More shaken foundations

That moment when you double-check something that you confidently started in conversation, but as soon as they expressed doubt, you suddenly were not so sure yourself. But you clung to your vanishing certainty. Now you’re anxiously searching online to verify that you were right about that fact, or that pronunciation, or that thing that has no real importance but which nevertheless currently represents your ego.

Yes, your ego. That’s what’s at stake here. You’re not keen to know a fact; you’re keen to know that you were not wrong. Why are egos so traumatized by being wrong? Because one instance of being wrong is a crack in the dam that threatens to break and whose flood will destroy their very identity. One error implies the possibility for more errors, which implies the possibility that foundational beliefs you’re built your life on may be lies.

And you would not actually feel so much anxiety if your subconscious were not aware that you do believe untruths. Like a child hiding under the blankets, you think that by not acknowledging the present problem, it does not actually exist. Head in the sand–boom, your problems are gone. It’s a defense mechanism. You can’t live life second-guessing your every belief.

But you might be able to tackle one.

Embrace the mental dissonance. Look them square in the eye. Fight them and resolve them. Because now that you know you are wrong about some things that are in your very foundation of beliefs, you have nowhere to go but up. Do the difficult thing because it will, dinner rather than later, yield abundant returns. Part of your house’s foundation had collapsed, whether you see it or not—get up, dust off, and start building.

Ants, and shaken foundations

Adventures in psychology!

I’m reading a book by Dr. Daniel Amen. It definitely has an element of self-help, although I’ll leave the negative connotation behind. Learning about how the brain and the mind work together has been fascinating, but I didn’t expect that the learning would shake my very sense of identity.

The beginning of the book concerns itself with the biological. Your mind can only do as well as your physical thinking organ allows it. Basically, only a healthy brain enables you to make full use of your mental capacities. Diet, exercise, and specific supplements and medicines influence the brain’s health.

Later in the book, practical psychiatric topics are discussed. One thing that has really caught my attention is what he calls Automatic Negative Thoughts. These are bad mental habits that most people tend to have without making a conscious effort to note and counteract them. Some examples:

  • “You never listen to me.”
  • “Just because we had a good year in business doesn’t mean anything.”
  • “You don’t like me.”
  • “This situation is not going to work out. I know something bad will happen.”

From an article on ANTs

Do they sound familiar? They do to me. I have thought like these all the time, and I never noticed. I have always had an unwavering belief that everything in my mind was right. Sure, sometimes I’d admit being wrong, but only because I was given wrong or insufficient information, and not because my brain could arrive at the wrong conclusion from the right evidence.

Well, from reading this book, I now know that I can, indeed, think poorly or wrongly. And the revelation has had an extreme effect on me. After noticing more and more of my personal ANTs, I can’t help but to question myself. How much of my thinking is just plain wrong? I had had confidence in myself, but now I cannot even trust my own mind.

(Of course, the book does share a number of mental strategies to correct ANTs (ANTeaters, haha), which are also briefly described in the article linked above. Those have been super-helpful, but they’re not what this article is about)

These discoveries have had a significant emotional impact. I lost a piece of my identity. That’s not something you experience without turmoil. I’ve experienced dazes while surrounded by friends during which I have silent little panics. What are people doing? What am I doing here? It’s as if I forget every social convention and have to figure it out by observation all over again. Eventually, the loss of confidence in my mind brought some humility. I have a much greater ability to have an opinion and be willing to re-examine it or abandon it later.

Through that humility I have found some emotional comfort as well. To dispel these recurring negative thoughts, I tell myself that I can’t trust my mind. And to soothe the emotional distress of losing assurance in my own thoughts, I tell myself that I am not my mind, but that it is a part of me and that it is (partially) under my control. That thoughts pass. That reality is not what it seems. And that, thank God, the world goes on despite my inability to be a perfect thinking machine.

Also, happy new year, everyone!

Disillusioned with technology

I used to be a real nerd for technology. Almost anything computer-related was fascinating to me, and I was really into consumer electronics*. I kept up with the latest releases from Intel and AMD, “built” computers from components that I couldn’t afford via NewEgg, and became an expert Windows user with nothing but exposure.

And, of course, I liked video games. A lot. I really loved E3, “industry” talk, and making predictions about future games and systems (I even successfully predicted that the Wii would make Nintendo stock very valuable; and it did–from $15 to $75 in less than a year). I have estimated that I’ve spent over 10,000 hours of my life playing them (which apparently does not necessarily make me an expert).

Well, I’m 27 now. I just finished a 6-month sabbatical in which I trained myself to becomes a front end developer, and a few weeks ago I became employed. It’s 9:30 on a Saturday and I want to get on the computer and have fun, like I often have. Problem is, nothing seems interesting. I’m completely bored by the idea of playing a video game. And that, in itself, is interesting.

For years already, my desire to play video games has been declining. I see new games that simultaneously look really cool and incite no excitement in me whatsoever. Sometimes I browse Steam’s catalog, discover a few gems, and then simply walk away. To be honest, I’m thankful. This opens up my time to be used in better ways.

Now, it seems my disillusionment is spreading to technology in general. I just looked at some awesome notebooks and 4k curved monitors out of my own volition, and turned away completely bored. Amazingly fast hardware is neat, and nothing more.

So what? I’m only 27, right? Sadly, I think too much. Extrapolate this series of disillusionment into the rest of my life, and I can’t help but to wonder, or maybe fear, that one day every joy of life will be dulled. It sounds insufferable.

Is this, perhaps, one of the reasons people die? Are people supposed to become disillusioned with life? Or maybe I am simply falling out of love with this world: 1 John 2:15-17.

I’m interested to see what happens next.

* I must note an important exception. I hated Apple’s philosophy of delivering a simple product that performed well and cost a premium above an equivalent product. I didn’t like simplicity. I wanted the power to do what I wanted to do, not what Apple wanted me to do. Most of all, though, I hate iTunes. That’s one passion of mine that hasn’t completely died yet.

The arrogance of knowledge

It is common for university students to think that they “know it all.” As far as they know, they’re right. Contemporary education encapsulates a little bundle of knowledge and gives a very shiny diploma to those who understand that bundle well enough.

That is an imperfect system. Students are taught (not explicitly but implicitly) that there is a definite quantity of information to be learned, that it can all be learned, and that you can arrive at a state of completion. A student nearing the end of a successful, lifelong career in studying would be hard pressed to find reasons not to be arrogant. After all, he learned everything, and has nearly arrived at the final confirmation of his mastery over all knowledge.

Here are three truths that dispel the three fallacies above:

  1. There are no limits to knowledge. The more we know, the more we discover that we do not know. It’s a simple concept, but Dunning-Kruger explains 80% of human interactions.
  2. Because there is an unknown quantity of information to be learned, we do not know if we can learn it all. But it’s probably a good guess that you cannot.
  3. Since there is no way you can learn it all, you are never done learning. Yes, you have your diploma. You’re certified to know the very basics. Grats. If you never learn anything else, you’ll never be any smarter than a recent college grad (do you know poorly most employers esteem the intelligence of a typical recent grad?).

Bonus truth: you forget very easily. I took 30 credit hours of classes to meet the requirements for my undergraduate major. I can recall maybe 30 bits of information, and I’m sure I’d recognize quite a bit more, but the truth is that we all forget even very important things.

As a potential tonic for your knowledge-induced arrogance, ponder the three point above, and chase it down with a brief viewing of this 2:33-long video on the topic of Olēka: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FKsCK6Vfuk

How to fix your broken friendships in nine easy steps

1. Recognize that you have messed up. Words said and deeds done, or words unsaid and deeds forgone, hurt and disappointed those to whom you had a responsibility to love. This first step is unpleasant, but it won’t become easier with time.

2. The consequences are irreversible. Your friends’ perception of you has changed; further changes can add, but not remove, to that perception. History is fact. This is a difficult intellectual concession to make, but it is necessary to understand the true impact of your failure.

3. Recognize that such failures are human. You are not perfect, and neither are they. Such problems will occur to all, and aplenty, and everyone has played the role on either side of those irreversible events. This will help in the following crucial step:

4. Forgive yourself. You won’t be able to continue in this process without it. You won’t make it through life, either, if you allow guilt to crush you. You’ll properly show your sorrow in a short while, but not if you can’t forgive yourself. After all, if you can’t do it, why ask the offended party?

5. Beg forgiveness. This is humbling. It’s entirely out of your control whether the people you hurt or disappointed will want to let bygones be bygones, whether they will ever trust you again, or whether they will even want to have anything to do with you. So beg, and appeal to God that they might not harden their hearts against you.

6. Demonstrate a fundamental change in yourself. Go to any length to reassure your friends that you do not take them for granted and will not fail them again. They say that a bone, once broken, can be stronger at the mended fracture than before. So is friendship. Your commitment to doing what is hard for the sake of your friends might instill a greater love for you than if you had simply never offended in the first place. You will find that to the measure you truly grieve your error, to the same degree you will be glad to pay this penance.

7. But if all this is not so, if you have truly ruined your friendships and they no longer want you to be part of their lives, move on. You’ve done enough harm. Perhaps go far, or perhaps just far enough that they do not object to your presence. The important thing is that if the friends you hurt do not want you near, you must respect their wish. As small and insufficient an atonement it might be, it is all you can give.

8. Get support from anyone who is willing to help. Don’t underestimate the benefit of using a kind and supportive voice. In a sense, you’re a victim of your own error, since you also are suffering from it. You don’t have to do it alone, you know. Receiving help will not invalidate your earnestness.

9. Find new friends. Start something new. You’ve learned a great and dearly-purchased lesson in friendship. Don’t keep it locked up where it has no value, but go give it to someone else. It will help with forgiving yourself, with moving on, with living outside of the shadow of guilt. And when next someone hurts or offends, you’ll remember this and be more than happy to forgive.

On being humbled, again

I found myself in that spot again. That situation in life where I suddenly realize my arrogance has been festering, and God himself is opposing me in my pride. A reading of James 3-5 convicted me of it.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

(James 4:1-4 ESV)

He opposes me, but does not destroy me, because he is patient and merciful. His opposition is meant to turn me from sin and wickedness, and to him, who not only forgives, but is powerful to save me from my chronic sinfulness.

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

(James 4:5-6 ESV)

Praise God! He is faithful even when I am not faithful to him. He is patient and does not pass judgment on me, and in his wisdom saves me from rightful consequences. And he is relentless, because he does not give up.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. … Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

(James 4:7-10 ESV)

So I am humbling myself. Again. How many times have I been here before? How many more times will I forget that the Lord is good to me? But God does not give up on me, and so I refuse to stay down and not try again. If I have any hope, it’s in him, and he promises to exalt me when I humble myself before the Lord. Yes, in my circumstances this is clearly my only hope: to humble myself.

I still remember that night when I prayed to God to never let me be drawn away from him, but to do everything in his power to bring me back to him. I gave my life to him, saying that nothing is as important as he is, and that he could remove or destroy, as he sees fit, any thing, person, or ambition that separates me from himself, or that causes me to be disobedient or displeasing to him. And so he has. It is often unpleasant, but I am always grateful after the fact. And in this particular circumstance, too, I am grateful, even though I still feel his opposition against me.

As I have often said, life is like a trip to the playground. The great cruelties and abuses inflicted on toddlers as they have their toys taken away, or are pushed into the sand pit, or are finally picked up and taken home by their parents against their will… these are apt metaphors for this life. I would never trade my relationship with my parents for another hour spent playing in my childhood; I would not trade closeness to the Lord for mere worldly comfort. The metaphor breaks down because what happens on earth does have eternal significance, but it is accurate in that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is being prepared for us for eternity.

I hope this does not seem so extreme to my non-believing readers. I can endure to lose everything for God’s sake because the perspective of a disciple of Jesus is much bigger than the limited scope of our natural lifetimes.

This is probably the most personal post I have ever published. If this isn’t your cup of tea, I’m sorry to say that there is more where it came from; please consider unsubscribing/unfollowing this blog.