life

Rudolph’s Redemption

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” might be the deepest of all the Christmas Classics. It definitely is among the most animated ones. There can be no doubt. Maybe you think it’s sappy, or outdated, or just part of the stupid song. Not so. There is more, here, than meets the eye. There is substance beneath the veneer of stop-animation and the lyricism of Burl Ives. There is a truly valuable and timeless lesson therein. 

Rudolph is a treatise on acceptance. It is a very basic story about the fact that what makes us different, what often makes us hated, mistreated, ignored, or berated … those are the things worth having. Those are the things that define us. It’s not the 99.9% of genetic makeup that we share with monkeys that makes us special, is it? It’s that 0.1% … that last little bit. Rudolph couldn’t help his nose being red any more than Hermey could help loving teeth. Those toys … those misfit toys … they were MADE that way. All of the characters in this story find redemption, ironically, because of the very parts of their being that made them hated. This special teaches a fundamental character trait. It shows that one should value others, not judge them. It tells us to love one another, and not to mistreat our fellow beings.

Rudolph was driven away in shame, Hermey was belittled into quitting his job, and the toys were abandoned and ostracized for not conforming to what some idiot kids thought a “toy” was supposed to be. Well screw those kids, I’ll take a misfit toy over a regular one any day of the week. I want the nesting doll that ends in a mouse. I want a bird that swims. I want a water gun than shoots jelly. I want a polka dot elephant. I want a cowboy riding an ostrich. I want a sinking boat and a plane that can’t fly. I want a train with square wheels on its caboose. I want a damn Charlie in the Box! I want an elvish dentist and a radiant reindeer. I want uniqueness. I want different. Conformity is boring. No one remembers any of the other elves’ names or any of the other reindeer kids, either. If I didn’t watch the special every year, I wouldn’t even remember that they gave some of them names at all. They are uninteresting, unimportant, and banal. But the weirdos stick with you. The oddballs came through in the end, when no one else could.

Hermey de-toothed the bumble and made it tame. The toys were found by Santa and given to (presumably) less judgmental, more grateful children. And Rudolph …well, without him, there wouldn’t have been any presents at all that year. Despite all of their so-called flaws, these hated and undervalued people came right back to help those who persecuted them in the first place. If that isn’t a Christian ideal consistent with the very essence of this purportedly holy day, then I don’t know what is. I can’t think of a single other animated classic that has anything nearly as moving at its core, save perhaps “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer could be played at any time of year for people of any age and it would still ring true, however. That is somewhat unique among the holiday classics.

So, this year and all years hence, I ask you all to lift a glass of eggnog to the greatest, simplest, and purest of all Christmas messages! It is a toast to Rudolph, Hermey, and to all the Misfit Toys out there. It is a toast to our selves. It is a toast to redemption and a toast to acceptance. If you can’t do at least that much this holiday season, then you’re no friend of mine.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and a Joyous Whatever Else You Celebrate!

Finding Purpose in Pain

Denial, withdrawal, and the isolation of one’s self from others. All are characteristic of a person experiencing the repercussions of deeply felt emotional pain. Self-inflicted pain, physically, mentally or emotionally, is far reaching and a stranger to no one. Show me an individual that claims to have never attempted to find a means of inflicting one form of pain or another on themselves at any given point in their lives, and I will show you the face of denial. But why would anyone want to feel pain?

The answer to that question is actually very straightforward: Because we want to feel alive, because we want to feel period. For some of us, pain has a purpose. It is all that remains to remind us that our hearts are still beating. A close friend once told me that the reason he liked being tattooed was because it was excruciating. He explained that this physical agony, which he actively sought out, was a means by which to feel something, anything at all. At the time I thought this to be a bit odd, however, after many years of observing those around me behave similarly in their own unique ways, I too have begun to see the benefits and advantages of feeling pain, even though my own personal pains are not physical.

If we ever wish to understand why it is we seek out and harbor pain, we must first start by finding the root or cause of it. We must identify and examine the instances in our pasts that set in motion the negative changes that would lead us to this very moment in time. Have we any hope within us of rectifying a problem and implementing the modifications necessary to forge a better existence, we must begin with an appreciation and comprehension of all the relevant factors that contributed to our present state of being. Only by doing this may we begin our journey in the pursuit of balance and harmony. We must realize that we need to always experience both ends of the broad spectrum of human emotions in order to fully appreciate them. To abuse one is to diminish its worth and, in very much the same way as any other addiction, you will eventually find that you require an increasing amount of it to achieve even remotely similar results. Sam Veda said it best: “A life devoid of struggles is a life bereft of happiness because the value of happiness is realized only after pain.”

Everyone has heard someone mouth the all too familiar platitudes we’ve grown to loathe and abhor: I share your pain, don’t dwell on it, you have to move on, this too shall pass, we all have problems, time heals all wounds, happiness is a choice, don’t linger in the past, there is someone worse off than you, etc. Personally, I find these to be less than helpful and mildly disingenuous, but I digress. We as humans would do well to teach ourselves how to take full advantage of both emotional pain and bliss. Discovering and using healthy outlets that work for us in times of need and heightened emotion is an ideal way of taking all of that energy, all of that joy or misery which has awakened the passion and fire within us, and using it to give birth to what may just end up being our greatest works.

Finding ways of harnessing all of this emotion is the key to becoming stronger and more resilient. I’ve found that when a person has dealt with a great deal of pain in the past, they are numbed or desensitized to the mundane issues that lie ahead and are able to venture forth in life with more confidence with respect to any future obstacles. How could those challenges yet to come possibly compare with what they’ve already endured to some extent in the past? In the end, it comes down to how you curtail your mindset and your actions to foster personal growth and development. All pain is not bad. It instills us with mental fortitude, can trigger and inspire us in ways we never thought possible, teaches us valuable life lessons, and so much more. But above all else, it is our own personal afflictions that teach us to treasure those special moments that, when all is said and done, truly make life worth living.

Learning to Say Goodbye

A big part of growing up is learning through experience to evaluate the people in your life, along with those just coming into it. This also means that you must assess the relationships you have with them and be able to weed out the ones you know are not worth your time. Some people are worth the effort, others need to be dealt with like dirty old bandaids. Even if it hurts you, it needs to go.

I think many of us become so accustomed to the people in our lives that we tend to forget to stop and evaluate whether or not they are actually positive influences. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get so close to certain people that we lose our ability to see them for who they really are. Whether we want to believe it or not, the company we keep has the the power to affect us in ways which aren’t always perceptible. With that being said, to not take the time to stand back and survey those closest to you would be to do yourself a great disservice. If you aspire to live a positive life, then you must first start by choosing to surround yourself with those who make you happy.

It is no secret that negative people certainly have a negative effect on the people around them. There is an idiom that often comes to mind when I am assessing the people in my life and their impact on me: “You are what you eat.” In very much the same way that a good diet is crucial to achieving good health, having good people around you is key to living a better life. Humans, in general, tend to be very susceptible to their surroundings. It is because we have such a tendency to be so impressionable that we often see people adopting the attitudes of those around them.

Try to imagine what it would be like if you were the only optimist stranded on a desert island full of pessimists. It is only a matter of time before it becomes difficult for even you to maintain a positive and healthy outlook when you are constantly surrounded by negative people who only look for the worst in any given situation. The problem with negativity is that it’s very easy to get caught up in it when it’s all around you. Its oppression can become a drain on your energy and can even begin to wear on your self-esteem, which, in turn, can cause you to become a more negative person yourself.

Learn to recognize the people that are detrimental to your well-being. Start focusing on the more positive things in your life and work towards building yourself up in such a way that makes you invulnerable to the negative attitudes of others. You are the only one that can choose to make your life more satisfying and enjoyable. The question is, will you do it? Or will you allow your happiness to be dictated by everyone else?

 

The Enemy Within

Whether it’s fleeting self-consciousness or paralyzing anxiety, once the balance of power between self-perception and reflected self-perception begins to shift in favor of the reflected, we begin venturing ever closer to the edge of a slippery slope. The onset is triggered when healthy reconsideration gives way to crippling self-doubt. Thoughts begin to manifest themselves as an undermining inner voice that represents the part of us that has turned against ourselves. It longs to rob us of our joy and enthusiasm, to break our spirits, and turn us into fundamentally one-dimensional people. It goes without saying that this is a true testament to human complexity and the innate ability we have to create and maintain obstacles in our lives as a means of self-sabotage. I’ve come to think of that inner voice as the enemy within. More often than not, we tend to be our own worst enemy and harshest critic. It is so easy to see the beauty in everyone around you, yet impossible to acknowledge that any exists within yourself. I always find it amusing when someone catches me staring at myself in a mirror and accuses me of being vain or narcissistic. Despite what may seem like egotism and conceit to an outsider looking in, my purpose for doing so couldn’t be any more to the contrary.

The desire to improve one’s self aesthetically, or otherwise, is what I believe to be an inherent and inescapable part of the human condition. However, there is a fine line between self improvements and unhealthy obsessions. Sadly, most people will spend their entire lives balancing on the precipice of an endless downward spiral. Even sadder still, a great deal of them may lose their footing at one point or another and, in doing so, themselves.

In a perfect world we would learn to just accept who we are and value our imperfections as much as we do our perfections. We don’t really live in a perfect world though do we? In reality, we exist in a state of perpetual war against ourselves. It’s a purely psychological battle being waged internally with no clearly defined enemy. A swami once said: “The hardest enemy to fight is the one who has outposts in your head.” It is only when there is no enemy within that the enemies without cannot hurt you.

I’ve often heard people attribute their lack of self-confidence to society and its arbitrary standards of beauty. They allow those standards to completely define their value as human beings. We tend to forget that the way we think of ourselves sets the standard for others. If a person’s self-worth is hinged on what other people think of them, and they live only for their reflection as seen in the eyes of others, then they are doomed to a life of emotional disruption and dysfunction.

In the end it all comes down to a single truth. Your worth can only come from one place and that is from within yourself. Thinking you are worthy, makes you worthy. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Tell yourself that, and then remember that you are the beholder. Challenge yourself to find beauty where others have not, including in yourself. Don’t be surprised when after you’ve discovered it, others also begin to take notice. That, after all, is the beauty of love…it grows.