world-changing. I happen to consider world-changing my vocation, but I know that's not everyone's gig. But he’s also fun, sweet, sexy as hell, listens when I talk, holds my hand when we walk together, likes my cat, and has a fine sense of adventure. Not to mention it’s the first time in 6 or 7 years that I’ve had a mutual attraction with someone who lives in the same state.

But for a stomach-dropping minute, lying in bed with fever, I knew, just knew, that I had to drop my new friend because he isn’t the social activist I’ve always seen myself dating. For a moment, that voice that makes every decision I make have to be about personal sacrifice and “doing the right thing” gained hold. I regained my equilibrium after a few minutes, but that got me thinking about how too much attachment to “doing the right thing” can also be bad for us, can be just as limiting as having no passion and no interests, like the guy I had to interview recently in Spanish class who claimed to have no favorite pastimes, food, movies, or books. I can’t even imagine!

My mom loves Starbucks. I can’t stand the jolly green giant, cloaking every urban area with its corporate mood-manipulation. Every time I see a Starbucks I think of that episode of the Simpsons where Bart is skateboarding through a mall where every storefront is a Starbucks except one, which changes into one as he rides past. Yet my mom loves Starbucks. And I love my mom. And sometimes when she helps me do errands (since I have no car), she wants to go get her favorite drink at Starbucks and treat me to one, too. Who am I to argue with her about that? To me, connection with my mom is more important than stiffing Starbucks the $2.50 they’ll get for my coffee drink.

I believe that my reason for being on this planet at this time is to keep learning and evolving, and to offer my life as a model for new way of being that isn’t about competition, consumerism, or self-righteousness. But part of learning to be like water is learning to flow, not to force change by hammering people over the head with my need for them to be like me. So with my mom, and my new friend, I’m practicing the art of going with the flow, and of not letting my inner magnet of integrity pull me away from the connections and experiences that matter. I still want to change the world, but I also know that this new world won’t be any fun if everyone worries endlessly over every little decision they ever make. Besides, love begets love, whether it’s in a Starbucks or an SUV.

No comments: