For the longest time, the dynamic of “us” versus “them” was just how I saw the world. I thought in terms of good and bad, just and unjust, freedom and oppression. I thought of the Americans around me in my adopted country of the United States as free and courageous, while Iraqis back home were oppressed and victimized. America was the land of liberty, whereas Iraq, where I was born and grew up, was as suffocating as a prison.
As I lived more of my life in America and less in Iraq, and as I worked in more and more war-ravaged countries around the world, I slowly came to realize that the good, the bad, and the ugly exist everywhere. Harm and pain did not only came from an authoritarian dictator or an abusive husband, it also came through words and actions of self-proclaimed enlightened Americans who saw themselves as spiritual, open minded and committed to personal growth. Seeing that there were no utopias in this world after all was like falling out of heaven.
The problem lay in how I romanticized the concept of “us” and demonized the concept of “them.” I thought one culture and one way of life was superior to another. I was wrong. That realization opened up the doors to more realizations. Maybe I had hurt people even though I identified very strongly as someone who helped others, not betrayed them. My life had embodied the values of a selfless activist who worked with the poor and with victims of war. Everything I did was for them. But I started to see that what I had deemed good wasn’t perfect after all – including myself. I wasn’t exempt from the bad. I, too, had a shadow.
We all have a story, no matter who we are or where we come from. The story of our lives tells of our goodness and our suffering, our privilege and our complicity, our light and our shadow and much more. It has its own particular melody and harmony, rhythm and cadence. Most of us hide the full story of our lives and only tell the good part. I know I did!
It was a Sunday night, and I was at home alone. I was feeling restless, unable to settle down and get quiet. To distract myself, I tried to tidy up. That didn’t work. So, I busied myself with reading. That also didn’t work. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. It was like I had an itch I couldn’t scratch.
Suddenly, it occurred to me: if Amjad had been with me, I would have picked on something he’d said or done to irritate me and I would have blamed him. I would have caused a fight. But he was not around: the house was empty, my room was empty, and the bed I was lying on held only me.
That’s when it happened. I saw my own finger—the one that used to point at Amjad— pointing back at me, accusing me.
Oh no, I thought. It is me!
For the first time in my life, I realized that instead of facing myself, my habit was to point my finger at the person right in front of me and blame him for my restlessness and dissatisfaction. He wasn’t paying enough attention, he wasn’t hearing me, he didn’t care, he was doing things wrong, etc., etc..
My mind began to fill with whispers of the pain and frustration I had projected not only onto Amjad, but also onto family, friends and colleagues, making them all the source of my discontent. I realized that if I wanted to keep tasting the delicious truth, joy and freedom in my life, I had to follow my own finger and look inward at what it was pointing at.
Published with permission from Freedom is an Inside Job.
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