I asked a friend recently if they could recall any “sliding door” moments during their life – moments where a decision was made that took them in one direction rather than another.
The question of self determination has been on my mind a lot recently. It strikes me that the more you think about it, the more complicated it becomes – because life isn’t just about decisions we make in the moment – it’s about the obligations and expectations we carry with us, and the legacy our actions create.
In many ways expectation can be associated with the various roles we are handed during our lifetime. If you are a homeowner, you are expected to look after the property – marketing, fashion, and peer pressure all conspire to encourage improvement of that property – it quickly becomes a burden we inflict upon ourselves.
The same could be said of relationships – common expectations dictate that once in a relationship with somebody we should no longer look at, or think about anybody except our chosen partner. This is of course nonsense, and yet we all play along with the expectation to an extent.
In reality we are all individuals, and will remain so throughout our lives. Sure, we may embellish our association with others – with legal agreements, shared assets, and so on – but we still have our own ideas, thoughts dreams, hopes, fears, and so on. We may share them with those close to us – but they are our own.
It has become interesting – after reaching the point in life where I own a house, and have several children – that younger people often remark that I seem to have my life “together”. This is of course predicated on expectations of where somebody should be at a given point in their life. I wonder if they ever stop to think that those weighed down with a mortgage, children, parenting, grocery shopping, cleaning toilets, cutting grass, and so on might look back at their single friends through rose tinted glasses ?
From time to time, everybody will admit to wishing they had something they do not.
Expectations can be seen as an enormous burden – of doing that which is expected of you. Towing the line. Helping, giving, supporting, sharing, teaching, providing. The list goes on and on. The strange thing – if you think about it – is that all of these behaviors are taught. They are often bundled in with “morality”, and taught to young children through religious stories. If you look back far enough, you discover that religion may well have been invented as a tool to move a developing populance from a fuedal society to one with a heirarchy, rules, laws, and expectations.
It’s that word “expectations” again, isn’t it.
If expectations can become such a burden, then what alternative is there? A selfish life spent creating wreckage in it’s wake? A life with no legacy to share with future generations ? This of course raises the question of what legacy really is – if legacy is “being remembered”, what purpose does it serve to be remembered ? If we live a “good” life, giving our time and effort to others, is that a life wasted, or a life invested? In the wider scheme of things, do the actions of a single person really make a difference?
I have no answers to any of this. I don’t think anybody else does either.
Perhaps J. K. Rowling got it right when she wrote Dumbledore’s line “it doesn’t do to dwell on dreams and forget to live” – but what if living means defying the expectations that surround us ? What if living means finding an escape to make the weight on our shoulders more bearable from time to time ?