Monday, December 6, 2010

The Best Revenge

The best revenge is to not be like that.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.6

* * *

The conduct of one's life is all we've got; it is all we get to work with. How well or poorly we work with the material facts of our lives is determined by our willingness to live our lives in accordance with who we are. Become as others would have you be, become their caricature of who you are and you have fucked yourself, but good.

Integrity is one of those attributes that we all seem to acknowledge as a fine, fine thing, but are equally incapable of living out in three dimensions. So much effort. To know and not do is a dearth of integrity - is the product of a paltry and feeble imagination. You want to unfuck your life? Then live what you know.

But that begs the ontological questions: what do you know and how do you know it?

We, each of us, are jelly bags of potential. We, the living, get to move about in our time, in these bodies and engage Life as it rushes towards us. But we are marked men and women. Our time is finite and knowing this we have learned to live in fear, in doubt. We seek answers in holy books, in rituals, in what others say and believe and we, too, become believers. All belief systems are a type of religion - a code and way of organizing experience so that we can make some sense of our lives (this includes atheism, science, humanism, etc., not just the codified religions). As such, much of what we know is what others would have us believe. And there's the rub.

It brings on the habit of lazy acceptance, the habit of believing, whole hog, what others say about ourselves and our lives. It matters not what anyone may say or do. All that matters is what you say and do.

* * *

Almost 25 years ago I worked for a difficult and bombastic man, an art dealer whose outsized sense of self swallowed up all in his path. During my time with him one of his other employees tried to kill him by running him over with a truck. When you reach the point of madness because all that you know to be true has no place in the world, well, anything can happen.

But the driver of that truck got it wrong. He had accepted the conditions of his employment and its concomitant humiliations and degradations as the sum total of his life. Any man would want to break free of it. His error was believing what that sonofabitch had to say. When you cede authority over the conditions of your life to others, then you get results that benefit them and leave you sucking air like a fish on shore.

I hated working for that prick, but felt hemmed in by economics, by my lack of imagination. I had a job and that was enough. I quit after the attempt on his life. It was too easy to see myself behind the wheel.

* * *

We are told when we have been wronged by others that the best revenge is living well. As if revenge will do anything to free us from our failings. My former sister-in-law suggested the same to me, adding that my happiness would surely unglue her sister - an added bonus to my happiness.

But all such constructs are wrong on their face. To live for revenge is to remain tied to what you have allowed to limit you. The pain in your life is your responsibility - you are the one who accepted the terms and conditions, the humiliations and degradations of your circumstance. Living to crackback on those you blame for your circumstance keeps you on the same footing as them. You are no different from your tormentors.

The best revenge is to not be like that.

Quit accepting what others say you should or should not do. Quit accepting their judgments about the size of your house, or the depth of your checking account. Quit being subservient. You have a mind, don't you? Use it. Learn to filter out all the white noise. The only things you can control are your thoughts and actions. Do so. Allowing others to dictate who you are puts you behind the wheel going 50 mph to your doom.

You can do better than that. You must do better than that.


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