Friday, February 17, 2006

When you were young and your heart was an open book

My theory of life, the universe and everything for a Thursday:

The more choice you give people, the more insecure they become about their decisions. The more insecure they are, they more defensive they become and the more eager they are to point out error in the choices of others. This is why there are so many miserable people about.

However, you still have to give people choice. Or else we’d never make any progress.

But it does irritate me that people try to tell others how to live, or at least how they ought to live. When it comes up that I don’t want children, I am often met by terrific defensiveness on the part of those that want or already have them; it is natural, they say, an instinct and anyway, someone has to sacrifice their resources and freedom in order to raise the next generation and care for us all in our old age.

The funny thing is that people who have made the same choice as us can be just as bad; we are the altruistic ones, the environmentally-conscious. People who have children make a selfish lifestyle choice, they get all sorts of employment privileges and state benefits and it’s all terribly unfair.

There is a similar divide between some single people and those in relationships; single people are miserable, nobody really chooses that – or they are promiscuous, no sticking power, they haven’t quite grown up yet. Similarly, marriage is a farce, people just pretend to be happy, but really it is just pride and a misplaced sense of duty holding them together. And so it goes on through every lifestyle choice there is; from home-ownership to holiday destinations. Of course it is quite natural to appreciate the benefits of one’s choices and to comment on those who we feel are making a mistake, but why can’t we also appreciate the fact that we could do things differently?

In the past they had much stronger concepts of social acceptability and of course older generations can pretend that there were really no choices at all. My Grandmother insists that having sex outside marriage was inconceivable in her day and yet I know that both her sisters had their first children within six months of their marriages. My parents claim that it would have been impossible for them to live together before they were married in 1974 and yet I know my Mum’s best friend cohabited with both her eventual husband and another boyfriend (though not simultaneously) for a good few years.

Oh and of course homosexuality didn’t exist at all before about 1983. People just hadn’t thought about that sort of thing before; it hadn’t even occurred to them before Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

What they mean is it would have been difficult, it would have meant stepping out of line. Now there are no longer nearly so many lines – or at least they are not nearly so rigid and yet folks seem to have the need to create and reinforce them.

And I really don’t get it. I am pretty insecure about a lot of things, but I hope I don’t ever suggest to people that a certain way of living is the best. I guess I have been critical when people talk in terms of obligation about things which are purely choice; we must buy a house, we must have a holiday, we need a shiny new car and we don’t have enough money.

But we really benefit from diversity, from what Mr Mill described as experiments in living. I'll try it my way, you try it yours and maybe we can share what we both learn?

We need values; we need not to fuck one another over, whatever else we do. But perhaps more than anything we have to realise that our lives are our own; they are no more and no less than what we chose to do with the cards we have been dealt. If we spent as much time working on that and less time making nervous sideways glances and snide remarks about those around us, we might have much less to feel insecure about.


Lady Bracknell said...

"Inconceivable": deliberate pun, or Freudian slip?

Anonymous said...

I've said this elsewhere in the blogsphere, but it bears saying again: some people interpret a simple difference of opinion or taste as implicit criticism of themselves. If you say you don't want children, that must mean that you think I am wrong/selfish/stupid for having/wanting children. How dare you? Therefore I will counterattack.

Just read threads on the ouch! board for extended examples of this mindset.

Not realising that simple fact has got me into oodles of trouble over the years, I would hate for it to trip you up too.

The Goldfish said...

"Inconceivable" slipped out but when I re-read the sentence I thought, "Oh well, nobody apart from me will notice that."

I am ashamed to have underestimated readers such as her Ladyship.

Thing is about all this, it must be due to insecurity. There are some things about my life I am sensitive about being judged for, but if I am to be judged, there is little I can say or do to exonerate myself in another person's mind.

So now we have so much freedom to live life the way we want, why don't other people have the confidence to ignore these imaginary slights? Why do so many folks imagine them in the first place when other people simply accept a difference in opinion and experience?