July 24, 2012 in Stuff
I met a man once who defined his position in my life by asking, ‘Why?’. It was not enough for him to know that I liked or disliked something; he had to know why. To my surprise, I found that I at first struggled to answer. I had fallen unknowingly into a state of casually applying or denying my affections and didn’t really bother with the reasons. I realised, quite startlingly, that I didn’t really know why I liked or disliked things – and with that followed the conclusion that if I didn’t know why, then I didn’t know me.
“Do you like strawberries?” he’d ask me, at the store. “I do!” I’d eagerly reply. Yes, I like strawberries. “Why?” he’d ask. I’d be stumped. “I just do.” My opinion hadn’t gone further than the positive reaction of my palette to the taste of a strawberry. Not good enough. “Yes, but why? What is it about a strawberry that makes you like it?” And so I considered the allure of strawberries. It took me a significant time to determine that I like strawberries because they’re not too sweet, and not too bitter; that they’re firm, but also juicy.
Strawberries were just the beginning. “Why do you dislike heavy metal?” – “It’s just never appealed to me.” – “Yes, but why? What don’t you like about it?” – I dislike heavy metal because it’s too noisy. And thus I realise that I don’t really like anything that’s too much of a cacophony of loud noises. I dislike people shouting, even non-aggressively.
We progressed from fruits and music to hobbies, entertainment, lifestyle choices – if I expressed an opinion on something, he would always ask me why. At first it was daunting. I was careful not to voice whether I liked or disliked something because I was afraid of not having the answer when he inevitably asked ‘why?’, and feeling stupid, or looking like a fool. I saw it as confrontational – that he was asking why as if to justify my decision; to gauge whether or not I’d put appropriate thought and consideration into my assessment. I’m rebellious by nature, and bristled at this thought – who was this man to judge me on why I liked or disliked something? What did HE care? But that was just it – it was because he cared.
I slowly came around to the idea. He was relentless with his whys and I started putting more thought into why I liked and disliked things. I found myself questioning old loves and older hatreds; analysing my emotions and responses to anything and everything. I discovered that all of the bitter, negative emotions I harboured had underlying notions that were far easier to grasp, tackle and be done with once I knew why I was reacting to them in that way. Hatred became replaced with pity and that made space for more positive thoughts. Things I’d been clinging to slowly slipped away as I realised they just weren’t that important – that I was letting them define me instead of letting them go and moving on. I found patterns in the things I liked and focused on those; I worked to surround myself with things that I liked and gradually work away from the things I didn’t. I took all my ‘whys’ and used them to find more things that I liked for reasons I hadn’t considered.
I found myself. It was like untangling a piece of barbed wire from a delicate silver chain. Separating the good stuff from the bad stuff, understanding why I disliked the bad stuff, forgiving myself, forgiving other people, until there was less and less bad stuff and loads more good stuff. I started enjoying being in my own company, worrying less about things that were ultimately unimportant (and being able to identify those things). I honed my ideals, my morals, my values.
I realise this may sound incredibly trite, but it’s something that’s important. Until you know yourself, nobody else can come close to knowing you. Knowing WHY you like and dislike things is as important as knowing that you like and dislike them in the first place. Don’t take your opinions for granted; always ask yourself, ‘why?’. You have to live the rest of your life in your own company. Knowing what that person likes, being able to easily surround yourself with things that make you happy and confidently handle and remove things that make you unhappy will make your life, and the lives of those around you, so much richer.