A friend seeks contentment the hard way

Photo: Jorge Royan, Argentina

Photography: Jorge Royan, Argentina

He was born into an assured middle class comfort, a guarantee of a private education and career to follow. His future classmates would go on to become cabinet ministers in government, bankers and CEO’s. A few became artists with no real need even to sell their work. Like him, their future would be cushioned with inheritances, trust funds, contacts.

By his mid-teens, these privileges had begun to jar with his sense of individuality. He felt he was being led along a path of someone else’s choosing – his father, his teachers, what used to be called ‘the establishment’. There was a feeling of an enforced cronyism which he felt deeply reluctant to conform to. So he decided he had to rebel.

And what does a privately educated, rebellious British schoolboy do in the 1960’s? – he becomes a communist. Attaching to an ideology which fed his youthful contrarianism made him feel he was charting his own course in life. He was wrong-footed by the Czech invasion, but his thinking was by then set. He would be a grafting wage-earner.

Being both an idealist and a romantic, he set sail for Ireland where he would sell his labour working on a travelling fair. Never quite feeling accepted and a little hurt for all that, he returned to England, toiling shifts in factories. His political ideology became more sophisticated. He cultivated the speech of his co-workers. But he was still a posh boy.

And he couldn’t shake it off. There was an irrepressible haughtiness to him, still that exaggerated springing gait that his kind affected during their elite schooling. Still he fought it; still he believed that only by conforming to his absurdly fake self-image would he find contentment and feel comfortable in himself. He sought authenticity in play-acting.

‘Why do I always seem to provoke people? No matter how hard I try to befriend them, they always end up wanting to attack me in some way’. I had to be honest; it was a sincere question from a very dear old friend. I told him it was his fake image that was being attacked. Hard as he tried, people saw right through the pretence; they were offended by it.

Of course, we all have a self-image that we nurture and project. In that sense, my friend was only doing what we all do. We inhabit a narrative of our personal identity, an epic tale of what and who we are. We cling to this so dearly such that it becomes embedded as belief – we believe the story correlates to reality. And if we believe it, why shouldn’t others?

This on-going narration is largely responsible for sustaining our sense of selfhood. We keep the thing knitted together with the flow of our thoughts and perceptions, and all that those mental phenomena give rise to in action. Along with our bodily feelings, our running analysis of our situation and our undeniable sense of being, this narration feeds the self.

But this sense of self is not identical to our authentic being; it doesn’t correlate to the actuality of our being. It is, for the most part, merely this mental creation of the narrative. We can manipulate the narrative as much as we like, we can be as extreme as my friend and fabricate a new story; but it’ll never authentically disclose our being to itself or to others.

There was nothing wrong with being born into privilege. My friend had no need to disown all that entailed. It’s incredibly hard work fictionalising a life. It took my friend most of his adulthood to realise the futility of attempting this. All the while, he believed his authentic self truly was a fairground worker, a night-shift operator, a revolutionary.

He exhausted himself in attempting to inhabit these fake identities. He offended and disturbed so many people in his clumsy, transparent masquerading. And when people were provoked into attacking him in some way because of it, he tried even harder to deceive by manipulating the attackers’ own feelings. This cleverness only made matters worse.

Our authentic identity isn’t a narrative creation. It doesn’t need working at with story-telling and charades. We don’t need to create an acceptable self to project to the world, let alone an unacceptable one. Such manipulations are only ever mutations of inauthentic selfhood in any case. In seeing through this great deception, our authenticity is realised.

2 thoughts on “A friend seeks contentment the hard way

  1. “We don’t need to create an acceptable self to project to the world, let alone an unacceptable one.” – Very true, and I have seen that which you have described so well above many times. In trying to fit in, to find a place they think they need, they stand out a mile. At worst, anger is aimed their way, at best, some may see through the charade to the person and like them despite the show, though I believe this can come hand in hand with a kind of soft pity. It is indeed a long, hard path to reach contentment of any kind this way, and I am grateful to have come to it by another path, albeit one that has had its own hurdles and girdles, peaks and troughs. I’d not swap it mind *laughs*.

    A brief dip in your pool tonight afore sleep H, has me, as ever, soothed from the days aches, be they mind or body. *smiles*

    – Sonmi the Funny Girl upon the Cloud.

    • Hello Funny Girl, what a delight to find you flicking through this early remnant, one which had me yet to find my feet in this format, and I think it shows a little to be frank. The whole writing endeavour is a never-ending work in progress of course, though I now have realised that I should seek to convey less, and focus a little more on a particular aspect of the subject tackled. I am pleased that what I described here chimed with your own experience though, and had an instinct that at least a few readers would recognise shades of the same in others they themselves knew. The friend I describe here is in fact an extremely genuine and well-meaning fellow at heart, though for a very many years made the terrible mistake of discarding much of that along with his attempts to conceal and disown his privileged roots. And you are of course correct, in that those who behave in this way can still be likeable, and I remained close to my friend throughout all this, and still do to this day. Quite often, we are able to see through the masks of others and reveal the face beneath, and once in a rare while, it may be as well to point out to those closest to us that they ought be careful as regards those they choose to wear; provided always, we too will take our own advice. So long Funny Girl, and thank you for your visit. Hariod ❤

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