I have never felt as though I belong in this world.

It isn’t a statement of contempt for the state of things, but rather an implicit understanding that I don’t see things the way other people do. It isn’t to express my desire to leave this world behind either, at least not in the final, mortal sense.

Instead, it is to say that when I consider what motivates the average person, I find myself thoroughly confused. This has always been the case for me and I can remember feeling out of place as a child no matter where my parents tried to place me. Whether it was in sports, or in clubs, or through a spiritual community at one of a few different denominations of the same watered down Christianity, there I was, in my own little world wondering what all of these people were doing in it. I was perfectly content playing by myself, first with toys, then with video games, and much later, at projects around the property.

I learned early on in life that I can play well with others, but I simply preferred my own company most of the time. If I’m the stuff of the universe, and there was an infinite stretch of time before I arrived, then I have everything I need inside of me to stay entertained and maybe even happy forever.

It is only as I’ve grown older that I have come to understand that relationships are a cornerstone to living a fulfilling life. We all inherit this basic understanding as part of our birthright as social creatures, but it is only through familial and societal integration that we come to realize exactly how important it is. Having spent all of my non-adventure time immersed in this particular location in the world, the forces meant to inform me could have turned me into a cynical, closed-minded person. Instead, I remained open to the experiences of those I didn’t know or understand, and it became a desire to meet as many of them as possible and add to my level of cultural understanding. I feel as though I can speak definitively on what it is like to be an outsider in my own community, feeling as if all of my beliefs are counter to the norms I was raised around. Thanks to my incredible luck and to the character of my parents, I wound up with a set of beliefs about right and wrong that are generally sound. Where we disagreed, it was rarely contentious, and if it got to such a level, it was short-lived and ended with a proclamation of our love anyway. Because of this, I rarely find myself mired in argument for the sake of it, and I do my level best to give others the benefit of the doubt and room to speak. I have two ears and I use them to the best of their aging ability.

The world as I see it is a rich tapestry, far from the black and white that is reported through media sources. The nuances contained in any given day could fill a volume in their own right, and when taken in concert, given life an unbelievable depth. I have seen this depth from the shallows and as I’ve moved along in years, find myself in deeper and deeper waters. I can’t help but gaze backward and see that less of us are out here where the tangible world meets the infinite one on the horizon. The shore is absolutely littered with most of us, vying for a spot in the crowd, jockeying for the best ways to fit in. I cringe at the thought and push myself further into the unknown to seek wisdom from the endless supply the universe has to offer.

I can’t remember exactly when, but at some point, I made a conscious decision to extricate myself from concerns of fitting in. I am not the same as anyone else, save for the ways we are all identical in our mortality and general frailty as creatures, susceptible to any number of ills and injuries.

My experience has not suffered for this decision, and I believe it to be central to the reason I can read people fairly well. I learned to become an observer of behavior, and in doing so, allowed people to tell me who they were without a word. This can act as an almost 6th sense, allowing me to cut through what a person says and establish their intentions from the start. It has also prevented me from meeting as many people and learning as much as I can about others, because if alarms raise, I will remove myself out of self-preservation. My time is precious to me and I value it higher than anything. If I perceive someone threatens to steal any of it away through action or lack thereof, I immediately seek to remedy the situation by leaving. Nuance is lost in the transaction, and what may have been a perfectly acceptable interaction gets lost in the storage of my mind or discarded entirely.

Now I live in a world that is as connected as it has ever been and shows no signs of slowing in that direction. But I see this connection as weak when compared to any genuine form like an in-person conversation with a friend or loved one. The way we communicate reflects what we have become as a species, and the specifics reflect what is accepted in our society of choice. In that regard, I believe we have become shallow, incapable of giving proper respect to tried and true methods of communication. We can easily hide behind the anonymity provided by the internet and use it as a shield or a weapon, depending on our proclivities. People will wrap up a substantial portion of their time in this kind of meaningless, sophomoric arguing with strangers on the internet for no other reason than to be right. I observe this kind of thing almost daily because it is unavoidable, and I can’t find my way to any kind of understanding. There is no world where this kind of “No, you!” back and forth is productive, and more often than not, it is being weaponized by one side or the other to try and do real, lasting harm. Words aren’t meant to be able to do any real harm, but if they are used enough times, they can become sharp enough to pierce any armor.

And I’ve seen the internet become a kind of lawless hellscape, where one comment can end your career or cause someone to kill themselves. They seem like extreme examples but with a few short keystrokes, you can cause some demonstrable, life-altering harm to yourself or others. I am not sure it was intended to be such a place, but our intentions are laid bare as more of us are connected and contribute to the ever-changing landscape. I still believe in the general goodness of people and when push comes to shove in real life, see more good than bad behavior, but what passes for polite society has shifted a great deal in the past decade.

Some of this is to be expected, as the proliferation of information has increased exponentially, the ugly head of misinformation has reared as well. People are left to figure out what they believe on their own, and there are powerful interests that hope to help us all figure out what we should believe. It remains on all of us as individuals to discern what we believe to be true, but it is also up to us to remain open to the possibility that we are wrong and that new information should help inform us how to proceed. New information doesn’t do that any more. People entrench themselves in the first belief they can find that resonates with them and refuse to accept information to the contrary. This can be used by the aforementioned interests to control large swaths of the population, influencing what people do with their time and how they spend money. Yet we all feel as though we have complete autonomy over these things, when nothing could be further from the truth. What we do control is how much of this influence we allow to be in our perception in the first place.

I have spent a truly embarrassing amount of years plugged into the news cycle watching doom and gloom unfold. This is time that I will never get back, and that I can see now was only negative in scope. Sensationalism sells papers (and clicks in the modern economy) but it isn’t what the world really looks like. The large-scale, world-ending dramas being sold by network television are just a narrative, not reality. After you’ve seen this narrative objectively and determined what each side is trying to communicate, you can safely disconnect and be better off for it. It has been used in recent years to pit us against one another and narrow our minds to the point that we feel genuine animosity toward someone based on such meaningless things as identity politics. We decide which team we are on and get to work trying to beat the other team but this is an endless, pointless contest. None of us gets out of this alive and yet we spend what precious time we do have arguing over things that don’t matter. We listen for orders from our leaders, but there are none to be found.

“It’s us versus them!” The cry of the leadership intent on controlling us all, knowing damn well that it should be taken literally. If we ever stopped fighting one another, we would see that “We the People” doesn’t include the ones we elect to keep it all running smoothly. The politicians remain insulated from any real danger because we gave them entirely too much power and almost no way to stop them from running the whole thing into the ground. When they inevitably tank the whole thing, they blame the opposition and shirk responsibility entirely. They then use this rhetoric to convince their constituents to keep them in power for as long as possible to keep fighting the imaginary good fight. And so on to the ends of democracy, with all of us serving as fodder to line the bloody fields.

I have found it difficult to remove myself from this, but the freedom I experience from doing so is indescribable. I can once again give others the benefit of the doubt, and I haven’t felt that in years.

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