People Can Be Important

If You Need Both Hands And Both Feet To Count

Human beings are social by nature; one true barometer of health is whether or not we build and maintain nourishing relationships predicated on dignity and respect. Those of us who have spent time in Cookoopantsatopolis understand what it means to be truly isolated from our kind, imprisoned in an irrational, unsafe world of our own. Indeed, there is no loneliness to match the loneliness of the mentally ill. Alcoholism too is an illness of isolation, a lonely avenue of broken glass.

The very earliest phases of recovery involve emerging from a hideous prison of lies and misperceptions, joining with the world of other people at last. At this point it is imperative to trust, for some of us it is the first time we have ever done so. Sadly, we must acknowledge that our judgment is virtually useless, and the opinions of others are almost certainly superior to those of our own. Gradually we learn how to gauge our own behavior by reading the eyes of others, in this way we become the masters of our own well being. The opinions of others become important raw material in the process of self-regulation.

Having learned how it feels to be connected to others, to trust them, even depend on them – it can be hard to know when the moment has come to fly, however, if you are lucky, it will. As a child is ready to leave home, so are you ready at some point to become serenely indifferent to the opinion of others. Everything in this twisted culture of ours will try to persuade you that you are winning only if you are professionally successful, popular and rich – but one very important measure of your actual health will be how successfully you avoid this idiotic bear trap.

If you can look at yourself in the mirror without blinking and honestly say that you are in good faith, making the most of the gifts you’ve been given, and savoring this sweet short life – you’re cool. As a recovered, clear-eyed individual, the moment you are influenced by how your efforts are perceived by others is the moment you begin your fall from grace. If they like what you do, that’s great, if they don’t, that’s great too. By now you can tell if you’re for real or selling soap – if you’re okay – let the others float.

Intellectual Discipline, Unicorns and Spats

One is gone, one never was, and one is facing extinction.

I had a boss who told me, “Alistair you are a true Sophist.” This was something of a left-handed compliment. As an ad copywriter my ability to argue any side of a point convincingly serves me well. Indeed, I am so skilled in this I can convince a person that is right he is wrong, even though, in his heart of hearts he knows he is right and understands also that I know he’s right. The power to communicate is also the power to deceive. When truth itself becomes slippery one can lose one’s moral center.

In an important sense, we believe today that he who brays loudest is right. On the net everything is true and all information, regardless of source, has the same weight. Evidence supporting any point, no matter how ludicrous, is readily available; our ability to fashion, present and defend a case is weakening like an abandoned muscle. Intellectual slovenliness, a despicable quality, is rampant while intellectual discipline is nearly unknown. This is a terrible problem because we race to truth most quickly when keen, well-tuned minds pursue it, placing intellectual honesty above domination. 

People interested in finding the truth are rare. Those who do must rely upon their own minds, which, ironically, are perfectly configured to stand in their way. Frankly, the most difficult part of the process is not learning new things; it is unlearning old ones. We all carry around an astounding amount of baggage that actively interferes with our quest for truth. Relentless labor gets us closer until we realize that the best we can ever hope for is reaching our own personal truth, what we understand to be real after we have stripped away all ignorance.

If you meet someone who actively practices intellectual discipline and refuses to lapse into slovenly habits – a person that speaks and acts in good faith – you have met an individual worth emulating. If you meet someone who claims certain knowledge of universal truth, ask him to describe what it feels like to ride a unicorn.


Suffering Judgment

Expect People To Disappoint You When They Don't

When my daughter was young – say 12 – she was going through a rough patch with her friends involving bad-mouthing and backstabbing. I told her, “Honey, people will always talk about you and 95% of what they say will be wrong. You may as well get used it.”

In the rooms they repeat this gem, “What people think of me is none of my business.” Both statements speak to what I call, “benign disinterest in the opinion of others, pro and con.” Indeed, if your self-esteem rises and falls in direct relation to the value applied by others, seasickness is in your future. We all know that true self-esteem comes from within and is blissfully unaware of audience reaction.

This would not be a significant concept if it were not so incredibly hard to achieve. The idea is particularly relevant for those of us residing in any extreme demographic, regardless if it’s admired or loathed by society. For example, envy causes us to secretly despise the beautiful while fear causes us to despise the unattractive. In general, we like people that fall neatly into our own bracket and look upon outliers with suspicion.

Relevance is even greater if you’ve been tarred with the brush of mental illness. For one, the smear is never coming off; you will always be “a few bricks shy of a load” in the eyes of observers. So pretending you’re not “an alien” isn’t a real option. You’ve had experiences completely outside the understanding of most people – this is very scary. (Just like married people often avoid divorced people, they seem to fear it’s contagious.) 

But, as a recovered person, you function normally – just like a real person! – even though your emotional range is far greater and more profound than theirs, and that is thoroughly intimidating. (People, even nice people, are not at their best when intimidated – you’ve worked hard to achieve “normality” but they may be invested in minimizing your accomplishment.)

You have broken through the mirror and become an “aristocrat of the soul” – you will be viewed with a combination of revulsion and envy. You went to the summit of Everest, and lived – they’ve never made it out of the foothills, and never will. But you are not going to be pulled down and changed by the weirdness of their reactions to you, on the contrary, you are simply going to open up and let them into your world, a world they would never get to see if you hadn’t gone there.