Society, when it works, provides guidance. "There but for the Grace of God go I" is not a cliche or a pat phrase. Within us all are the powers to fear, hate, rationalise, aspire, desire. Heck, desire, aspiration and 'righteous control' were in our first directives, right up there with sex, if you go by Genesis - Go forth and multiply, subdue the earth etc etc. Going forth takes desire and aspiration, because the alternative is to stay put with a nice cup of tea. Oops, scrap the cuppa, that would involve desiring one.
Society when it works too well, when its guidance is absorbed too completely by a good soul, by a young and trusting heart, ceases to be such a benefit. Every one of us, at some point, has absorbed a social lesson about etiquette, manners, morals and taken it on board as gospel - as the way to achieve approval and validation. Behaving in such and such a manner makes you an officially 'nice' person. Words like never, couldn't, shouldn't, must, mustn't all creep in.
Later on you might witness or read of someone breaking that social taboo and understand with your rational mind how much damage is or is not done. It might be something as big as committing murder, or as small as farting in the checkout line at the supermarket. You might choose to forgive, or even sympathise, but these feelings are directed toward the person and not the action.
Hard wired into your head by that point is the idea that, for example, if Mrs Jones ever 'let one rip' in public there would be gossip, curiosity but no condemnation, whereas if you'd done it, the sky would fall down and you would be forced to take up a hermitage and beat yourself with sticks for ever and ever - that you would never live it down.
Some of us set ourselves personal standards that outstrip what we expect of others. All of us had parents and teachers who too often said "you must" when they meant "ideally", and even that was subjective.
One thing is certain. We are meant to grow, to learn, to communicate, to investigate. We might have 'the best' in mind as a goal, but we are designed to spend a lifetime figuring out what that really is. What matters, what we stand for, these are not finite. They cannot be boxed and neatly tied in ribbon and handed to us by even the most well meaning parents. We all start out in adult life with an embedded set of personal standards. If you ever say to yourself not
'This is how I believe I should be' but
'This is how I must/should be (or the sky will fall down)'
then you are heading for a fall.
We are all imperfect. There is no such thing as an 'off the peg' lifestyle.
The life you define too solidly becomes like a hair shirt a size too small. The first abrasions are misread as proof that you have self control, that you have self denial, that you have morals and principles. If your rules for yourself are too harsh, however, then the seams will chafe constantly, silently, secretly, digging into your skin somewhere or other with every move that you make. One day you will wake up screaming and rip the whole thing to shreds to get away from the itch. Call it manic depression, call it a bipolar episode, call it a nervous breakdown, a mid-life crisis or just plain 'throwing a right wobbly'; anything you like. It will be yours and individual to you.
Funnily enough, it's not the end of the world. If your mind blows a fuse, If you can't seem to gel with this world, if you are confused or panicked at the lack of reaction, the lack of explosions and loud condemnations, if you suddenly feel invisible, then please, read Ecclesiastes chapter one, verses one to eleven. They don't make much sense unless you're there, but if you are in the black depths of depression then they sing. Honestly.
Happy New Year, or if this is you, now, then happy new, more forgiving life (a new shirt - may this one be cool, loose silk!)
And speaking of singing, in the words of James, the musician, not the apostle:
Those who find themselves ridiculous, sit down next to me.