Recently over dinner (North Park‘s steamed tofu with black vinegar and chili sauce — one of their delicious vegan-friendly options I should note, in case you wanted to know the details), someone told me how I was holding myself back. 

Perhaps too quickly, I disagreed and said that I only try to come from a place of non-judgment and understand the reasons why people do what they do. I do my best to put myself in other people’s shoes and see things from their perspective. 

I must say that this isn’t the first time that someone told me this. In a previous entry I mentioned how my friend Brian told me how I would filter things in my head before I said them. It’s my way of committing fewer mistakes. I know very well how passions can flare up and you can easily hurt people in the heat of emotions. I like shielding people and also myself from the consequences of unnecessary wrongs. 

This reminded me about The Red Whistle creative director and my good friend Niccolo‘s confession on how (and this will come as a shock to people who know him as this larger-than-life character) he shies away from people who gush over him. He told me, while we were driving to a party, that he was actually very reserved and that he’d prefer to not draw excessive attention. 

His image, I realized, was very incongruent with how he perceived himself. I told him that the only way to be invisible is to not do anything, and given the nature of our work for The Red Whistle and our respective careers, it was impossible to remain unnoticed. The image people have of us is something we’ve created for ourselves, and therefore we should just go ahead and take what’s given us and stop complaining.

The advice I gave Niccolo then had now suddenly boomeranged towards me. Here I was, being painted as someone I thought wasn’t the way I wanted to be painted as. It was a very harsh accusation. The idea I had of myself wasn’t how this other person framed me. His assessment wasn’t a wholesale lie, but I tried to sweepingly resist it. There was a grain of truth to what he said but it just seemed to be such a negative thing at that moment that I tried to interpret it as something else: I was not that person — I was this someone else instead. Not that, but this. 

It took me a bit of time to introspect about this incident. And tonight, the lesson started to sink in: often times, the qualities we are quick to brand as our faults are sometimes just part of our multifaceted selves. And even the good qualities can be turned into garish caricatures that look nothing like how we understand them in our heads. 

The challenge then is how to be proud of our positive sides. For me, that would be highlighting the good of being dispassionate. It’s not being aloof or holding back. It’s actually caring enough to not always prioritize or impose my emotions over others. 

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