I understand that a lot of the stuff on the blog gets into some heavy philosophy and psychology and deals with some rather negative realities. Sure I try to mix things up with humor but ultimately who wants to read all this shit all the time? Why do we always have to be thinking? Isn’t life full of that crap already? You have to think about the bills. You have to think and worry about your kids. You have to worry about your extramarital or extra-relationship lovers. You have to worry about that weird bump that’s starting to itch and which one of your lovers gave it to you. Luckily, the good people at Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim have got the answer for you in the form of their hit show, Rick and Morty!
In case you’ve been rubbing broken glass in your eyes and ears for the past two or so years, Rick and Morty, the sci-fi sitcom that airs on the Adult Swim programming block on Cartoon Network, is a big deal. It’s been garnering a massive and dedicate following and is considered by many to be one of the most simultaneously funny and disturbing shows on television. It was originally a single short film titled The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti that was a bastardization of the dynamic between Doc and Marty from Back to the Future. And what a bastardization it was. One that I strongly, strongly recommend you don’t watch. Unless you have a strongly warped sense of toilet humor. Or have access to copious amounts of eye bleach. Actually, just stick to the mass marketed product of Rick and Morty.
The show itself follows the interdimensional misadventures of mad alcoholic genius, Rick Sanchez, and his neurotic grandson, Morty. There’s a lot more to it than that. Actually, there’s an entire mythology that the creators of the show baked in and said they would only allude to in clues scattered about. For the most part the show is episodic, with each episode existing as a self-contained entity though there are frequent callbacks and references to events that occur in other episodes. Now would you like to know why you should get on the Rick and Morty bandwagon?
As you may have guess from posts like this and this I’m a big fan of the idea that the world is basically beyond human comprehension, that our existence is absurd at its core, and that we are nevertheless bound to still pursue meaning in a world that is devoid of objective meaning. To put it succinctly, I subscribe to what can essentially be described as the kind of absurdism espoused by thinkers such as Albert Camus. Rick and Morty is heavy on the absurdism and the absurdist comedy. So while we may have moments of insane humor that highlights the almost arbitrary nature of the reality we experience such as the following clip
there are little nuggets of philosophical, specifically existentialist and absurdist, philosophy sprinkled throughout such as the following moment.
Rick and Morty is almost like a fun house mirror to our lives in some very interesting ways in that it is both grotesquely entertaining while still conveying some aspects of our reality. Yes the gags and interdimensional hopping are way out there however, the core of the show is its characters and as always it’s the characters who really keep you glued to the screen. Every character is filled with some kind of pathos that’s milked for comedy and that, on rare occasions, gets played straight. And really at its core, and possibly deeper if some of the fan theories about the backstory are to be believed, the show is about the bonding between a boy and his, admittedly, crazy grandfather. Who can’t get behind something like that?
I’ll admit, this show is not for everyone. It is offensive, often times seemingly crazy and random (bordering on Dadaist sometimes), and has it’s share of crass humor. However, if you every had the feeling that the world around you is fundamentally unhinged or that our nature as humans owes more to the irrational than the rational as Aristotle thought, then you may have found your new addiction.
At the end of my first post, I posed the question of why not, in the face of our mortality, simply do whatever we feel like, in essence just turning the world into one giant orgy of violence and unending pleasure. Today, I’d like to get back to that question but, more importantly than just saying why this is bad, m’kay, I’d like to tell you a bit about what I think does make life worth living. So let’s begin. M’kay?
First of all, using the senselessness of life as a means of justifying acting like a jackass is incredibly irresponsible and cowardly. You hear this kind of evading of responsibility in the great philosophical aphorism of our day:
“YOLO,” or, “You Only Live Once,” is a, “Carpe Diem,” for the club age. Not surprisingly, you can find it being uttered before acts of stupidity and recklessness. But such recklessness and pursuit of highs is all just in the service of avoiding the reality of our situation, the reality of our pain, the reality that we’re all on the same rickety ship bound for the stygian depths. But what is wrong with not wanting to see the reality of our situation, the helplessness of mortality, and the inevitable end that awaits us all? Why shouldn’t we run towards whatever pleasures and experiences will shield us from this existential pain?
The use of extreme forms of experience are essentially tantamount to suicide. Sure the body continues to live but can the same be said of the mind? Short answer: no. Long answer: At a certain point extreme experience, including pleasure, is actually a numbing agent. Believe it or not, we do not have an infinite capacity for feeling. Past a certain point, emotions and sensations lose definition, break down, and we no longer really feel anything. We become literally overwhelmed and go numb. String together enough of these experiences and you can keep yourself in a state of excitable numbness where you don’t have to think or worry. But why is this a bad thing?
A simple reason for why keeping ourselves numb to the reality of our lives is not a stellar idea is that it makes the maintaining of a comfortable level of numbness the center of our lives, in effect, making us the center of everything. All that matters is that we’re comfortable. All that matter is that we’re happy. Screw you and your pain. Screw the fact that you are a scared, lonely creature living on a rock in space destined to die and just trying to live on the best terms you can. Screw you all. All that matters is I’m comfortable and comfortably numb. All that matters is the high and seeing if there’s a way to get even higher.
So throwing it all to the wind and doing whatever we want regardless of the consequences isn’t a good option. In that case, what can we say is worth living for in a world that lacks meaning? Why is anything worth doing?
The simplest explanation for why bother doing anything is just as senseless as our existence. We do things because that is what we do. Wow. That was simple. And a little unsatisfying. But it is what it is. Why does a plant grow? Why do fish swim? Why do oxygen and hydrogen atoms form bonds? Because it is in their nature. Our nature is no different than other living things. To be alive is to be active in some form, to use energy to do work in some way. A lot of the work we have to do is focused on survival but we are also naturally curious, naturally prone to wondering, and naturally creative. We are also naturally selfish, naturally stubborn, and naturally prone to building belief systems based on faulty observations about the world. No we’re not perfect, but as living things we are active. Of course, this leads to the question of what is worth doing? What kinds of things are worth our time on this planet?
Going along with my post series about humility (Here are links to Part 1, 2, 3, 4 if you’d like to catch up on that.), I’d argue that those things worth doing are those things that are bigger than ourselves, that are not about ourselves but about others or that serve some cause that extends beyond us. I feel like it’s important to be careful with my wording here since it is far too easy to go from the concept of serving something bigger than oneself to serving dangerous causes. As the brilliant French-Algerian philosopher Albert Camus said:
This is another big part of what makes something worth doing: it improves or in some way enriches the lives of others. Again, those things that shift our attention away from ourselves to the big picture of existence, to the existence of others, are worth our time, our energy, even our pain. But why, if we are so insignificant, are we to place significance on others, others who are just as insignificant? Well, it’s not that it’s all about them. It’s just that it’s not all about you. It’s also that putting yourself above others, being dominant over others and always placing ourselves as priority number one, is just a way of aggrandizing your own ego, a way to hide your nature as a decaying meat puppet from yourself. Self aggrandizement and self absorption also completely deny the fact that everyone else is suffering as well. Everyone around you is also in some kind of pain. So why not take a little interest in the suffering of others? It’ll certainly help you take your mind off yourself for a while. However, before getting to the last point I want to make, let me take a brief aside and tell you what I’m not telling you to do.
I don’t want anyone to think that I’m telling them to be a martyr and hold delusions that they’re going to save the world or that they should even try. Guess what, this is just another example of self aggrandizement. By and large, we as humans can barely save ourselves. You aint saving nothing.
You can’t save the world. Nobody can. The world doesn’t need saving. It’s going to keep doing what it has been doing. People are going to keep doing what they have been doing: being kind, stupid, perverted, cruel, funny, altruistic, and everything in between. The last thing the world needs is another wide-eyed idealist flapping his gums about utopias. You might know one of our species’s most famous utopian idealists. I’ll give you a hint. He had a silly mustache and he wasn’t Charlie Chaplin. See how well that turned out? So no, you’re not going to, “save the world,” but you don’t have to. You just need to try to be a decent human and treat your fellow humans with a modicum of respect and compassion. See, that’s not that hard. If anything, it’s a lot easier than all the work it takes to try to change the whole world and save everybody on it. Just a little more compassion, a little more listening, a little more seeing if we can be of service to others, a little more keeping our God damn mouths shut. That’s all it takes. Which brings me, mercifully, to the last point about why we don’t all jump in the big orgy pile.
Simple pleasures. That’s right. Simple pleasures have more lasting impact than any fast-paced high we might get from chasing extremes.
“But wait!” you say while flapping your arms like a goose in the middle of a seizure, “You said pleasure was bad!”
While I admire your zeal and funky fowl dance moves, I am going to have to insist you stop before a duck tries to mate with your face and I’m forced to record it and put it online. Also there is a big difference between a simple pleasure and the ecstatic abandon that comes from always chasing the next high. We’re able to appreciate simple pleasures in a different way, a slower way. Not only that but we are forced to consider that this moment will pass. Built right into the experience is the experience of transience, that the moment is slipping away from us. There is something wonderful about that. But it’s not just impermanence that lends simple pleasures their impact. These little moments, in a way, transform the world. The simple pleasures, like good food, time with family and friends, a sunset, a child laughing, are able to connect us to our humanity. It breaks through the biases and filters and reaches down into some fundamental aspect of ourselves. We connect with the world and others in a more genuine, authentic way. The world, for a moment, is presented to us in a new way and we are made new as well.
So there it is. You can run behind and under all the pleasures your body can take but you’re still going to die. So instead, try to do those things that are bigger than yourself, so long as they do harm towards none, and enjoy the wonderful simple pleasures of life. If you can do that, you may find that the world that you thought was so humdrum is actually a great deal more interesting than you’d thought.
Can you believe it? We’ve made it! It’s time for the promised pie! Rejoice and fill yourself with the succulent humility pie that was foretold in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3! Verily this is a day that will live on in the minds of the people forever!
How to Make Humility Pie
Cultivating humility is the same as cultivating any virtue or habit. It takes practice and a commitment to change. A word of caution though. If you think you can focus on being humble and then one day wake up and proclaim through your window to the still somnolent world, “Behold! I am humble!” you’re first of all going to end up with flaming squirrels launched through your window for waking people up and second you missed the point of working on being humble. Pass in your chips and step away from the table. Humility is not about reaching an endpoint. Like any other virtue, the goal is the practice itself, not a destination and if you think you’re humble, then you are not humble. Catch twenty-two all up in that. So how does one go about becoming and actively practicing being humble? Here are three ingredients you can start mixing in to your daily life right now to get this humble pie cooking and release me from having to continue to dredge this metaphor.
One Mote in the Cosmic Dust Bunny
Firstly, being humble should arise naturally from the understanding that you are not special, you are a speck of dust in the cosmic dust bunny and you can be swept, or vacuumed, away at any time. Humility depends in large part inacknowledging how small you are, how little you know about the Gordian Knot that is the reality we live in, and how insufficient your human mind is at deciphering all that is out there. This awareness, which can be disorienting at first, should impress upon you that you have no right to impose on others for your own gain nor a right to do harm to others. But, you may say, “If I’m so small and insignificant, then everyone else is small and insignificant too. They don’t matter so what’s the difference if I mess with a few of them?” There are several issues with that and I’m planning on going more deeply into the reasons why that is an absolutely terrible mentality in another post but for now I’ll stick with an explanation from the perspective of humility. If you get off on hurting others then that is just a way of boosting your ego and showing how much power you can wield over others. The point of humility is to accept that you’re no better or worse than others. You are a human like other humans. This transforms you into a member of a human community of equals and, as with any community, you don’t make people miserable unless you want to get your unpleasant ass kicked out into the cold. Got all that? Good. Let’s move this along.
Always Just Human
Accept your humanity. And what does accepting your humanity mean? It means realizing that you and every other human being is flawed, is limited, and will screw up despite their best efforts. Don’t mistake this as an invitation to wallow in your worst behaviors or to justify being a tool by saying, “Well, hey man, I’m just human. I’m just doing human things. Like being a tool,” then promptly doing several Jäger Bombs. No. Embracing your humanity is about recognizing your vulnerability, that even when you’re doing your best you may fail and it’s going to hurt, there will be consequences, and there’s not much you can do about it. This is just a condition of human life. We’re not all-powerful and we can’t control every variable to ensure things go according to our plans. How many times have you tried and failed to control your own mind and behaviors? You know what I’m talking about. You try not to be jealous of the next door neighbor’s new car yet you can’t help but hope that a truck carrying nails overturns and this shiny new machine has all four of its tires shredded. You don’t want to procrastinate anymore yet you just can’t seem to force yourself to not binge watch your favorite TV show online for nine and a half hours straight. These are flaws and negative emotions that many of us have (especially that TV or movie binging thing) and while it’s never advisable to just give in to them, they can serve as reminders of how imperfect and incomplete we are. Remembering that will keep things in perspective and remind us that no matter how good we might think we are, there is no escaping our flawed and imperfect nature. Which is fine. It’s what makes us human in the first place. Without flaws, there would be no Greek drama, no Shakespeare, no reality TV! And there can be no greater drama than the zero-sum game we wage against death which is where we shall end. Quite literally.
We Are All Heading to the Same Place
Whenever you start feeling too good, too invincible, just remember that you’re going to die and there’s nothing you can do about it. We think that what we do is so important, that we’re so important, but the unfortunate truth, the only real objective truth, is that we’re going to die. All the power, money, and adoration won’t save us from what is the inescapable conclusion of our existence. Yes it sucks, no it’s not easy to accept, but that’s the price we pay to exist. Regardless of our feelings about it, death’s inexorability and all consuming nature should provide the resounding smack upside the head that we need to see that everything we believe, everything we do, is essentially futile and will not save us. We are hallucinating meat bags and while that might sound dismissive and horrible it really shouldn’t be. It’s not like this changes anything. We’ve always been hallucinating meat bags that come with an expiration date. If anything, this should be liberating since now you can finally relax, enjoy life a little more, not worry so much about stupid crap like status, power, and always being right. Instead, this meaty message should make you understand that your time is very limited and not to waste it fretting over collecting excessive material wealth, living up to the expectations of others, or holding on to systems of thought that suck the vitality from your life, whether it be adherence to a religion that doesn’t work for you or self-hatred and fear. There’s no reason to think more or less of yourself. You just are. So just live your life before it’s over.
There you have it. No tricky steps. No endless whisking. Hopefully not too much stickiness. Just sweet humility. Sort of. Remember, this is a process. It’s always a process. Trying to not keep things in perspective, trying to accept our flaws and faults even when it hurts. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it because when you begin to see how small you are, you think less of yourself and more about everything else. There is a universe of incredible things out there, filled with phenomenon that will defy reason and fill you with self-annihilating awe. There is more of the universe than our self. It may be an odd thing to think about considering how we blow our egos up to gargantuan proportions and think that everything revolves around us and our wants. But, like many uncomfortable and difficult things, it also happens to be true. We are tiny and singular while the universe is vast and profuse. So cast aside certainty and self and open yourself up to the endless possibilities of this mad universe.
And remember to keep your fork. There’s always some pie.
The world is a crazy place, regularly violating our expectations and our sense of how things, “should,” be. For this very reason, learning about the world and universe, and our nearly insignificant place in it, is a good way to start overcoming the bad habit of thinking the world begins and ends with us that we acquire from too much coddling and self-esteem boosting charlatanry. I hope I don’t need to remind you again, though I gladly will, that we are not the most amazing things going on in this world. Biologically, sure we are fascinating, about as fascinating as any complicated biological system but our egos, lashed together from our biases, beliefs, and misconceptions, should only be considered interesting or valid from the point of view of the psychological sciences. It turns out that the world doesn’t seem to share the opinion that we deserve to be here or that we’re some kind of integral piece of the natural world puzzle. Just take a look at the kinds of inhospitable conditions that exist right here on our planet. Consider the harsh realities of life on this tiny spheroid (no the world isn’t a perfect ball though it sure isn’t flat as some mental defectives are claiming) then explain how this is all for us and all about us. The planet has always reserved the right to casually wipe out anything it wants, including us eventually.
In other words, get out of your head, open your eyes wide, wipe the languid look off your face, and stop thinking you got things all figured out. Your life will become so much richer when you do. To help you get there, here’s a collection of three extreme places located right here on Earth that you probably had no idea existed and that will remind you of our tenuous position in the scheme of things.
Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
This highly volcanic region lies north of what’s called the Afar Region of Ethiopia. It is, by way of averages, the hottest place on Earth with an average annual high temperature of 41 ° C (105° F). Not only that, there is little precipitation and only a few days a year see measurable rainfall. The water seen in the photos is the result of the Awash river drying up and terminating before it can make contact with the Indian Ocean. Though this place may look inhospitable, a few extremophile microbes manage to eek out an existence here, using exotic biology to survive the brutal conditions. But it isn’t just microbes that have made this place their home.
In this alien landscape made of hydrothermal fields, magma lakes, and chemical laced waters, the 1974 discovery of early Hominid fossils of the Austrolopithecus species would mark a turning point in our understanding of our evolution. The fossils of this individual would be dubbed Lucy and would be one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century. Since then, many other hominid fossils would be found in the region, leading the area to be called, “the cradle of humanity.”
We may have ditched the salt flats for salt shakers but it’s important to remember where we came from and that we’re still new to this planet in terms of geological time. No matter how far we may progress or how special we may think we are, there’s no denying the fact that our ancestors arose from a humble, inhospitable chunk of Earth that could just have easily murderer them in any number of vicious and interesting ways, thus killing the whole hominid/human project in the crib. Pun intended.
Valley of Death, Kamchatka, Russia
This forbidding place is found on the Kamchatka Peninsula, a spur of land over 1,250 KM (or almost 800 miles for those of you who hate the metric system and fun) on the eastern coast of Russia. It lies at the foot of the Kikpinych Volcano (brownie points to anyone who can explain how to correctly pronounce that word). In the mid-70’s a scientist and a park ranger both noticed a preponderance of dead animals in this region. After studying the area, scientists concluded that the air was actually high in hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, carbon disuphide and other contaminants that would be released into the air through the geothermal vents that snake through and release into the valley. In case you don’t know what some of those are, let me explain.
They kill you.
Getting back to the death valley, human beings will also feel the effects of the toxins in the air if they overstay their welcome. Signs that your Russian vacation may be much longer than anticipated can be lightheadedness, heat in the temples, headaches, and other unpleasantness. On the plus side, your corpse will stay nicely preserved for a long time since the chemical cocktail lingering in the air retards the oxidation process that leads to decay. However, if you really want to stay forever young, or at least forever preserved, the next and final place on the list is for you.
Lake Natron, Tanzania
Lake Natron is found in northern Tanzania. What makes it so interesting is its high alkalinity which is due to the high amount of salt and soda in its waters and I don’t mean Pepsi. It’s more along the lines of the baking soda variety. To grant you a sense of how intense and caustic the Natron’s waters are, consider that ammonia, on the pH scale, is 11.5 and bleach is 12.6. At its most alkaline, Lake Natron can be over 12 on the pH scale and has reportedly been able to cause chemical burns on humans and other creatures not specifically adapted to its harsh environment. Lesser flamingos, which nest on its shores and feed on the salt-loving algae that live here, as well as some talapia and other fish all call this lake home. To us and other animals, it’s not a great idea to swim here. However, if you do end up dying in this red pool of natural awesomeness, you can at least bet that you’ll be preserved. Just like that bird at the beginning of this segment.
Due to the high levels of sodium and sodium bicarbonate-like chemicals, your body will, given a bit of time, become mummified. In fact, the ancient Egyptians used natron, sort of a watered-down (that’s a chemistry joke) version of the trisodium hydrogendicarbonate dihydrate (or trona to its friends) that saturates the lake to make their mummies. However, unlike many sensationalist sites have claimed, neither you nor other animals will die on contact with the lake. That doesn’t mean you should go splashing around and drinking from it, but it won’t kill you outright and turn you to stone. If you want to look as well preserved as our feathered friend up there, you’ll have to be dead going in. Maybe you should visit one of the two previous spots on the list then be shipped to Lake Natron. Just a suggestion.
And there you have it. There are plenty of other crazy places on this planet that will blow your mind and I may add another post on this topic. But for now, just keep in mind that these extreme locations serve as a reminder of the fragility of organic life, ourselves included. We are tolerated on this planet. At a moment’s notice, things could change. So let’s tread lightly and respectfully, always remembering that we are not in control and never have been and to live with the humility that our place in existence demands.
Gomboc is a little boring. I understand. This is not what the people want. We need faster, sexier, more intense, better special effects. So let’s try this.
Anyways, bad internet jokes aside, the point is that this weirdly shaped thing is a wonderful incarnation of applied mathematical principles and we can actually learn something from its bizarrely crafted form. But before we get to what we can gain from it, how about a little tour of what gombocs are all about?
In its simplest terms, a gomboc is a homogeneous mono-monostatic solid. What the hell does that mean? In its simplest terms, what this means is that it’s solid with one stable and one unstable surface. Alright, that’s not all that simple. Let’s try this.
The gomboc is the world’s only self-righting shape.
“Nuh-uh!” You may scream while vivaciously shoving a finger up your nose. “I had a Weeble when I was but an ovum with legs! That thing would always stand back up no matter how many times I knocked it over!”
I would respectfully disagree but I don’t care enough to be respectful so I’m going to say to sit your butt back in your chair and get your finger out of your nose because if you keep doing that it’ll stretch out and never go back.
I would also explain that things like Weebles may wobble but not fall down (please don’t sue me whoever owns those things) not because of anything intrinsic to their shape but because of their center of gravity. When the Weeble is wobbled, its center of gravity is no longer over its pivot point and gravity will pull it back into its resting position. But this action is not a direct result of the Weeble’s shape but its composition since its bottom half is made of a denser, heavier material than its top half. The gomboc, however, is the real deal, as I’ll now explain.
The gomboc, because of its shape, can settle in only one way. This is not a function of its composition so much as it is the intrinsic nature of the shape. It has only one resting configuration and will naturally orient itself to this resting state, as seen in the video below.
In other words, no matter how you place the gomboc, it will return to its upright and most stable position. Interestingly, nature beat us to the punch again and we see naturally occurring examples of gomboc like structures in the shape of some turtle and tortoise shells which is how these creatures are able to right themselves after being flipped over for either a bout of vigorous belly rubs or a horrific death.
This is all very cool and if you’re totally in love with gombocs now, which I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, I’ll provide some links to read up on this nifty little lump of niftiness as well as purchasing options at the end of the article. But what does this have to do with us? What can we learn from this lumpy solid?
The Teachings of Gomboc
The first thing we can learn from the gomboc is related to what is immediately obvious just by looking at it. Gombocs are weird, frumpy, seemingly useless things. At least to us. Tortoises find them quite useful. But at least from our perspective, they are novelties. And not exactly flashy novelties like those pink leopard print handcuffs you’re hiding under your bed. However, its apparent simplicity belies an incredible complexity. It’s not like the principle was discovered then these things were mass-produced like McDonald’s burgers or Hollywood blockbusters. No, the principle was theorized in 1995 by Russian mathematician Vladimir Arnold but not realized physically until 2006 by Hungarian scientists Gábor Domokos and Péter Várkonyi. These structures are not exactly easy to make either, with extremely specific tolerances. All this history and complexity is hidden within the simple, frumpy solid exterior. If there’s anything to take from this is that your supposedly mediocre, boring life is actually made of layers of complexity and it’s your fault for not appreciating that.Maybe you’re boring. Maybe you go to work, then come home to eat dinner with your family or significant other (or alone), then go to sleep only to do it all over again. Yes it is boring and routine. But it’s life. We can’t expect to go tooling around the world, doing all kinds of crazy things and being in all kinds of crazy situations all the time. It’s just not feasible. Besides, if you actually learn to pay attention, you’ll see that the banal and commonplace offer opportunity for happiness and contentment. In other words, learn to alter your perspective. Part of the problem is that most of us simply get used to doing things the same way and so we begin to tune out the world around us. So instead, learn to pay attention, learn to notice things again and see the world you thought was so boring in new ways. Then apply this to yourself. Sure there may be nothing special about you on the surface but that doesn’t mean there’s not a world of complexity going on inside you. You just need to learn how to appreciate it again. When you see the interesting in the mundane, you’ll be granted more options and more opportunities, which brings me to gomboc teaching number two.
Gombocs are weird looking things. I may have mentioned that. A few times. I’m not the only one to think that though. It’s hard not to think that considering its lumpy shape and its French bulldog level of adorably awkward movements.
However, despite their oddness, despite how atypical they are, they always manage to right themselves. Let that be a lesson to those of you out there complaining that you’re not perfect, believing you need to be better, you need to be more in order to get somewhere in life. You’re a mess and you are weird and imperfect and you’ve got more problems than Kirk has intergalactic love children. But, these idiosyncrasies are a part of your, “design,” and they are integral parts of what makes you you. If you go about smoothing out every edge, every inconsistency, you’re not going to be you anymore. You may also take away the things that may prove useful to you.You see, an incredibly intelligent psychiatrist named Carl G. Jung hypothesized something called the shadow complex. This comprises all the anger, the jealousy, the lust, the cowardice, the laziness, and all the other negative things we hate about ourselves. In our self-help crazed culture, we are constantly trying to erase these things. We want and need to be perfect and flawless. To do this, we usually try replacing every negative thought and emotion with its positive corollary. In effect, we try to breed out the negative tendencies with positive ones. The only problem is that this doesn’t work that well. In the end we think that just because we’re acting out the correct behaviors, we’ve won. We are now wonderful people and our names shall be forever committed to the Big Book of Wonderful People! How wonderful! Of course the truth is not so wonderful. The truth is that we still maintain the urges to lash out, to run and hide, to blame others, to hit on that fine creature at the bar even though we’re married/engaged/in an exclusive relationship. And the truth is that these urges will never go away. They are the ugly side of our personality and, according to Jung, unless we learn to accept and integrate these ugly aspects of our psyche, we can never live full lives since we’ll always be denying a part of who we are.
You may think that what I’m about to say may suck but there’s no way around this little nugget of insight which is that as human beings it is we who suck. So we should all kill ourselves since we’re all irredeemable pieces of crap, right? Not really. I want to know who it was who put it in our heads that we come into this world to be perfect because I want to slap that person in the face with a large fish. The painful reality of our situation is that we are malformed, strange, kinky, hurtful, and hateful animals. That isn’t all we are but it is certainly no small part either. There’s not much we can do about this. Some of our basic instincts push us towards these tendencies as they helped us survive in the harsh environments we had to live in. For example, our instincts may push us to try to hump everything. If we can’t hump it, maybe we can eat it. If someone else is trying to hump or eat the thing we had our little simian hearts set on humping or eating then we fight and/or kill that other stupid simian. This is the nature of our species. And, like the weird shape of our gomboc teacher, these very same negative or at least unseemly traits have helped us survive and may actually continue to help us even if we don’t realize it. Your being prone to aggression could make you fierce in achieving goals. Your being afraid of everything may help you minimize risk and take into account variables others dismiss. Your being a horny bag of horniness may help keep the sexual/physically intimate side of your relationships from petering out and becoming boring. The same way the gomboc’s weird shape allows it to do what it does, your apparent oddness may help you just as long as you are aware of it and use it for constructive ends. And if you can’t aim it at constructive ends, then at least be aware of it and accept it so you can work to live with it. You can’t control or mitigate a trait that you refuse to acknowledge or that you believe you’ve already beaten. Remember, when it comes to personality flaws and traits, there is no conclusive victory. These are parts of our psyches that will always be with us as long as we’re alive so every day has to be a battle to either contain the parts of ourselves that can hurt others or to aim these negative impulses to positive ends. So, like the gomboc’s odd shape, we may be able to get back up and recover or push forward, not despite our oddness and seemingly negative aspects, but actually because of them which brings me to the final thing our lumpy master can teach us.
Gombocs get knocked down a lot. But they keep getting back up. In fact, you could say that gombocs exist solely to get knocked down so we can delight in their awkward attempts to right themselves. I hate to break it to you, but human life is the exact same way if you haven’t been paying attention. We get knocked down a lot. Things go wrong, we screw up, other people screw us up, we experience loss, and we make decisions that later come to bite us in the ass. In these moments, of which there are no shortage, we always have the choice of whether to lie there as piles of whimpering meat or we can right ourselves like gombocs. Naturally this is not easy nor graceful. A lot of times it’s down right embarrassing. We may wonder why we bother, why we continue to get up after the universe makes it very clear it wants us to appreciate all the lovely dirt lying around by mashing our faces into it. But here’s the thing. Gombocs get up because it is the nature of the gomboc to make sure it is resting in a certain way. Likewise it is the nature of living things, humans included, to act and do things to achieve certain states. It’s also the nature of reality to be always shifting and changing, thus always moving the target we’re aiming at which means no matter how many times we think we’ve achieved our final state or our perfect happy place, we keep having to deal with issues and problems that arise or setbacks that pick us up and tenderly deposit us on our asses back at square one. So every time the universe knocks you down or disappoints you, be like gomboc and get back up because as living things, as human beings, that’s what we do. It’s our nature to act to achieve goals, even if it’s something as hoisting ourselves off the floor, putting on a pair of pants, and going to the store to get some more cereal. We have to do things because we’re alive, even when it hurts or we look stupid doing it.
So remember my beloved readers, your boring humdrum life is masking hidden complexity and opportunity that it is up to you discover by altering your perceptions. In other words stop complaining that you’re bored or that you are boring. You’ve just gotten used to seeing things how you expect them to be and not as they are. In other words, you’re being mentally lazy. Secondly, you may be a weird lumpy mess but you can’t get rid of those lumps (except the ones your doctor prescribed that cream for. Which make sure you use it or else you’ll never stop itching.) because those lumps are part of who you are, they are a key component to what makes up your identity. Finally, even when life tips you over, get back up. The other choice is to lie there and give up. But that’s, again, lazy and irresponsible. Get back up if for no other reason than that as human beings what we do.
And remember: gomboc may be lumpy, gomboc may be strange, gomboc may get tipped over, but gomboc will straighten out again.
Here are more links about the wonderful world of gombocs and how you can adopt a gomboc of your own!
I knew you’d be back. It’s been written in the stars that we’re meant to be together. You can’t leave. There’s too much between us.
Like Part 1 and Part 2. And now we have part three. Looks we’re starting a little post family. Don’t you want to be a part of it? Well, here’s your chance and today, we’re going to continue to build on the last two posts and see what humility can actually do for you. I mean us.
Humility Gets Shit Done
So humility frees you from the ceaseless competition with others and makes you less of an asshole. Hasn’t humility already done enough? Nope. Like your dream spouse, humility keeps on giving, usually while wearing skimpy, revealing clothes. The associated benefit of not always competing with others is that you end up with much more energy and time. Competition is a messy, expensive affair and when it comes to competition for the sole purpose of ego aggrandizement, the cost to benefit ratio doesn’t make the effort worth it. Instead, with humility on your side, you can find a level of comfort in knowing that you may not be the best but you’re not the worst. With this kind of mindset, you are free to grow and learn at a natural pace, not the breakneck heedless plunge to out-do everyone around you. In other words, the you can be more calm and less stressed when you learn humility. Speaking of out-doing everyone around you, just because you aim for that doesn’t mean you’ll get it.
By now you should know that you’re going to fail a lot. You can try all you want but sometimes there is going to be someone better than you or things will just fall apart despite your best efforts. What happens when this inevitably takes place? If you’re the overly-confident type or the type who regularly pumps yourself up the way gym rats pump themselves up with steroids then your first instinct is find a way to preserve your ego. This can be to blame others, to sheath your ego with anger and indignant rage, or even to take out your frustration on someone as a means of assuring yourself you can still exert control. None of theses psychological analogues to roid rage are particularly healthy for yourself or others and all could be made unnecessary with practice of humility. Humility reminds you that of course you’re going to fail from time to time. Of course there will be better people than you, people who make more, who produce more. We think of success as a ladder but it’s not so cut and dry. Unless you’re a Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, there will always be someone who is better than you and when you exercise humility you’re okay with that because you don’t feel the pressure to compete. It’s about being your best, not besting others, which means that its alright to fall on your face from time to time. As long as you’re not dead, you can always pick yourself up and try again. This brings me to a benefit you might not expect to see attached to humility.
When you’re humble, you try harder, especially when it comes to cognitively demanding tasks that require you to acquire new information or solve problems (Weiss & Knight, 1980). Those who ranked higher in humility take the time to collect more information and overall perform better on tasks that require a lot of careful thought. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Let’s go back to our confidence/self-esteem juicer. This juggernaut of egoism will no doubt think that s/he can brute force a problem even when possessing few facts and little evidence. Why? Because, like dude, I’m me! I’m so good! I can do anything!
Of course the truth is no, you can’t do just anything. If anything, the data shows that the careful, deliberate consideration that humility engenders gives the edge in performance to those who don’t construct monuments to their egos. Humility reminds us that we don’t have all the answers, even if we want to think we do. As such, the humble person looks more deeply, dissects problems a bit more thoroughly. A humble mindset forces one to consider that one can be wrong and to reject simplistic answers and solutions that cater to the belief that we’re smarter and better than we really are. Instead, humility forces one to consider that the solutions we seek are mired in a complex world that doesn’t care very much for making things easy on us; thus, if we are going to devise solutions we must be ready to keep digging and engage the world on its complex and non-accommodating terms, not our own. Finally, this leads to the final piece of this section which revolves around meeting others on their terms and not just our own.
The last place you’d expect to find humility playing an important role is leadership but, like that little scoop of vanilla ice cream cozying up to a slice of pie, humility makes leaders better. We’re used to the idea of leaders and bosses being able and willing to act with impunity, regardless of how it affects others but effective leadership incorporates humility. Figures like Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus Christ all shared the trait of humility. They were not in it for themselves but were simply the front piece for something they believed in that was much larger than themselves. So too should modern day leaders use their positions as a way to serve a larger purpose and not just their own egos. When leaders do this, they help those they are leading to collectively move towards achieving their potential as well as enhancing their performance along the way (Owens & Hekman, 2015). Let’s face it, again, our leaders are just human and both they themselves and those who follow them need to keep that in mind. Those in leadership positions don’t have all the answers nor are they better than anybody else and so should not treat others as lessers just because they have the nice corner office they can shut the door on so they can binge watch YouTube videos. When leaders put aside their status, they can connect better with those on the front lines. Combining the long-view being at the top of the ladder offers with the realities of daily operations is a powerful combination that makes use of everybody’s talents and helps to get shit done in the short terms as well as figuring out what needs to be done to make sure that the shit keeps getting done into the future.
Speaking of looking ahead to the future, let’s take a break here. I’m sure you’re tired and will want to get your stuff. After all, we’re moving in together. Didn’t you know? Oh yeah. We got stuff to do, dreams to build, and a guide on how to become more humble and gain perspective on life to construct. So until next time, remember, I’m watching…. Always watching.
Owens, B.P., Hekman, D.R. (2015). How does leader humility affect team performance? Exploring the mechanisms of contagion and collective promotion focus. Academy of Management Journal, 59(3), 1088-1111. Retrieved from http://amj.aom.org
Weiss, H.M., Knight, P.A. (1980). The utility of humility: Self-esteem, information search, and problem-solving efficiency. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 25(2), 21-223. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com
Happy New Year! I hope all of you are still alive and have managed to find your way back from the combination Pizza Hut-Taco Bell that you woke up behind. Hopefully you all enjoyed impassively standing by and watching as the horror show of 2016 finally squirmed and writhed in its death throes in a puddle of its own sputum and blood as much as I did. What a wonderful thing. And I’m sure that all of you engaged in one of our most cherished New Year’s traditions: the formation of New Year’s resolutions. That you will promptly fail to make good on then abandon like so many orphaned puppies. In fact, failing to accomplish our resolutions is just as much a tradition as making them. But as my good buddy Botero said (Actually he didn’t say it. His work just happened to be meme-ified. Also we’re not actually friends.):
But why? Why do our resolutions fall through with such terrible regularity? I’ve been putting some thought into this, between the food, family, and alcohol (still not enough to get me behind a combination Pizza Hut-Taco Bell), and now I’ve realized something: making New Year’s resolutions is like online dating. Don’t worry about thinking how this could be so, I did all the heavy mental lifting for you. I’ve also put together a Resolution Interrogation Protocol that will help you come up with resolutions you actually have a chance of fulfilling. So now, if you’d sit back, clear the booze-fog from your head, and the glitter from your ears, I’ll explain myself.
Expectation vs. Reality
If you’ve ever done a stint with online dating, you must have had this experience.
Making a New Year’s resolution is the same idea. We create an idealized version in our heads without actually thinking about the possible ugly side of what we’re pursuing. For example, the most made resolution is to lose weight. Not a big surprise considering over the course of a holiday we pack away enough food to feed several hungry post-apocalyptic biker rebel enclaves. But when we think about the goal, we think about it in its most simplistic terms. In other words, we think about the perfect beach body, the toned abs, the chiselled arms, the bums that can crush walnuts. But what is that? Most likely, it’s a distillation, an abstraction of an idea. The idea is actually much blander, more granular, and more inclusive. For that body with will cause instant euphoria in anyone standing nearby to take shape, the person has to conduct an entire overhaul of his or her lifestyle. No more fast-food, more water, more exercise, no more cigarettes. It’s not glamorous, it’s not easy and it’s not fun. In fact a lot of the resolutions made require a lot of planning, a lot of effort, and a lot of persistence of frustration tolerance. You may be picturing washboard abs in your head at 11:59 P.M. on December 31st but you are not picturing the work, and the sweat, and the months of scrutinizing everything you put in your mouth. Just like those deceitful pictures that litter dating websites, the images in your head are not the whole story. Which brings me to the second way New Year’s resolutions are like dating websites.
You Lack True Intimacy
When I say intimacy I don’t mean doing the hot and heavy. (Come on, my whole my analogy revolves around dating so there have to be some sex jokes.) I’m talking about real intimacy, the kind of intimacy where you can share anything and everything with each other. You know each other at your worst and at your best. You accept each other when you’re glowing and healthy and also when your nose is a fountain and you’re practically snorting vapo rub to keep from asphyxiating. This kind of intimacy is impossible but we get the simulation of it when we peruse the countless listings on dating websites. In fact we get a glut of information, we get swamped with stats which leads us to think we know people more truly than we actually do. This is the same situations we find ourselves in with our resolutions. We never actually know nor are we prepared for all the details, all the planning that goes into making them reality. Another common resolution is saving money. It sounds easy. Just save money! Make sure the money stays in your pocket, or in the piggy bank, or in the cut out in your mattress. Simple. But that isn’t really the reality of it. Are you willing to expose yourself to going without the things you want? Are you ready to cut back on your personal pleasures? Can you accept the inconvenience and work associated with not going out to eat as often? Do you have a clear set of benchmarks that you can check to see how well you’re progressing? These are the kinds of intimate details that most people don’t consider when they’re making their resolutions. Unless you’re at that stage of engagement with your resolution, unless you’ve really taken the time to know what pursuing a particular goal means on more than just a superficial level, what chance do you think you have of accomplishing anything? Actually, as long as I’m spouting rhetorical questions into the ether of the internet, why is it that it’s just so easy to give up on our resolutions? Yes, it doesn’t help that we only look at the wonderful end results and that we don’t take the time to look at the actual mechanics involved in making a resolution come true. But there’s something else going on, something that ties into both of the preceding factors, creating a feedback loop of failure.
The Robe and Wizard Hat Effect
What is the thing tying the previous two problems together? It may seem to be that they’re both about self-imposed delusions but look more closely. Really smoosh your face into the issue. Starting to become clearer? The final problem with online dating and New Year’s resolutions is actually the root cause of both.
And that is you.
You see it’s your blind overestimation of yourself without the awareness of your flaws and weaknesses that will ultimately end up making sure you make no progress. In online dating, we often lose sight of the fact we’re trying to find compatible people to share a relationship with, not a new laptop. We sit in our comfy chairs and judge profile after profile, magnifying the flaws in each, coming up with reason after reason as to why this one or that one doesn’t measure up. We set impossible standards, tell ourselves that we deserve so much since we’re so entranced by the perceived flaws of others that we overlook our own, and end up alone at the end of the night, nursing a box of stale crackers while the TV reinforces how pathetic our lives our (I haven’t done the crackers thing but the rest may be true.) The same is true of the New Year’s resolution. It’s the, “New Year, new me,” mentality that ends up meaning nothing. It may be the new year, but it’s the same you and you still suck. You are the pillar on which your delusions rest and you are the pillock who, with no plan and no understanding of what your goals will entail, who will ultimately sabotage your own success. However, we believe that just because the Earth has made a revolution around the sun, all of a sudden we are cleansed of the problems that plague us. Again, it’s the belief we can just slip on our robe and wizard hat and magic will happen. Poof. Everything will work out now. But that’s not reality. We are all weighed down by flaws and unless we take care to keep an eye on them, they’ll drag us to the bottom.
So what do we do? Just stop making resolutions? Say, “This is my life now and it won’t get better?” Not quite but we do need to interrogate our resolutions and shape them to be actually executable. What follows is how to do just that.
Resolution Interrogation Protocol
Focus on the Concrete
What could be more concrete than getting fit, losing weight, saving money? It pretty much explains itself. Except it doesn’t. It doesn’t tell us anything. What does fit mean? What does losing weight mean? What does saving money mean? If you said that you wanted to lose 20 pounds, that’s better. If you said that you wanted to save X amount of dollars by year’s end, that’s something you can aim yourself at. Even something like publishing a book is a nebulous thing. How long a book? Self-published or traditionally published? E-book or physical? What are the things that you can touch and actually measure? Which brings me to the next thing you need to sort out about your resolution before you press play.
Who’s In Control Here?
Saying you’re going to do something isn’t a direct pipeline to getting it done, especially if it’s something not directly in your control. Saving money is not always in your direct control. Making more friends or having more of a social life depends on so many factors that are outside of your control that you may as well give in and hit the bottle in your sterile apartment before the clock strikes 12. These are failures in waiting and they’re failures because they can’t be completely controlled. Expenses that you hadn’t planned for can come up. You certainly weren’t planning on spending money on pest control after turtles keep invading your apartment through the shower. But shit happens. Just like you can’t control if your social life improves. However, you can do things like saying that you won’t go out to eat as much, won’t spend as much money on ornamental bejeweled scarab beetles, and such things. You can also plan to make time for yourself to join social clubs, volunteer, and visit the local nudist colony, all things that might lead to a better social life. Speaking ways to make your resolutions stick…
You need to plan. A resolution is not a plan. It’s a wish, a dream and without a plan to scaffold and mold your actions, this dream will remain an amorphous mound of jelly sloshing around the bottom of your skull. Figure out what it will take to make the kinds of changes happen. Set benchmarks so that you can check yourself and keep yourself honest. For example, say you want to lose weight. You could plan to eliminate all soda and processed ersatz food from your diet as well as upping your physical activity. Then set a benchmark for a month in to see if you’re meeting your goals. Are you losing weight? Have you lost as much weight as you had wanted to by whatever mark you’ve set for yourself? You need to know what you’re going to do before you do it or else you’re going to default back to the same crappy habits that necessitated the making of this odious resolution in the first place. So know what you’re going to do then do it. But don’t be surprised when this golden, haloed fresh start turns into a shrieking demon-beast which brings me to one last point.
Be Prepared for the Pain Parade with a Steady Reason
It’s going to be going so well at first. You will glow. Your friends and family will be so proud of you. Strangers will come up to you and shake your hand. Birds will nest in your navel.
And then the Pain Parade comes to town. A veritable procession of setbacks, frustrations, and self-doubts. This is the price to pay for making change, for triggering growth. And it’s these moments that will require you to know why it is you elected to go through this in the first place. So know why you’re doing it and make sure it’s a good reason. What does a good reason look like? Well, to use the weight loss resolution again, let’s look at a bad reason first. “I want to be ready for swimsuit season.” I’m going to give you about five seconds to spot what is wrong here. Time’s up. I lied. What is does swimsuit season have to do with weight loss? Nothing. It has to do with an image of yourself, sure, but there are plenty of overweight people who wear swimsuits no problem. This doesn’t address a sustainable why. Besides, once swimsuit reason is over are you just going to let the weight come back so you can make the same resolution next year? Contrast this with a good reason such as, “I want to live a more health conscious life and not have to worry about health problems associated with obesity.” Now we’re getting somewhere. Being health conscious is sustainable. It doesn’t come with an arbitrary termination point and it is focused on a behavior, not an image, not an external concept of how one should look. If you want to persevere in the face of setbacks, then make sure the reason is based on some kind of problem you are trying to fix, some behavior that you can have direct control over or that affects you in a tangible way. It needs to be a desire to shift some aspect of your life from a maladaptive behavior to a more positive one. This way when the pain does come, when life inevitably drops trow and squats squarely over your head, you know why you are willing to weather the shitstorm and what is waiting for you on the other side.
I hope that this has brought some clarity and understanding to your new year. I hope that this time next year you won’t all be back here wondering why you didn’t get this year’s resolutions completed. But until next time, I wish you all the best let’s hope we can make 2017 a better year than its predecessor.