Rushworth feelings, and Crawford feelings

In Mansfield Park, Maria Bertram has “Rushworth feelings, and Crawford feelings.” Maria is not the heroine. She does not even get a very happy ending, but I think that many people can relate to that feeling of being torn asunder between two options. Rushworth is the very practical option, the one which excites only the blandest of emotions, dull, stable, boring, and faintly ridiculous. The Crawford feelings are the irrational impulses. They call one irresistibly to do something without considering the consequences.

The Rushworth feelings and Crawford feelings swirl about, waiting for the right answer, but it all comes down to preference. Maria Bertram tries to choose both and as a result loses her reputation. It is not the wrong decision to act on Rushworth feelings, to marry the rich fool in order to gain social position and have fancy houses and carriages and such. On the other hand, that is not the right decision either. Fanny Price, the novel’s heroine, would not have picked such a choice. Neither would Jane Austen’s other heroines, particularly Elizabeth Bennet, who declines the ridiculous Mr. Collins and even the proud Mr. Darcy the first time around.

It is merely a decision, an act without distinctions between correct and incorrect.

When making a big decision, it seems easier to reduce every aspect into purely analytical terms. Make a pro/con list, add up the tally, and decide that way. Such processes can make it possible to assign each option with Right and Wrong. But it does not really work that way, does it? Even if it ticks off all of the right boxes, the list is more about fine tuning what it is you really want. The list is unique to you. It is not any more analytical than taking stock of your values and feelings and deciding that way.

I turn to works of fiction for advice more often than is good for me, but Jane Austen has taught me, more than any other writer, about the importance of following one’s inner guide. There is no universally acknowledged compass to follow. There is no glory in making a decision because another person thinks it is what you ought to do, because it is the most practical option, because you made a list and analyzed and reduced things to the coldest terms. Life is not a contest you can win. It is a series of episodes and choices and endless branching off, and your own ability to internally decide what is best for you.

Perhaps life is a multiple choice quiz where all of the questions are impossible and written in a language you do not know. There is no absolutely right option. There are simply a multitude of options without rank, the ability to take one option, and the resulting consequences, whatever those might be. Picking an option is all about personal preference and discovering which choice aligns best with one’s values. No decision is objectively worse or better than another. Each choice simply leads off to a separate path. There are no certainties, no matter the choice one makes.

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Quest for the best deal

A recent story in the New York Times about working conditions at Amazon has provoked mixed responses. Some want to use governmental action to enact change. Others think that, if people want to work long hours in the pursuit of their goals, they should be allowed to do so. Since Amazon is a big company with a prestigious name, workers are eager to get their foot into the door there and rise through the ranks. Whether the hours and competitive work environment imposed are reasonable or not is an interesting question.

I do not see that as being the only issue in this case. In the search for the cheapest possible option, consumers have long ignored other factors that should influence their purchasing habits. As of March of last year, Amazon had a 41 percent share of all new unit book purchases, and, when considering only online purchases, print and digital, they account for 65 percent of all sales. Is the best book to purchase really the cheapest?

Price has become such a primary factor when buying that companies will do almost anything to lower cost. Many consumers will purchase the least expensive items without much thought about where they came from or the impact of where they choose to shop on their local economy. The price war has led to Amazon gaining a lot of control over the American marketplace, shutting down retailers and small businesses that cannot possibly compete. Amazon also pushes their employees, as the New York Times article shows, so that the company can continue to grow and gain a larger percentage of the market share.

Amazon is able to sell goods cheaply because they can easily use their position as a large retailer to bully those who provide goods into charging the price Amazon wants, which is particularly true of books. Amazon is probably the most prominent place to promote a new book so they receive large discounts from publishers. Goodreads, which sponsors giveaways and which most readers use to catalogue a list of what they read or to find reviews before purchasing, is owned by Amazon. But Amazon is hardly the only example of the effect of price on consumer and industry habits.

If you purchase a product from Apple, it is usually shipped from China. The factory conditions there have become notorious, so much so that most people are (or should be, given the media coverage) aware of the problems, yet most continue to purchase Apple products anyway. The standard business model revolves around the idea that consumers do not care about the labor that goes into the product as long as it leads to a less expensive price. There are many examples, not just from Apple, of electronics companies and clothing companies who show a complete disregard for the human labor that creates what they sell.

However, people still chase the cheapest deal from Amazon, to the detriment of their local businesses, and buy from Apple when they know that their iPhones are produced under harsh working conditions using cheap labor. The media blames Apple or Amazon, but the problem lies equally with the consumers who do not change their purchasing habits. There is a hidden cost, which we sometimes ignore, behind the cheap goods we purchase every day.

The burden falls to the consumer. Times are tough. For some, budgets are an issue. We feel the pressure to purchase the cheapest option. Nonetheless, conditions will not change unless savvy consumers take factors other than price into account when making a purchase.

Self-care

Craig: Has anyone ever told you that you’re a bit… weird?

The Doctor: They never really stop.

Doctor Who, “The Lodger” (Season 5, Episode 11)

Signs that you are a highly sensitive introvert:

  1. You hear, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” at least once per day.
  2. People are always trying to “get you out of your shell” at a big party, but the sounds and crowd make you feel too overwhelmed.
  3. In fact, you feel quite content within the rich inner life of your shell. No breaking out needed, thank you very much.
  4. You say that you have other plans when friends want to go out somewhere loud. Those plans involve ice cream and a new book. You do not regret it.
  5. Quiet time is not optional. It is a necessity for keeping you functioning properly.

Elaine Aron outlines more specifically what it means to be a highly sensitive person, including a test and reassurance that this is a perfectly normal personality trait, though it is not common enough to be well understood and appreciated.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, it is no longer necessary to feel alone or like an outsider because of your personality. There are enough resources to become self-aware, to understand what is going on inside, and to find more like-minded people who get you much better, sometimes, than those who think they know you well.

I have been fighting, for a while, the idea of categorizing myself, but sometimes it is necessary to stop myself from trying to fit into majority boxes like extrovert or into no boxes at all. Putting the components of yourself into neat little spaces is sometimes difficult, and, as a highly sensitive person, I become easily overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data available. And it is readily available. A quick search for “highly sensitive person” turns up over ten million results. Perhaps overwhelming is an understatement. It is an avalanche of information that buries me before I have time to begin processing it.

Some days, I wish life was as easy as jumping into the TARDIS with The Doctor. Instant adventure and personal growth, facilitated by someone wise, someone who has seen the future. But how can you really know that there aren’t Daleks on the other side of the jump? You can’t, of course, and that is part of being an adult. I can’t remember where I read it, but someone once said, “Only children think that grown-ups stop growing.” Sometimes, you have to move forward, even when you are afraid of what the future holds.

I am getting used to the idea of forcing myself to take a break. I am fine now with being occasionally overwhelmed, of needing to escape to a dark, quiet room after a party. I know this is what I need to do for myself.

So much of life becomes about self-care. As much as some of us (such as INFP me) want to dedicate our lives to the greater good, to help others, there has to remain a space for taking care of oneself. I can’t fully dedicate myself to anything unless I do things to make my mind as clear and capable as I can.

Look! An introvert!

“Mary, you know I hate parties. My idea of hell is a very large party in a cold room where everybody has to play hockey properly.” –Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

I spent many years of my childhood blissfully unaware of one crucial detail about myself. While I was reading, enjoying time by myself staring out of a window in contemplation, I did not realize that my proclivity towards solitary activities somehow put me in a minority. That doesn’t mean that I hate people. It has to do with scale and a need for recharging after the event. Large parties are a horror that can only be counteracted by hours of quiet.

Hello, I am an introvert. Nice to meet you.

We seem to be a society intent on pigeon-holing everyone and everything into categories. There is a sort of obsession with personal quirks that create Otherness and Sameness. Introvert or extravert. Gay or straight. Male or female. Because of the guidelines in the DSM-V, someone who is shy, eccentric, or lives an untraditional life can be classified as mentally ill. The neatness of these categories creates a landscape where it is difficult to determine gradation. Rather than accepting individual differences, we try to find a way to describe them, a way to figure out if that fits in with traditional views of society, and whether another person is the same or different from us.

The popularity of Susan Cain’s bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is both empowering and problematic. People are all too eager to pick up the banner of introvert and proclaim their need for a quiet moment. In large, this is good. We cannot all be Dale Carnegies in this world. But it also sets up a polarized image of one or the other when there are possibly a great deal of people who fall somewhere in between, neither one nor the other, or who feel different preferences at different points in their lives. Many other aspects of personality receive this same treatment.

I sometimes buy into this line of thinking. For instance, I identify as an INFP on the Myers-Briggs personality test. However, in accepting this label, I have perhaps been limiting myself. I remember first taking the test as a high school student, and, when I got the result, I felt like I had been put into an unemployable box by the artist label. A quick search will turn up many suggested occupations to go along with this type. It is fascinating, in a way, to identify with a group of like-minded people, but isn’t it also cutting off possibilities of who and what I could be?

So, I guess I am an introvert, if I must be labeled. But we are all many things besides the categories we enforce on ourselves. We all have quirks, and they don’t have to be considered in terms of Same or Other.

Finding inner balance

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” –Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

In the process of moving forward, I have spent too much time unwisely looking to the past. I can hear the advice others gave me (“that is where the jobs are” as if they were Lydia Bennet telling me that Brighton is the place to find a husband). There came a point where the roads branched off. I chose a path. The person I was then had other options, could have developed other skills.

Novelist Jonathan Odell says to never get good at what you hate. I have followed that way of thinking pretty much without wavering ever since I became old enough to make my own decisions. Instead of trying to fit into an employable mold or picking a path because it would look more impressive to others, I have instead chosen my own way.

And then I allowed outside noises to goad me into feeling lost and shamed.

If you listen to all of the advice available and try to fit into molds created by other people, it’s inevitable that you will begin to feel as if you have lost your path somewhere. I am still figuring out my own path (hence the blog). However, in really committing myself to figuring out who I am and what I want, I feel like I have more certainty about the present moment and where it leads.

Things I have learned:

  1. It is hard not to feel regret for all of the paths not taken. But there comes a point to realize that you are only answerable to yourself for your choices. Words like disappointed or wasted potential should not come into the conversation. You are not responsible for the feelings of others.
  1. Changing course is natural and completely doable. You can reinvent yourself at your lowest points, using books, using whatever resources you can find. If you discover you have chosen the wrong path, it is never a dead-end. There is always another way around.
  1. Commit to time for recharging. Whether through meditation or reading, crossword puzzles or a quiet dinner with friends, make sure to take time for yourself. There is so much pressure in this world to accomplish everything as quickly as possible that sometimes it can be hard to stand aside and just appreciate the moment.