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Accepting Responsibility To Set An Example For My Daughter
I had to read a few books, talk to several loved ones, and spend a few moments in a restaurant or coffee shop crying as I realized how awful my values were. Midway through a cappuccino, and typing this post, I had to remind myself again that I’m still working to improve and forgive myself. Mark Manson talks about the layers you have to peel off in order to find your true values. It’s a lot harder than people think, and it’s a bit like picking at scabs. It hurts, you’ll bleed, but the relief of letting that wound breathe is all worth it in the end. Taking responsibility for my mistakes has been critical in getting me to reevaluate who I am as a person and parent.
It’s easy to pretend like we know what our true values are: be a good person, have good relationships, be charitable. But the ambiguity in such vaguely set values is a representation of our lack of true understanding of our value systems. I thought my value was ‘be a good person’, but if that was my true value, I wouldn’t have cheated. Instead, I realize my value was ‘protect your ego.’ What my value should have been was ‘treat people with respect.’
The difference in these values is astronomical. If I wanted to ‘be a good person’, I could have justified cheating because I could say to myself something like this: our relationship wasn’t working, it’s better that I do this now and just end it this way than continue to have all of us be unhappy. With the value system ‘be a good person’, I could’ve easily adjusted my thought process to protect that value and continue being a shitty person whose real value was ‘protect your ego.’
The important thing we can do with our value systems, I believe, is accepting responsibility for them. I could easily continue to delude myself into thinking I’m a good person when I actually possess a horrible set of values. That isn’t hard to do and it’s why so many of us are so good at it and probably don’t even realize it.
Think of it this way, is it easier to continue what you’ve been doing for 30 years, or admit you’ve been a piece of shit for three decades and take responsibility for your actions? Now you don’t have to come out publicly like this and possibly cause more problems for yourself down the road by confessing to any future mate that you previously cheated on your best friend.
But owning up to what I’ve done has helped me better understand who I am, who I want to be. As I walked down the beach yesterday, kicking rocks, and I looked up to see my daughter in front me, kicking shells, I wondered what kind of example I want to set for her.
Us Millennials are frequently described by the media as lazy, whiney, and entitled. I whole-heartedly disagree for a plethora of reasons. The one part I might agree with? We are entitled. But it’s not just Millennials, it’s generation X, Y, Z, the whole alphabet. Americans are entitled. I grew up in an America that encourages you to always be happy, always be outgoing and smiling and clean and friendly and be grateful that you get to grow up in the greatest country in the world!
Besides the annoying, nationalistic propaganda you cannot escape, what a bunch of crap it is to pretend like we should always be happy! If you spend your whole life pretending you’re happy and comparing your happiness to others’ in a consumer society, it becomes exceedingly simple to ignore your value system and rely on those vague, stock-photo values. If you can’t accept that sometimes life sucks, and that sometimes you are wrong because you are convinced you always have to be happy, then what chance do you have of asking yourself serious, introspective questions of what is driving your happiness and character?
We all write our own stories, as the narrator and main character. So, it becomes difficult to truly dissect our story. This is why taking responsibility is so important. I could have brushed off what I did and narrated my story in way that would’ve kept me from admitting I did a crappy thing. Instead, I’ve taken responsibility, and just by doing that I’ve been able to see that I put my ego before compassion and deeply hurt someone who I cared about greatly, something I am terribly ashamed of. But I’ve picked that scab, it’s bled a lot, and now it’s breathing. It’s healing. And if it scabs up again, the scab will be smaller, and easier to pick. I might end up scarring myself, but at the end of my life, I’d rather be covered by 30 deep scars than a 1,000 bleeding scabs.
Auburn is such a good person and little explorer. I’ve thought a lot to myself: how is she going to view me as a person? Would I be proud if she did the same things I’ve done? What will her value system look like due to the impression I leave? And these thoughts have terrified me. Maybe this is why people get more conservative as they grow up because we remember what we were like as kids, how many scabs we opened up, and we want to try to protect the next generation from those mistakes. However, I think this is a mistake in itself.
I find myself wondering, will my daughter be a better person if I act more conservatively and protect her from the liberalism of my upbringing? My answer is no. She will become who she will become, and the best thing I can do is show her how to take responsibility for that person. In this way, I think my scars can teach her more than my scabs. So here I am, picking at them, ripping back the dead flesh of my shitty values. Reading Mark Manson and taking time process myself helped me understand that I was giving too many f*cks about my own ego, and not enough about finding inner happiness through living by better values.
The critical thing here is that my values are going to wear off on my daughter. Not all of them, maybe not even half of them, but if any of them do, I want them to be the ones I respect about myself. So I’m taking responsibility for the awful things I’ve done, accepting that I haven’t always been the good person I lead myself to believe, and working to change that, which isn’t easy. My goal isn’t to have an easy life, or to constantly pretend I’m happy, it’s to set a good example for this laughing face right here, the one that finds happiness in a dead piece of wood.