Outdoor Advent Day 18

A close up of vivid green fluffy moss growing on a rotten branch. Behind, out of focus, are orange brown fallen leaves and a dark green growth of what might be ivy.

Look to your soul, for that is where you originate. You write the story of you every day with your thoughts, words and deeds. You create yourself. You get to decide your story. No one else. You.

– The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

I’ve said before that change is the human condition. What I haven’t yet said is that, at least for me, the continual change requires the continual growth of me as a person. Now I’m not saying that each day I’m a better person than I was before. That’s not helpful as a thought or yard stick to beat myself with. Growth in this sense isn’t a linear progression. It’s a myriad of zig-zags, of listening and reading and discussing and trying and sometimes failing as I attempt to understand both the world around me and who I am.

When I was a child I thought that at some point I’d be able to go “done” about myself in the same way I did with stories I wrote, pictures I drew or homework I handed in and at that point I’d be “me” and that would be it forever. It’s a sweet notion that’s compelling because it means you can stop making an effort. I mean who doesn’t sometimes want to be able to go “finished” and just be? There are days when I’d very much like to throw in the towel because I’m just so damn tired I simply don’t want to be bothered!

It’s also a daft notion. After all, the only reason that stories and pictures and homework are said to be done is that they have to be handed over to someone else to be published/exhibited/marked. You have to stop working on them for them to actually be finished. People do not function that way. We don’t get examined on everything we’ve done up to some arbitrary birthday, graded accordingly and then that’s it, that’s who you are and how you think forever more. We are not static things and, tempting though it is, we cannot treat ourselves as such.

But if we did give in and assume we were unable to change any more, would it matter? Would it really be so bad if we gave ourselves an easy ride? Well, yes, it would. What good is making our own lives a little less fraught for a while if we end up not even getting close to who we could really be if we kept putting in the work. And it isn’t just ourselves we’d be hurting. Refusing to grow is a refusal to open ourselves to new points of view and ways of thinking that we haven’t and won’t experience personally. That lack of empathy and understanding could end up hurting others, if in our ignorance we make decisions or support positions that are actually causing direct harm to people. Why would anyone want to risk that just because we’d have to keep doing the work?

Growth is a mindset. It’s the acknowledgement that what we’ve built our world on may not in fact be either true or fully understood. It’s knowing that we cannot possibly know all there is to know and understanding that that means we must therefore be willing to listen to others and do our utmost to do that listening with an open mind. It’s the willingness to learn new things, the willingness to question our beliefs, and the willingness to change them if we see they’re built on shaky ground.

I am not a finished product. I will never be a finished product. And I’m absolutely fine with that.

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