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February 23rd, 2019
I should do this,
You should do that,
Everyone should be doing these things.
Such statements instantly split the immediate future into two different universes. In one of these universes, we ignore these statements and go about our business as we were.
In the other universe, we are introducing a possible edit to our behavior. This edit arises from some kind of ideal, some kind of narrative story.
For example, a religious individual might think or say something along the lines of “I should do this because I’m a good Christian.”
The narrative in this case is the belief system of Christianity, one aspect of which outlines a type of ideal behavior for people.
A common agnostic example might be someone saying “I should have a salad instead of this donut.”
The narrative in this case is a fluctuating knowledge of health and nutrition, one aspect of which outlines a type of ideal behavior for people who strive to be healthy.
The word should is the past tense of ‘shall’, which has a base meaning of ‘owe’ as in debt or obligation, which in turn comes from ‘formal promise’ and ‘bound by oath’.
Indeed this is exactly what we are trying to do when we use the word should. We are trying to bind reality to an idealized conception of reality, so that they become one in the same. We are, through ourselves and our efforts to change others, trying to evoke a better version of reality that we can see in our mind’s eye.
As long as this idealized version is in accord with the laws of physical reality, there is no reason to doubt that a full realization of such a narrative is possible.
Such a stipulation gives rise to an important caveat when it comes to the narratives we choose to follow or future narratives that we might design:
If such a narrative is at odds with the laws of physics, we will be met with frustration and endless disappointment. This is the importance of the well-oiled Zoom. We can be so focused on a detailed path of effort that we forget to Zoom out to the big picture to make sure our efforts honor the larger axioms of reality.
Our ability to take in reality, model it in our minds and reorganize it in novel ways is one of our most powerful assets as a species. But like any sufficiently powerful tool, it can cause great good as well as great harm if used incorrectly. Simply put, we can imagine versions of reality that are intrinsically unrealistic and our efforts to realize such an unrealistic reality results in a whole slew of painful ramifications. We need only imagine someone trying to hold back the tide with a net. The flaw is obvious to the average person, but if the flaw is not obvious, that pain of frustration points not to a problem with reality but with a problem in our model of reality.
We see this pain of frustration everyday, on the news, on social networks, flashing across the faces of our fellow and friends, we can even see it within the fluctuations of our own emotions over the course of the day. The pain of frustration is a point of contact between our ideal narrative and reality. Friction arises between the two and it’s at this point that we must ask:
Is there something wrong with the story by which I’m trying to live by?
Is there potentially something wrong with the underlying premise of my story that does not honor what is possible in reality?
These are hard and difficult questions if honestly asked. Often they are not even entertained and the basic, wide-spread assumption is that such pain of frustration is an opportunity to have grit, charge on and hopefully prevail. Indeed a capacity to enable such drive is invaluable, but only if the driver can properly navigate the way. If we take this allegorical image literally, we might ask, does the driver understand the limits of the current vehicle? Can the driver react to the environment as it changes by moving through it? If the driver suddenly discovers that the destination is in a completely different direction, are they mentally and emotionally equipped to make a 180 and forget the feeling of lost progress? While such questions perhaps seem silly and the answers intuitive when we think about literally driving around, these questions have great potential to evince edges of discomfort when we apply them to our larger goals in life.
We might think of the Oil Executive who suddenly has a change of heart with regards to the science surrounding Climate change. Such an experience is bound to be emotionally conflicting. And while the local goals of acquiring wealth and status for the benefit of family drove such a person to great effect, we might now wonder if such an executive is capable of driving such a company in a completely new direction? Such a radical shift is bound to be met with great opposition, and so the simple questions that we’ve applied to driving a car suddenly seem fraught with great difficulty and trepidation.
We might identify grit in two directions. Having the grit to ignore science and just charge along towards profit. Or having the grit to hear the opposition and the cries against change and lead anyways, despite the human push-back.
Inevitably, the most important question regarding our personal narrative is not whether or not we should act in accordance to such a story at any given time.
The most important question comes before this step, we must ask:
Which narrative should I subscribe to in the first place?