Advice For Young Men: You are not the savior of the universe (or even your friends and family.)

I distinctly remember. Being in the car with my father, and feeling a sudden sense of obligation to do something about the world. We passed a homelessness, and I felt guilty, seeing his tanned gaunt face living in squalor, as not a quarter mile away million dollar homes were being built. The injustice burned, and I felt being born into a privileged life, I owed the world something, and while my intentions were noble, the scope of my pondering were dangerously broad.

This is not to say that I can’t help the world, or that I shouldn’t but the problem came when I set my intentions to help everyone. To fix the problem of __________ (insert global problem here).

32 year old me now sees the Three issues with my statement.

1. The vast overvaluing of my ability vs the scope of the problem.

2. The inconsistent judgement of what counted as enough.

3. The idea that there is a “solution” to problems at all, instead of simply a set of situations that change consistently.

As for the first, this is a common problem and it stems from a combination of many things, but primarily a lack of self knowledge, and the very human problem of overestimating our own ability, and underestimating how complex the problems of the world are.

A relatively broke college student in English might be able to volunteer on the weekends, and help quite a few people out, but alone he isn’t going to change the effects of three decades of poor public policy, the war on drugs, or human nature.

Take for example homelessness, it’s a huge problem, with many complex nuances, that stem from a variety of different factors. NGO’s and think tanks spend millions with some of the foremost thinkers in the field to come up with solutions and struggle to make a dent.

In the shadow of this revelation, it’s relatively foolish to assume that I a broke college student was going to make the final difference. (Not that I wouldn’t make any difference, but I lacked the humility to admit my own smallness.)

The problem of what counts is also an ego driven bout of perfectionism. Anything less than say the total end of homelessness would do for my hero drunk brain. This of course led me to feeling rather Impotent in the face of the problem, and feeling that my real contributions did not count. (alone they did not, but multiplied over a long time with others with similar mindset’s they would, but I couldn’t see that.)

The final issue, and the real issue, and the underlying defeat of perfectionist ideology is the realization that there is no “solution” to most problems, especially not big ones.

The idea that we can “solve” humanity is a dangerous utopian idea that often leads to the deaths of millions at it’s worst times, and dissatisfaction with life at the very least.

The problem is not that there is homelessness, the problem is that we expect it to end, and we expect ourselves to bear the burden.

To make the world better is an amazing thing, but just not making it worse is a beautiful thing as well.

I guess in all of this rambling I will say this. You cannot alone save the universe, but you can maybe save yourself, and make the world not worse. It sounds a little like a cop out, but eventually, you not making it worse, might inspire other’s to do the same.

Do not try and save the world. Save yourself first, and then if you have the energy, try and make the world suck just a little less, but you don’t have to. No one is watching. No one but you.

Advice for Young Men: Dating sites and Porn are causing you a lot of pain

This isn’t a prohibition. I don’t want you to stop using dating sites, or stop watching porn, but I want you to start doing is to be mindful of how the usage of them effects your real life relationships.

One of the problems of the current century is that dating sites fill the user’s head with ideas of massive abundance. Whereas men of ages past were limited by geographic location, dating sites allow you to expand your reach further and further.

This might be seen as over all good, but there is a paradox in this choice, in his book the paradox of choice Barry Schwartz, talks about how too much choice leads to dissatisfaction.

To summarize an amazing read, the basic premise is as follows, if you have too many choices, even if you get the optimal choice, you will be dissatisfied with the results. Meaning you aren’t going to be as happy with that girl you met online as if you met her in the day to day workings of your life.

The same goes for porn, and not just hardcore pornography, I am talking about the Hundreds of amateur pornographic websites that promote themselves online. What most men, or most people do not realize is that the bodies being presented online represent only a small percentage of real people. What this means is, that unless you consciously attempt to correct for it you will always be comparing the women you date to the perfect, make up clad, photo shopped, pictures you see online.

And that my young friends is where mindful use of these tools comes in. You have to be aware of the fantasy, and the underlying currents in your mind that seek to find satisfaction. Put aside and work through your perfectionist impulse, and find someone who makes you happy, even if he or she doesn’t stack up to what you see online…because no one can.

I know…I know…easier said than done. But were working on it together.

Advice for Young Men: How to Handle Rejection

You will face rejection.

Living is the art of facing rejection.

However, in our culture we put a premium on success, and do not talk often on how to deal with rejection.

The main problem, like most social problems, is the matter of perspective.

While most people learn to take rejection as a rejection of their core self most rejection is actually a statement of that particular individual or group’s needs or wants.

Or to put it another way, you are a flavor.

Picture now your favorite flavor of ice cream, or gum. For me it’s cinnamon gum. Which I am sure to some of you will be absolutely disgusting, but to me is the essence of flavor.

If I were to go up to you and offer you a piece of gum, even if it is one of the best brands and in mint condition, and it’s a flavor you just don’t like, you are probably going to say no.

Is there anything wrong with the Gum? No. But it’s just not your flavor.

That in a nutshell is rejection. It has very little to do with you, and everything to do with the other human.

That being said, this only really works if the gum is pretty ok in the first place. No one is going to accept a half chewed piece of gum, or gum that is covered in lint, or gum that has an exceptionally low quality.

That’s why self-care is important, in order to even have a shot at whatever you are attempting you want to give yourself the best quality product to present, and hope it’s someones flavor.

So next time you get rejected, try not to take it personally, if you are caring for yourself enough , it’s probably not you, it’s just that you aren’t their flavor.

If you must suffer, Suffer Well

One of Monet’s works Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

It is curious that if ones looks hard enough threads of humanity link us together. At the core of nearly every philosophy there is a supposition, a rule, a dictate, or a truth.

One must suffer.

This is not exclusively an eastern philosophy, and it can be found in the works of Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankle, and in the works of many Existential philosophers of the western cannon. This consistent thread is one of the reasons I am currently convinced of it’s veracity.

Now many take this truth and turn it to Nihilism. They learn like the dog in the electrified cage that there is no escape from suffering and so fall into learned helplessness.

However, unlike the poor abused animal in that horrific experiment in the past, we are not bound by our physiology, instead if we allow ourselves to we can learn we are helpless to suffer, but able to choose the type of suffering.

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”

― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Why does this matter? Because not all suffering is made the same.

Suffering is not some meaningless thing thrust upon us, but our perception of change. The world changes. I often struggled with the idea that accepting everything as is without judgement would be impossible.

Would I not simply stagnate?

How could I accomplish such an insurmountable task?

To answer my own questions:

No, the world will not stop by accepting it, by accepting it you instead become able to respond better and more efficiently, change is not optional, though you can choose to grow.

To be frank, you cannot do it. I know sounds super Kooky right? Well it’s not. You can simply try and practice at it, each time moving away or from it, but moving none the less.

Suffering is the price of admission to life.

Though there are some that might scoff at it’s simplicity, it is my current belief that you could not know that something was pleasurable if you did not know what pain was.

I think this is why we have what we generally call first world problems. Suffering always measures itself in relation to the situation. If one is hungry they suffer, if one is fed they might complain about the quality of the food. If one has nothing but high quality food they might suffer the dread of boredom.

By being cogniscient that suffering will come along, we are no longer at its behest, and instead greet it as an old friend, knowing that our labors have been paid for and any boons or banes we earn are our own.

So if you must suffer, choose to suffer well, but if you can change something, then do so!

Advice for young men (AFYM): Logic wont compel you to change, stories will

Jungian philosophy is complex and multifaceted, but one of the primary ideas behind it is the confrontation and channeling of the shadow.

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

― Carl Jung

The shadow of man dives down to hell, and yet so many people walk around as if they don’t have a choice to be good.

I read about this idea and decided to try and embrace the capacity in myself to do great evil, and focus on the choice not to do evil.

I logically understood the ideas, and yet part of me resisted truely embracing it.

Then on a chance, I watched Beastars. In the story the Main character struggles with this percise Jungian problem. Most of the show he acts as if he has no capacity to do evil, and as such is weak, and not truely a good man (wolf). However, when presented with his dark side, he confronts it, and eventually is able to channel his darkness to save those he loves.

Suddenly for me the philosophy clicked, some part of my brain was able to wholly embrace the ideas.

This is my long winded way of saying that even if you logically want to change, you will struggle to unless you have a story to attach to that logic.

Humans are Firstly Emotion Based

The old adage you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, is rightfully translated, you can teach a man anything but you can’t make him belive it.

Because there is a part of our brain that attaches information to stories. The shaman, the lore master, the priest, all of them teach through stories. What is any religious text but a story that teaches lessons?

So, my advice is if you want to truly internalize things you have to find a story that teaches it, or you might struggle.

If worry is your default, moving away from it will be difficult, but not impossible

My default mode most days is to wake up, realize I am alive and then start looking actively for something to worry about.

I’ve spent enough time lately in states of non-stress, states that were completely sober, that I’ve come to realize that my stressed out state isn’t mandatory.

When you spend so much time angry, upset, and depressed, you start to think that’s the normal state, and that it’s inevitable. But with a lot of mindfulness, I’ve come to realize this isn’t my natural state.

As I observe my thoughts more and more, I realize my mind actively hunts out problems to worry about and if it cannot find anything I might even invent a problem. But this like all bad habits is just a run away feedback loop that can be interrupted.

I’m getting better at interrupting that loop, but a second more important lesson I’ve learned is that life isn’t going to stay consistent. There is no state where I don’t sometimes get stressed and make mistakes, and that’s okay.

Life is not about doing the right things, it’s about doing.

Advice For Young Men: It’s okay if you lose motivation sometimes, this is normal.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

So, today, and for the past week or so I’ve been drained. My OCD has been really acting up, and I’ve been having to deal with that.

I have been putting in the work but my heart isn’t it.

But that’s ok. You are allowed to, especially in stressful situations, lose motivation, and not want to do anything.

The key is to show up, and try your best, but don’t be to harsh. Focus on your responsibilities to others and yourself, but don’t worry if you lost all your motivation, it will recharge, it just needs time. You aren’t a machine.

It’s a Grand and Noble game

“Let’s suppose that you were able every night to dream any dream that you wanted to dream. And that you could, for example, have the power within one night to dream 75 years of time. Or any length of time you wanted to have. And you would, naturally as you began on this adventure of dreams, you would fulfill all your wishes.

You would have every kind of pleasure you could conceive. And after several nights of 75 years of total pleasure each, you would say “Well, that was pretty great.” But now let’s have a surprise. Let’s have a dream which isn’t under control.

Where something is gonna happen to me that I don’t know what it’s going to be. And you would dig that and come out of that and say “Wow, that was a close shave, wasn’t it?” And then you would get more and more adventurous, and you would make further and further out gambles as to what you would dream.

And finally, you would dream … where you are now. You would dream the dream of living the life that you are actually living today.”

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1501096-let-s-suppose-that-you-were-able-every-night-to-dream

So suppose the above quote is true. Let’s suppose this is by choice our life. That what is going on is what we chose to do.

Well then it certainly means that this is all a game!

The real worry comes from not knowing. All anxiety is the recognition of how invariably complicated this all is. Think of even a simple task, say going to the market, and begin to think of everything that will go wrong.

Even excluding subtle variations, you could list a thousand things, and still not being close to done. Thus anxiety.

But the quest to eliminate anxiety totally is also a fools errand!

Peoeple miss that the game is the interplay between anxiety and calm, between past and future, and want and satiation.

Life is not, as we so often see it in the west, a problem to be solved. That sort of thinking is both reductive and dangerous, as is all too often seen in the Utopianists of the world, be they Mao, Stalin, Hitler, or nameless Southern Slave owners.

So given this, what is a person to do?

Well, I’ve not the foggiest idea.

Actually, I have some idea, and that is the most anyone can ask for.

The idea is to play the game sincerely. Not for some outcome, as outcomes aren’t real, they are imaginary devices we invented to help produce real tangible results, but the goals aren’t actual physical things.

No, the idea is to play to play, and accept if there is a boon or bane, that is a nice treat or an unpleasant shock, but it isn’t the point.

Some people call this state flow, where the mind becomes immersed in the moment, and loses track of the grand societal narrative, they become sincerely dedicated to something they want to do.

You see when we play the game with results in mind it taints it. If we talk to an attractive person we’d like to get to know, and we really want to get their number, our sincerity is removed, and we come off as a sales pitch. Only when we go in knowing that we might fail and being ok with that, can we really fall into ourselves and away from the objective.

This all may sound a little crazy, and it is. But I’ve come to find some sort of peace in the knowing, that it’s all a grand game, and the point is to play it.

AFYM: Just show up

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There is a strange ethic that runs through the culture like a common cold, or maybe a better comparison would be Mono. You know that disease that all the teens gave each-other when Stacy would make out with Jack and Jack with John, and John with Jill, ect. It would make you lethargic, and not want to do much of anything.

The ethic I am so haphazardly talking about is, well the idea of making up for yesterday.

“i didn’t eat well yesterday, best eat extra good today.”

“I didn’t workout hard enough yesterday and so I’d better do double today.”

and So on.

But the problem with this mentality is that it is a self replicating problem, and discourages what I think is the ultimate virtue that being Habit.

Habit, and true habit, is kind. Now some will say you must be firm, and kindness is weakness, and trivial kindness can be a sort of weakness.

After all, is it truly kind to simply let yourself become fat? No, it’s not, and it’s a trivial sort of kindness, a short term sort of kindness that is confused with genuine kindness.

Genuine Kindness is to forgive the mistakes of the past and to simply resolve to show up, and do your best today.

Notice I said, forgive, not to forget, it’s important to remove stumbling blocks in the road, and to make the journey as easy as possible.

But the key, the ultimate key is to simply show up, and frankly that’s what most people need anyhow. Many a job or task simply needs a touch of human attention to run properly.

The world you see is quite boring in it’s growth. Even the most exciting events , avalanches, birth, and volcanic eruptions, are actually the final culmination of a million, million little actions taken over a period of time.

So, the key is to simply show up, and peruse that greater kindness. Each day take note of the past, and your failings and then put them aside.

If you ate poorly yesterday, eat well today, but just as well as you intended to yesterday, no more.

If you quit early exercising, exercise as much as you intended the day before and no more.

If you do force yourself to do more, your mind will inevitably, and quite subtly begin to see the task you want it to do as a punishment, and like all punishment will seek to avoid it.

If you further push yourself with negativity, you will catch your mind between two bad options, and well that is a very bad place for a mind to be. Learned helplessness is one hell of a drug.

So, to vastly simplify complex ideas, treat yourself as you’d want a kind father, mother, coach or authority figure to treat you. You can hold yourself to high standards, but when you fail, this kind figure steps in.

He or she says, “now, listen here, you failed to meet X goal, and that’s ok, but I know you can do it. So let’s just try our best today.”

While this is simple, if you’ve been negative to yourself, it can take a long time. That’s alright, keep trying, keep forgiving yourself, and keep showing up.

AFYM:Nihilism is a crutch

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Life is a tragedy.

We are born in an arbitrary, and unjust world.

We are raised into a world, if we are lucky we are taught love, only to come finally to the realization that everything, even your body will be torn from you.

This is the first half of most existentialists’ arguments, and where many a young person stumbles. They read this and tossing aside the difficult, and often cryptic words of a philosopher decry “NOTHING MATTERS!” and so they slink into the realm of the NEET.

Ultimately this is a mistake, because it is a false wisdom predicated not on life experience but the experience told to them by a far away authority figure. (many of which are hopelessly misunderstood, and in the second half of the work that is so casually tossed away find logic to refute Nihilism.)

The truth is Nihilism is most often unearned. “Nothing matters , god is dead, there is no point to anything”, goes the Nihilist, but go to any of those saying these things, and ask, “what have you done to prove or disprove this?”

ideas you see are sticky things, and people forget that at our core we are a very advanced animal that came from a much less advanced iteration. This iteration favors laziness and ease to all things, and Nihilism fits this bill perfectly.

“If Nothing matters? Well then I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to have any responsibilities. It’s not my fault, the world is inherently meaningless so I have no motivation.” is the line of logic, and it is a terribly convenient one too.

It is much more difficult to go out and test these “truths” than it is to simple accept them, and moreover it is a vast over estimation of the cognitive power of the self.

Can anyone really know if nothing matters? Do we know without a shadow of a doubt that the heat death of the universe will happen? OR that in that strange place after it there may be some change, some dissonance that starts everything? Or that there might not be some interaction from dimensions above?

We do not. To reject Nihilism, and for that matter all dogmas is to assert one’s own humility in the face of the unknown.

To paraphrase Socrates ” all I know is that I know nothing.” And there is some beauty in that.