The Risks of Consensus

“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” -Mahatma Gandhi

In my previous post about Labels and Boxes, I went over how even minor or perceived differences among us can deeply change our perceptions of one another. What I spent far less time covering is when we agree, embrace our homogeneity, and how it can be an equally slippery slope.

What I don’t intend to do is say that finding and gravitating towards like-minded people is wrong. We all enjoy the company of somebody who shares our values and passions, those we feel comfortable with to truly be ourselves. After all, it’s not very fun to spend all of your time around people who might minimize you. That tends to set the stage for confrontation or discontent.

Not often, if at all, will you come across somebody who is the complete embodiment of your mirror image or polar opposite. We tend to be much more diverse than we even give ourselves credit for. When dealing with others, there may be agreement or disagreement on a lot of things, but the amount we actually have in lock-step varies. Just because you agree on your conclusions doesn’t mean there aren’t semantics or facets that don’t overlap, and likewise just because you disagree doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of common ground to find.

Many years ago I stumbled across an independent filmmaker named Evan Coyne Maloney. After years of making short videos, he came out with a full length documentary film called Indoctrinate U. The specific politics aside, it was a film about political bias on college campuses, how some students have been intellectually bullied, punished, and alienated because of their ideologies by students and staff of their universities. It brought up a very good point in that we all too often talk about diversity; diversity of race, culture, backgrounds, religion, etc. As very important as those are to acknowledge and embrace, somewhere in there we lost sight in pursuing the diversity of thought.

Homogenizing thought only has risks when it seeks to extinguish or stigmatize all others. Perhaps it is too philosophical or idealist but I hold that opposing views are good for one another. They create a challenge, need, and drive to seek the truth through obstacles, objections, and rational discussion. We are less prone to be unfair with our assessments when in the company of those whom we know will hold us accountable, and rightfully so. Surrounding yourself with people who won’t contest you is the surest way to have a false sense of knowledge and security, and helps to breed intolerance.

This isn’t to say all disagreements are beneficial. Certainly when two uncompromising views clash, not much can be accomplished. Two passionate opposites can further entrench themselves and attempt to cause damage to one another. Tolerance is learned by understanding, and you can’t understand anything with refusal and stern attachment to preconceptions.

In this, a paradox exists between the enthusiasm for our beliefs and our desire to discover more. To venture farther away from your foundation can feel risky due to its constant challenges. We fear this uncertainty may temper the enthusiasm for our morals, change them, or perhaps even worse, create indifference.

Deeply philosophical thinkers can often be criticized for their gray, relativist outlook on the world. To some there are definite rights and wrongs, and I would agree, seeing as how I believe many things to be right and wrong. I will say, however, that those who spend less time seeing black and white, who spend more time seeing gray can still have firm convictions. They just understand that you do, too, and for different reasons relative to your personal experiences.

Even I get criticized when having discussions because I like to find where the disagreements are. I don’t feel that I learn much by only agreeing, though I try never to make it into a confrontation. The best way I’ve learned to appreciate other people is by listening and understanding where they come from; that I may contest the idea, but I must judge the person based on their intentions. When you respect the moral fortitude of somebody else, they are much more prone to respect yours and voicing them becomes much more enriching to everyone.

The ideal is to be tolerant of one another despite our differences, even when it sometimes feels like you have to tolerate the intolerable. You’d be surprised what a little listening can accomplish.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” -Aristotle


The Joy of Torment

“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.” -C. S. Lewis

Being forthright, this is definitely a behavior I can participate in. Being the type of person who really wears his heart on his sleeve, I can find it difficult sometimes not to project my emotions for people. I’ve learned enough in my life to try and avoid subjecting others to when they are negative but it can be a challenge, and can be done unintentionally.

What I can say is that there are times where it feels wickedly satisfying to demonstrate this side of yourself. It’s as if your ego gets a real boost out of the fact that you can define the terms of how you are perceived by others, even if it is negatively. As I expounded on more in my writing about control, we can often seek endlessly to avoid our vulnerabilities. Even if we are destructive, even if we are damaging something that took us potentially our entire lives to accumulate, even if we know remorse, regret, and animosity are to follow, we can still do hurtful things. We prefer to define the terms of our environment, and destruction is quite possibly our easiest and surest avenue to accomplish that.

This isn’t to say you go around trying to dampen everyone’s day, or necessarily do it on purpose. But there is no doubt that when you are feeling, shall we say, punchy, that it brings a measure of satisfaction to you bringing somebody else down to where you are. Sometimes the thing you loathe the most is happiness, and even happiness in the joy of others. If I ever feel this way I try my best to conceal it knowing it will pass, that I truly want those around me to find joy. Still, sometimes the temptation to demonstrate my discontent can be too much. The old cliché “misery loves company” is a cliché for a reason, and a very good one.

It’s an extraordinarily difficult thing for me to write about because I know how revealing it is, especially for myself. I’m sure there are people close to me that can pick up on it or have just gotten used to it. I go through periodic phases where I just stool in self-hatred and show contempt for any measure of encouragement, sympathy, empathy, and consolation thrown my way. It really is that I want to feel this way for at the time but it inevitably wears off. Could be a day, could be 3 weeks. The reasons for this sudden dip are numerous and sometimes I can even have a hard time grasping what it’s all about. The saddest part is in not searching for or having any interest in finding the solutions.

There’s no denying that much of it resides in the fact that I pursue humility and internalize it in myself harshly, and with little compromise. The grandest of hypocrisies is in how I love complimenting people, showing sincerity, generosity, attention, and kindness. All of these things I refuse in myself, and often go out of my way to avoid or extinguish. Very few things satisfy me more than to know that I’ve done something that meant a great deal to somebody else, yet I refuse this feeling to others. It’s an incredibly selfish and isolating behavior. When my acts of kindness are rejected, it too can be hurtful.

Modesty isn’t the only reason. For years there are things in life that I’ve deprived myself of, and deprived myself of them on purpose. Obviously the feelings of what I didn’t deserve coupled with my resistance to vulnerability only served to enhance my cynicism and embrace the reality of my misfortunes. Each person reacts differently to tumultuous events in their life. To me, it seems being dragged through the dirt has immediate, far-reaching effects. It feels easier to accept it that way, but that does little to solve anything.

The reason I used the C.S. Lewis quote from the beginning is because it’s not always the exact circumstances which lead to our desolation that disturb us. It’s in feeling sorry for ourselves, being victims of a grand injustice. Misery is also the perpetual understanding that your misery will endure. While we have no control over our calamities, we do control our perceptions of them. Some pick themselves up, some fall apart. The most difficult thing is to convince yourself things will improve when you don’t see how they can. In dark times, hope can be a calming sentiment. It can also knowingly be nothing more than placebo. This, unfortunately, is when we purposefully feed our agony.

Some years ago I auditioned for a band based out of LA called Peech. They had a song I needed to learn named “Misery” and I remember the lyrics sticking with me the first time I paid any attention to them, especially the chorus:

“This pain is digging into my throat, inviting it with open arms;
My misery serves me well;
I’ve tried taking control of my life and found myself asking why;
Why can’t I be free from this misery?

I’m not the only one to use this addiction of self-destruction in their lives;
I’m not the only one to use misery as a drug.”

It was profoundly philosophical to me because it really seemed to nail, uncompromisingly, exactly what I could do. Don’t get me wrong in all of this deep, dark writing about emotional sadism and masochism, I genuinely try to be a happy and good person. This by no means is to say I’m always good at it. Any change is hard, is resisted by your ego, and can take a long time. To understand these attitudes aids in changing them, but that is not to say they still don’t exist, that your whole life of programming can simply be switched off. It can’t. It won’t. It’s the grueling reality of growth as a human being, and is resisted seemingly with your every pore at times.

Forcing my ego out of trained reactions and behaviors is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with. The very reason so many people don’t change, or perhaps refuse to is simply because of how hard it is. It is much easier just to accept the way you are and pretend that there is nothing you can do about it. Well, I contest that wholeheartedly, you just have to want it bad enough. It requires you to have brute and inconvenient honesty with yourself, and that is not easy to do.

Some people resist any change, saying they don’t care what anybody else thinks. While I’m not here to say that they’re wrong, I don’t personally believe in that for a second. Treating other people with courtesy and respect is in it’s very essence the acknowledgement of how they feel. And what’s wrong with that? It’s a beautiful thing to recognize. To be thoughtful of others is to also not hinder their happiness, be it intentional or not. Chances are you know the difference, just as I have learned.

Questionable Answers, Questionable Questions

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” -Voltaire

When I came back to Wisconsin from Los Angeles, I came back to a 15 year old brother who had a young curiosity about the world and was very inquisitive. I don’t bypass many opportunities to openly share my ideas and reasoning, much less when I am asked. When I began touching on certain subjects, I could sense the quiet, youthful propensity to accept my words unchallenged. When indulging myself to others in the past, I’ve gotten the same sense that at a certain point I started talking over somebodies head. When exposed to areas we’ve not entertained before, we tend to be more prone to persuasion. It’s a natural reaction when you feel you are learning something, not always considering that there exists a contrary view. It’s at that point I feel it’s important to stop and change course, even going so far as to tell people not to believe what I’ve told them, that it’s nothing more than my opinion.

Maybe I’m too sensitive to influencing others and feeling that I am taking advantage simply because I’ve spent more time thinking about a subject or dwelling on a semantic than somebody else. Sharing thoughts is important, but more important is allowing somebody to consider your position and work through it on their own. At this point, instead of continuing to explain my own philosophies and biases to my brother, I decided it was a good opportunity to explain the value of questioning. I tried to explain that the answers do not often matter. Sometimes in our haste to find them we tend to accept any that are given to us or the first one’s we arrive at. The tragedy is that this is where the questions typically stop instead of when they should intensify.

Perhaps I was being too abstract when expounding how the question is the most important component. If I told him the answer was 4, what good would that do? Is the question what is 2 plus 2? The square root of 16? 17 minus 13? How many periods are in football?

What then if somebody challenged your proclaimed answer? How would you be able to support and reason without understanding how you arrived at that conclusion? Chances are “somebody told me” isn’t going to do you much good, especially if you are to admit your willingness to accept whatever is told to you. Don’t get me wrong, we all have people whom we trust, admire, and allow certain influences over us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the point of mental exercise should be to challenge one to think for themselves, not obstruct their ability to do so or attempt to do it for them.

I understand why this can feel like a threat to some. People all have views that they are empowered by, feel righteous with, and wish to see grow in influence. A powerful way to do this is molding a growing mind and installing the foundation by which your philosophy can entrench itself.

This is not to say it’s necessarily a negative thing. Any parent will explain to you the importance of raising a child with a good foundation of morals and respecting boundaries. What I am more specifically referring to is when something is concealed, not to protect somebody but to protect the idea.

An illustration I see often that concerns the broad value of a question is in polling. The way a question is asked will directly influence which answers are received. Below are a couple examples of what I mean:

A. Do you believe ____ exists?
B. Do you believe ____ could exist?

This is actually a relatively subtle example, but the word “could” can change the entire dynamic of the question. Instead of making the answer an absolute, the polled individual might consider the possibility even though he doesn’t believe the example exists. Based on the results we can be mislead to believe that X amount of people believe Y exists even if the wording of the question implied differently. The question and how it is presented matters, and matters when trying to understand the answers. Something as simple as a word can change our entire thought process and make us apprehensive to what we truly might say. Nobody wants to answer a loaded question that would assassinate their character or give them an unfair label. Framing the discussion is an old logical fallacy that many often fail to detect. I don’t mean to imply that there is malicious intent or even purposeful bias in every case. Still, if the question is framed differently, the answers can vary.

When talking about the importance of the questions over the answers, I am reminded of when I was confirmed catholic in my youth. At the time I was beginning to question such things and actually had verbal confrontations with my mother who was adamant that I be confirmed. She felt she knew what was best for me based on what her choices were, and I was acting out my youthful defiance. In the end I wound up going and part of the process was to attend CCD classes which we commonly refer to as bible study. I had attended many of them while I was growing up and actually didn’t mind them. Instead of just reading from the bible, some of the instructors were very open to discussion.

When being confirmed, I had a particularly open instructor who actually enjoyed that I processed the information, formulated questions, and had little reservation in expressing them. It wasn’t just defiance, I genuinely felt these were important questions and one’s in which I couldn’t find the answers to, so I raised them as politely and reasonably as I could. This is not to say that by asking I found any answers, or found them to this day, but thinking critically on my own instead of taking answers from anybody else was incredibly rewarding.

Some people find this vulnerability dangerous. To them it endangers their views and attempt to control their environment without entertaining the possibility that the questions are an important piece of the puzzle. As I discussed in my post about labels and boxes, a great way to strengthen your core values is to question them. The fear is that if you question, you might realize weakness in your presumptions and change them. I protest that we all must face those possibilities openly or we refuse to grow.

We cannot pretend to have all the answers. If we did, none of us would have the disagreements we do. Having different experiences and backgrounds makes us all think differently in some form or another, and sharing a general opinion with somebody does not mean your reasoning for that belief can’t be completely different, as well. This is what makes us interesting and unpredictable.

The true beauty in questioning is not finding the answers; it’s encountering more questions.

Moral Relativism

“A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.” -Socrates

This is perhaps one of the hardest things to write about, not because it’s difficult to think of what to write but because of the implications. Speaking to any measure of inconsistency in people’s morals and their strongest passions is not typically well received. I do feel, however, without attempting to be negative or reprimanding, that it’s a vitally important concept to understand.

Spending 3 years being a vegetarian I discovered a lot about our relative use of righteousness. By not eating meat I inspired open admiration and criticism. Because of this I would not tend to talk about it unless confronted with a situation in which it had to be acknowledged. I found it silly to burden other people with a choice that I made that is atypical in many circumstances. It was a choice I made for myself and for no other reason.

It was not a decision I made with a moral pretense, which might explain some of my perceptions on this subject. I did it to try something new, a different lifestyle, and perhaps I’d be enlightened to something I had not thought of or experienced before just by being open to new things. Seems a tad silly to assume that your choice of diet can change your life, but I didn’t quite have those delusions of grandeur. I continued being a vegetarian after the first year, which was my initial goal, because I had become so accustomed to it. Living in Los Angeles, where vegetarianism and veganism are widely accepted made life a lot easier to make that choice. When I was beckoned back to Wisconsin, I found it to be much more limiting and inconvenient. Still, I was so used to that style of living that I continued despite the challenges. There is also a certain quality that satisfies one’s ego to be different, though I won’t expound deeply into that at the present moment.

Something as trivial as diet can really be a hot button issue I would come to find. As a vegetarian I often found myself uncomfortable with people who attempted to heap praise onto me because of it, assuming my reasoning. Many of these same people would share their passion for their views with me because we shared this choice in common. This by itself is not at all what I object to, as anybody who knows me understands my love of engaging conversations and hearing different perspectives. What would bother me is the self-righteousness it gave them over others. Some of them would speak so snidely of carnivorous people as if they had committed these great, unforgivable crimes. I found no fault in their activism, passion, and choice not to partake in something that was against what they believed in. No, what I found fault in was condemning others who were different and speaking of them as if they were lesser because of it.

What I mean by moral relativism is this; we all choose the things that are most important to us, and some of us become very passionate advocates for them. There is nothing wrong with this on it’s own, but by decrying others we are professing the standard by which we believe others should be judged. Usually that standard is ourselves or how we view ourselves. The issue with this type of self-gratification is that while you are banging the war drums over something, somebody else is blowing the war horn at you for another.

For example, a vegan may not eat meat and be very proud of that fact, but how are they so sure where their rice came from? What if their rice purchase came from an Indonesian rice patty where its residents are enslaved to work for little or nothing with no chance of advancing out of poverty? Chances are this knowledge would give them no moral satisfaction. What if they smoked cigarettes? An advocate against smoking would denounce this as not only a bad influence but contributing to our nations health care problems and rising costs. What if they had a car? Certainly there would be somebody who would curse them for supporting the oil industry, or for paying taxes that support the military-industrial complex. I could go on with endless possibilities and examples…

On the opposing side, the detractors enjoyed giving me an earful by apparently being insulted at something as petty as my diet. Some people loved talking to me about how great meat is, how girly vegetarianism is, or whatever conjecture they could come up with to label and prod me as inferior. Such things are inconsequential, immature, and telling of a persons own insecurities. It isn’t uncommon that a person will presume your feelings of righteousness over them, so they will preemptively attempt to demonstrate their superiority without even realizing the hypocrisy. The most humorous aspect is that people would feel so threatened by what choice I made for myself, a choice which I in no way asked them to partake in. Typically, a simple smile and and non-engaging chuckle can defuse the shallow matter. If their goal is to enforce a change in who I am or what I do with such behavior, they would sadly find their efforts fruitless.

In both cases my motives were often assumed. Instead of acknowledging the choice we have both made and respecting the individual route we have taken to get there, we can be more intent on making a grand statement about who we are, who they are, and assuming it matters.

Because you’ve decided on something that is important to you is no reason to believe your glass house is made of steel. We all take some liberty to excuse ourselves from actions and decisions that we know are not ideal or reflective of our chosen morality. Human beings are imperfect and we shouldn’t expect to act in perfect accordance with our principles at all times. In fact, breaking our own rules can be very exciting. Where it crosses the line is when we pretend certain aspects of our lives should be the standard for others while ignoring the other bits that, to us, are less important. I am speaking more to abstract concepts, not to when somebody becomes a physical or emotional victim, which I hope we all agree is wrong.

This is not to say we should be indifferent to the things we feel strongly about. There are, however, ways to communicate your ideas and morals to others in a way for them to consider. But ultimately that is all you can do for them, give them something to consider. When you lambast somebody over a decision or action they made, you do more to actually dissuade them from entertaining your perspective.

What you are then left with is your own meritoriousness, which is what you started with, anyway.

Labels and Boxes

“Little boxes on the hillside,
 Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
 Little boxes on the hillside,
 Little boxes all the same.”
-Malvina Reynolds

Think of when you’ve met somebody for the first time, or perhaps you’ve known them briefly enough that you don’t know much about one another. You are still trying to figure each other out; what makes them tick, what they believe, how similar they are to you, etc. Let’s say in this instance a particular sentiment is professed. This may have you instantly formulate conclusions and generalizations about this person, who they are, and what they believe. This may also affect your view of them, or perhaps even make you decide whether or not this is a person you wish to associate with.

It could have been anything. Perhaps they told you their political or religious leanings, expressed a philosophy, mentioned their favorite team, referred to their socioeconomic class, used certain types of language, made mention of their sexuality, or told a joke. Maybe you liked it, maybe you didn’t, or maybe you reserved judgement because it wasn’t something you felt particularly strong about.

Let’s also then entertain that the person may not have made a direct mention to any particular bias, opinion, or controversial subject but that you instead interpreted something which, in your curiosity, has lead you to a conclusion. You might have become more inquisitive to be sure, or perhaps you haven’t in keeping with your initial assumption.

In that moment we put each other into labels and boxes. Now, this is not to say it’s necessarily a negative thing. In fact, people are usually quite proud of the boxes they voluntarily put themselves in and enjoy letting people know exactly who and what they are. Sometimes people fit nicely into these commonly defined compartments, and often by conscious design. We respond positively to tribal attitudes where we rally with those who identify with us and rail against those we consider opponents or threats to our identity. In this way, pronouncing our very identity can sometimes purposely invite conflict to demonstrate the superiority of our concept.

The more passionate and attached we are to our labels, the stronger our objections to an external view. We become more accusatory and suspicious of the motives others have, even in absence of supportive reasoning. The world gets a little more black and white, believing that if one is not with you they are against you and all it can take to inspire such feelings is for somebody to not agree with your every premise. Even if those feelings are subtle and not acted upon, to label somebody completely is to dismiss the potential of their individuality.

By the same token we all find it easier to forgive and rationalize the faults in our boxes while condemning the faults in others. This uproots objectivity and champions subjective reality, ensuring that our boxes are protected from harms way, although one could suggest this does more harm than good. The truth is that no movement, philosophy, or bias is bullet-proof and immune from questioning and objection. In fact, I would argue prodding one’s beliefs is the surest way to strengthen them. Moreover, if you question your preconceptions and you find them to be ill-advised, I should hope we’d all want to know that, as well.

Before I go further, I understand the slippery slope I’ve just tried to impossibly climb. As I spoke about in my last post about control and controlling one’s emotions, there is a very strong attachment we have to our beliefs. They are so sacred to us because everything else can be taken; our loved one’s, our property, our wealth, our health, our jobs, etc. The one thing that nobody can take away is our thoughts and ideas. History is overflowing with examples of people whose ideas were so firmly entrenched and cherished that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for them.

Before I come across as branding people as intolerant, holier-than-thou, close-minded bigots, let me qualify my position. I don’t believe every person behaves in this manner. I’ve seen many inspiring examples to the contrary. Even the most passionate of us find it much easier to label and dismiss an entire group of people than we do to be confronted by an individual and have to support our misconceptions. There are seemingly always these types of people we know personally and view them as the “exception to the rule”.

For me personally, I find very few things as satisfying as showing another person that they cannot simply pigeonhole me based on their assumptions of what I believe and why I might believe so. I’ve learned that valuable lesson in my younger years by being intellectually pounded for my ignorance and egregious postulation. As humiliated as I could feel, I treat them as some of the best lessons I’ve ever received. When confronted, the boxes I put myself and others into were coming undone at the corners, exposing the lack of contents I had used to form suppositions.

The important thing to realize is that opinions can come from a good or a bad place. Just because somebody thinks differently than you does not make them wrong, and even if you believe with all of your being that they are wrong, it does not make them a bad person or make their intentions less honorable. Moreover, somebody may simply lack the eloquence to express themselves, but that alone should not stand as an indictment of their philosophy. The ability to communicate effectively is very powerful, though nobody should suppose accomplished oratory defines right or wrong in itself. Most often we just want what is best for ourselves and others, believing that our opinions would be to the benefit of everybody, regardless of how we present them.

To label and dismiss somebody is to cheat yourself of exploring the unique way they arrived at their conclusions. Sharing your disagreements is such a beautiful and rewarding experience that to then purposely learn nothing by closing yourself to those who might inspire you to think in favor of those who won’t is an awful waste. I understand that I like discourse more than most people I know but harnessing any measure of prejudice against one another by not discussing our differences openly, intently, and politely, we only serve to continue our animosity and distrust. Plus, I’m sure you would discover we all agree on a lot more than we think.

I prefer to define myself, not have my labels do it for me.

Out of Control

“I cannot always control what goes on outside. But I can always control what goes on inside.” -Wayne Dyer

To some this won’t be of any surprise, as I’ve seemed to recycle this conversation on multiple occasions throughout the years.

It would seem to me that the core of our behaviors are predicated on control. Now, this isn’t meant to be some grand, sweeping indictment of people. I understand the word control in this context can imply force and manipulation, and while this is always a possibility, it does not embody the entire scope for which we desire it and act upon it.

Control is little more than a method in which we see the world and wish to see certain aspects of it adhere to our preconceptions. While that doesn’t necessarily mean we wish to change everything or everybody, we do internalize it and use it for our own satisfaction, even if it is only our own. You may not be able to control things physically, but you can control the way you view or speak of them.

These attitudes, while not always, can certainly be destructive. A typical example would be if you got into a disagreement with another person and as it continued, the situation grew more hostile. While you know that the destructive and negative behavior will ultimately lead you to either an apology or resentment, you will proceed anyway for just a fleeting, momentary satisfaction. I have seen many lifetime relationships implode over a heated exchange where both parties allowed their pride to willingly burn the bridge they previously spent their lives reenforcing.

This is born out of our need to grasp the reality around us. When it starts slipping away from our control into the unknown and the vulnerable our first reaction is to get our footing in whatever way we can. Unfortunately the easiest way to do this is with destructive and negative behaviors. While it may not be ideal, if you can dictate the discussion, emotions, and ultimately the outcome, it doesn’t always matter how it ends, just that it ends on your terms.

Most people that I’ve spoken to on this subject acknowledge the futile nature of this exercise, knowing that we can’t all control everything all the time. Just the same, when your pride kicks in, you need the perspective to be objectively conscious of your behaviors. While the ability to apologize is a wonderful trait, there also aren’t many worse things to have to do. In that moment you are vulnerable, and that is typically the exact spot we will avoid to no end. To be vulnerable is to be uncertain, and to be uncertain is the admission that you have no power over it. The fundamental flaw with that logic is that there will always be circumstances that are unforeseeable and will force our reality into a corner.

I am as guilty as the next person in allowing ego and prideful habits to at times cripple my ability to lead a positive and rewarding life, casting clouds of negativity that dishearten others. It is a loud testament to the natural instinct we are born with that I can knowingly diagnose what I am doing as wrong and do it all the same. It is truly in watching the people around me, the people I love and care for most, that opens my eyes to the enormity of our inner beauty and subsequent ugliness.

Whether we do it to others or ourselves by living in denial or doing the denying, it is important to witness how we behave in order to control our current environment. Even though we pretend not to, we love to seethe and we love to avenge for perceived wrongs without often seeing the hypocrisy in our own wrongdoing.

I’ve found that those who find peace are those who realize they can’t control their environment nor the others around them, that they can only control themselves and how they allow themselves to be affected. It’s amazing to see a person attempt to direct negativity at these types of people. They feel disarmed by their refusal to allow provocations that diminish their aims of tolerance, compassion, and understanding. Such examples have enthralled me, and perhaps more so because they are so rare. To have as much control over one’s ego is either something you are born with or had to work incredibly hard to achieve.

Let’s get something straight; Your ego is truly just the way you view yourself. We all have an ego because we all see ourselves as a certain person with certain values who has a particular place in the world. Ego becomes dangerous when we allow it to indulge and view ourselves as more enlightened than those around us. Combating this requires copious amounts of humility.

As for me, I am always trying to remind myself that somebody else might very well have something important to share that could shake my foundation. It is much easier said than done, as at times my own pride will resist challenges and change. Instead of allowing an over-bloated ego to quash another, being humble and open enough to know you are not the world’s only source of wisdom is often appreciated by others who have their own ego to satisfy. At the very least, you can do no wrong by being an example of kindheartedness and openness to the things that other people feel are important to them. In turn, this also makes others open to the things you feel are important.

I’ve found that embracing vulnerability and uncertainty can lead you to a lot of unique and beautiful things you may not have had or seen otherwise. Perhaps more importantly, it also teaches you more about the people around you.

The average person can feel like life is meaningless without it, all the while being blinded to the reality that striving for complete control is what’s truly meaningless.

The Obligatory Introduction

“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” -Socrates

I suppose there is some explaining to do.

The reasons for this are numerous and somewhat out of character. I am not one to bring too much attention to myself, other than in the usual context of being with those you trust. Nor am I prone to putting my life in other people’s faces, flattering myself in an egotistical binge of self-importance. However, I do believe that doing things out of your comfort zone can be an exhilarating and healthy exercise.

The reason I refer to myself here as an everyday nobody is that I am not a person of great accomplishment or great admiration. In my short life I have met seemingly countless people from all types of backgrounds, often quite unassuming about who they are and how they got to be that way. There is something indescribably fascinating about their thoughts and philosophies regardless of their education or lack thereof. Nobody has the exact same experiences, and thus we cannot expect to view the world the same way. By sharing your inner most thoughts, morals, and opinions, you can aid others in their own search of themselves because regardless of admitting it openly or not, it’s what we all truly seek and what we all truly crave.

We can take equal stock in the musings of a neighbor across the street just as we do a great academic writer or an inspiring poet. Sometimes we simply don’t have the candor or the eloquence to formulate our thoughts into digestible, finely tuned nuggets of wisdom and beautiful soundbites, but that does not make truth any less true to the cashier at your local market than it does to an accomplished and celebrated intellectual, or make their view of the world any less significant.

There is a free market of ideas that many of us are blessed to have. It serves no purpose to exist if it is not acknowledged and acted upon. I don’t pretend to have answers, or even pretend to have all the questions, but I do believe that people can take something out of what I say just the same as I have shamelessly plagiarized the wisdom of others. Not all of us can articulate every thought or feeling we have so there is great currency in feeling that somebody is speaking your inner language. I can struggle with finding the words, and perhaps sometimes the words don’t exist, but when I see or hear something that speaks to me, there is no greater feeling of liberation.

I promised myself to write for my own catharsis, and if somebody takes stock in anything I say, then inspiring them to think for themselves is a byproduct I can live with. If not, I’ll still be the same nobody I was yesterday and will be tomorrow. And I’m good with that.