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I’m unique, but I want you to be just like me

Snowflake's identity crisis

We all like to think that we are reasonable, fair and mature, but we still poke fun of that vegetarian at the barbecue or sneer down at that hotdog eater who doesn’t believe in tofu dogs. You tell your friend it’s ok to be whatever shape she is, but proudly inform your spouse later that you coped better with pregnancy pounds than she did with the holidays.

The human ego is wired like that. It constantly wants validation that we are doing the right thing, and are on the right side. We hang out with people who make similar choices as us and we’re quick to judge those who don’t. We ensure that our children learn our values because we think that we stand for the right things. But although we think we are reasonable and unbiased, the verdict in case of a moral conflict is almost always in our favor, because that makes us feel good about our choices. Differences make us feel insecure, unsure and even a little scared sometimes.

So what is right? And since we pride yourself on being rational, how do we define it and back it up with solid proof? Some things are easy—like stealing, doing drugs and being abusive. But other things are not so black and white, and there are many shades in between. Take, for example, food choices or cultural idiosyncrasies. Law, religion and culture further complicate the defining process, and what is considered legal/holy/right by some may be deplorable for others. So each group feels strongly about their choices because they are backed up by so and so law/scripture/philosophy, and scorns the others, forgetting that all facts are relative.

Yes, all facts are relative. Every philosophy—religious or otherwise—has an ideal toward which it aspires, and the directives ensure that its followers can attain it. So everything that’s deemed ‘right’ or ‘holy’ is only so if you’re travelling on that ship and wearing that uniform. The law is driven by socio-economic motives and can quickly do an about-turn in its validations; think about the recent upheaval of state laws on legalizing weed—we all know that keeping minors safe wasn’t the primary motivation for that bill. So just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s always right, and vice versa.

How does all this trickle down to an everyday level? Our self-identity is partly influenced by our family, peers, culture, religion or philosophy of thought and our country, more or less in that order. Since we don’t know what the real definition of right is, it is natural to measure everything around us by matching it up against ourselves and our choices. Some differences are insignificant and we manage to take it in our stride, but some go against our fundamental beliefs and we cannot reason with them. So if someone or something does not conform to this fundamental belief, we assume that they are either wrong, misinformed or inferior. For example, think about someone dear to us dating a much older/younger person, swingers or even something seemingly as minor as women consuming alcohol (modern India is still struggling with this hypocrisy).

Can we change? Maybe in some categories, but definitely not in some. A friend once said that our belief system is built on two things—reason and conviction. The things we can reason with can be rethought, reshaped and expanded but there is no changing conviction. A vegetarian will always see a dead animal on others’ plates and yet flatly disagree with a vegan on how an animal was tortured for that milkshake.

Luckily, for everyday life, we don’t need to reevaluate our entire belief system. A good human being is not one who is fair and empathetic toward everyone; she knows when not to comment, and when to let things be without labeling them. Although we don’t need to agree with everyone else’s choices, we can choose to not judge them as weird, immoral or inferior. We don’t need to be alike somebody, but there is no need to be scared of them, dislike them, or pity them. We won’t be able to follow this all the time, but it might still make us some more friends because we’re not closing them out or hurting them. Of course, reevaluating in the meantime will help us be more rational in the long run and recognize when we react out of reason or strong conviction. It will help us pass on the best of ourselves to the next generation.

You can’t measure the entire world with one yardstick. Nature created us all differently so we could grow, gain depth and learn something new every day. Every snowflake is unique, and yet they all fit in harmony to form a beautiful blanket of snow. So can we.

You want to be unique, so why expect the world to be just like you?

Frown lines or laugh lines?

I need a wrinkle-free breed!

Can I get some botox, please?

So the drive to conquer my fear of aging continues, and I just found the top priority item on my 30-year plan… SMILE! After all, happiness is a gift, and the best investment in ourselves. So go on, replace “I’ll be happy when…” with “I’m happy because…”

Laugh lines pay in more ways than one.

So who do you want to be, Grumpy or Happy?

Fear of Aging: Not a Brave Old World

A strange thing happened after I turned 30. I became painfully aware of the transient nature of life. Sure, I was at ease with the idea of dying one day, but I finally connected the dots that the way to death was mostly through wrinkly, clumsy and dependent old age. Yep, I’m super smart. The fear that one day, I probably wouldn’t be able to pour milk into my own cereal bowl—let alone being able to buy it from the grocery store or digest it—started passively annoying me, much like a fingerprint on eyeglasses. Ignoring it was like telling myself not to think of the color red, so I decided to confront it head-on.

  • Say Cheese: I meekly admit that vanity got to me first. After all, I’m a woman in a world of anti-aging products where wrinkles are the most dreaded disease. Suddenly, all ads in waiting room magazines have started talking to me. Looks like I’m already five years late in joining the ‘always look 25’ revolution, but I have abundant help in that area in exchange for a chunk of my wallet. But slowly, more serious issues have started to feed my Geranto-phobia.
  • Honey I lost my dentures: I balk at the thought of kissing my man with dentures, and carrying a walking stick. To hell with always looking 25, how about always feeling 30? Sooner or later, our bodies betray us and bring the best to our knees. And not all diseases are our fault… sometimes life is unfair. Looking at the number of things that can go wrong with my body, I feel the urgent need to connect myself to all sorts of tubes and machines that will monitor my health constantly and fix any problems instantly.  Very Catch-22, I know, but I suddenly agree with Capt. Yossarian.
  • Older and wiser? I’ve seen a strange metamorphosis happen to people as they age. Some get lonely after retirement, some recede into a shell, some appreciate the free time and use it to travel or grow spiritually and some join gossip circles but gradually, they change. I watch, mute with shock, as previously benevolent people make scathing remarks about someone else’s sad life. I see how women can be loving wives and inspiring mothers but mean mothers-in-law, playing the victim as they skilfully play emotional blackmail. Some get into the religion fad, scrambling to repent for their sins.  Some get into the ‘healthy living’ aka dieting fad. I listen, amused, as senior citizens (mostly women) compete over who’s the most under-weight, and remorselessly call anyone who is not a size-0 fat. There are prayer groups and cooking groups and book clubs, and they are all closed to outsiders. It’s like high school all over again! All the while I choose characteristics of my future personality, picking the best out of what I see and making notes on who I don’t want to end up like. It’s a good 30-year plan for my character.
  • I’m my only friend: Loneliness haunts so many as they age. I shudder when my paranoid thoughts take me to a world where familiar faces are all gone and the youngsters are busy making their own lives. All the while, remaining friends complain of this ailment or the other, and you wonder when your turn is.

Dark, I know, but when has fear been reasonable? Everybody is afraid of growing old for different reasons—beauty, independence, disease, loneliness… the list is endless, but it has a single tormentor. Our society is pro-youth and we are programmed to feel a sense of loss as we add on years. I sometimes wonder that if life didn’t progress through the ailments of old age into death, would people still be so scared of dying? Maybe it’s the journey to death that scares us more than the end itself.

I lived in fear and anxiety the last year. Then on my 31st birthday, I had a revelation—I’d rather prefer this demon than die early or without having lived a full life. And when I got there, I wanted to be happy with who I am, and how I got there. But the result of this soul-searching was positive. There are some things I can’t control but for the rest, I have a plan:

  • I make a note to reconnect with my dreams and start hitting my bucket list. Life is indeed a journey, but it makes a big difference whether your journey has been a mundane drive on life’s highway or has consisted of pit stops from your wishlist. Sometimes we don’t have a choice, but when we look back after 30 years, we want to be sure some dreams were worth giving up. Some dreams do have an expiration date. Barring personal tragedies, people who managed their limited money and time to lead fulfilling lives are so much more positive and happy in their older years. I want to be them. I’m also convinced that people who didn’t live enough when they could, whether out of circumstances or just plain penny-pinching, have a high probability of turning mean or resentful later.
  • I double-check my diet and lifestyle so that even if I end up being four sizes larger in three decades, I’m still healthy and active.
  • I reevaluate and revalidate my value-system, for it can either be a strong grounding force or run you aground.
  • I even try to be a better person—I try harder to keep in touch with old friends, let old hostilities be water under the bridge, and be more empathetic.
  • I try to see today’s actions from a 20-year rewind perspective. Will writing that stinker to a friend who stood me up on my special day bring me satisfaction or regret in twenty years, when I don’t have her as a friend? It’s an exercise that is fuelled partly by fear but mostly by the desire to be surrounded by a circle of my peeps, always. If life gives me lemons, I want my peeps to add sugar and spice to it and bake me a lemon-meringue pie.

30 is a great place to be. It is the perfect place to look back and see how you got here, to look forward and see where you’re going, and fine tune your current path so you get where you want to be. 31 is even better; you get to start working on your plan for the next 30 years.

I’ve found my 30-30 vision. Have you?

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