It was whilst writing that I realised where the mark would needed to go.
“it’s all allowed”
A flawed phrase. Flawed in its absolutism. Flawed in its naïve aspiration to something that is ultimately unattainable. Susceptible to the same criticism levelled at those words love and beauty which, without tangible form and solid ground, can be seen as naively hopeful and ill-considered doctrine rather than practically useful approaches to living our day-to-day existence. And yet, in the same way, this phrase is only flawed if we choose to look at it through a particular cynical viewpoint. If I see it as its own end point it will draw rightful criticism. An answer contained within itself.
But it is not and this common viewpoint misses the point horribly. This phrase is a provocation on a personal level. To understand my perspective I think it is helpful for me to do my own personal dissection of the phrase. So,
There is something that we wish to understand or give ourselves permission for needs and this we need to be able articulate.
Perhaps, like a pointing finger, the ‘it’ alone is enough because we are declaring that the ‘it’ is. But perhaps I feel a need to replace the ‘it’ with a name: Tears, laughter, a departure, honesty, whatever frames this desire that has been provoked. The phrase begins by naming the part of my vast experience that I wish to draw specific attention to.
What is your all?
Here is a crucial moment in the phrase of my assertion that it ‘depends how you choose to look’. If I take ‘all’ as really everything, all possibilities I can imagine plus all the unknown unknowns I cannot as well then we are leaving ourselves open to things which lie outside of our moral or ethical compass, or perhaps outside of our safety and well-being. And perhaps this is not what we really wish to give ourselves permission for (perhaps it is, I do not dispute this!). But I feel this reading of ‘all’ is what can make it seem like a naïve ideal.
So, I would suggest differently that we read the ‘all’ as an invitation to find out what our personal boundaries of permission are. Simply, what, in this moment in our lives, are we willing to conceive as the extent of what is permissible for us or, crucially, what we might be willing to risk outside of this? My ‘all’ is and will be no doubt different to your ‘all’. Herein lies the unique individualism that the phrase shines a light on for us, the “all”, for me, signifies the “I” who mutters it.
Are we missing a word here? A ghostly word scrawled in pencil after this one, changeable, erasable and flexible.
‘Allowed’, permission, the crux of the phrase. And yet perhaps it is necessary to add a verb to help us define what we are allowing for ourselves or others. I may be willing to discuss or theorise a permission that I am not willing to give myself permission to do. I may give myself permission to do something once but not allow myself to really let it become an integral part of myself: allowed to do but afterwards not to be.
Or perhaps the word missing (as said tongue-in-cheek to me by a friend wiser than I) is “except”. And so, for me, the phrase flips with this addition to focus on the personal condition(s) through which I define the phrases importance to me. With this I name all that I do not wish or cannot to give permission for, my boundaries, my limitations. Crucial but perhaps missing the real value of it, as a provocation to open rather than overly to protect.
I believe this phrase is an embodiment of a philosophy and an aspiration necessarily forever expanding and needing daily attention. So I choose to leave it as it is, marked here just below the elbow of my writing arm.
But it depends on how we choose to read it and so, of course, please read it however you wish to. After all,
“it’s all allowed”