questions of the Self, a most annoying plague

Books and movies tend to portray “the Self” as something you find after a life struggle or going on a trip to a foreign country. In our everyday life, however, the more we look for ourselves, it seems the more we lose it. When we try to address and find this thing that seems to have consciousness, we miss it.  The self is dynamic and we can find ourselves cut up into so many parts, it’s hard to see the overall vision. Are you the person who wakes up late? Are you the person that takes short showers? Are you fashionable? Kind? All the little details of who you are changing all the time, and so who is the person underneath it all? Are you the voice reflecting on yourself? If so, who is the self you are looking at?

Philosophers, neuroscientists, biologists, poets with large egos, plenty of people have tried to tackle the question of consciousness. It is perhaps one of the greatest mysteries in the universe, and we can only consider its mysteriousness because of it Itself. Where we are right now, we don’t understand what it is exactly or how it works. While it would be comforting to know, we don’t have to understand it to live our lives. If it is something that captures you, heart and soul, you can research into it, try and understand it. We probably won’t find a perfect model of it.

I realize that’s not a satisfactory answer because it’s not a hard and fast explanation or even a definition. However, it’s not stopped you from reading this, understanding this, and impacting your life. You are conscious, whether or not you understand it. Consciousness may be a process, and we can’t see that process clearly because we are it. In a similar way, we may be incapable of seeing and understanding ourselves. When we introspect, we are automatically splitting ourselves off to look at it, and that splitting off is necessarily limiting what we are looking at.

As to say, the “Self” that people often look for isn’t some distinct character who likes A, does B, and has traits C, D, and E. We know we are splitting ourselves up with possible actions we could be taking, and that partitioning is driving us to doubt who we are. However, we will always be our Self. Your Self is you, you’ve never lost it in the first place. If we take one path or another, those two eventual Selves would likely be different. But who are we to know that? We can’t see the bird’s eye view of our life. We’re on the ground, subjective and ignorant of so many things– it is who we are, and those limitations make us who we are.

More often than not, what we are looking for is confidence. We never make the “right” decisions, we can only make the decision we think is best. Even when we feel like we are being pulled by so many options, we have faced every single choice before and gone with it. Choices are inevitable, and if we mess up, we can choose to try and fix it. Maybe your Self yesterday loved coffee, and today your Self loves tea, but you were yourself yesterday and you are yourself today.

understanding the narrative of our lives

We each have a narrative we tell and it goes on in our heads. There’s different characters and threads, and each theme is developing at a different rate. When we are young, we might not have been able to do something, like balance a soccer ball on our heads or such. However, we learned and now we can! Thus that arc came to an end.

Whether or not the narrative in our heads is something we create or is something placed there by a higher power, it exists. We give ourselves a beginning, middle, and end; we see ourselves as pieces progressing in a larger journey! This is part of why we write and adore stories, because we love understanding the character arcs in our own lives. We understand what happens in and around us by looking at the causes and seeing how they bring us to where we are now and where we want to go. We want to understand the backstory so we know why the terrible enemy repented. Narratives satisfy the why.

Essays and interviews, and occasionally the rigorous conversation, are all aimed at getting that storyline out of someone. We want to know how they’ve gotten here and to see if they will care. The problem is that our narrative isn’t as defined as we’d like. After all, life is complicated and every small piece is a factor in some light. We might not know where we’re going, or have a hard time explaining how we got there. However, if we better comprehend our life journey, we can better understand how to move to where we want to be.

So ask yourself! If you are the protagonist of a plot of your life, who are the major players? What are the major themes? What things have you done and why? Understanding your own motivations helps you cultivate and prune them. Maybe money doesn’t matter to you as much as assume– or, maybe it matters more. Where are you right now compared to where you’ve been? Understand that, and it will help you know where to go next. And keep going! Keep understanding! Narratives evolve, so don’t be afraid to change.

but what even is kindness anyways

Kindness is one of those mysterious things where you don’t exactly know how to pin it down at times, but you know it’s there. People who are kind just feel that way, and when we really think about it, it takes us a while to come up with a specific example. When we talk to strangers, we can sense a bit of their personality, and even right after we’ve met them, we assume how nice they are based upon it.

Kindness is a level of love that any two individuals can share. It means respect for the other person’s opinions, genuine compassion and interest in their life, and taking time out to do something the other person needs, or might find difficult on their own. Sharing food is often seen as kind because you’re directly restricting your own well being to give someone something they might require.

Yet, kindness is still mysterious because if you’re not used to it or not in very specific situations, it’s not clear what the right, nice thing to do is. Take the example I gave before with sharing your food with a small animal, like they typically show in movies to prove the protagonist is a good person. That feeding might teach animals in real life to become dependent on humans, which increases the likelihood they’ll be hurt because they’re hanging around humans too much. Furthermore, the closest animals we typically could feed are the common species that don’t need the extra food. Not feeding a pigeon isn’t going to kill them, they’re going to hop over to the next family and try their luck again. My point, regardless of your opinion on pigeons, is that kindness is a broad term, and there will always be ways to justify not taking action, for better or worse.

It’s okay to not know how to be kind. We get out of practice, and some people are naturally more compassionate than others. However, we should strive for it, as unnatural as it may seem. We won’t always know what the best, most sincere, and respectful route of action is. Life is ambiguous, but we can always be better. It’s a matter of keeping our eyes open and seeing where we can help. A good starting point is getting into the habit if literally asking, “Hey, is there anything I can do to help?”

Wonderful times in Stress-land

The “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is also one of the busiest. There’s finals for school, evaluations at work, cold to deal with outside, and cold relationships to deal with inside– December can be a lot to handle. While we want everything to work out perfectly, nothing does. Often times “I want to achieve these big goals!” turns into, “I want to make it through!” But you know what? That’s okay. 

Making it through doesn’t really get enough credit. For as much as participation trophies make people fume, not everyone does get a trophy, just everyone that shows up. Showing up matters because putting in effort matters. The problem is that it doesn’t always seem like effort matters. They say character is who you are when no one is looking, but if no one is looking, and you’re tired and don’t care, is the effort really worth it? Hypothetically we will usually say yes! Absolutely! We should always try! But in practice? Things become more nuanced somehow, and eventually we are able to justify taking the low road over the high one. 

Especially at this time of year, it’s important to remember that character does matter. Even if everyone else is elbowing you in the face, you don’t have to sink to that level. When things become busy and stressful, people lash out. If other people lash out, we want to lash out as well, it seems natural! But what is natural isn’t always good. It’s okay if your goal is to just get through it. You don’t have to be the biggest or brightest house on the block. But showing up, participating, and being there as much as you can is important. Your effort matters, give it, so you can help those around you.

Make your life your novel

 

Almost everyone has tried to write a book at some point in their life. It might be three pages long and half developed or it might be a full three page novel they can’t stop editing. If you ask someone what they would like to write a book about, practically every single person can think of something they’ve secretly been working on mentally. However, there obviously isn’t a book on the shelves for every person who wants to write one because they usually don’t even find their way onto paper.

There’s lots of reasons why a book doesn’t come into fruition. The person forgets the idea, they discard it, life gets in the way and they don’t work on it, they complete it and never get it published, they try to get it published and no one wants it; there’s so many things that can sway a book from publication. The big factor, though, is the individual who wants to write it. We don’t write books because we usually don’t have the self-control to do so. It’s not that the idea isn’t big enough, or that the plot isn’t developed enough. It’s the fact that we have to put our heads in the game on a daily basis and work on it until we make the idea big enough and the plot developed enough.

Not everyone is a writer, and not all writers are good at what they do. Writing is an incredibly difficult task, trying to get at the barest bones of communication. You don’t have to work on a book in order to feel successful in life, but we could all improve our self-discipline. It doesn’t matter what you want if you don’t do anything to get it. In some areas, writing a book is easier than other tasks because you can measure how much you’ve done through page number, word count, or chapters completed. So give yourself a measure! Make a checklist and fill out your goals. Don’t let your ambitions be unrealized, but seek them out every day, because every day is a gift.

What does your face look like?

We only see the mirror view of ourselves. Others get to see all angles of our faces, but we are limited in seeing how we really look on a daily basis. That’s why seeing a video of yourself is such a peculiar event; you are suddenly the onlooker of your own actions. But what is it like for a stranger? What parts of you are most salient? What aspect of your face do people focus on?  It’s important to think about because perspective because we get really caught up in our own heads sometimes.

The fact is, we dwell on certain things. We get bored and start thinking about tasks that aren’t necessary for survival like the humans we are. However it also means that when anything occurs, we are looking through a subjective lens. The faults we see may not be obvious to other people. The beautiful parts we see might also be hidden. We are used to our own standard of features, people, places, emotions, and we compare everything to it,  but it remains an unquantifiable bar. 

All of this is just to say that it’s easy to forget that not everyone has had the same experiences. Not everyone sees what you see. To some people, our noses might be the first thing they think about. To others it might be our forehead or chin. When frustrations arise, try to look on as an outsider. Try to bend your mind. You don’t have to agree, just get out of your own head for a little bit and you’ll find that it shows the other person a great deal of respect.

Make music but make friends first

As physics has progressed as a field, we’ve gradually realized that basically everything is made of waves. Light, gravity, even physical objects are frequencies in some aspect. So actually, it makes sense that sound waves connect to us, because that’s the nature of our reality. Somehow mixes of rhythms and notes with a variety of volumes can speak volumes to our sense of self. Music is the closest thing we have to magic, and it can be absolutely amazing. The focus word there is “can”. If you’ve ever heard any normal children’s choir, you can attest that not everyone can reach the level of magic through music. 

What’s even more amazing is the parents somehow seeing past the horrid screeching at looking at their child with pride. Here you have something that can move people to tears, inspire billions, convince people to give up higher paying jobs, and instead it’s a wreck. But it doesn’t matter because it’s parents caring about what their children do.

Music is incredibly important, in so many ways. Yet it’s power depends on making us feel connected to other people. Songs are great because the emotions it gives you make you feel less alone in feeling them. As to say, music is great because it means that people have felt the same way you have. We need people. We need annoying people to remind us that patience is a virtue. We need beautiful friends to encourage us. We need authority to keep order and challenge when corrupt. There are lots of marvelous things, topics to delve into and analyze, but we should never forget that things aren’t as important as our relationships with others. 

“I want to die. lol.”

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The most beautiful part of any day is the fact that it exists. Particularly among the younger generations who’ve grown up alongside social media and computer technology, there’s a generally negative culture. Posting something means you are motivated emotionally to do so, and in most instances, we tend to feel more motivated by negative emotions than positive ones. That means what’s going onto our walls and blogs reflects those same emotions. There are jokes about the void, nihilism, and the ‘sweet embrace of death’ because we deal with these heavy feelings through humor. Linguistically, we’ve developed a form of hyperbolic speech contrasted with minor events and appropriated entire concepts into slang like “same”. However, we can get easily overwhelmed by this constant stream and begin to cultivate unhealthy thought processes.

Just take a moment to pause yourself and think about what you see everyday. We like to think of ourselves as unaffected by propaganda compared to the normal population (It’s called the third-person effect) but the truth is that, statistically speaking, you are affected by the media. There’s a whole slew of phenomenon and theories about it, but spending hours on social media has an impact on your psychological health. I am not immune, you are not immune, your friends aren’t immune; it’s just a result of living. It’s not always a bad thing either, but it is always good to be aware of what we are reading.

When you read these jokes and are surrounded with an atmosphere that mocks existence, it can be easy to feel purposeless. However, the existence of existence is important. Some claim that it would be better to not have been born at all. If you weren’t born, after all, then you would’t feel all the pain of living. You also wouldn’t even be able to appreciate nonexistence. Because we are, because we exist, we can feel every emotion. We can feel the positive feelings as well as the negative ones. We can laugh at stupid jokes and feel idiotic for not seeing something obvious. Existence and nonexistence aren’t comparable. Existence means being able to do something and grow past the difficulties. Existence means that you have the opportunity to both screw up your life, and also to fix it.

 

 

Davison, W. (1983). “The third-person effect in communication”. Public Opinion Quarterly. 47 (1): 1–15. doi:10.1086/268763

 

Don’t starve yourself from people

For social beings who by nature need communication and contact, we have a really bad habit of isolating ourselves. We would prefer to hide behind social media, small talk, and our own self-doubts rather than try and make connections. Socialization is hard work, even for extroverts. You are a bubble of experiences, ideas, thoughts, temperament, and genetics and you meet another bubble that has all its own experiences and beliefs. Who knows if youre bubbles overlap? Trying to find similarities is frightening because people don’t always click right away.

Making friends means being vulnerable, and vulnerability is uncomfortable because it means not being able to predict the future as well. Even something as minor as revealing you love dogs: what if they hate dogs and have had traumatic experiences with them? It’s unlikely, but the more personal the topics get, the more risky it is to share them because you don’t know how they’ll react. As much as social anxiety is seen as over reacting in our culture, it’s actually not that unreasonable when you consider how socialization puts identity and sense of self at risk.

We like focusing on the ‘good stuff’, especially in American culture. We like feeling good, looking good, and being happy 100% of the time. When we talk and risk oursleves, we demand and expect payback for that socialization risk. Yet sometimes the result is awkward and embarrassing. It’s not required to be pretty and it usually isn’t  smooth at all. In fact, it can be uncomfortable and unsatisfying.  Talking to other people is hard, that’s proven by how entire college majors are dedicated to simple communication.

It’s okay to be socially awkward, everything gets better with practice. It’s okay to miscommunicate something, you’ll keep at it and they’ll eventually catch on. It’s okay to not know what to say, you’re not a mind-reader. It’s natural to have some difficulties when bridging the gap between two entirely different lives. Keep at it! Keep taking risks and communicating with people. Closing ourselves off socially is starving ourselves of a basic pyschological desire, so stay fed! It might not always seem worth it in the moment but it is in the long run.

 

The Fans

Not all passions are equal in the eyes of our culture. People who care about TV shows seem somehow “less” or more frivolous. That arises from the fact that it usually doesn’t require a higher degree of education or complex thinking to watch it. Furthermore, spending all of your time thinking about a show takes away from thinking about something more valued by our culture. However, I’d like to try and change that view point just a bit: why do most people care more about shows than we do real things?

Shows are captivating because they have story lines. As humans, we love stories, we think in stories. Yet they are also captivating because a vast majority of them have character development. You can trust someone is going to change, and most likely it will be for the better. It’s comforting. Also, if they are done correctly, shows can be amazingly interesting. Science is absolutely fascinating, but not thrilling like watching dragons attack a castle. Books are entertaining, but people don’t like spending the energy it takes to imagine and process the words.

When you compare random bits of data, it’s much harder to get excited than over Person A killing Person B over Person C who loves person D who loves person B. In our lives, we love stories, but we also get frustrated when our lives work out more like a series of random events and less like a path that leads somewhere. Not all passions are equal because some roles seem to be only available to those who are skilled enough to achieve them. Fans are a dime a dozen, but lawyers? Learning the Law takes years of extra schooling. The problem is most lawyers probably aren’t that passionate about the law. 

 What if we were as passionate about our lives as we are by really good shows? What if we could see ourselves as the protagonist and the hard work as a mighty challenge that’s worth overcoming? Consider becoming a fan of your own life.