We got a new toy. It’s a plastic camera called the Holga. The thing is primitive and cheap, and looks like it’s about to break at any point. The Holga we have is best designed for 120mm film, but I wanted the ability to also shoot 35mm, and low and behold they had an adapter.
For 35mm, there is no counter for winding film. Maybe you’ve manually cranked it a full frame; maybe (most likely) you haven’t. The end result was— well, upon initial viewing it was a mess. In some cases, we had 4 overlapping frames. Once my brain was able to read the images, I was in love with this imperfect little camera. The Holga is a good device for reprogramming someone who is perpetually concerned with doing the right thing perfectly.
But what is the right thing to do? A step further, what is the right thing to do when you’re the person who never wants to offend? Which would be me, by the way. Should I probe and ask someone what’s really going on when they seem upset? Should I have said or done X instead of Y? Should I be as dry as a rice cake at work, or reveal a little of my personality? When something is wrong, how do I handle it?
The problem is this, I find myself so overly concerned with “what is the right thing to do”, that when there isn’t an immediately evident protocol on how to behave I often either become paralyzed, or silent, or somewhat one-dimensional. A couple of examples:
- I received an email from someone I hadn’t talked to in years. Accusations were made, questions were asked. No I hadn’t done A, and I have no idea if B happened. The thing I wanted to say but didn’t was that on the other side of the threshold of a major life change, this person was better off, deserved so much more, and that the person’s previous life was more of a fabricated fairytale than a reality. But how do you say something like that? (Hint: if you really need to say it, you just say it. With love and kindness and without any selfishness.)
- Outside of the written world, face-to-face with real live people, things run pretty much the same. I was in DC a few years ago for a meeting, and I met a colleague for dinner. An innocent dinner, which was not code “come onto me, please, I have sex with anyone.” An hour into the situation I knew I had to extricate myself, and fast. I also knew I never wanted to be in public or in private with him again. But did I confront him? No.
There are a couple of things to unpack here. A major one is that rather than being absolute, notions of right and wrong are conditional. What we put in each category depends on our cultural and societal norms. How we assess and react to right and wrong depends on what we have observed in our individual lives, as well as how our reactions have been shaped by feedback from others (both negative and positive).
Self confidence also plays a role. We have the capacity to be strong and absolutely have thoughts and feelings, which are just as valid as anyone else’s. But we have to recognize our strength, and when the situation calls for it, rely on that strength. We have voice, both what we use to communicate with other people, as well as an intrinsic voice, i.e. instinct. If we listen close enough, we might find our own internal guidance system. We can ask of ourselves not only what is the course of action I can live with, but looking back, what can I be proud of.
So, instead of being fixated on right or wrong, instead of being fixated on doing things perfectly and without offending anyone, pick up that crappy camera and just do. Do passionately and to the best of your ability, but for the love of water, do and be without too much of a filter. Yes, it can be a risk. Hell, it can be terrifying. But shedding the veil can also bring unexpected beauty and fulfillment.