Lifetip 4: Disagree with yourself

When young lifetips grow up, I imagine they look up to the successful ones that made it onto tiles, memes or calendars. In comparison to the three life lessons I shared previously, this fourth one has a greater chance of ever becoming an inspirational quote of some sort.

Jesse Frederik first introduced this lifetip to me in somewhat confusing terms:

You don’t have to believe everything you think.

To me it means that it’s OK to let go of ideas you may have had in the past. For example, I used to think vegetarians were delusional, annoying and unhealthy. Now I believe that being vegetarian does not mean forsaking flavor, nor do I have to dress in hemp and grow dreadlocks. Also, it’s just undeniably better for the planet than maintaining a meat-based diet will ever be.

Another interpretation of this motto would start by breaking with the commonplace assumption that a person’s internal thoughts are always a monologue.

I suppose we all know the catholic mantra “What would Jesus do?”. It is a way of internalizing the voice of someone who’s morality you would want to apply to specific dilemma. Without getting too psychological about it, I hope we can agree that every person also has a “What would my mother do?” checkpoint, that pops up at specific moments (not always conveniently).

The happiness gurus of the 21st century might say the line refers to the negative thoughts we all have sometimes. Thoughts such as:

  • I am not good enough.
  • The world is unkind / dangerous.
  • I can’t do it (so I’m not even going to try).

A meaningful (and sad) metaphor that is sometimes used in this context is that of the domesticated elephant, that has been chained and ‘broken’ at an early age. During this time, she may have struggled to free herself but failed, leading her to believe it is impossible to do. Once grown, the elephant obeys orders to move and carry heavy objects. The same chain would be no match for the power she could apply to it as an adult elephant. At that point though, what keeps her from trying, is the belief that she can’t.

So.

Evaluate the thoughts you have every now and then. Don’t be afraid of changing a strong opinion you may have had out of fear of being seen as inconsistent or unstable.

Discuss your insecurities with the ones you love and trust. It will oftentimes be those moments, when you vocalize your thoughts, that you realize that is not what you believe at all. Saying them out loud will reveal their untruth. Just like a ridiculous dream, that makes total sense until the moment you wake up.

the Platinum rule

I recently discovered that a very common principle I have known all my life is referred to as the golden rule. I also learned that it is coming under scrutiny and modern times are asking for it to be updated.

Golden Rule

The golden rule is a principle we all must have heard at some point during our upbringing. It comes in different forms. You may have heard one of the following varieties:

  • Do unto others as you would want done to you
  • Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated
  • What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself

The golden rule is pretty simple. You only need to embark on a quick soulsearch and pinpoint how you like to be treated and then apply this to others.

Unless you’re dealing with some psychological turmoil, the answer should be available pretty much immediately, as you probably already know what makes you happy (and what does not).

Until recently, I would have told you the golden rule has great merit and that the world would be a better place if we lived by it more strictly.

Platinum rule

The golden rule stands on the assumption that every other person you interact with wants what you want. There are many ways you can miss the mark on that one, which is why the golden rule is in need of an update.

The upgraded version of the golden rule is referred to by some as “the platinum rule”. It boils down to something like this:

Treat others as they would want to be treated

Its a simple idea and the underlying sentiment is still the same; be nice.

Its practical implementation does require a bit more effort than the golden variety, which is what I will dive into a bit more, below.

Ask and check

When putting the platinum rule into practice you would have to figure out what it is that the person on the receiving end of your actions wants.

Asking is one way to go about it.

A direct question, especially directed at someone you may not know very well, may not get you the answers you need. When you put someone on the spot like that, the person in front of you might say something like “Nothing” or “I don’t know”.

If you truly want to be the person the other person needs (or at the very least the person that doesn’t hurt the other’s feelings) then getting an answer like “nothing” does not mean you’re off the hook.

The pitfall with this approach is that by asking the question you make your problem their problem. You put the spotlight and the other and achieve the absolute opposite of what you were trying to do.

In the end, the fact that you don’t know how to behave is YOUR problem, not THEIRS.

However, I am convinced that you can solve almost anything with a drop of empathy and a whole lot of communication. Keep asking questions. Keep listening. And back off when appropriate or requested.

Titanium rule

Contrary to the golden rule, the platinum rule leaves room for interpretation and error. Because:

  • What do you do if the other lets you know they want you to treat them in a way that (you believe) is harmful for them?
  • What if the way the other wants to be treated is something you are not willing to do (for example because it goes against your own values or because it is harmful to you)?
  • How do you avoid becoming that annoying person that asks a million questions at every turn?

These questions have come up when dealing with people I hold dear, that struggle with addiction or tendencies to self harm. The platinum rule would not help me or them, if I followed it strictly. The golden rule would also fall short.

An opinion piece written by Kris Williams on Medium that I bumped into just now, struggles with similar dilemmas. Ms Williams describes a third stance, the Titanium rule, and it goes likes this:

“Treat others as it is in the highest and best good to treat them.”

This might be a bit much for every day life, but it sounds like a sane way to deal with more complicated interactions.

At the end of the day I think it’s not even necessary to choose between the three. I think all have their merits and make sense in different situations.

What do you think?

Programming my sexual preference

Last Friday, while I was at the gym with one of my best friends we saw Louis Theroux pass by on one of the screens hanging around. It was the episode about pedophiles. We both agreed that all though these men were a danger to society, it must be horrible to be them.

Some of them come across as very regular (sane) men with deviant tendencies that makes it impossible for them to live among us. They are often ashamed of this themselves. Some (most?) have never acted on the fantasies they have and accept they are a danger to society. They hate themselves for feeling what they feel, very much like the Belgian prisoner I wrote about a while back on my other blog.

We philosofied about how these sexual preferences come to be. I said I couldn’t imagine that being sexually attracted to children was a feeling someone was born with, but must be caused by some trauma in their childhood, some sort of messed up imprint on their souls. My friend, -let’s call her Z,- disagreed and said she thought it was innate, just as homosexuality is.image

She asked me if I thought homosexuality could be cured through therapy and I was quick to shake my head. No, we agreed, homosexuality is not a disease. Then, playing the devil’s advocates, we wondered if having a history of abuse or molestation is more common among homosexuals and if so, if sexual predators are more attracted to these children because they were different from the start or if they changed because of this experience.

There have been many studies on the relation between homosexuality and child abuse and there does seem to be a correlation there. Politically incorrect as it may be, I then asked to what extent homosexuality could indeed be seen as nature or if there may be cases in which nurture played a role instead. I said I thought it was possible, Z disagreed.

She asked: Do you think therapy could turn me into a lesbian?

She reminded me she had had bad experiences with men in the past and no one would blame her for saying “no more dudes for me”. I think people can be persuaded into many things and most of all love. I told her I thought it was possible, only that this would not be called therapy, but brainwashing…

She asked: What’s the difference?

imageHoly crap… What IS the difference? All therapy is based on a theory and always aimed at influencing the mind. We like to think there is a place called “sanity” and therapy brings you back to this place if for some reason or other you have lost touched with it. But try defining sanity! Is sanity the same as normalcy? If so, I know there are people who’s definition of sanity I absolutely do not accept.

Normal is defined by what is “the norm”. Normal is what the majority thinks, feels and does. Normal is average.

Sane behavior is what we as a society find acceptable or desirable. Sane behavior is controlled behavior. If you decide to jump in the water fountain and take your clothes off, this is considered to be unwanted behavior. It does not mean you are insane though.

imageIt may just mean you are rebellious and want to go against the main stream and the society you are expected to be a part of.

I’m sure some of you might think I’m delusional myself after reading the above. Others may just see it as untactical or ignorant. Maybe my ideas are just incomplete or maybe I’ve been totally misinformed. I blame it on my brainwashing cycle.

How have you been programmed to think?

Amor fati

A couple of weeks ago I read this column in the Guardian (in all fairness, I saw it on FB, but it was originally posted in the Guardian 😛 ) about living with no regrets by adopting a motto inspired by Nietzsche: Amor Fati, as opposed to the world most tattooed Latin phrase attributed to HoraceCarpe Diem. I shared the article on my own wall and got some strong reactions to it, which helped me rethink what I had read and ultimately, write this blog.

The friends that reacted to the post had fully embraced the YOLO-mentality and didn’t like to see it being criticized. For them it wasn’t just a phrase. It was a way of healing. A way of life. The yellow brick road. A lesson they needed to embrace to be able to enjoy life, live in the moment, value the small things and let go of the petty ones. You catch my drift. Totally inspirational stuff. You know I love it.

So yes, I guess I can imagine it must sting when someone says living by the motto carpe diem is nothing more than “a desperate, panicky effort to avoid future sadness”.

My friend responded to this by pointing out that she wasn’t making decisions based on panicky fear but was actually applying it as “an accurate way of dealing with and solving current sadness”. I guess that’s a fair point.

But all though the way Oliver Burkeman put it into words in this column may rub some “carpe diem”-followers the wrong way, he did win me over for this new road to happiness.

He recaps carpe diem as follows:

According to this philosophy [of carpe diem], you should always take the plunge and quit your stultifying job; ask that person on a date; or (in the lower reaches of yolo culture) empty a carton of milk over your head and post the video on YouTube, all to forestall an old age full of stinging regrets. I can’t be alone in finding this all rather stressful, not least because regret seems inevitable: choosing any path always means rejecting others. So how to choose? We’re glibly told you regret the things you don’t do, not the ones you do. But this is meaningless, since any bold choice can always be rephrased as a timid one. By leaving your marriage, you opted not to discover what might happen if you’d bravely stuck it out.

And presents Amor fati like this:

Amor fati is all about living with no regrets, but not in the modern way. Carpe diem means making daring decisions, so as not to feel regret later on, whereas amor fati means (among other things) learning to love the choices you’ve already made, daring or not. After all, if a given aspect of life is truly “necessary”, refusing to embrace it means rejecting reality. And what could be more truly necessary than the past, which has already happened and can’t be undone?

loesje int 4I actually don’t think you need to choose between these two life mottos, as one encourages you to make the best of now and the other to love what has already been. They are both focused on having no regrets and I think both are valuable lessons to live by.

The only thing that I don’t like about this Nietzsche-based phrase is that it includes the word “fate”. Not a big fan of that one, as it implies things are predestined. People that have resigned themselves to have sucky lives because “that’s just how it is”, deserve a serious talking to or maybe even a kick up their behinds to knock some carpe diem into them.

I had already been applying amor fati in my life, in the sense that my average state of being is pretty much “content”. Sometimes I say to myself that I have an awesome guardian angel because nothing ever really goes wrong in my life but in reality I think that’s not even true. Things do go wrong. I am clumsy and forgetful, so things break or get lost. I just never really let it get to me. I seize every day and am totally fine with things totally blowing up in my face, all though again, I couldn’t really name an occasion when things actually did go miserably wrong. Is there even a thing as wrong? Things just evolve, no need to give it a plus or minus sign.

So to summarize it in a really sappy conclusion: Seize the day and value every step you have taken to get here.