A Life Worth Living

We learn to behave from each other, so behave yourself!

By 29th December 2021 December 31st, 2021 One Comment
We learn to behave from others so behave yourself
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I found myself ruminating over facets of perception from a tender age.

While other children were playing with toy cars, I often found myself gazing into space and considering random and sometimes absurd ideas, not to say that I didn’t play with toy cars – I loved the damn things! But I was easily distracted and frequently and irrepressibly lost in my thoughts. I could stare at the clouds for long enough to forget where I was. And that is no exaggeration.

Although I can’t specify precisely how old I was at the time, my somewhat blurry recollection of where I was living would suggest I was approximately three when I did something rather unusual. Some might consider it a child’s innocent curiosity, while others will undoubtedly perceive it as an act of a potential psychopath in the making. I comfort myself in thinking it is not the latter. But I will allow you to pass your judgement, providing it is done silently and strictly within the confines of your mind.

It was a sweltering day in the summer of ’85. Summer always felt warmer and lasted longer as a child. Special occasions seemed more special, sweets tasted sweeter, and almost everything was an adventure. My family and I lived in a terraced house in the small market town of High Wycombe. I was an active and curious toddler who broke everything I touched, and I touched everything. I persistently strived to steal my parents’ attention, not because I lacked it but because I greedily wanted it, not to mention that I was far more deserving of it. As far as I was concerned, I was the only intelligent lifeform in existence. The world, in all its glory, revolved around me. My desires and wants transcended everyone else’s, including my siblings and the children of my parent’s friends, who, I was convinced, only existed to serve me.

I demonstrated my understanding of the world through tyrannic tantrums and demanding to have everything I saw and liked – this included things belonging to other people. My outbursts were sometimes justifiable and, at other times, a necessary evil to maintain balance and order.

One of our neighbours came to our house to spend some time with my mother, as she often did. She brought her snotty-nosed son along. I didn’t like him. I would love to tell you that my extreme dislike for him resulted from something horrid he did, but that would be a lie. The fact was that I didn’t even know why I didn’t like him; I just didn’t.

The boy’s hair was long and unkempt. He was constantly pushing it off his face, and he always wore a jumper, even in the summer. He would continuously wipe his runny nose with the sleeve, and, as practical as it was, I found it revolting. I wanted to scrunch him up into a ball and fire him out of a canon to another galaxy.

Usually, I would completely ignore him when he inconveniently and annoyingly showed up, but he came with something that caught my eye on that particular day. It more than caught my eye, it had my complete and undivided attention.

I immediately stopped colouring and tossed my crayon on the floor as if it meant nothing. I darted towards the boy like a predator, unable to control my primitive instincts – my materialistic eyes fixed on the prize. I watched as he sat on the patterned carpet and pushed a gleaming black car back and forth violently and like a mindless fool. It was Kit from the popular television series Knight Rider. It had the blinking red LED lights just like in the show and made extraordinary sounds.

A queasy feeling emerged in my stomach. I was infatuated by the prospect of playing with Kit. Wildly infatuated. I would play with it so much better, like how it was intended to be played with. It deserved to be played with by me as much as I deserved to play with it. And this was the only rationale needed to remove anyone who stood in the way, which in this case was a silly little boy I already despised with an unexplainable and uncontrollable passion.

Without a trace of reluctance, I authoritatively demanded that he hand the car over to me at once. I ordered him to surrender the vehicle like a king commanding a servant, and I expected him to comply submissively. But, to my absolute astonishment and outrage, the insubordinate, snotty-nosed buffoon refused to abide by my command. In my mind, this was an act of war. I was infuriated. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs at the mutiny and audacity of the peasant, but his startling refusal to meet my demands induced a strange thought in the deep uncharted regions of my mind. And it genuinely, to the best of my recollection, was the first time I thought it: did this moron have the same feelings and desires as me? Was he conscious like me? Did he have the ability to think? The questions bounced around in my head like a ping pong ball. I went as far as to ask myself whether he felt pain as I did. That’s when I thought to test the theory. I needed to know, and deep down, I feared the worst. If he did, this could change life as I knew it – a change I was undoubtedly not ready for.

I guess this is the “potential psychopath in the making” part.

I clenched my fist and, without hesitation, struck him on the arm with great force. Admittedly, not my proudest moment but a significant turning point in my life, nevertheless. I stepped back and observed his reaction. To my utter despair, he screamed in pain, and tears streamed down his flustered cheeks. I was dumbfounded at the alarming discovery.

His mother stormed into the room and cradled him in her arms, comforting him just the way my mother did when I was sick or in pain. It struck me like a bolt of lightning, sending the shocking realisation that I was not alone rippling down my developing spine.

Any attempt to explain to my furious mother that this was not an act of malice, rather a necessary experiment in psychological science would have proved futile – hitting the boy over the Kit car was much easier to digest.

I had learned that I was not the only person in the world who had feelings and emotions. I might be the most important in my eyes, but not the only one. Other people existed and were responsible for themselves as much as I was responsible for myself. My wants and desires could not justify cruel actions, and actions, as I learned the hard way, had consequences.

When my mother sat me down, she did what any good mother would have done; she told me that hitting was wrong and that I should have asked for it if I wanted the toy. Just taking things or hurting people to take things were not acceptable. I was made to apologise – my totalitarian empire was crumbling before me.

Although my small act of violence was not for my selfish pursuit of the toy car, it was, nonetheless, an unacceptable action – I learned that there are things that people consider as objectionable conduct. Growing up, experiences such as these presented morals and lessons that shaped my behaviour, and they were taught to me by my parents – who were, knowingly or unknowingly, my first teachers. They taught me how to behave like a human and respect other humans, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

Reflecting on my childhood experiences has afforded me a deeper understanding of myself. How I behave and react in different situations are sometimes a direct reflection of my parents’ advice and actions. This is a learned behaviour. And, unfortunately, this is not always good – like receiving good advice and witnessing good reactions, you can receive and witness the opposite.

For instance, children witnessing their parents fighting could negatively affect their confidence or consider this normal behaviour. As a result, they might subconsciously mimic this behaviour and find it challenging to form relationships.

Behaviours are also not strictly learned from parents; they are learned from anyone children are exposed to – this could be siblings, friends, school teachers and even people on the television.

Events from our childhood can positively or negatively impact us, so it is imperative to identify what the impact is and what caused it. If it is negative, you must try to make sense of it before overcoming it. And to live a fulfilling life, overcome it, you must.

When I was in primary school, I loved indoor playtime. This phenomenon occurred when it was raining, and we were not allowed out to the playground but got to play indoors with the school toys. On one rainy day, I was playing with some blocks at the back of the classroom when another boy convinced me to climb into a large toy chest. I naively climbed in, only for him to slam the lid over the top and lock me inside.

After the initial shock, I began screaming and banging on the inside of the toy chest. I suddenly felt as if I could not breathe. I could hear the sadistic boy laugh hysterically as I cried for him to let me out. I immediately thought I would be locked inside forever, or at least until I ran out of air, which seemed like it was going to be very soon.

I was locked inside for about sixty seconds before a girl who heard my cries came rushing to my aid. She shouted for the boy to open the lid, he refused until she threatened to call the teacher. He then removed the lid, and I clambered out, gasping for air.

This experience led me to suffer from a condition called claustrophobia. I felt suffocated in small spaces, including lifts. It was impossible to participate in a game of Hide and Seek; the moment I hid, a rush of panic would ripple through me, and I found it difficult to breathe, forcing me to jump out of my hiding spot. Although I could breathe perfectly fine, I had associated being in any confined space with the traumatic experience of being trapped in the toy chest. It took many years to get over my fear of confined spaces. Whenever I found myself in this situation, I would pause, take deep breaths and remind myself that I was not trapped in a toy chest. There was no evil, sadistic little boy getting thrills from locking me inside, and I could breathe fine. And although I was eternally grateful for the little girl who saved me from the torment, I didn’t need saving. It took a lot of determination, willpower and practice to get over it.

Imagine, however, if I had known that it was only my mind convincing me that I would die if I did not get out immediately. Suppose someone had taught me how to control my thoughts and breathing while in confined spaces; perhaps I might have managed my anxiety better. Instead, I silently suffered from it for years and learned to overcome it myself. Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly fortunate to get over the phobia and, to a degree, proud that I accomplished this on my own, but I am also deeply saddened about all the time I suffered with it and how much I missed out as a result.

Our experiences can shape us as people, which can be extraordinarily positive or devastatingly negative. It is, therefore, crucial that we investigate our habits and tendencies to identify root causes, which is the first step to understanding ourselves and overcoming the pain points in our lives. This is not to mention the devastating effects of repeated behaviour and vicious cycles of pain and misery.

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