The hopefulness lies in the fact that we do actually already possess the relevant skills of friendship, it’s just we haven’t as yet directed them to the person who probably needs them most, namely ourselves. — Alain de Botton
The vast amount of choices, opportunities and experiences available to the individual in modern society has the capacity to overwhelm and cause anxiety through the fear of missing out. This paradox of choice is explored by American psychologist Barry Schwartz , he challenges what he calls the official dogma of all Western industrial societies, namely the idea that the way to maximise freedom is to maximise choice. Choice is good and necessary, but too much choice paralyses.
When we make the decision to get that turns out to be a terrible haircut, when we invest more into a toxic relationship, when we chose an unfruitful course of study, or fail to act on career enhancing opportunities, who is to blame? We are. In a world of countless choices and resources to verify these choices, we are fundamentally accountable for our fulfilment, this responsibility has the ability to empower one day, and condemn us the next.
The reality of being human, a weird ball of matter characterised by existential dualism in a world of infinite complexity and mind boggling contradictions, is that we will err, fail, be funny and fuck up continuously in many areas of life. The discomforting feelings that come from this must be embraced and cultivated for our betterment, from a posture of self-compassion. Modern philosopher Alain de Botton makes the transformative idea of self-compassion approachable, he does this by reminding us that “in friendship we know instinctively how to deploy strategies of wisdom and consolation that we stubbornly refuse to apply to ourselves”. What we must do is to turn this outward ability inward towards ourselves.
When we meditate upon that harrowing moment, continuously relive that season of failure and allow it to create a callus in our minds, what we are really doing is affirming an utterly ridiculous notion, a belief that the cycle of self-abasement is somehow a legitimate and honourable response to difficulty, this is not so. We must remind ourselves that everyone fails, we just don’t know about it, we must be generous around our mishaps and constructive with our critiques, as this is the environment most conducive to holistic and sustained progress.
Pema Chödrön, the Buddhist bundle of wisdom reinforces the liberation available through self-compassion, she states that:
“Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity”
If we want to create and sustain relationships rooted in respect, compassion and authenticity, then we must practice self-respect and a critical introspection upon ourselves. There is peace, genuine understanding and progress available from this vantage point.