I’ll never forget the day I first encountered that adversary – insecurity. The year was 1979 and I had just entered the fourth grade at Charlotte Elementary. The ‘Tigers’, as we were called, was the typical small town grammar school. There were six grades, only slightly more teachers on staff, and I had the same kids in my class since Kindergarten. Situated where the school was, in the middle of nowhere, there were very few new faces, but in those rare cases when some poor kid’s dad got transferred to the sticks, their arrival was no less monumental than if President Jimmy Carter himself had stopped in for a visit.
This particular new kid was extraordinary by most standards; he possessed the athleticism an Olympian and the looks of a Sears’s catalogue model – the girls immediately lost their minds. Within days he was using those same athletic talents to evade their pigtail pursuits, but one afternoon while standing in line for the playground a handful cornered him, began using him as a tug-o-war rope, and proceeded to rip his shirt off. The rest of the afternoon this kid sat in class with his Luke Skywalker T-shirt hanging from one shoulder.
It’s that detachment which gives the elderly an air of transcendence unattainable by those of us who continue to weigh our self worth on the scales of status and prosperity.
I’m not quite sure why, but the thing I still remember was wondering why I was never getting chased and why none of those girls ever tried to maul me. This new kid was getting the attention while I was sulking under the monkey bars. What was certain, though I didn’t understand it at the time, was how strong my jealousy and insecurity of him had become; all I knew was that I didn’t like him – yet I wanted to be like him. The kid and I eventually became good friends though I don’t know if, during those proceeding years, I ever completely extinguished that envy.
I believe that experience has stayed with me all this time for one reason; it represents the first shot of a war, one that has raged inside me for over thirty years…a war with insecurity.
Most people who know me say I’m confident and self-assured. Some even say I’m arrogant and snotty, though I’m not exactly sure at what point one goes from being confident to being conceited. But frankly most of what comes across as confidence is pure fabrication. Like Cher who once admitted her insecurity at performing live was overcome only by her sheer force of will; most of that self-assurance is only because I’ve forced myself to do so. But like any stage prop a swift enough wind, especially anything resembling criticism, can still bring it all crashing down.
A few weeks ago the Queen and I were having a conversation on this same topic and I said to her, specifically bringing to mind older generations, especially our grandparents,
“I’ll be glad when the day comes where I just don’t care anymore”.
Socrates once said, “there is nothing which for my part I like better than conversing with aged men.” One of the things I love most about old people is how they genuinely do not seem to care what others think. It’s refreshing to spend time with another who doesn’t feel the need to use every opportunity to demonstrate their spot on the cultural hierarchal scale. They appear indifferent to what someone thinks about their car, house, clothes, or appearance. They are all but oblivious to what’s trending, which designer is currently in, which celebrity is currently out, or what title is on a business card. It’s that detachment which gives the elderly an air of transcendence unattainable by those of us who continue to weigh our self worth on the scales of status and prosperity.
But like those aged men of Socrates, I think there comes a time for each of us to finally decide that the weariness and exhaustion brought on by the years of war waged against insecurity just isn’t worth it anymore. That the countless hours and dollars spent trying to overcome the enemy exacts more suffering than the spoils of victory would ever provide. Which begs the questions, what do we attain if we win? What is the outcome if we actually defeat insecurity? And that’s the funny thing, we all intrinsically know that can’t happen, yet we continue to fight anyway.
In our effort to outwit insecurity and gain the upper hand it seems there isn’t a means to which we won’t succumb. We will buy more home than we need, drive cars we can’t afford, inflict untold damage on our children and our bodies, and ruin relationships all with the underlying aim of being the conquering hero. But insecurity is an opponent with countless troops; plentiful supplies, and swift reinforcements. Ultimately it can’t – and doesn’t – lose. There isn’t a way to beat it like beating the odds in Vegas or a life threatening illness. It doesn’t surrender and enter into peace talks, if, by chance, it loses one battle it is always back for more, urging us, tempting us, and questioning our self worth. There’s only one way to be rid of insecurity entirely; one way to ensure it never ensnares us again, and that’s to give up, concede, and throw in the towel.
Because for insecurity to inflict its most lasting damage, depression, feelings of insignificance, or worse, it needs a willing and able opponent, someone who will intentionally lock horns in a futile attempt to subdue and wrangle it to the ground. But in the absence of such an effort, insecurity quickly packs up its soldiers, weapons, and departs the battlefield looking for another foe. By us simply refusing to clash with it, the potency of its venom is immediately neutralized.
It’s what those ‘aged men’ Socrates admired and countless other generations of seasoned life veterans eventually came to understand. None of them ever defeated the enemy called insecurity – they just gave up trying to.