Be The Opposite

"The Opposite" (S05E21) was a watershed episode for Seinfeld. Not only did the series' direction change hands from Tom Cherones to Andy Ackerman after it, but the plots also became more focussed on the personality flaws in the characters rather than the bizarre situations they got themselves into. "The Opposite" was probably the only episode in which these two tropes converged, making for something quite unlike any other Seinfeld episode.

But that's not what I'm going to write about in this blog post. "The Opposite" has personal meaning for other reasons. As a short summary of the A-plot of this episode - George, a stout, balding, middle-aged man with no prospects with either a career or with the opposite sex, decides to act contrary to every instinct he's ever had. In a span of less than a day after doing so, he ends up with a new partner, a job with the New York Yankees, and finally gets the means to move out from his much beleaguered parents' house.

Though contrived for comical purposes, this episode holds something very profound under its veil of light-hearted comedy. The series goes to show that even when it's painfully obvious that you're clearly doing something wrong, it can be impossible to get out of the self-induced loop of listening to your instincts.

Jerry also drives this home with an understatedly profound remark in this episode, "If every instinct you have is wrong...then the opposite would have to be right!".

Perhaps it's a primal urge to follow your instincts, after all, your instincts are a product of your past experiences which have kept you alive. On the other hand, I feel a lot of it also has to do with getting into the comfort zone of being able to challenge your own perceptions. When you've been doing something wrong unconsciously, it becomes much harder to accept the fact that you were doing it wrong later on. Your brain accustoms itself to behaving in a certain way to a stimulus and left unchecked, this becomes a part of your personality. This is why I think shifting out of self-harmful behavior is so hard.

I've been a victim of falling to the trap of my own instincts ever since I joined college. Through a lot of time spent brooding and many moments of soul-searching through my daily diary entries, I was exactly aware of what I was unhappy with in life and what I had to do to fix it. Most of my problems could be traced down to a lack of self-esteem, but I was more than willing to wallow in pity than do anything about it. It was only a few months ago I decided to improve things by increasing physical activity and social exposure. There were many times I had a familiar nagging of doubt, but this too subsided as soon as I saw things can actually get better by not listening to yourself.

There is a poignant quote I've saved from Anne Lammot's Bird by Bird about not listening to the radio station in your head - the radio station KFKD, or K-Fucked:

"If you are not careful, station KFKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on. You might as well have heavy-metal music piped in through headphones while you’re trying to get your work done."

Maybe the best way out lies in our mistakes, or rather, the opposite of them.

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