More lofty principles I hope to live by |
It has been more than 4 months since I lectured the world on my lofty principles, so it would seem unlikely I should have much to add. But, it is now clear those thoughts were suited to that time, a time of overwork and discipline and grand ambitions in the lead up to my graduation from college. Now, that time is past, and I am now defining the next era of my life on the opposite coast of the US . Many of my ambitions did not pan out, and the road to graduation and subsequent transition were hardly smooth; in short, I have gone through some things and thought of some more principles I have grown to try to abide by.
Again, all things to strive for, some realistic and some less so.
As in, don’t care too much. Or, more eloquently stated, don’t give too many fucks. Be careful with feelings, as has been covered, but particularly careful about feeling worried and concerned. The article linked explains why we should do so in quite good detail, and this one quite nicely explores the stupid reasons for our failure to do so, so read them first. Done? I hope you feel enlightened. My contribution here shall just be to tell you how I came to agree with those finely written essays, my view of their topic.
When I was in middle school, a recent immigrant to the US, I was introverted and socially anxious enough to routinely worry about such simple interactions as getting lunch, and simple acts of awkwardness impacted me greatly. Typical, I know, but I hardly saw it as such at the time. But, in dealing with this problem I eventually realized several things: a) I mostly do not know the people I interact with, and likely will not interact with them again b) Most people around me don’t really care about my existence, and if something does call it to their attention they will soon forget c) I should not care about most peoples’ existence, for it does not affect my own. So I realized my worrying was, for the most part, silly, and that made it gradually yet greatly subside.
But, my life was hardly full of measured calm from then on. In High School, I was once again irrationally worried, this time about getting good grades. Dissatisfied with low As, devastated by Cs. This continued to college, where I became histrionically concerned over not acing some tests in my first semester. But then, I easily got straight As in that semester. And so soon I realized: a) A single grade does not determine my final grade b) My final grade barely affects my GPA c) A 0.02 variance in my GPA barely affects anything at all. So I mostly stopped worrying about grades, and got mostly As and some Bs and spent my time much more wisely than I would have had I gotten straight As in college.
The truth is, very few problems in my life have been worth taking seriously - they were pretty much meaningless, not worth fretting over. Of course, our feeble human minds work relatively and not absolutely, so I felt the worry and stress over these things all the same. But, I learned to stop taking these feelings seriously, which made me get over them soon enough. And even if the problem is serious, as they can be, even in my easy life - why freak out over it? At its core, this is simple, as all these principles are: accept what you cannot change, change the rest for the best.
As in, keep in mind you are not special, every single other human has an inner life too. Because of the way each of us is a little mind trapped in a physical cage allowing only indirect and grossly physical communication, it can be hard to fathom that in this world there are more than 7 billion other people who think and feel and worry and try and wonder constantly, just as you do. Each of these people had led a life with as many memories, incidents, relationships, and just - as much living, as you. Well, more or less. Just think about that. This is mindbogglingly complex to fathom, so practicality dictates we interact with most people through simple representation of their inner life, basic versions sufficient for the situation. And that works, and that makes sense. But, it is still important to remember that these conceptions are nothing more than mental cardboard cut outs of real people, and no person is actually that simple, ever. The ethical and practical aspects aside, remembering this makes existence all that more wondrous.
But, likewise, it is important to remember that people interacting with you have no access to you inner life, and have no obligation to work to understand it, just as you do not have an obligation to work to understand theirs. In every challenge and failure we face, we have a deep understanding of our struggle, of ourselves. And yet, we must understand that others do not, and their response reflects that. Basically: people are not psychic, so don’t expect them to be, and don’t expect them to try to be. We should expect those close to us to understand us somewhat, perhaps, but feeling it unfair for others not to understand or care for your inner narrative in times of challenge and crisis is a vestige of childhood we must all abandon to become reliable individuals.
As in, just take time to think about your life. Try to get some consistent thoughts on being of your own. Reflection can be difficult, it takes work, and humbleness, and discipline. But, in life everything is a matter of balance, and in that we must be capable of detecting imbalance. Everyone knows open-loop control just does not work well. Stated less obliquely, everyone knows a problem has to be recognized before it can be fixed. Such as, for example, the problem of worrying irrationally. Oh yes - it seems almost all these principles are in their core just a twist on introspection. So just do it.
As in, be yourself, seriously. Or, more specifically, work to be yourself. Obviously, practicality or etiquette or ethics often call for truth to be withheld, or replaced. But, so do confusion, convention, convenience, and so many more crutches. Forget ethics, being dishonest on account of these things is just lame, is as Holden Caulfield so often noted ‘phony.’ Being lame is often easier and safer, true, but also unambitious, boring, disappointing. And that makes for depressing lives, devoid of Truth and Beauty and Passion and Discovery - safe, but sad. So, work to avoid it, to surpass the easy decisions, the easy thoughts, the easy interactions that are hollow and false. If you are reading this, chances are you can afford the effort.
Be Wary of Complexity
As in, stop lying to yourself, usually things actually do not have to be so very complicated. Though I express these thoughts on being in part because I think they are non-obvious and took me a lot of time to discover and internalize, the truth is the most striking realization is that the most important lessons in my life were taught to me as a child. Just be yourself, don’t worry about things you cannot change, take each failure as a learning opportunity, forgive but not forget, be kind to people, etc. These things are simple, and they seem True and Good, and yet how few of us seem to manage to actually follow them. But, I also write these thoughts on being because I think that with enough confidence and resolution it is possible to cut through the haze of self delusion and confusion and find some things to believe in, and commit to, and abide by, and eventually live a life free of existential dread and absurdist confusion.
Be Wary of Self Pity
As in, be wary of self pity disguised as misery. In regards to worrying about grades, I eventually started to wonder: if I know that in getting a bad grade I can do nothing about it but work harder and do better next time, why sense is there to feeling bad about it, to beating myself up over it? There really was no sense to it, but I felt compelled to do it, why? I came to think the reason is this: I sought to absolve myself of the failure, to prove my ‘innocence’ and related lack of justification for said failure by feeling pain over it and punishing myself for it - I really did care, I did not deserve it, it’s not fair. But, again, that’s nonsense - what I should do is move on and do better. This plays into a bigger principle:
We Are All Tiny Specks In This Universe, and the Universe Does Not Even Begin to Care About Us, and it is Unfair, and Our Lives are Unfair - Deal With it
Again, a children’s lesson - the world ain’t fair. Any and all indignation about the fact is not going to change it, and is a waste of time and energy. Instead, we must learn to appreciate it all as it is - kind of fucked up, certainly not ideal, but on the whole quite worthwhile.