happy 5th of July

Yesterday for Americans, we had our Independence day. It’s the day we celebrate our nation and being a part of it, but it’s independence specifically from England. We’ve been split up now for about 200 years, yet the English impact was great upon us; we still celebrate taking the leap and becoming something new on our own.

Most of the colonists, however, didn’t want to become a new country. They were unhappy with the taxes, but they felt loyalty to King George. The slaves might have hoped for freedom under ‘America’ instead of ‘English colony’, but high were their hopes really? The slave trade was a part of our culture at that point, a disgusting practice that systematically destroyed generations and families. As we know too, even if they had hopes, slavery wasn’t abolished at the beginning of our country. The Native American tribes were mostly struggling to survive, destroyed, or oblivious to the colonists’ existence.

We like to think that everyone rebelled against England and that everyone was excited when England decided to give up. That’s not wholly the case. Most people were concerned. Who were we to form our own country? How does one go about doing that? There were still wars in Europe, would we get involved with those? For the persecuted minorities, would anything change?

Independence was terrifying. We set up the Articles of Confederation and they were horrible. So we tried again and set up our Constitution. Like America, we are all works in progress. We don’t deal with the problems we have very effectively at first. We ignore our major problems and come to compromises that we hate with ourselves. We want to be our own individual, but we’re uncertain at times of how to go about that. We still have loyalty to being the old person we decided not to be. However, we need to become who we were meant to be. We need to have high hopes for ourselves, even as we continue to fail to achieve them, because even the pursuit itself is important.

wait, I should shut up?

The best kind of people are those that know how to shut up and listen. They’re a rare breed. It’s so uncommon to find someone who listens well because we each want to tell our own stories.

Therefore, listening is vital to you, the listener. Shockingly enough, there’s always gaps in our knowledge, things we can learn about. Even the people we know, talking about things we’ve heard before– we can miss the details. We can also be reminded about what other peoples’ lives are like. No one’s life story is exactly the same, but learning about what other people are doing may help you learn how to deal with similar problems.

Listening is most important however, because it’s a core component of our relationships. You can tell when the other person isn’t listening, and that lack of respect isn’t easily forgotten. By paying attention and caring about what the other person says, we are watering the garden of our relationships. Most people are the sorts of plants that need to be watered every day. Shutting up and hearing what the other person has to say is a skill that helps make sure we don’t get too prideful– there are all of these other wonderful people we could appreciate!

There is a joy in listening, because we never know quite exactly what they’ll say; even the closest people to us can surprise us. We are living a life with so many unknowns, and the only way to grow and learn is by seeing what other people have seen.

Forming ice

Thanks to Radiolab, I learned today that pure water doesn’t actually freeze at “freezing point”; instead, in most instances, it needs a ‘seed’ to help the water molecules structure themselves into solid form. The seed can be a piece of dust or bacterium, but when that seed is introduced, that is when fluid gains form. 

Like water, we need a seed to start out with. We think we can structure ourselves under the right circumstances, no big deal, but we end up needing to depend on an outside force. It can be a strong wound to pride to accept that you need help. Afterall, we want to think of ourselves as competent. Needing others means that you can’t make it on your own, and needing others means you need to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is embarressing. It’s revealing the ugliest, worst parts of yourself, knowing that you can only hope people won’t leave you after. It’s hard to depend on people. However, it’s even harder not depending on anyone. 

When we depend on others, and use that support to form something bigger than you both, that’s important. One of the most amazing things about water is this solidification. Whereas every other molecule grows heavier and denser in solid form, water grows lighter when it turns into ice. The very fact that ice floats means so much to our environment, allows for so much life. We can’t see what we can become if we don’t become vulnerable and accept support from others. Furthermore, without accepting support ourselves, it’s hard to give support and help that others need. Don’t be fluid, find your structure, find your seed. It’s worth it. 

Halloween isn’t about death in practice, but you can use it to kill off the problems between you and those you care about

Happy Halloween! For a holiday associated with death, dark creatures, and general wickedness, the majority of people have a fondness for halloween. It’s like horror movies- you don’t like the vicious creature that’s slowly hunting everyone down, you like the thrill. And Halloween is a thrill! Operating at night, talking strangers out of their candy, masking your identity: these are all pleasurable activites because they are customs that we take part in as a community. 

For some, Halloween is just an excuse to party. However, the importance of the holiday isn’t that it’s celebrating creatures of darkness, but that we are celebrating a time together with people we care about in a light hearted manner. The features of the holiday are creepy, but sometimes creepy is fun! It’s an aesthetic that marks it apart from the rest of the year. It has a sort of childlike glee compared to Valentine’s day or Thanksgiving. 

Whatever your views on Halloween, just remember that it’s a holiday. At the end of the day,  it’s not about some costume or summoning demons, but about having an excuse to be with the people you love, sharing in traditions you care about. Even if you hate everything about this night, don’t close yourself off! Sometimes you need to shake things up from the routine.

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.

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.

Asking questions 

What does it mean to be human? Are we a sum of memories? Is there some sort of innate seed of a soul we can’t ever get rid of? Are we simply a brain? Scientists, philosophers, and anyone else who has ever taken a really long shower have debated this with themselves. It’s good to ask these questions, it helps us define what we believe and who we are. However it can be a toil to really try and figure that sort of thing out; a trouble we don’t really want to deal with all the time. Some people do everything in their power to avoid thinking about existence, others spend all their time doing it. Overthinking can get you into a dark spiral, but ignoring the big questions can make it hard to find meaning. The real question is how do we find the balance between the two? Where is the perfect level of cognition?

The first time I had chocolate soymilk I was disgusted. The second time I thought it was alright. The third time was pretty good, and today it was absolutely delicious.  We might never get a clear answer when it comes to philosophical questions because even the small things like our opinions about a drink can be impacted by time, location, mood, etc. However by asking them, we force oursleves to take a hard look at the world we perceive, and surprisingly at the world within oursleves. It would be handy to have some sort of meter that guided you to the “perfect” level of cognition, or some sort of algorithm for life. Yet it is the nature of this ambiguity that gives us meaning and maybe a clue as to what makes us human. 

Life is more trial and error than a systematic procedure. We operate on general concepts and broad ideas. We can be cruel or kind but we exist. So exist! Overthink, underthink, make mistakes, feel terrible, feel terrific! Ask the big questions and do your best to answer them. Then watch some mindless TV because it’s fun. If you don’t know what you’re doing, try and figure it out! The greatest mistake we can make is tricking ourselves into thinking we don’t have a choice and stagnating. You can do this. 

It’s okay to be afraid

Fear is a part of our lives. As Americans, we don’t like thinking about that: “We’re free independent people! We do what we want because we want to do it!” But even if we say the only thing to fear is fear itself, we don’t apply that to our everyday lives. We fear being judged, failing, being embarrassed, and more. Then it stops us, freezes us up from taking risks.

However, fear is also a powerful motivator, if you’ve heard any villian-monologue. True in a lot of cases, fear is an influential emotion. It can even be a healthy motivator. Everyone experiences fear at some time or another, but it’s a matter of what scares you that drives your actions. If we fear remaining the same, we can strive to make a change. If we teach ourselves to fear the risk of doing nothing, we can convince ourselves to take risks that help us in the long run. 

And it’s okay to be afraid! Fear has such a negative connotation around it because it seems like only cowards get scared. However, fear is very real. It’s even a wise action to be afraid; it means you know the risks and are alert for your safety. Being afraid means being on guard in dangerous situations. If you are afraid, you can prepare yourself, it makes evolutionary sense. When we experience this fear, the key isn’t to try and ignore it, but push through it. Be afraid and take the jump anyways.

Finding your optimum prime

Looking at bright happy things primes us to be happy.  Listening to sad music makes us sad. Of course what we see and hear and percieve affects our mood. Just saying it seems ridiculous, it’s common sense. However, we have a habit of forgetting this piece of “common sense”. We surround ourselves with people who make us angry, listen to angry music, which makes us remember all the times we’ve been angry, and then wonder why we’re angry all the time. It’s not just with anger either. As much as we would like to see oursleves as independent agents, the different parts of ourselves are brought out based on the situations we’re in. 

As much as we want to disown our flaws and take credit for the development of our positive attributes, both are a part of us. There will always be a weakness inside. However, what we can control is what parts we chose to grow and advance. A massive part of that is being a careful consumer of what you surround yourself with.

If you want an attitude change, you can’t do it while repeating all the same behaviors as before. If you feel unproductive, you’re going to need to turn off the phone that’s distracting you. Thoughts and actions are intimately related. You can’t do one without the other. We are primed by our context, influenced by basically everything around us. There’s only so much we can do to control that, but we aren’t powerless either. Don’t let things just be, this is your life.