Maybe you’re familiar with the TV series Adam Ruins Everything: Where writer and show host Adam Conover aims to debunk the myriad misconceptions that pervade U.S. society. I love the way he not only points out the popular beliefs and assumptions presented in each episode, but provides references and sometimes actual authorities on the subject to bedunk those myths and assumptions.
ARE has covered a myriad of subjects—the episode about the music industry has a lot of parallels to the writing industry, BTW—but last night’s subject, about conspiracy theories, made me stop and consider some of my own perceptions, to wit: Do I have a realistic take on how my own life has progressed?
As an example: Being African-American, I’m aware of the many aspects of American life that have been tailor-made to disadvantage and downright oppress me based on my color, while providing advantages in similar situations to European-Americans. Over the years, I’ve had my share of missed opportunities of one kind or another; and occasionally, I suspect my color to have played a role in those losses.
But can I make an honest (much less accurate) assessment of that? In cases where I don’t know one way or the other, should I assume that I was purposely disadvantaged because of my color? Was I actively discriminated against? Was it just my personal inadequacies that lost me those opportunities? Or am I assuming conspiracies where there are none? I realize that much of those discrimination-based processes are specifically designed to obscure evidence of its effects… but without concrete evidence, should I automatically assume the worst? And should I make future decisions—what I do, where I go, how I act towards others—based on unfounded assumptions and evidence I don’t actually have?
Another example would be my attempt to become a successful novelist: Most of the assumptions I’ve made about my failures to sell my books are, admittedly, based on a lack of data rather than actual evidence. For instance, I could assume that my writing should have been good enough to forward my career… but without hard data, and only a few readers’ comments, I never had real support for that assumption.
(BTW, don’t bother looking now: The books have been taken out of circulation. Sorry.)
More vexing was actual promotion of my work: Can I assume that my blown promotional efforts were due exclusively to my own failings as a promoter… or could it be that the indifference or even animosity of colleagues and strangers played a part in my failure? Were my inadequate efforts at connecting to potential supporters all my fault? Did prospective support sources ignore me… just not notice me… or did others intentionally distract them from me for their own ends? And my face wasn’t exactly hidden: Did my race, my age, my looks, my glasses, my weight, etc, etc, adversely impact my attempts at promotion, or discourage those who would support me?
Most importantly, should I make assumptions upon my own character based on what are essentially theories? Should I hate on others, based on theorized slights… or should I hate upon myself for supposedly not being good enough, savvy enough, persistent enough to succeed? Should I assume the world is out to get me… or that my failures are all on me?
What’s most frustrating about this conundrum is that one decision takes you to anger… while the other leads to an inferiority complex. Where is the middle ground, where you can just shrug off the past, no harm no foul, not assume the worst of either side, and live your life without regrets?
I wish I knew. Because living a life that feels like one part anger, one part inferiority and seemingly nothing else, leads you down a dark path that you might never find your way out of. Unlike Adam Ruins Everything, I have lots of questions, but no hard data to support answers. So I’m stuck with either second-guessing myself or self-identifying conspiracy theories against me, neither of which is a particularly good head-space… or a reliable way to make decisions.
At least I can apply one lesson from Adam Ruins Everything: Question. If unsure, investigate… ask… study. Just don’t blindly accept. And when unsure, temper your responses to avoid prejudice or unfounded assumption. Or don’t respond at all.
This is where I feel like I am now: Unsure and unable to act or respond, because I don’t have the data I need to make informed decisions. I’m just going through the motions, wanting to take the next step, but not knowing what that next step is, and vaguely hoping something will present itself that will help me make a decision… any decision.
Or, hoping something—good or bad—will come along that will take the decision out of my hands and set me on another path entirely… because at least then I’ll be doing something.