When I was in College, I remember feeling kind of lost. It was around that time I think that I could say that I became an agnostic, inasmuch as you could say that there’s ever a turn of events that makes you stop thinking about your faith.
What do I mean when I say “faith”, exactly? Well, a lot of religions will tell you what faith is– how to keep it up, why you should keep it up– but maybe we can tackle this from an easier angle. Think instead of the expression “in good faith.” When you do something for someone “in good faith,” it means that you’re sticking out your neck. And when we say “sticking out our neck,” you’re supposed to think of the origins of the expression in execution– you are helping people who might want to lop off your head or hang you. It’s all about the risk of something bad happening to you. On the flipside however, your act of doing something in good faith might actually have good results– the person you stick your neck out for might actually not be an asshole, and may actually appreciate what you’re doing. They might even not take advantage of you or screw you over.
What I do know is that there are certain actions that, in certain situations, leave you more vulnerable than others. Faith is about doing things in disregard of the potential exploitation of our vulnerability.
Now, there is a difference between being vulnerable and feeling vulnerable, but the two have equally destructive results.
Back to when I was in college– I didn’t feel vulnerable. But I was. Well you know, I went through the motions of keeping it real, sticking it to the man by rebelling. Nothing makes you feel stronger than being self destructive after a lifetime of exemplary high school performance,and Catholic Chinese Confucian upbringing. But once I was away from the house in College? Next to a mall? Next to a bar, pool hall and arcade? Oh man. Pour that sauce on.
An act of rebellion is superficially an act of defiance, but it’s internal strength and vigor are sourced at the tightly wound sense of frustration. When I was in elementary school, I read, during a series of class stories about inventions, that “necessity is the mother of invention.” This is true. The more militant form might be that “frustration is the herald of change.” I didn’t rebel because I was necessarily targetting my parents for the strictness of my upbgringing (and frankly, if I had my way, they would never even have found out about my truancy!) I mean, what kind of guerrilla is that, who has no affect on his target? No, for me, rebellion was something a lot simpler. It was about building up some pride in myself, giving myself some sense of independence or idenity. Most of all, it was about demonstrating control to myself over my own life.
My way of asserting my pride in myself was to be a night flyer– lots of momentum, lots of forward movement– but blindness. I didn’t really have any destinations except where I could see myself being. And that’s where I made some questionable decisions. I spent hours on end, day after day, at the arcades, scraping together a legacy at fighting games that nobody remembers nowadays, especially as I pass by that old join on my way to work and the empty mall stall is still for rent. I spent time training in martial arts, fascinated with rhetoric and the mysticism. I spent somet time drinking, I spent some time dating, I spent time blogging my life when blogging was just starting out.
Don’t get me wrong; I got good at a lot of things. But I grew a lot of strength in what you could consider a localized battles, and meanwhile, I was losing sight of the war. I spent all my time in the arcades, playing mostly several generations of Street Fighter games. Had a grade of A- in French, but failed the class due to attendance (more specifically, a lack thereof). Did it matter to me at the time? Even though I knew I had an addiction problem (to the arcades), I was fine at first. My faith was in the present, and in myself.
That confidence and knowing everything abou the world was because I’d figured out some simple ways of looking at things in terms of what things had to to do with Me and what I could get out of Others– I was, in unabashed terms, a user. Sure, some people around me will tell you that they had a great deal of respect for me back then because I was very down to earth and straightforward. But if you want to know what was going on in my head at the time? I was an emotional capitalist. I wasn’t really sticking out my neck for anyone or anything. My faith in others extended as far as my trust in their ability deliver primarily, while their character and worth of person came second.
On the outside, I was like any other person who had friends and did things for fun. So what’s the difference you might ask?
The difference, really, is in a lack of faith.
I didn’t believe in people back then. And that corruption of a basic necessity of human life stemed from something worse than my frustration at having no control in my life– I didn’t have faith in myself.
You see, even if you have no control over your life, if you at least have faith in yourself, then you know that one day you’ll get that control. Me? I think my way of coping was to basically bully the little battles in life. Things like videogames were one way of doing things and getting some small sense of acheivement. It was like a quick fix for self-esteem to play against a computer and win the game. I didn’t really see where I was going with all that– but the point was that whatever got in my way, I could deal with it.
If I had continued like that, I might still be a loser in a bar at the age of 28, wondering when the next paycheque would come just so I could squander it on my next fix. So what changed?
I can’t put my finger on it, and the transition is blurry. Somewhere along the line, I stopped looking at people just because of the economics of our friendhips, and I started working solely on the things I could do for the world around me “in good faith.” I don’t yet think I beleived in myself–but something made me believe in others. What triggered it?
When I realized I was vulnerable.
Some people feel vulnerable when they’re stronger than they think– and that’s bad, because without the brain in the game, without the soul in the roll, all the strength and potential means nothing. That wasn’t my problem. My problem was that I was weak, but I thought I was strong. That’s because I was very good at lying to myself. I could take pride in all the small acheivements in life: winning a round of of Marvel versus Capcom at the arcades; finishing a paper 5 minutes before class started; performing a perfect slip and counter in a round of sparring; coming up with the perfect comeback when someone said something stupid. And there were, of course, other things, less event related, but more general; being popular among my friends; having my own salary and buying my own things, compared to other people my age; climbing into infamy in student club politics. We all have battles, and as a result, we all have war stories– but I was one of those people who was enjoying the storytelling before I should have.
Something changed. It wasn’t over night. But at some point, in got tired of fighting in closed quarters for the goal of the day. I was tired of being a detached wetwork mercenary in a campaign that was my own life. I wanted to be in control, I think, and when I looked at it– for all the little gains I’d made, all the battles I’d won– they were insignificant in the big picture of the world.
So, I changed.
I don’t know how. It wasn’t over night. If I could tell you how, in fact, if anyone could tell you how they just started “having faith,” I think that the whole world would overnight be a completely different adventure.
Do you think maybe, I can identify the cause, perhaps symptomatically? I started wanting things for myself. A safer job. I wanted to finish not just College, but my University degree as well. I started wanting good things for my family. I changed jobs from commercial sales rep stuff to public service in a terrible, but community spirited library, and eventually, my big break was my introduction into the healthcare industry. And just as I started meeting more of the adult world, and wishing better fates on those around me, I started wanting good things for myself– beyond the next fun thing to do in the next hour, I started wondering– what might life be like 5 years down the line? What will it be like, 20, 30, 50 years down the line?
Years later, today, I feel whole. Not whole in the sense that I have everything I want– but whole in that I have the dynamic machinery at my disposal that allows me to feel proud of who I am, learn what I need to learn, and live how I want to live.