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.

Lifetip 3: Accept the pecking order

The third post in my series of Lifetips will be dedicated to the benefits of hierarchy. It is actually a very improbable lesson to ever be coming from a Dutch person’s mouth, as we tend to have very little respect for these things.

Then again, maybe countries that actually understand and respect the implications of hierarchical structures wouldn’t need this lesson in the first place. Perhaps they could, however, explain it better than I (or Rutger Bregman, who brought it up in his April 2019 podcast episode) can.

Bregman poses that progress may not be possible in a purely egalitarian atmosphere. Hierarchy is needed in order to move forward on the long run.

The fact that western societies have increasingly been promoting “nice guys”, has softened our culture, as well as our politics. For our institutions however, too many nice guys is a curse. At some point, somebody needs to call ‘bullshit’, even it hurts someone’s feelings or means that all the work that has been done so far will be thrown in the bin.

An example that was given by Jesse Frederiks was a plan that journalist platform “the Correspondent” had upon its conception in regards to its compensation model. The initial plan was to let all the employees decide on the salary levels among themselves. The idea was that there would be full openness on the matter, with everybody having knowledge and insight into the division of the company’s money.

Long story short: it didn’t work.

Everybody was pretty relieved when they went back to a more traditional model, with specific people responsible for such decisions.

People that didn’t agree with the slice of the cake they ended up with, could complain about bad decision making by people elsewhere in the building and then bond over it with direct colleagues around the coffee machine (instead of having to blame them for it). Also, not having all the facts, turned out to be a relief to many.

Without hierarchy, direct colleagues would have to decide on a course of action together and battle out their differences face-to-face. This inevitably causes some friction, which makes working together increasingly difficult.

So perhaps certain positions require people who do not mind being disliked (for the greater good)?

Those at the bottom of the food chain do what they are told, without having to debate why and how.

With a person higher in rank calling the shots, foot soldiers can bond with their comrades over their shared suffering. At the end of the day the work gets done and everybody (except maybe that one guy) can go out for beers to celebrate.

In the YouTube video below Jordan Peterson (who Im not sure suffers from that Mr-Nice-Guy-complex) gives his explanation of why hierarchy is necessary and how left- and rightwing thinkers can (must?) keep the ranks from falling apart or being corrupted.

Sometimes you need an asshole to stand up, that doesn’t care if people like him or not, to get the job done. It’s OK to hate him. But recognize that you couldn’t have done it without him.

What do you think? Do you believe in an egalitarian system? Or is hierarchy really indispensable for stable community structures?

Lifetip 1: Believe in goodness

Rutger Bregman and Jesse Frederik are the hosts of my favorite Dutch podcast: de Rudi & Freddie Show. They discuss all sorts of topics, which at one point ventured into their disdain towards self help books. But, as is typical for R&F, they decided to investigate the popularity of the genre and then ended up coming up with their own list of life-improvement tips.

Rutger Bregman’s first tip, also stars in his most recent book “De meeste mensen deugen”. The title is kind of difficult to translate as there isn’t really an English equivalent for the word “deugen”. The noun “deugd” means “virtue”, and the verb means something along the lines of “to be virtuous”, but it’s used in a much more casual way than the English version makes it sound…

Someone could ask me if I’ve met my brother’s new girlfriend. My answer could then be: “Ja, ze deugt”, which is just basically three words to say that I have indeed met her and that I give her a thumbs up.

Long story short, Rutger’s newest book title translates to something along the lines of “Most people are cool”.

The accompanying tip boils down to:

Always assume good intent.

There will always be moments in life when you are not quite sure what “the other” thinks, feels or might do. When you find yourself in such a situation, you can assume the worst and start preparing (mentally) for somebody’s anger, stupidity or deceit. You can also chill out, assume all is well and nobody is out to get you.

Why would you give people the benefit of the doubt?

  • Because it is most often right.
  • Because it is less stressful
  • Because you avoid making it a self fulfilling prophecy

Rutger insists that trust is the water that we swim in. Having your trust broken (by being set up, robbed or swindled out of your money) is collateral damage. The price you pay for mistrust is not worth the amount of negative energy it brings into your life.

True story

A while ago, somebody knocked on my door. The person at the door was a stranger. He told me he lived down the street from me and that never did this kind of thing but that his sister had just been hospitalized and that he needed a couple of euro’s to fill up the tank of his scooter to go see her.

So what were my choices? I could assume the worst and let my fantasy freak me out:

  • He’s a junkie who is going to use the money to get high.
  • He’s never going to pay me back.
  • Next time he knocks he is going to rob me.

The alternative was to assume he was telling the truth and help the dude out.

In all honesty I did a bit of both: I assumed he was telling the truth, but didn’t count on seeing him or the money back ever again (even though he assured me several times he would be back the following week).

I dug through several bags and pockets to collect all the bits of change I could find (because really, who still has cash these days?) and told him it was not necessary to repay me but that he should pay it forward to somebody else some day.

So yah, I may have “lost” 4 euros. Or did I?

  • Maybe he really did come back with the money but I wasn’t home.
  • Maybe the handful of change is still being handed down to people in need, spreading kindness and smiles across the country.
  • Maybe he was really planning on coming back to rob and kill me, but changed his mind after my kindness (or when he glanced into my house and saw that my house was a trip hazard).

Hold on… That last one doesn’t sound quite right. This positive-assumption thing takes some getting used to, I guess…

Society and politics

Let’s try applying the same logic to a larger scale.

Because if we trust the people right in front of us, we can trust people a bit further away as well, can’t we? And if we do that, we can assume whole groups of people consist solely of good-intentioned folks.

What could we achieve as a society if we put full trust in each other? What would our laws look like if we weren’t always basing them on the assumption that people want to take advantage of the system?

That is some radical thinking, I’m telling you…

Trust your friendly neighborhood charlatan

Have you ever been cheated? Good! That means you put trust in someone. Keep it up!

If you haven’t been scammed at least a few times in your life you may be missing out on the good stuff by being too mistrustful.