Black Belts and Brown Shoes

Philosophy, Politics, Religion

Humans have such highly-charged brains which has led us to accomplish some pretty amazing feats in our brief history. Space travel. Global communication. Combustible engines. Mass media.

It is equally amazing and mystifying how we waste that surging intellect on the oddest social constructs whether it’s what color shoes to wear with what belt or how no one looks each other in the eye when they’re in the elevator. There are books written on the subject of etiquette and how to avoid social miscues that draw unapproving looks from fellow hominids.

I’m fairly certain some of those odd social hang ups have some sort of survival root such as not making eye contact with strangers. Some of them though, like the belts and shoes, not wearing white pants after Labor Day and fork placement in a table setting, have no important basis. To me they are preferences that have somehow become “proper.” This is stupid of course. Many of these fabricated faux pas are things that don’t really matter in life and yet we spend so much time trying to adhere to them.

Why are we so concerned about this stuff? I woke up one morning and made a mental note of every action I took that was designed to fit some social norm. Yep, it started with my belt and shoes; then the right color of socks with my pants; then brushing my hair; then holding the door open for someone.

It’s probably that herd mentality that runs so strong in our DNA. Our survival has become irrevocably linked to social connections. We need each other to make it in this world, especially now that most people don’t know how to grow their own food or build their own shelter. Somewhere along the way though, these insignificant habits have become ingrained in that social necessity.

What’s worse is people who refuse to play along with some of these dumb rules are labeled misfits, non-conformists and abnormal. We even diagnose people with a disorder when they don’t pick up on specific social cues. We also make these social norms part of religion. Not only do we make people outcasts because they’re different, we also try to tell them that they’re going to hell too. There’s something wrong with labeling someone as diseased because they won’t make eye contact or their obsessively absorbed with a hobby or they just don’t care about matching their belts to their shoes.

To me, that’s dangerous. Criminal behavior is one thing. There are acts which work against the societal model on which our survival depends. But behaviors considered odd that have no effect on others is not the same thing. And therein lies the tragedy. What is considered different sometimes becomes anathema. We begin to judge people’s worth and abilities based on how they dress themselves. We interpret someone’s skill level with how well they fit in with others. We try to draw conclusions about each other on things that are, at the end of the day, preferences.

I firmly believe that we’re smarter than that. But yet again, this whole habit of judging based on immaterial social norms is based on one thing: mental laziness. We don’t want to think. Looking beyond someone’s appearance and odd behavior requires work. We actually have to invest time into getting to know someone and we just don’t want to do it. So we take shortcuts and pass judgment based on whether people know how to dress, use a salad fork for their salad or how neat they keep their desk.

Yes it does take a lot of energy to get to know someone and it’s not always feasible to do that with every person who crosses our path. But there is one thing we can do when it comes to dealing with people who are different: stop judging them so quickly based on superficial habits. We don’t have to take them to dinner or become their best friend. But we can reserve judgment until we’ve had time to know them and understand where they’re coming from.

We can do this because we have such high-capacity minds. Maybe it’s time that we used them.

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Packaged Deal

Philosophy, Politics

 

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You go to McDonalds. You don’t order a Royale with Cheese and then fries and then a Coke anymore. You order a number one. Apparently we don’t like to think about putting together an order of food. Listing three separate items is just too much for us to handle these days. We need it packaged into a neat, ideological box.

This mentality is beginning to spread to everything. College course plans. Vacation travel deals. Cell phone contracts. Boxed meals at the grocery store. We buy everything prefab now.

Like many things in marketing and commerce, it’s derived from convenience. It keeps us from having to sort out what specific items we want and/or need. It’s much easier for us to select from a list of pre-installed plans than to make the plan ourselves.

Of course when we do that, we sometimes get a few features that we don’t really like or that don’t fit with what we need. We’re willing to put up with those annoyances because it’s nothing compared to the time saved from not having to creating our own order.

While this isn’t much of an issue with food (because you can always sub fries for onion rings) it is when it comes to things like education. There’s a huge push to get students as young as eighth grade to begin plotting out their careers. When I was in eighth grade, I was more concerned about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than I was about my future profession.

Educators and business leaders want these students to choose early so they can be prepared to enter the workforce once they get out of school. And they want them out of school earlier too.

While it’s always a good thing to know your way before you take the first step, that isn’t always the best option. When I was in eighth grade, I wanted to be a marine biologist. Had I chosen some predetermined course, where would it have left me once I discovered that organic chemistry was a hurdle I couldn’t jump?

Doors have to be left open. Like a fast food menu, we need to be able to make substitutions or to scrap our order all together.

My biggest fear is that we will get so entrenched in boxed thinking that we won’t consider that there are alternatives. We’ll forget the benefit, or necessity, of creating our own unique path.

The pitfall is that in the long run, we become incapable of thinking outside the prepared list of options. It not only becomes difficult to make changes to these plans but we get out of the practice of doing so and we stop considering alternatives.

It limits thinking. We all know how I feel about thinking.

Big Thought

Philosophy, Uncategorized

I firmly believe that most all human problems are attributed to one flaw: our unwillingness to think when it’s inconvenient. We all have the capacity to think. It’s just that it takes effort most of the time and it seems like a task to think beyond what we experience.

Investment failures, prejudicial bias, political partisanship, relationship problems, they can all be traced back to a refusal to review, to think.

Not thinking makes life easy. We don’t have to see others’ points of view or try to comprehend something unpleasant. Life is simple when we can take something that we don’t want to deal with and put it in a closet and shut the door.

Being a black-and-white thinker is effortless. Despite all of our attempts to make our mind a canvas with one dimension, it goes against nature. The world is like a gem, with facets all around that refract light into different colors from different angles. To understand all of those differences, you need to be willing to look at them.

When we sit in our own personal corners and watch the world from that perspective, we stop growing. This is when we become “set in our ways.” We don’t want to learn new ways of doing things. We don’t want to make the effort to comprehend someone else’s point of view. We don’t want to understand different cultures. We don’t want to know why some abstract painting is art. We want people to do things our way. We want people to speak our language. That’s when things get dangerous. When we stop progressing, we draw lines in the sand and would rather fight than think about an alternative.

Lack of thinking generates a world of calamity. It creates enemies, starts wars and sets us all on the path of disaster.

There are those who will say “there are times when you must act and not think.” This is true, especially in times of a response to violence or the specter of violence. But our action can be the appropriate reaction when we think about how we’ll react before we are forced to confront a situation and make a hasty decision.

Be a thinker. Everything starts with a thought, an idea. Reason, choice, action, worship, epiphany and emotion— they are all products of thought. What goes on in your mind eventually matriculates to your actions. What you think influences what you do and what you do is who you are. Every bad deed and every good deed you’ve done started in your mind first before it became an action.

Be a thinker. No matter how disturbing or difficult the situation, thinking may not find you the answer, but it will get you closer.

Be a thinker. People may deride you because you seem unwilling to settle on one view. They’ll call you a lazy dreamer, pretentious and say your head’s in the clouds. They’ll say you think too much and don’t do. It isn’t true. Just because you take your time acting doesn’t mean you don’t take action; it means you know when to act.

At the end of the day, this is all about understanding both yourself and your world. It’s important to understand and to apply thinking to everything you experience because it spawns new ideas and new approaches to old problems. Understanding leads to generating better solutions both for you and your world.

Living with one view is not thinking. Living with a single stance stymies understanding. That stagnancy causes your mind to atrophy and you end up being only what the world will allow.

Think about it.

(originally posted on Medium.com)