The following is an essay I wrote in October 2000. I felt quite strongly at the time that I had crossed an important bridge of thought in my own mind, and I have since thought about these writings many times over the last decade and how they still truly shape the way I approach life. In many ways this is the foundational essay for everything I have written on Bradezone, and I have decided to republish it today since I have been considering very recently the dichotomy of individuality and assimilation—a subject I hope to write about soon enough.
Above all else, I try to make decisions based on logic and common sense. Many people corner themselves into doing things solely because most others do them or solely because most others don’t do them. I see both of these as entirely simplistic, even though the former faction thinks the latter weird and freaky whilst the latter thinks the former mindless and shallow. Those who show up at the school prom because “everyone’s going” are just as flawed in judgment as the person who gets multiple piercings and tattoos simply to “stray from the norm.” This has led to a situation wherein I am the guy few understand most of the time, even though theoretically I should be the easiest to understand. People have sacrificed so much of their potential because of their concern for how others perceive them—the one type wants to be loved, the other type wants to be hated. Why not live based on your own sound judgment, without regard for the reactions of others?
I have an idea for an invention called the Discussion Light. It would be a light on a bracelet or necklace that people could wear to indicate whether they want to be talked to. Green means I want to be talked to. Red means do not talk to me right now. Yellow means I do not care one way or the other. Good idea, right? Then we could avoid all those stupid times where we say “hi” to someone just because we know them. I am a guy who does not need to be acknowledged every time I see a familiar face. Unless we have something to discuss, let’s not waste time with a meaningless conversation. This could also apply when you see someone you know in a store, restaurant, or doctor’s office. With the Discussion Light, awkwardness is avoided.
The above is an example of something that would be considered odd by many people, even though it is a fabulous concept. I am a person with immense confidence in myself, whilst fully recognizing what my limits are. Any reluctance to share ideas comes not from a lack of self-confidence, but from the knowledge that everyone has not adequately trained their minds to react without pretense and predictability. It’s like laughing at a sex joke. Are you laughing just because sex is being mentioned, and you do not want to be deemed a “prude” or “religious right” by not programming yourself to laugh regardless of the actual existence of humor? Or are you laughing because it genuinely is funny? Here we have the perception issue again.
We have been called a selfish society, but in a way we are only selfish in the wrong way. We all seem to be immensely unselfish when it comes to formatting our personality based on who we are around. This is precisely the occasion where we do not need to make such a sacrifice. Our society uses the catchphrase “be yourself,” but they seem not to have the slightest idea what it means. To most of them, it simply means “be rebellious, make people mad, be different for no reason other than to be different.” Until this simple-minded and incorrect thinking discontinues, our world is stuck in Lameness Mode.
I am someone who manages to get along great with others by actually “being myself.” No, I won’t laugh at 99% of your sex jokes. No, I won’t go to that party with you and enjoy a beer or two. No, I won’t rent a tux and go to a formal with you. These are things that have proliferated not because of any logical reason, but simply because society feels they need a few things to proliferate in order to be considered a society, regardless of how truly dumb said things are. It is all part of crafting our “culture.” Ah, now this is a loaded word, and one I tend to despise. Culture mostly applies to the predominant behaviors of a society, but the vast majority of these behaviors become predominant for the reasons I mentioned above—simply because society is always feeling this need for a common behavior rather than a preference for autonomous thought. It is here where I could dive headfirst into religion, and describe what kind of common behavior is the intended ideal for humanity as a whole, but I am all too sure I would receive resistance from someone who is too “open-minded” for me. Be aware that society’s current definition of open-minded actually teeters between closed-minded and half-minded. Thus I will leave this topic at present.
So are others important? Absolutely. I have an intense affection for humankind. I want to see them happy. But our current society is set up in such a way to guarantee that will not happen. The concept of rebellion as voiced in such loaded terms as “open-minded” and “be yourself” depends on the perpetual existence of a large faction of society to “rebel” against. Rather than seeking to throw off our simplistic concepts of “culture” and actually attempt to reach a true harmony in humanity’s existence, we are still too wrapped up in the wrong kind of selfishness. The kind based on a primitive sort of competition. The kind based on a few being better than the rest. The kind based on excess, without regard for the condition of others—be this in the form of actual contempt for those others, or the idea that someone else will take care of those others.
For reasons mentioned in my long-lost essay The Final Echelon, this world is not designed for perfection—death and harbored emotions are the key reasons. Our intellect and basic emotions must coexist. Far too often we use the terms “what I think” or “my opinion” or “what I want” without realizing that our intellect and emotions often conflict with each other. What seems to be what you want may simply be what one aspect of your self wants, but not the other. A million problems have been caused by this lack of recognition—in fact, any problem not based on pure accident. Having sex prematurely, taking your first drug, killing someone—all these are based on what your immediate emotions told you that you wanted. You failed to engage the intellect. In the opposite way, the intellect can override the emotions of love and compassion. You may not logically see the need of saying a nice word to this person or buying a gift for that person, but emotionally you know it is right. Without emotion, we may not have murder or rape. But we would also not have laughter, crying, joy, and contentment.
This leads to the obvious conclusion. The world is based on balance. A balance of selfishness and unselfishness. A balance of intellect and emotion. A balance of culture and individuality. The problem with our society is merely that different people place far too much emphasis on one or the other in each pair. I do not claim to have figured it all out myself, but by recognizing the problem and keeping my eye on the solution, I feel I am making adequate headway.
My main fault is communicating with others as though they possess the same mindset as I have. That is why I have previously used terms like “scum,” “pathetic,” and “poison-tipped thumbtacks” while addressing others, when I definitely should not have. If that person were another me, he or she would take no offense, recognizing that I said those words out of my perception of their relative insignificance. But this tendency must be tempered until all of us are on the same page. In the meantime, I would best be served by writing something like this very document, which attempts to relate my thoughts to any and all readers.
I still hold out hope for humanity. Maybe we will learn to exist together without war and disregard for each other’s feelings. But in the ever-important spirit of Balance, I must also realize that we could simply continue to fail.
Curious about your thoughts about open-mindedness. If people in today’s society sort of crevice-minded, are you comparing them to the few people in today’s society who truly are open minded (if they exist), or to the “open minded” people in other, maybe no longer surviving, societies? I guess my point is that if open-mindedness is relative, then there has to be people at both extremes, right? Otherwise, if nobody was really open-minded, then the least-closed-minded people would be the open minded ones. Null pointer exception!
I see open-mindedness as a correlation to empathy—a willingness to understand why people believe or behave the way they do. Obviously that does not constitute endorsement, but everyone has reasons for his or her actions. I think those reasons can largely be boiled down to what I discussed in this essay. You’re right that perhaps no one can be described as 100% open-minded. But it’s a worthy goal.
Nice article. I have toiled over both sides myself. I think you get it right in the end it is balance or moderation. Not only does that apply for logic or how you live life, but it can be applied in all areas.
“Open Minded” seems to be a loaded term in today’s society. I mean at least when you hear it mentioned on the news or in pop culture. I think it would be a worthy goal to be truly open minded, but what most people mean by it is a certain set of beliefs that if you ascribe to them makes you are open minded. And of course it is the highest virtue to be open minded. Better to be open minded than to actually have convictions. If you don’t agree with the ascribed beliefs than you are closed minded. I actually heard on the Today show they were introducing a story and Matt said Meredith, “you need to have an open mind.” Meredith retorted without hesitation, “Oh I have an open mind.” As if it were some disease of the highest kind not to. I just think that you can have convictions or disagreements and still keep an open mind.