In this week’s podcast, we discuss “character.” We begin with a discussion about the unnecessary and stress inducing expectation that we have an answer for everything in our lives. We discuss the benefits of accepting that we have less control over our day to day lives than our stubborn brains demand. Further, we discuss how illogical our brains are on this matter. We have no evidence to support that our day, month, or year will unravel itself in exact concert with our expectations. So why do we continue to expect that the future will be different? We use the philosophy of the Greek Skeptics as a tool to help us overcome this.
From there we segue into a discussion about the importance of reflection. We discuss the importance of the time that we set aside (even just 10 minutes) to ignore the minutia of our daily lives and focus on who we are from a broader perspective. There is always a gap between who we are and who we want to be. This gap is natural and reasonable because we are imperfect creatures; however, there are steps we can take to shrink that gap. We discuss three elements to consider. 1. The content we allow into our brains. 2. The relationships we maintain 3. The habits we observe
Enjoy and please feel free to contact me with feedback or ideas for future shows.
I just finished reading “How to Live -or- The Life of Montaigne” by Sarah Bakewell. Renaissance writers were obsessed with the question of “How should we live life?” Michael Eyquem de Montaigne, considered to be the first “modern” individual was no exception. Reading about his discovery of Skepticism, and more specifically Pyrrhonism Skepticism, had an intellectually rejuvenating effect on me.
I’ll save you the history listen of the philosophy of Skepticism, but I’ll share the end game.
“All I know is that I know nothing, and I’m not even sure about that.” – Pyrrhonism Skeptism Saying
This group of philosophers enjoyed using a one-word response to any and all questions — “epekho” which is Greek for “I suspend judgment.”
There is an incongruent nature of modern society. The complexity of all that surrounds us increases daily; specialists reign supreme and generalists go hungry, yet everyone has an opinion on everything. How is this possible? Further, we place this expectation upon ourselves perhaps without even realizing it.
What do you think about global warming? How about immigration reform? Our criminal justice system? Nuclear Power? Chinese-American international relations?
These are complex issues about which very few of us have spent much time researching or learning. Further, it is possible that there are an infinite number of answers to these increasingly complex scenarios, yet there seems to be intense pressure to select the “right” answer from two available options. However, as social creatures, we take our social cues from our peers and if everyone else has an opinion on “everything,” I guess, I will too. I find this exhausting.
I think we’d all reduce our stress levels if we weren’t incessantly holding ourselves to an unobtainable standard of having an answer to everything. Say “I don’t know” or even “epekho” – I suspend judgment.
Extend this further, as the Greek Skeptics did, so our reactions to events in our lives. We are obsessed with categorizing events, moment by moment, as “good” or “bad.” We have no idea whether being laid off from our jobs is “good” or “bad” — time will tell a story that is guaranteed to be a vastly different than the one in your head today, you know this. The consequences of the events in our lives — caught in traffic, late for an appointment, underperformed during a presentation, closed the deal, received (or didn’t) the promotion — are never really clear to us at the moment.
Might it be refreshing to try to react with “epekho” in response to your day’s events?
I’m not sure we realize the damage we doing to our psyche when we hold ourselves to an omnipotent standard. I challenge you, for just one day, to “suspend judgment” . . . take the weight off of your shoulders, let the universe unfold as it should, and reveal the consequences to you. We are not the judge and jury of every detail of our lives, so why do we burden ourselves with the weight of that illusionary responsibility. And we certainly don’t have to be the expert of the world’s most complex and pressing issues. Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t have an opinion, I’m simply reminding you that it is not necessary. You can even be very informed and still epekho (suspend judgment).
Try this for a day. Tell yourself “I don’t know” . . . “I’m not sure” . . . “I guess we’ll see” . . . “I can’t wait to see how this plays out” Take the chains of the obsessive need to categorize every minute detail of your life into categories of “good” and “bad” from off of your shoulders. Rest your mind and watch your stress level plummet almost instantly.
Here’s a thought experiment, I’d like to present to you.
Consider the following assumptions, one at a time, carefully:
1. People are generally selfish.
2. Conversation is the exchange of information. When we speak, we give information and when we listen, we receive information.
3. Most people prefer to talk (give) than to listen (receive).
I would contend that most people would agree with each of these assumptions individually. However, as a group, we are left with an illogicality. One, or more, of these assumptions, must be false.
Which one? You may conclude differently, but I contend that #2 although true, suffers from the “intellect vs. emotion” discrepancy — our intellect knows something to be true, but our emotion perceives the situation differently. The castle of intellect is surrounded by the mote of emotion.
Do we prefer to talk because our desire to give information is greater than our desire to receive it? I don’t think so.
Let’s swim across the mote together.
Although conversation, in theory, is the exchange of information, in practice, it is often the exchange of perceived external validation. When I speak, I receive validation and I listen, I give validation. The problem with this practice is that the exchange of information is lost. If the exchange of information is lost — why are we talking? Only to receive the external validation of our existing ideas and information? That seems like a waste of time.
Do we value external validation over receiving information and ideas?
If true, this would explain why so many of our conversations of substantive matters are fruitless. Each party coming to the table with their immutable ideas and information, waiting their turn to feed their ego with an external validation meal. When the dialogue is complete, the ego’s appetite is sated but the intellect starves.
There is good news here. There is a secret loophole in this phenomena. Our emotion’s perception that speaking provides external validation is mostly wrong. Who do you hold in higher regard, a good listener or a motor mouth? The external validation that we seek comes from listening more than it does from talking. Plus, the bonus – when we listen, we increase the balance of our “bank of account” of information.
Once we accept this, everyone wins. The ego gets its external validation by becoming a good listener and the intellect is finally fed new ideas and information.
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”