Boundaries, cultural appropriation, expectation and suffering.

In modern society, we say that people cannot make us feel a particular way, that it is just our perspective that creates that emotional experience. And this is said all in good faith, as a refusal to take ownership of our feelings is a denial of our own power. By giving others words power over our emotional state, we are always at the whims of another and thus, not in control ourselves. But how can we say that others cause us offence, or that acts of say cultural appropriation, cause us to feel negative emotions, while simultaneously propagating the concept of boundaries? But what are boundaries? Boundaries are the arbitrary distinction between my experience and your experience, mental, emotional and physical. It could be said that within my borders is my responsibility, and within your borders is yours. Giving others power over our own emotional state is an act of self-denial and self-disrespect, for the power to regulate ourselves lies within ourselves and not outside ourselves. My body, my mind and my feelings are my responsibility, and I will not give anyone else power over them, irrespective of circumstance.

If in relationship the behaviour of a partner creates negative emotions in the other partner, psychologists and society would say that these behaviours do not ‘make’ the other person feel another way, but that the other person has it within their power to speak up and ask the other person to change their behaviour, or leave. Similarly, if acts of cultural appropriation, say someone practicing yoga or meditation devoid of religious context for purely practical purposes, and these actions create a negative emotional experience in another person, but what is to be done of this? The person feeling offence could speak up and ask the other person to change because when they engage in those practices the person feels a negative way, however, the person engaging in yoga and meditation are not obliged to cease activity. And if the person refuses, it is on the person feeling offence to remove themselves from the situation.

This concept of ourselves having our own experience, and being in charge of and responsible for that experience, and the concept of others having power over how we feel, to me, is difficult to reconcile. Say in love, for example. Is it that the other person makes us feel loved or unloved through their behaviour, or is it that we permit them to make us feel loved or unloved through their behaviour? In relationship we carry expectations, and when these expectations are not met we feel upset. But do we carry these expectations for all people, say a stranger on the street? Would we not act differently from insults hurled from a drunken stranger than an intimate partner? This differentiation, to me, illustrates that our power lies solely in ourselves and our expectations. When we expect behaviours of others and these expectations are not met, our power is lost. When we expect others to utilise a particular culture in a particular way, we are creating conditions of suffering for ourselves. Life, death, pain and taxes are all constants and we do not choose these, but suffering, suffering is a choice. In each moment we choose how we respond to life, and these choices affect how we think, feel and behave. It this wasn’t so, the concept of locking up criminals would be silly.

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