It’s been over a year since I’ve blogged. Now here I am sitting at my laptop staring at the title I’ve chosen for this piece, wondering if I still have what it takes to do this. I usually wouldn’t select the title for an entry until I’ve at least finished my first draft. But after spending so long away from this site it seemed only fitting that if I were to post something, that I should break the mould of my own creative process and try something new while doing it. So here we go. Hopefully what comes next isn’t too rusty.
To kill your darlings is a phrase often wrongfully attributed to the American writer William Faulkner, but which can be traced back to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. The expression suggests that a writer must attempt to ruthlessly eliminate anything they personally love that does nothing to advance their story. And anything means anything; characters, turns of phrase, and subplots should all be stripped back and cast aside if they don’t contribute towards driving the narrative forward. As a writer who has been through several bouts of manuscript edits, it’s a concept that I have often found myself contemplating as I read through the works of others, whilst also fighting vehemently against when an editor inevitably suggests a heavy-handed revision of my own labours of love.
When it’s someone else’s prose that needs refinement, it’s easy to see. Ask anyone game enough to ask me for my opinion on a book or article that I’ve read and they’ll tell you that I can be hyper critical. But when it’s my own work, the process of methodically laying to rest the superfluous ideas I have fallen in love with is far more arduous. It isn’t easy to fight against my own ego and see the world from the viewpoint of my reader, rather than the egotistical writer that I am.
This complexity of shifting perspective and overcoming ego extends far beyond writing too. As a friend, a family member, or just a stranger watching from a distance it’s easy to see the people or afflictions in the lives of those around us that should be delegated to the cutting room floor. Shit, I can’t even begin to fathom the amount of times that I’ve uttered phrases like they’d be better off without him/her, or If I was them I’d leave that job, and countless others; only to fail to recognise that I too am tormented by many of prohibitive factors and traits that I so readily identify in others. Factors and traits which ultimately detract from the narrative of who I am. And who I want to be.
So, for the rest of this post I want to try and separate my amour propre from my work and kill an idea that I wrote about way back on the 26th of January 2014. Because while I was proud of what I wrote at the time, I’d like to believe that I have grown a lot in the eight and a half years since. The blog post that I once considered a darling of this site has been rendered redundant by the experiences that have since moulded and defined me. It no longer serves any purpose in the story of my life.
The post started like this…
Here’s the thing: Respect isn’t given. It’s earned. It doesn’t grow on a tree and doesn’t come attached to a label or title; it’s received as a reward for your time spent in the trenches of life battling alongside your fellow man.
…It’s cringe worthy, right? I hate so much about that introduction that as I sit here and prepare to chide my younger self, I honestly don’t even know where to begin. There’s a weird line about battling in trenches, references to a label or title (I originally wrote the post because I was pissed off about being overlooked for a promotion at a company I left soon after), and the clichéd it doesn’t grow on a tree analogy that absolutely misses the intended mark. But it’s the idea that that respect is earned rather than given that I want to lay to rest because it irks me that I once wrote about an ideology that I’ve since grown to passionately disagree with.
Before I go any further, it seems important to note that I’m not perfect. Nor am I going to pretend that I am at any point in this post…
I’m imperfect in so many ways, and while I do try to be respectful towards everyone, the truth is that I’ve been in more fights in the past couple of years than any other period my life. Not because I’m an arsehole; I’m a hell of a lot calmer than I was in my twenties. My sharp increase in physical confrontations has stemmed from a return to competitive sport and my own ruthless desire to win. I always start off a competition being courteous towards my opponents. But those courtesies can be taken away. And when they are, my desire to win can get the better of me and lead to some heated moments. It doesn’t help that I’m a talker. And an opinionated one at that. It’s a trait that can really get under someone’s skin in a competitive environment and I’ve been known to use that knowledge to my full advantage at times.
I’m digressing. But for good reason. It’s so easy to cultivate false perceptions of oneself online; convincing others that we are infallible when the truth is that we are anything but. I’d love to say that I’m always respectful, but I’m not. Sometimes I can be a real dick. We all can. Yet despite our shortcomings and moments of frustration, it’s important to remember that respect should be our default setting towards others. Why? Well, apart from the obvious that if it is something that must be earned we’d all be a bunch of abrasive assholes who never form any meaningful connections because we believe that everyone owes us something, or must validate themselves to us; the simple answer is that feeling respected promotes feelings of psychological safety.
Respect provides a sense of security to speak up, to share ideas, and feel included. It also reduces someone’s susceptibility towards bullying and hate, which in a society that is increasingly polarised and divided on issues both legitimate and trivial, seems pretty damn important.
So then why do we as a society often assume that respect should be earned? I mean, aside from the fact that so many of those awful motivational social media pages plaster the adage across well-rendered images billionaires, or stacks of cash and bombard our newsfeeds to capture our attention… Sadly, one of the biggest reasons is fear.
We fear that if we offer respect to everybody, then we risk it being abused by somebody. That by being polite, friendly, and open to establishing lines of effective communication we make ourselves vulnerable to the minority of people who may take advantage of our generosity. But refusing to default to respect because we’re afraid it will be abused is foolish. It creates a world full of the abrasive assholes that I mentioned above. And we all know from our own personal experience that it hurts when someone shows us a lack of respect that we believe to be unwarranted. It makes us feel upset, and closed off; as though our psychological safety has been attacked or called into question.
Perhaps a better way to protect ourselves from the slim percentage of individuals who exploit our respect is to learn how to take it away. Because while I whole heartedly believe in offering a default level of common courtesy to everyone we meet, I recognise the importance of taking it away when it is mistreated.
Unfortunately for me, a true definition of mistreatment probably doesn’t extend as far as I selfishly assume it does on a basketball court. Someone intentionally committing a dirty foul probably doesn’t justify my reactions or verbal taunting. But it does extend far enough to cover those who purposely or repeatedly, even if unintentionally, cause us harm. Whether that harm be physical, emotional, financial or whatever else is unimportant. What is important is being established enough in our understanding of self to know when we’ve reached our limit in a relationship and when it is time to pull back that default level of respect and walk away.
I’m not sure if I’ve managed to kill the idea that I originally wrote about in 2014 by writing this…
I’d like to hope so. But the truth is that I think I’ve just learned to see the world from an alternate perspective. As someone who is learning to approach everyone I meet with a base level of polite thoughtfulness, as well as being someone who has been on the receiving end of the it must be earned ideology, I can honestly say that the former gets you a hell of a lot further in life and relationships than the latter.
I could have just deleted my original post rather than recanting it like this. Or even just ignored it as though I’d never written it at all. But there’s no growth in erasing the past or pretending it doesn’t exist. Instead, I thought it’d be fun to embrace it. To admit that I was wrong and kill something that I once thought to be a darling before closing out this piece with the kind of analogy that a younger and admittedly less rusty version of me would have taken a lot of pride in constructing.
At thirty-three years of age I’ve come to realise that forming and maintaining relationships is much like tending to a garden. If each time you encounter someone new you plant a little sapling of appreciation, eventually your garden will grow. Sure, you’ll have some bad weather days where some saplings don’t survive, and inadvertently plant a few weeds that you need to remove from time to time. But for the most part you’ll have a beautiful plot full of vibrant colours and diversity to tend to. But if you hold onto those saplings until the weather is just right and people prove themselves worthy to earn their place in your garden, you might avoid the weeds, but you’re likely to end up with an anaemic looking plot that is mostly soil and devoid of the brilliant vibrancy you truly deserve.
Offer people respect, and they’ll enrich your life (and possibly your garden) in ways that you never thought possible.
62 thoughts on “Kill Your Darlings”
Thanks for checking out my site. I appreciate your post about getting rid of those writings that we love but that don’t help our story along. When I first started writing, I cringed to cut large pieces out. I saved them in a separate document “just in case,” but haven’t gone back to use most of them. I once wrote an entire non-fiction book that ended up rescinded by the publisher because of legal issues. They recommended I turn it into a novel. It took me seven years before I knew how to do that. Taking it apart, piece by piece. Much of it has been restructured and used elsewhere, but there are always those parts we kiss and say “good-bye” to. I see you’re from Brisbane. My husband moved to the States from the Gold Coast. I’ve flown in and out of Brisbane a few times when we were Skype dating. I love Australia and we miss it! Have a great writing day! May you have less to weed out.
Great piece, Chris
Loved reading through this. I’d have to agree it’s better to acknowledge your past and reassess it rather than pretend it didn’t exist.
Loved this! A situation I too well relate.
The adage that respect ‘must be earned’ means you, the individual, need to behave in a way that engenders that respect and therefore, it is given to you, in reciprocity (in theory, anyway). Here in the U.S., we call that ‘taking the high road,’ meaning someone with GOOD CHARACTER/PRINCIPLES will behave this way, regardless of how s/he is treated. ‘Taking the low road’ refers to a person of POOR CHARACTER and often behaves in a rude, disrespectful manner, regardless of the social situation.
Great post, great insight. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Glad you’re back!
Thanks for liking. Glad you put your words out there. I would not have read your post without them. Your output inspires mine. Out in the wilderness I found your way-marker on a tree, a little flash made by another’s axe. I am not alone out here. I like what your darlings have to say.
There are many beautiful things about words and writing– it’s cool to do the writing that’s best for you. Thanks for sharing.
Beautifully written, thought provoking piece. The words flowed and kept me wanting more. I write to entertain and often look back at my offerings and regret that I didn’t have the courage to really put my thoughts out there. You have a gift that commands respect. Definitely well-earned. I look forward to your future posts!
The way you describe new friendships as saplings in your garden is very insightful. I shall treasure that.
I think this is fantastic. Not only do I agree with your stance on offering everyone courtesy and respect even if they haven’t “earned” it, but I also appreciate your willingness to reflect on prior beliefs and say “I was wrong” or even just “I have changed.” I think that is something that is overlooked and undervalued in our society today. Thank you for sharing this! (also from a writing/editing standpoint).