Monday, 2 July 2018

The Simplicity of Debate

This is a compilation of a series of articles I will be writing on the subject of debate methodology and its application to normal, everyday discussion. The focus will not be on just copy-pasting the same dry, esoteric data you would find in a wikipedia article, but rather in presenting that knowledge in a format that could be easily understood by the layman. The purpose of debate is not to be the BEST at doing it; the purpose is to get to the truth. To present your ideas honestly, and to try to critically analyse both positions in an intelligent way. What I am trying to do with this series is to present people with the tools to do that, and a simple explanation of why and how they are useful.


Beyond knowing what the correct argument names and fallacy titles are, there is a more important aspect to debate; technique. There are many different techniques harkening from methodologies scientific and philosophical. Personally, I like to utilize a combination of empiricism, the Socratic method, and strict syllogistic logic as my debate technique, though everyone has their own flair and approach.

As part of this article series I will be spotlighting other techniques, both good and bad, and explaining why they should or should not be used, and how to effectively counter them. Remember that the most important technique of all is making every effort to be reasonable. There is nothing to gain from being evasive. If you’re in the right, no amount of honest answers to honest questions can make you be wrong.

Technique spotlight #1 Syllogistic logic

The most basic and general technique is the use of syllogistic logic. Don’t be put off by the fancy word; it’s actually really simple and easy to learn. A syllogism is kind of verbal formula that enables you to reach conclusions in a strictly logical manner. It doesn’t require a ton of memorization or skill in mathematics. It usually consists of two or more premises and a conclusion, and the argument has to be structured such that the conclusion naturally follows from the premises.

Premise 1: All men are mortals
Premise 2: Churchill was a man
Conclusion: Churchill was a mortal

This syllogism makes sense, as you can see. It’s a series of statements where, if you accept the first two, you absolutely cannot deny the third one. Just like 2+2=4. It might sound complex when other people talk about syllogistic forms, but the reality is, breaking things down to an equation like this actually makes it a lot easier to be highly logical. If you had just tried to argue that Churchill was mortal, it would be a much more complicated discussion, but if you can get everyone to agree that all men are mortal, the argument proves itself.

All syllogistic argument forms follow this basic template. Fallacies are identified chiefly by their deviation from that logic. Any time a fallacy is in play, there is some reason why one of the premises did not lead to the conclusion. The only way to reasonably counter a syllogistic argument is to participate in the syllogism and demonstrate where, if ever, it goes awry. Thankfully the nature of syllogistic logic makes this really easy to do.

An argument can be both valid and sound. Soundness pertains to the truth of the argument, whereas validity merely refers to whether it makes sense. Meaning that in a valid argument, it’s true that IF you concede the premises, then the conclusion naturally follows, irrespective of whether or not the premises are actually true. In this context, it doesn’t matter what is objectively true, we are just talking about whether it follows logically. For instance:

Premise 1: All men have wings
Premise 2: Churchill was a man
Conclusion: Churchill had wings.

In this case the argument was valid, because IF all men have wings, then Churchill must have wings too, but it isn’t sound, because the premises cannot be demonstrated to be correct. This argument is strictly hypothetical, and under that hypothetical scenario, the conclusion would be accurate. Actually, both arguments were, but that gets into negative claims and burden of proof, which I will be covering later.

Being able to justify the premises is a large part of debate, and this is what is referred to as empiricism. A more scientific approach to the same thing. Under the empirical model, I need to be able to EXPERIENCE the truth of your claim, ideally to be able to test it, before I can concede to your conclusion. Sometimes this truth is evidentiary, for instance historical documentation, scientific studies, etc. Other times the evidence can be tautological, which means that by definition it must be true, such as “all men are men” or “all bachelors are unmarried”.

If one objects to a premise, they must also be able to logically refute it. If they don’t, they must, by virtue of the nature of logic, concede the argument. So, you see, having a valid argument isn’t always the end of the discussion. If you’re dealing with verifiable claims about reality, you still need to be able to prove your case when challenged. And if you’re at the other end of a syllogism, you have to be willing to actually hear that proof.

Knowing how to arrange that evidence into a syllogistic form will make both your argument; and your ability to rationally defend it much stronger. It also enables you to be more easily corrected when your “math” doesn’t add up, and being able to find out when you’re wrong is one of the most important aspects of any debate. Unfortunately, you can’t make anyone else accept that they are wrong, even when they are.

You can’t make someone accept your premises, no matter how harmless or obvious they may be. In fact, when people start to see where the argument is going, in my experience, they tend to want to derail the syllogism by just flatly ignoring what you’re saying or rejecting premises that are easily justifiable. You can’t make them listen, but you can clearly set up the formula such that if they refuse to play ball, they expose their own unreasonableness.

The bottom line is: people who are in the right don’t fear syllogisms. Why would you? Why would you fear something that breaks the debate down into something simpler, easier to understand, and turns it into a situation where only the correct answer can be concluded? The more confident that you are in your overall argument, the more you should be ecstatic to use such a convenient tool for demonstrating this. Nothing untrue can come from a syllogism that follows logical, non-fallacious structure with justified premises. Nothing. And if there are fallacies and weaknesses, the syllogism makes it EASIER to point it out.

Only the wilfully ignorant, the wrong, and the weak fear them. Don’t be on that list.

What matters most is that YOU honestly adhere to this method. Make every effort to be reasonable, accommodating, patient, and to give every premise a fair chance. When someone else gives up on the debate, just let them go and find someone more willing to be honest. So long as you followed good logical structure, you know you were in the right.

It’s worth remembering that you can’t practise this technique too much. It is immensely useful. Give it a try! Take your favourite debate topic, and try to arrange it into a series of “if, then” statements. “If” your premises naturally lead to your conclusion, and “if” your premises are supported with evidence? “Then” you know that your argument is logical. And you can be sure I’m right, because I just did it! It’s that easy.



One of the most important tools of debate is the understanding of fallacies, and to that end I will be spotlighting several of the most common ones in the following articles. The first thing you need to understand about fallacies is that they are merely an argument that does not make sense. This doesn’t mean the user’s stance on the topic is wrong or right, it simply means they used a very bad argument for demonstrating it. For instance, if I say I like bacon, and you ask me to prove it, if I were to say “Gordon Ramsey likes bacon so it must be good”, I haven’t proved MY case, I proved an entirely different one. This has no bearing on whether I do like bacon.

Not everyone can be an expert on all fallacies or argument types, and it can be problematic sometimes when someone is trying to honestly convey their views, and rather than having it explained to them why they may be wrong, people just sling obscure fallacy names at them that mean nothing to that person. It can be used as a tool to intimidate, overwhelm, or shame, when the truth is there is nothing wrong with not being well-versed in the entire field of formal debate and syllogistic argument, just so long as you are willing to be reasonable. Trust me; I’m the loser who spends all his time studying this stuff. It doesn’t reflect negatively on you if you’re not as sad as me.

Other times, people attempt to imitate those who do this by trying to invoke fallacies without fully understanding what they mean, and sometimes just see the fallacy name itself as a shut-down on the conversation. For instance, Appeal to Authority. Yes, this is a fallacy, but that doesn’t mean any time someone cites an authority they are being fallacious. It’s only a fallacy if the authority cannot be demonstrated as valid. There is a lot more to fallacies than just their names, and that’s one of the most important things to learn about them. Appeal to Ignorance doesn’t mean you’re ignorant, Slippery Slope isn’t just ANY slippery slope-type argument, but only those where the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow.

But I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information in the first article, so here’s the most important thing I want you to take away from this. Before the argument structures and the fallacies and all that jazz, there is one most important aspect to any debate. A skill that, if you can master it? Means you don’t NEED any of that other stuff. And that is being willing to really listen, and ensure that what you, or anyone else is saying, truly makes sense. It doesn’t matter if you know what the correct fallacy name is for a flawed argument – if you can see that it is flawed, simply explain the flaw to them. If someone explains a flaw in your argument? Be willing to hear them out.

If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarification. Ask forty times if necessary. Keep asking until you understand, because that’s the point. Keep giving honest, direct answers when others ask you questions. If your goal is to get to the truth, whatever it may be, there is no trap someone could set for you that would tarnish that truth – because it is what it is, and isn’t what it isn’t. If you don’t have the necessary data to support your position? That’s okay. You can take a break and go gather it. So long as you are always willing to be open to the possibility that you are wrong, and willing to hear out what other people say, eventually the truth will out. And nobody honest ever had anything to fear from the truth.

Debate is ultimately a form of communication. If we aren’t willing to communicate, there is no point in trying to debate. Seek a point of mutual understanding, and the rest will generally sort itself out.

What follows is the first fallacy spotlight in this series:

Fallacy Spotlight #1: Strawman

This is probably one of the most basic and commonly understood logical fallacies in all of debate, so it is highly likely that most of the people reading this will have some understanding of how it works. That said; this is the kind of thing that anyone can easily fall prey to, so it really doesn’t hurt to give yourself the occasional refresher, and keep it in the back of your mind as you debate.

The strawman is, in simplest terms, a misrepresentation of the opponent’s argument. So, if I say I like red, and you say “so you don’t like blue?” that’s a strawman. Even if it SEEMS implied, if it hasn’t been stated, then it is not the point being debated, and bringing it up is an irrelevancy. It can be the smallest alteration you make, but so long as it either reframes your opponent’s argument or seems to unfairly characterize them, it’s a strawman. The term comes from the idea of actually constructing a straw effigy of an enemy, one easier to defeat than fighting the real version.

In politics, there is one topic in particular that is, by design, rigged up as a perpetual, unilateral strawman right from the start. Abortion. Consider how the two sides of this argument are characterised? “Pro-life” or “Pro-choice”. Granted, this isn’t the form that a strawman argument NORMALLY takes. Normally you would say that someone else is X, rather than say that you are Y, but the way it sets up the debate is it forces the opponent into the position of being anti-Y.

Everyone is pro-choice, and everyone is pro-life. These are two of the most emotionally charged, positively-themed words in the English language. Invoking the elementally human concepts of freedom, and not being dead. My pointing this out isn’t meant to imply that there are no good arguments on either side, because of course there are. The point is; we try to paint each other in the worst colours before the debate can even begin, and that’s classically symptomatic of the way strawmanning is employed across all of debates. In the example I just used, it can also be considered "poisoning the well", which is a fallacy where you try to set someone up to look bad before they even say anything.

We have to be mindful of the way we represent each other. If someone explains their position to you, and you reply with “so you’re saying ___” if what follows is ANYTHING other than exactly what they said? You’ve already failed at the fundamental first step of communication. You shouldn’t need to tell someone else what they are saying at all. If they have just told you, all you need to do is respond to it. Repeating it exactly is redundant, and repeating it inexactly is just a recipe for misrepresentation, whether deliberate or not.

Try to remember that everyone thinks they are in the right, and pretty much everyone thinks they are reasonable. There are no villains twirling their moustaches trying to be in the wrong. If someone believes something you can’t even begin to rationalize, either you know something they don’t, they know something you don't, or you don’t actually understand what they believe. The worst thing you can do is tell someone else what their position is. If you think something seems odd, ask.

You wouldn’t like someone to beat up a scarecrow with your face painted on it and declare they defeated you in a fight. So don’t do the same to them. If you have to change what someone says in order to find a flaw in it, that’s because you can’t find a flaw in what they ACTUALLY said. And in that situation, the most intellectually honest thing to do is re-evaluate your own opinion of them. We shouldn’t be looking for ways to rig the fight so everyone who disagrees with us looks terrible. We should be looking for ways to figure out whose positions are the most reasonable. Taking the time to truly and honestly understand your opposition is not only the most respectful thing you can do – but it’s also the best way to get an equally fair and honest response.

Intellectual honesty has the highest return on investment. If you are always honest, then you either get proved wrong, and learn something new, or get proved right, and educate someone else. There is no defeat if your goal is to get to the truth.

Fallacy Spotlight #2: Tu Quoque or not Tu Quoeue?

Since this fallacy keeps coming up a lot at the moment, I thought it would be a good idea to do the next spotlight on “Tu Quoque”. Anything with a Latin name tends to scare people, but this isn’t some obscure elitist thing you need special training to understand. It literally means “you also”, and it refers to situations where people respond to an argument by pointing out some kind of hypocrisy in the person or side who made it. Think children arguing in a school yard going “nahuh, you are!”

This happens a LOT in politics – in fact, it’s become such a common pastime it’s developed its own political spinoff, “whataboutism”. What happens every time someone criticizes Trump? “What about Obama?” What happens when you criticise Obama? “What about Bush”, and so on and so on. Instead of addressing the criticism of the individual that has been offered, people have started just pointing out that some other individual on the opposite “team” has also done something similar.

This is especially problematic because there aren’t just two “teams” in politics, and it is disingenuous to act as if any individual is representative of a whole. We spent years hashing this out with respect to race, religion and gender, now we’ve just jumped to politics instead. Criticising something a Democrat does, doesn’t make you a “Republican”, nor does it clarify what KIND of Republican you may be, nor does it mean that you are in favour of Republicans doing the same thing that this Democrat did to earn your critique. Likewise if the roles are reversed. Why WOULD it mean any of that?

If I say to you, “I hate ice cream because it’s too cold”, you wouldn’t reply with “yeah, but winter is cold too!” You would look like a crazy person. First of all, for defending an accusation against ice cream by deflecting to talking about something utterly unrelated. Secondly, for apparently assuming I’m being hypocritical because I must love winter, when I never said I did, and third, because… seriously, just… who talks like that? It doesn’t make SENSE. It sounds so achingly insecure and whiny, it really is just the childhood “but mooom, he started it!” It doesn’t even address the criticism being made – which may not even MERIT addressing. Why does an accusation have to be defended just because you claim the team that perpetrated it?

Whataboutism is, as I said, kind of an off-shoot. Generally speaking Tu qupque is just pointing out that someone supposedly is acting hypocritical to their point. Before modern politics turned into a thunderdome, this fallacy didn’t use to come up all that much, because even the most irrational people tend to be capable of recognizing immediately how dumb it looks. It only tends to happen in situations where there are only two possible sides to an issue, so attacking one implicitly means you side with the other, even though almost nothing is really that black and white.

However, pointing out hypocrisy isn’t ALWAYS a fallacy, and that’s an important distinction to keep in mind. If you say to me “meat is bad for you” while eating a hamburger, I can’t use the fact that you’re eating it as a weakness in your argument. No one said that believing meat is bad for you means you WON’T eat it, so it doesn’t address the argument (which is JUST that meat is bad for you) for me to point this out. You may not be acting consistently with your own viewpoint, but that doesn’t make your argument wrong. This makes tu quoque an “ad hominem” fallacy, where you attack the person making the argument, rather than the argument.

If, however, you were to say “no reasonable person can eat meat because it’s bad for you”, then my pointing out the fact that you’re eating meat DOES refute your argument. Or at least it demonstrates that by your own criteria, you are not reasonable. If someone concedes to being unreasonable, even if they did it by defining themselves into a corner – they can NO LONGER participate in a debate until resolving that contradiction. Debate is based entirely around people being receptive to reason. This is still an ad hominem attack, but not an ad hominem fallacy, because it is not logically fallacious when you have made character part of the equation.

Personally, I’ve never understood whataboutism. I’ve never felt the need to employ it. If I see someone doing something worthy of criticism, my first instinct is not to analyse the person doing it, see whether or not they are on my “team” and how best to work this into my political agenda, and then contrive a response that either shames or saves face depending on that person’s position relative to mine. This “soccer team” mentality, where we defend our heroes and condemn our enemies no matter what, is nothing more than a pollutant to the process of debate.

That would be so dishonest, it literally wouldn’t even occur to me. And yet I see people doing this all over the political spectrum every single day, and that seriously concerns me. If I see someone doing something wrong – I JUST condemn it, regardless of who did it. I don’t point out that someone else did it, I don’t try to defend it. I condemn it. Because that’s the right thing to do. Because something doesn’t become less wrong just because it’s “my” guy who did it, or because it has been done before by worse people. The intellectually honest thing is to act blind to all of that and judge the situation by its merits alone.

In my opinion, if your instinct is to do anything other than that – you need to recalibrate your sense of reason and learn to put your own agenda BEHIND a wall of intellectual honesty. Nobody is right about everything all the time, so if your instinct to protect your case is in any way a higher priority than your ability to reason, you are putting yourself in the worst position possible. The position of being wilfully ignorant.

If we were all more willing to condemn, without excuses or deflections, that which can be demonstrated to be wrong, then we will all be holding each other to higher standards. And by holding EVERYONE to those standards, surely people would be less inclined to do wrong in the first place. Wouldn’t that make your “side” a side that is actually WORTH standing by?

Saturday, 23 December 2017

My Fault

Sometimes, in the dead of night, when the lights knowingly slink away and wicked thoughts come scuttling from the shadows with a nocturnal hunger, I will find myself lying there. Awake, silent, yet pinned down by the weight of a restless mind. Not in deep contemplation, or mile-a-minute thought... I mean yes, that happens too, but that is the norm. Sometimes, just sometimes... I lie there in the stillness, and feel my conscience... burn. Insatiable consuming cinders form a canopy behind my eyes, an explosion desperately trying to become.

It burns with everything I long to do. It burns with all that I know I never can do. It blazes unbearably with this uncontainable persistence, like a force of nature compelling itself, irrepressibly, against a tarring counterforce, the unbreakable chains that deny it. As I burn, I am also lost. Ribbon-thin razor wire binding the wolf in my mind, entangling and enveloping ideas in the labyrinthine web of broken neural circuits and a fizzing electric field that groans with undiffused frustration. The passages my thoughts long to find never quite connecting, never managing to conduct from idea to action.

This burning boils and cracks my shell until all the fuel is expended and my will breaks yet again to this nightly torture session. Heat drains away and the overheated circuits run cold as frustration gives way to apathy. But still it sits there... braying, urging, stabbing. I can give up hope, but I cannot silence the compulsion. A tangible need to be, bending reality against itself like two immutable stone facts standing in opposition to one another. I live in contradiction, tilting at the windmills in my own mind. I am, but can never be. I will, but live as a ghost.Were it an enemy I would submit, but the face of my tormentor is my own, and how he relishes the neverweres.

The paralysis of mind. How could I ever convey that experience to one untouched by its venom? To know what you want to do, what you need to do, but honestly not be able to do it. To have nobody and nothing to blame but yourself and the unconscious choices your treacherous brain makes against your will. Is it worse than the worst form of bodily paralysis? No. Is it even in the same ballpark as serious mental retardation or agonizing genetic disease? Not at all. It is merely different. The phantom nature of my demon, however. The cruel way it hides from view and disguises its meddling, that's what can bring a man to tears. I am just normal enough to have no valid excuses, and just broken enough to be unable to ever rise above my limits.

But I don't say this as a cry for help. I'm not seeking empty "you'll be okay"s or "believe in yourself"s. Sympathy is something I never cared for, learning quickly not to befall that tricky safety net. More often than not, every supportive remark is delivered by the back of the hand. Using praise to justify trivialization. Trying to explain over and over what effect this problem has on me to various unconvinced faces can only get you so far. Beyond that, you pretty much have to grin and bear it when they wipe their feet at the doormat of your rotting mind and call it a fixer-upper.

The worst part is not knowing how to battle it. There's this wall that separates you from everyone, an insurmountable "never" that sets you a plane apart from any possible insight another person might have. Advice will find its way to you, words of wisdom that attempt to motivate while inadvertently belittling the challenge. "Have you tried having a positive attitude?", "Well, you got this far, so clearly it's not THAT bad", "Stop worrying about it and just do it!". The experiential wall widens, each attempt at helping, or motivating you, chips away another tiny piece of your will to keep fighting. How do you tell someone who is honestly trying to help that they're just making it worse?

No problem can simply be wished away, no matter how internalized it may be. It's great when someone tells you that they believe in you, it really is. But when it comes packaged with the expectation that you will miraculously leap from your mental wheelchair because they said so, all they have given you is a chance to disappoint someone new. Attitude is important, this is true, but that's only the software. When mental problems are concerned, people tend to forget that the hardware matters just as much, if not more. Except there's nothing you can do about that. So where do you start? How do you set about rewriting the code of your own mind?

Really, it quickly descends to just putting out fires. You spend your life treating the symptoms. Lack of organization skills breed a messy and cluttered home life, which then further compounds the issues of poor memory and withering motivation, as one needs to know and remember where one wants things to be, and then compel oneself to put them there. But like adding to a pile of sand everything you fix in place crumbles again because you were never organized enough to do a good enough job, and you can't multitask or anticipate the next collapse, so you're constantly stuck on one simple yet somehow eternal task while the rest pile up higher and higher behind you.

At the same time your mind is clumsily juggling with those little, insignificant tasks that everyone else seems to find so simple. Remembering appointments, obligations, learning the new systems and locales that are all linked in with this mess and trying to keep a mental map of how it all interrelates. It's like trying to juggle with people who are, themselves, juggling.

Inevitably you find that one thing can't be done until another thing is done first, and that thing is codependent with another thing which further requires an extra thing to be done at the same time as another thing which is somehow part of the thing you want to get done in the first place. Before you know what's happening a simple mission like buying groceries or cleaning a room descends into this Tomb Raider-esque quest to obtain the golden key to open the gate to get the map to find the statue to point the way to find the treasure and it all just becomes way more of an ordeal than it should. And every appointment or birthday lost to the chaos along the way is your fault and becomes a further source of drag on this endless labour.

It seems so easy for other people. They seem to just sail through the things I cannot wrap my mind around with insulting ease. But they're built for it, like Newton was built for math. I'm sure that seemed easy for him, too. I'm built differently. Some things I excel at, but others, particularly those simple little things, just don't fit correctly in my mind. I am not stupid. I just live, from my perspective, in a world of Newtons. I am not dumb, you're just all special and I'm not. And there's nothing I can do about it. I see these every day things as daunting, immovable obstacles, and as much positive affirmation as I throw at them, it's about as effective as commanding a rock to not be a rock.

And the best part is, this is all happening in your head. In the outside world, onlookers really just can't understand why you can't simply do this incredibly easy thing, and for the life of you, you really just can't understand how anyone else can. Is it just me over complicating matters? Perhaps, but then, that's the whole problem isn't it? How do I not think the way I do? I can't be anyone other than myself. I'm not choosing to do this, this is just how the process of thinking naturally happens in my brain.

But people can't understand this. They see what's wrong with you as a matter of low self-esteem, rather than actual disability, and so they will attempt to create arguments against your disability, as if they could define it out of existence on some technicality. Three times I have struggled (which is an understatement of such magnitude you will never comprehend) to a therapist's office only to go storming right back out because one of the first condescending remarks out of their mouth was "well you made it this far". BITCH, I don't need you to *refute* my problem, I needed help.

I don't need the fact that I hit rock bottom so hard I actually bounced up a few inches used AGAINST me like it somehow proves the magic was in me all along, the fuck you think this is a fairytale? These ableist responses probably evolved to common practise in a positively Darwinian sense because their priority is not to get you better, it's to get you to stop coming back. That's the victory in the government's eyes. Doesn't matter if people are homeless or depressed or dead, just so long as they are not using their healthcare, benefits or entitlement services, we get to say we're combating the problem.

From strangers, "Well, you seem very intelligent", is the one I get the most. Thanks for telling me that people with disabilities = stupid people to you, I guess? Coping mechanisms make struggles invisible, being brave makes the spiritually crippling marathon of turning up to an appointment look like no big deal, To get taken seriously you end up having to exaggerate just to show them what's really going on inside, because people simply refuse to accept what they can't see, and then you just feel dishonest. Refusing to be dishonest in that way strands you, like a mortal having to fight alongside the gods, and you have nobody to blame but yourself when you fail. The hardest part of all is accepting the help you need when you are finally presented with it, because life mercilessly teaches you the opposite over and over, and that other people always let you down.
Friends and family are the same way. They will say they understand while at the same time still holding you accountable for every mistake you make, and who can blame them? If you drop something and break it, YOU still broke it, even if you are genetically clumsy. If you forget something important it's STILL your doing. The division between the reality of your situation and what other people see through normal eyes, the very division between you and other people in general widens the closer you look until it is a vast chasm. A fault between you and everyone in your life.

Other times they will take your solemn confessions and holster them to use against you at a later time, and your vices become accusations used to put you down the moment you cross a line they aren't comfortable with. Failing that, they will compare you to others they know who also have disabilities, refusing to understand that these things are a spectrum of degrees and effects, never the same for two people. They'll tell you they once knew someone with your problem and they could do X or Y perfectly well. Well then they did not have the same problem, did they?

But that's how people are. The nicest of friends when they think you're not a threat, when they think you'll bend to their whims. But the second you say no, the instant they begin to suspect you're not an ornament in their friend collection, but a thinking being with thoughts and opinions of your own, a shaking rage overwhelms them, and suddenly everything you have shared with them becomes a weapon they will not hesitate to use against you. Sometimes I think the tribulations of being like us imparts a higher sense of honour than the average person is likely to develop. You need to have been restrained in order to appreciate freedom, and the people you would choose to spend it with.

They understand the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. They see non-existent motivation, and they understand it as being a vestige of the similar concept they know well as "laziness", not grasping that the lack of energy is against your will, that this "laziness" is forced. You say depression, and they hear "sad", despite the vast scales of difference between those two concepts. They see choice because they see things that they cannot assimilate into their reality, and can only comprehend it as something you desire. And so they tell me I am weak because I choose to be. That I give in to this, that I let it take me, and that if I really wanted out that want alone should be enough. It's all my choice.

Choice. Let me tell you about the choices I've made.

I was still quite young when I stood before a tribunal of dark, towering people, monolithic in their authority and porcelain in poker face, and pled as sincerely as I possibly could for them to reverse their decision to take my support away. A decision made by a doctor whose "45 minute thorough assessment" involved him asking me three questions and checking to see if I can carry a keyboard before declaring me fit to work. So I appealed, and I stood before that guiltless triumvirate. It took all the energy I could muster, but I was fighting for my own survival.

I told them under no uncertain terms that by doing so they would literally ruin my life. Despite my open heart their porcelain remained unmoved. But boy did I show them. Over a decade later and I have done literally *nothing* with my life. Looks like I proved myself right. Oh, how vindicated I feel. And occasionally suicidal. Understand that this is not an exaggeration. This is not casual hyperbole. I cannot accurately convey the extent to which I have done absolutely nothing but basically lie in a bed counting every excruciating second and meticulously filing each one away in my failure archives. I have literally. Done. Nothing. 

Here I am with my heart open again, and yet I can hear the frigid ricochet of my words carrying no purchase on some statuesque face out there. You CHOSE to do nothing with your life, this person says. Did I? Did I really? But what does it mean to choose something? Is it merely the act of decision? Because here I am, right now, deciding not to live this way. Can I now just sit back and watch my will unfold into some sort of mystical Rube-Goldbergian chain of events that delivers me to my goal?

Obviously not. Further than deciding, one must take action.

So what good does it tell me to say I made my choice? You’re damn right I did. Every single day, every second I am actively choosing to the contrary of how my life works out. But WILLING something does not make it happen. What we’re talking about here is EFFORT. But where does that come from? WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? I am seriously, honestly asking. Because whatever it is, I don’t have it. I don’t even understand it. I am the mental equivalent of a diabetic, I don’t create my own insulin, this mysterious energy the rest of you seem to have. So I just lie there and burn with my will, unable, UNABLE to focus it into the actions I REALLY WANT TO DO.

So how am I choosing this?! THINK about what I’m saying, please, really process it. There’s a gigantic hurdle of ingrained associations and preconceptions that you need to vault over before it will even occur to you what I am actually saying here, and we need to get you over that hurdle together. Think logically about this. Think about what it is you think I am failing to do, versus the “excuse” you probably think I am leaning on as an explanation for not doing it. What is it that I am NOT doing? It’s not making a decision, we’ve established that. So if it’s effort, what SHOULD I be doing to secure this “effort” in order to complete these tasks?

Because that mechanism, right there, is what I am telling you I do not possess. I don’t have that bit of software you are loading into your brain right now. I do not have it. I cannot do what you do. It’s like telling a wheelchair-bound man to get up and dance. I just can’t. You might say it’s just because I don’t WANT to. I DO want to. This is me telling you I want to. You might say I’m just lazy. What does that mean? Is laziness CHOOSING not to get up from the wheelchair? Or can the wheelchair-bound man CHOOSE to get up and still not be able? What am I doing wrong? You might say I just need to become more disciplined.

Well, okay, fine. Let’s use discipline as your word for this mental insulin I seem to lack. How do I get discipline? PRACTISE I hear you scream.  But how do I practise when – when I CHOOSE to start practicing, the practising still doesn’t happen? How do I practise when the raw force of making myself go against the grain of this bad mental programming is so exhausting and agonising that it results in the psychic equivalent of a broken hip that sets me back by literally months?

Think about what I’m saying, because everything you, my phantom interlocutor, might be saying as a way to avoid admitting I have a hard limitation comes down to me ultimately not doing *something*, whatever you want to call it, that I am telling you I am genuinely trying to do. So at what point does it simply become a more plausible explanation that I simply DO have this limitation? I guarantee you I have tried every single solution you are trying to contrive right now, and a thousand more you will never be creative enough to think of. 

No amount of "choosing" makes this cycle simply stop. We're not talking about a conscious decision to NOT be motivated being made, and then following that, an action (or inaction). We are talking about the spark which incepts decision. The prime mover of mentality. It is that which is stolen from me. The primal, genetic urge to be. The very seed from which the IDEA of "acting" can sprout remains unsewn. Because of this, I am frequently unable to do even the things I WANT to do, let alone those things I am repelled by. Despite my love of writing, five minutes in and I am emotionally and spiritually drained as if I just performed surgery on a rollercoaster. THIS VERY BLOG POST took me four years to complete. Where is the choice in any of that?

It isn't procrastination when you WANT and are ACTIVELY TRYING to do something, and it just won't happen. And this is me being weak? Hardly. I am strong. I am strong despite myself. Or perhaps to spite myself. The part of me I hate. The part that I can't cut away, that begs me to stay asleep and never move a muscle. I walk in a body of lead, and am accused of weakness because my steps are slow and clumsy. How far would you get in such a body? How would YOU resist the numbing of a mind that doesn't allow thought and action to connect?

You have no idea the strength it takes someone like me to just appear average on our best day. You wouldn’t believe the mental gymnastics it takes just to get through the week for someone like me, and if you suddenly had my defects, you would be *paralysed* by them, because motherfucker, I’m dragging the moon wherever I go and while I can’t keep up with you, I can still, *sometimes* manage a gentle stroll. Think you could? The hell you could.

I am strong enough to resist what I know in my heart to be an addictive personality (and by that I don't mean people just love to be around me), despite not yet harbouring any real addictions. Strong enough to have never touched a drop of alcohol, never gone near a cigarette or tried any drugs, despite the constant dreams beckoning me to do so since I was a kid. Strong enough to resist the overpowering urge to "cut" that I've felt since that age, and which frequently flares up in my mind with the same thumping tenacity as the instinct to pull back from a steep ledge.

I am strong because I am weak. Because I have no choice. Because if I let myself have a "first time" with any of these items I know I will never have a last. I push these things out of my mind, these temptations that my weaker self longs for just to sample a new way to seek comfort. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't be here any more. So you see, I am strong, just strong enough to barely break even against my weakness. It isn't one or the other, that's a false idea. You can be both at the same time. And that's the problem.

I am torn open., bleeding will in buckets while holding myself together at the seams. Imagine trying to save money up with a giant hole in your pocket that drops everything you put in, and yet you have nowhere else to store it. I am fractured. A busted container barely able to maintain the flow of its own loss. What energy I CAN raise is expended in the eternal battle with myself, because this bleeding animal is so tired it just wants to crawl to familiar surroundings and die. How tired and dilapidated would you be if you had someone at your throat every day your whole life?

I have granted myself very few weaknesses, vices I will let myself indulge in: Food, which I kind of need to live so can't really avoid, sleep, same thing, caffeine, which sort of happened by accident, and those things all humans need and so cannot feasibly resist. All these things became in their own way addictions, staggeringly powerful drives that would almost dominate my spirit. The most likely reason for this is when a soul that is tired of life finds something that can bring a moment of joy or let you forget the struggle for just a few minutes, it doesn't want to let it go. So this is why I resist anything more. Why I will always resist temptation. Because if I ever slip, I may never recover.

I live with crushing depression in a world filled with distractions, colourful treats and soothing chemicals, which I can never touch. If you lived in a black, dark world and were told the only source of light you could ever see was inside a little box at your feet... how long could you go before taking just a peek? So tell me not that I desire weakness. That I don't try, That I secretly just want to live an easy life. If I did, I would have plenty of options to choose from. I just choose not to lose the dark world I know, because the light is too comforting to turn from. If I only took the easy path, I very likely wouldn't even be here.

You'd think it gets harder with age as this wears on you, but it actually gets easier. Those vices you already have become more firmly rooted, but the temptation to turn to other comforts gets duller and duller as you slowly stop believing in the concept of happiness. I've never accepted helping hands of any kind, or at least did so begrudgingly when I ended up having to. When you scarcely have the will to get out of bed in the morning, the idea of sinking further into sloth, depending on other people, feels very much like circling the drain. This has probably backfired, however, as never accepting help probably made my own journey through this much harder and slower than it needed to be.

And then... then there is the issue of self-worth. The desire to be something of some value in this world, to be accepted. Just the way you are. It's bad enough to feel so flawed that you don't fit anywhere, like a splinter in the skin of the world that it constantly tries to drive out. But then the question of "fixing" yourself comes up... and there are no words to convey how that makes you feel. The idea of taking medications, seeking help, being repaired. Understand, this... fault inside me... that IS me. It's my perspective, the broken lens through which I view the world. I don't know any other way to be. So when we talk of "fixing" that fault, we are talking about incising from this body the disease that is... me.

Can you understand the rejection inherent in that? Rejection from life itself, from the world, from my own self. For me to take such a drug, accept such a treatment... it would be like stepping into a suicide booth. I would be saying "This version of me tried. He did his best... but he wasn't good enough". I've tried so many times to explain the plethora of emotions that this idea drips with, but I can't. I don't think anyone could possibly understand it unless they have been put in that position. How do you hold up your hands and say to yourself, without compunction, that this thing, this being, this ME that I am... it wasn't enough. I can't do this alone. I can't be me. The world doesn't want me, doesn't need me. It wanted somebody else, and got me instead. That even on my best day I'm not enough.

So fix me. This is my fault. My weakness. Take this voice from my head, and put someone else in there. Someone who can do this better than me. Could you do it? Could you walk the black mile to the electric chair? And we're not even talking necessarily about the idea that I won't still be "me" afterwards. Maybe I would be. It's not about oblivion, it's about the fact that you tried your best. You worked with what you had, and you honestly, truly, tried to be the best YOU that you could be. And the result, this thing that you made, this person. That's the reject. That's what people are telling you can never be acceptable unless you give up trying to do it yourself. Unless you augment it.

The best that I can be. And it will never be enough. I need drugs to make me whole? Then would I really be me if I took them, or would I be something that someone else built out of pathetic string and straw that was all I gave them to work with? I know that, functionally, it's no different than a crippled person needing a crutch. People take medications for all sorts of things, and I am NOT saying that reflects negatively on them. Obviously the diabetic is not inferior because they need insulin, and intellectually I understand this. I'm not saying my logic is sound, only that this is the thought process I go through. Irrational though it may be. Because, you see, a diabatic is not their disease. ...I am.

He/she is a person, a self wrapped up in their disease. My disease is my own self. My mind. I am cancer. It's sort of like going through years of professional art schooling, and then only being able to paint something that your mother barely finds worthy to put on the fridge like a child's scribbling. At the bottom of the fridge. Underneath someone else's picture. I don't want my epitaph to be "He tried". I don't want to know that I will be forever unworthy of the world no matter what I do or how hard I fight to improve myself. Why does there have to be a hard limit on how far I can get? It feels as though I attempted a massive DIY project, and cocked it up so badly that my landlord had to hire in contractors to do it properly.

Only the thing I tried to build was ME. I am Frankenstein's monster, and I am left to the wayside while someone works to make something more beautiful. More perfect. More "right". Because that's what I am. Wrong. Faulty.

I suppose that's the trauma I have been struggling to put in words. To be a failure. I gave it my all. And attained only a step backwards. So go ahead, I guess. Strap a life-support system to my identity. Wire me up with synthetic add-ons and prosthesis until I'm a marionette with some redundant flesh strapped to the side. Maybe, with the right intervention, I can be made to imitate a real boy. But it won't be me doing it. How can it be? I'm just the broom that had all the important parts replaced. The persistence of singularity, however, would surely have been left behind.

But when my time comes I will swallow that pill, just as I swallow all the platitudes and the anemic accusations that lack any substance of thought or intelligence. I swallow my lot in life and wash it down with a wave of cold-burning rage. The unconducted potential energy of all the patterns I see but cannot arrange to make them visible to others. That jagged, maw-like rift which divides the ignorant from the ironic.

But I can't blame anyone else, not even for their callousness. I cannot ask or expect that anyone else understand. I can't even ask you not to tell me I'm wrong when I try to describe for you what it's like. I don't ask these things because I know that you can't possibly know what it's like. It's beyond your paradigm.

You don't know the indescribable frustration of feeling the breakers get flipped in your brain over and over again as you try to instigate a thought and your brain just won't let you complete it. The absolute non-compliance, with no external force to blame or lash out at. Like you're punishing yourself, trying to break yourself. You don't know what it feels like to have to summon the kind of mental will that grants a woman the strength to lift a car to save her child just to BEGIN to speak with any passion, because the volcanic energy you're riding is falling out of you and diffusing faster than you can maintain it, only to be told at the pinnacle of your rusted motion that all this does is serve as proof that you really do have it in you after all.

You don't know how it is to live your life in weakness, and then be persecuted for the first ember of strength that flickers inside you. To have your smallest victories used as ammunition against you, to undermine you. For people to try to make it seem like taking one step proves you can cross a desert, when the truth is that one step was already a desert for you. You still have the whole expanse to cross, and you can't opt out. Each step a longer and more arduous voyage, while those gifted with rocket ships by nature's lottery sail by with callous accusations of laziness.

You don't know, and so I can't hate you for your ignorance. This trivialization comes from a place of kindness. The manipulative scorekeeping of my failures and successes is not an act of malice, but a twisted form of encouragement from those who don't understand why the concept of tough love holds no virtue with one who is honestly, actually trying and not just being self-pitying. People can only judge by what they know, and so if you spare no rods in trying to squeeze an extra step out of me, I cannot hate you for that. In your world, it makes sense.

It's me I hate.

I hate the fact that I am this way.

I hate the fact that, because the way I am is an integral part of my identity, this means I hate myself.

I hate the fact that I feel guilty for hating myself because other people have way worse shit to deal with.

I hate the fact that I can't turn this off. Any of it. Not even these exact looping thoughts.

I hate the fact that these are facts. I can't change them.

I hate the fact that what I'm complaining about is ultimately me, and therefore I am to blame.

I hate the fact that it's still my fault.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Doctor WHAT!?

As with last time, I decided that I was going to try to avoid any Doctor Who related news so as to be genuinely in the moment when Capaldi finally regenerates and shows us his next self. Three seconds after making this decision, the internet became a blazing inferno of people screaming about the Doctor being a woman.

Annoyed, but resolute, I soldiered on, certain I could do my usual internet stuffs without stumbling into any depictions of just who, exactly, this new "guy" is or what she looks like. "Good luck", forewarned my roommate with a prescient tone that conveyed both his amusement at my inevitable failure and the weary frustration of having obviously been bashed over the head with the news multiple times already.

"Psshh!". I noised, more resolute than ever to make it to Krimbo without seeing one glimpse of her face. And then I refreshed my Facebook feed to see this as the very first loaded post:

Thanks, "friend".

So with the catfighting out of the bag, I surrendered to curiosity and watched the teaser of her introduction, and took some time to digest my thoughts on the matter.

I am not happy.

I am not happy for several reasons, but the biggest reason is resonant to the emotional response *you* just probably had to me saying I am not happy, and this is something we will get to in time. Oh believe me, we will get there.

My more ruminated conclusions about this response fall less under the purview of what some have inelegantly argued to be "tradition", than "consistency". The Doctor is an ever-changing flower, constantly blooming in new colours. We know this. But the essence of what he is - the FLOWER remains consistent. Across all forms, there are aspects to his personality that remains the same.

Through all of his changing personas and switching quirks, there are consistencies that make the Doctor, fundamentally, what he is. Aspects that keep him the quintessential "Doctor".The question is... is there a "maleness" about that entity, or am I unknowingly imposing my own perspective onto an abstract? This is something I have experienced before.

We are, thankfully, entering an age of more ubiquitous acceptance of Transgender individuals, to the point where it is not at all uncommon for anyone to know someone who has transitioned. The first time I encountered such a situation was several years ago. A very old and dear friend of mine confessed, with a certain heart-breaking self-deprecation, that "he" was really a she.

Being no stranger to alternative lifestyles, I didn't hesitate to accept her as she really was, however I also promised to be honest with her about how I felt as we continued to discuss it. The first thing I noticed was a stark change in her personality. She seemed more open, happier, but also just very, very different from the "man" I had known. This left me with an odd cognitive dissonance.

You see, her personality changed so drastically that I couldn't help but feel she was a stranger to me now. A stranger I was happy to know, and to continue getting to know, but still. What had happened to the guy I *used* to know? I understood, intellectually, that "he" was a mask, a false persona she wore in part to deflect suspicions about her true self. I get that.

But that was the persona I had gotten to know. That was the one I was friends with. I had no issues about her changing, and I wanted her true personality to come to the surface without obstruction. I just couldn't help feeling like I didn't recognize that guy in her anymore. I had gained a friend, but also lost one, even if the one I lost was never real to begin with. Was it right to mourn that? I *honestly* don't know. But I did.

So with that in mind, I do know what that cognitive dissonance feels like. To suddenly find that someone you know is a different gender. To feel that they just don't "work" as that gender, because what you have gotten to know is so different. This is what people are trying to articulate when they say "The Doctor has always been male, it's tradition". They're trying to say "This is how it has always been, and it made sense that way". In other words, changing it now takes something away from that history, it makes it, retroactively, not make sense anymore.

But of course, the difference between my example and this, is the Doctor is NOT putting on his personality. It's not a disguise, it's simply who he is. And IS there a maleness to that character? I think there is. And before you start shouting sexist from the rooftops, yes I know that females can hold any of the same personality traits as males and vice versa. This isn't about what CAN be, it's about what IS. And there ARE general differences between how males and females behave (otherwise the entire concept of being transgender would be rendered meaningless, right?)

It's not just machismo, either. I am not lauding his strength, sense of duty or vigour as a manly sort of thing. I'm saying that The Doctor is Father Time. He is an old, wise man who has watched the human race struggle to walk from infancy and watches them run about with kind and knowing eyes. He's seen a lot, and he's seen it all from a male perspective. Which isn't to say that he couldn't benefit in new and interesting ways from a female perspective, but all of that collective experience *reinforces* that male perspective, for both him and fans of the show. I mean if you woke up in the body of the opposite sex tomorrow, would you just toddle on with your day, assuming that role?

I know his persona changes when he regenerates, but as I have argued, SOME parts of it remain the same, and they are paternal, masculine, even somewhat human. If we change him THAT drastically, are we not simply removing from that character the essence of what he is? Does the show not become something else entirely?

And yes, I know they've been setting it up in a really sort of contrived and forced manner by doing the other Timelord male to female regenerations. Which isn't to say I am not in love with the Mistress, who isn't?! Michelle Gomez is *AMAZING*. But it's clearly just the new "deadlock seal" or "Screwdriver can't do wood" of the show. Brand new rule introduced that was somehow now always there but never mentioned before. I am not a fan of that sort of writing, it lacks grace.

Instead of jamming a retcon into a script, why not point out some old inconsistency (Like the 2nd Doctor remembering things that happened immediately before his regeneration in The Five Doctors) and THEN write in a retcon that EXPLAINS it, and looks planned from the start. They teased such an idea with the Hybrid plotline, harkening to the Doctor's possible human heritage mentioned by number 8. THAT is good writing. More of that, less of the "SUDDENLY all timelines go out of sync when we meet ourselves and thus inconsistencies are magically erased" rubbish.

But I digress (sometimes violently), forced retconning aside, the fact that the Doctor can change sexes is not a point of contention from a mythology standpoint, as it is a feeling that the character we have gotten to know for so many years, those aspects of him that remained consistent, simply don't suit a feminine form. He's Father Time, not Mother Nature. And I have nothing against the latter, they are both very fine archetypes, but they are *different* by essence of themselves, and this is what makes the new Doctor feel wrong.

All of that being said, while I find it to be not to my personal taste, I am okay with the decision. I am curious to see where they go with it, and it's definitely going to be an intriguing footnote of his journey through time, sure to be referenced often by future Doctors to the dumbstruck faces of his future companions. I'm okay with something wildly different and new happening, and I think it could be healthy for the show to get shaken up in that way. I want to see what they manage to build out of these new pieces, and I'm sure I will greedily gobble up every last scrap of Whittaker's screen time they toss me.

But there is still the issue of that "main" reason I am not happy about this. And that's you. Ya bastard.

Specifically, those of you who were sharpening your pitchforks the second I said I wasn't happy. I am sick to the goddamned backteeth of people who are just mobs looking for something to be outraged about. Now the Doctor is female, if ANYONE doesn't like ANYTHING she does, they are just going to get branded a "misogynist" and will have to shout over a crowd of angry idiots just to continue their thought. Remember that dreadful Ghostbusters movie with the all-female cast? It was clearly TERRIBLE. Unfunny, unimaginative and just plain dumb, but the feminists crucified anyone who dared to say it.

And that's going to be the way of things until this nonsense ends. Some people get so used to being warriors that they don't know how to stop fighting. You fight for equality, and when the world finally gives in to your point of view, suddenly you realise that your whole identity is raging against a machine that no longer gives a fuck about stopping you. So what do you do? You bottle up all those feelings like a grenade of pure wrath and you just fling it at the first person who says ANYTHING even vaguely connected to the topic that was once your battlefield. And in the end, does this help us to BATTLE divisiveness, or just make us more divided?

As of this moment, the world of Who will become a senseless battleground with teeth-grinding women and their shining white knights marching beneath a burning bra on one side. and the depraved army of trolls who exist just to rile up anyone who is easy to rile up on the other side, with a little island of seven dudes who actually hold the sexist views that the hysterically angry want everyone to think so they can justify their hysterical anger. The rest of us? We're just the casualties.

I was in disbelief when I read the comments of the reveal video to see many thousands of threads that have already been created by people who are furiously lecturing the "sexists" for how wrong and stupid they are for being so opposed to this change. And then get further confused as I kept looking to see who they are arguing with and find. Nothing. THERE. They were arguing with NO ONE.

By now, however, the mere presence of feminists ranting about this has only begun attracting anti-feminists at this point who are just ranting about feminism itself, not the issue of the Doctor's gender. Meanwhile, the few trolls are chuckling like Muttley as they detonate every thread with remarks designed to provoke. Trolls, by virtue of being trolls, tend to have the loudest and most obnoxious voice in the room. They are self-designed to look big and representative of whatever group they are imitating to goad a reaction.

But the people who ACTUALLY care about this are far fewer in number, and the ones who are bothered for genuinely sexist reasons are even fewer. And I'm not even annoyed at them, they're the spiders of the Web, you expect such people. It's everyone else who is pissing me off, and tainting an otherwise harmless, even if ill-advised, in my opinion, story twist with a toxic atmosphere of rage and idiocy.

I'm annoyed, not because of the decision, but because people are too stupid to be trusted with their own stupid opinions. And now everything Who related is going to be charged and overdramatized and the ratings may suffer, who knows how bad it will get? It could even lead to the cancellation of the show. All I know is, boring old normal people like me won't be able to so much as voice a dissenting opinion on the matter without having to construct a stupidly long blog post explaining in very clear detail where we are actually coming from, and most people aren't dumb enough to waste their time on something so asinine.

As for me, my tiny little nugget of text will have to suffice, and despite not LIKING this change (if you recall, I said the exact same thing about Capaldi, and boy was I wrong) I look forward to being proved wrong again. I hope the writer's knock this out of the park, I really do. As a writer myself I am already imagining new and interesting scenarios. Girltalk with the Mistress, the Doctor meeting up with and slowly falling for a male version of the Corsair, despite knowing he will eventually die. Imagine what a more feminine take on the TARDIS interior would be like? The possibilities are endless.

But please, guys, let's not overdo it, okay? Just the one female Doctor. I'm happy to embrace change, but I don't want to build my home there. The Doctor is male, and as far as I am concerned, HE (which is not an attack on gender expression, merely an affirmation of my own interpretation of this particular mythology) is just going through a phase. I'm interested to see that phase, but I think I speak for many fans when I say, as at least a general rule - keep the Doctor male. I really do believe that is intrinsic to his nature.

And if you have a problem with that, I'll send you a sonic screwdriver of your very own, and tell you where to stick it. People are entitled to their own preferences, and it doesn't have to come from a place of hate. STOP being a mob first and a person second.


Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Life Lessons

A little while ago, Jarbles did a video on her birthday, the second in her now annual “lessons” series in which she describes as many life lessons she has learned as years lived so far. I really liked the idea, and decided to do one for my upcoming birthday. Since I turned thirty-mumble a few days ago I thought I would share thirty-hmnhrmnim lessons I have learned over the course of my life, in typical long-winded Founder fashion.

As with all my blog posts, this may and probably will be edited in future with new content. In fact, given the subject matter, I can see myself adding a new life-lesson every year this blog remains clinging to my humble corner of the internet, so feel free to check back in 12 months or so to see me summarize everything I learned that year with another bit of fortune cookie gibberish. This could well be a life-long project.

So with that, enjoy/I apologize.

1.       Know yourself.

This is my most important lesson. The first lesson I learned in life, and something I consider a lifelong rule. I first saw it emblazoned upon the walls of a classroom in my school in the form of a Shakespearean quote: “This above all, to thine ownself be true”. Because what’s the point in doing anything if you’re not being true to yourself at the same time? It made sense to me on a deep, almost spiritual level.

But to be true to yourself, you must know yourself, and that is far more important. It’s also an unending task. You must explore yourself as you explore this world, including all the new corridors that form out of those experiences. There is a power that can’t be explained in truly knowing yourself. Something that defies words. A sense of perfect order, like looking down upon a completed jigsaw puzzle and comprehending that every piece is in its place.

Knowing your place in the universe, knowing exactly what it is that should and does fill your footsteps makes it so that you can truly claim your body and your life as your own. You are a being of indescribable complexity and inexplicable specificity. You are unique. Like a god. Like a force of nature. There’s only one of you, and only ever COULD BE one of you, and that uniqueness is indestructible, and it’s yours­. Knowing that creature is to know the things that only that creature could ever do. Knowing that power lets you harness it.

It is important to know many things, to always keep learning and bettering yourself. But all other things are learned by and filtered through the self. Everything starts there. Knowing yourself is like securing the platform that holds up all of the knowledge in the world, and mastering its use. After all, if you don’t know yourself, what’s the point in knowing anything else to begin with? Who’s learning it? Or is that knowledge merely its own master?

2.       A person is defined above all else by their principles.

It’s easy to label yourself a good person, or a rationalist, or a healer or leader or anything else. Walking the walk is a different story. To be the best that you can be, you need more than just idealism. You need to be able to enforce your own self-actualization. You’re not defined by what you do; otherwise we would all just be bags of mistakes. You’re defined by what you keep doing­. Whether or not you learn from your mistakes, whether or not you are improving as a person. That’s what counts.

As an intelligent being is it incumbent on you to think. Think about everything. Ponder on matters ethical and moral, philosophical and scientific, spiritual and mundane. Learn what your positions are on various different matters, and whether those positions are sound. Establish the parameters of your being, and then stick with them. Even when it’s hard, even when facing adversity.  So long as the best information you have access to is telling you which path is the right one, be true to those principles.

Knowledge starts within, but change starts with what kinds of rules you are willing to live by. I have mine, many are in this list. I follow them even when I don’t understand them, because I trust the judgement of the person I was when I made them, and I understand that as people we are prone to moments of fallibility, anger, cruelty, neglect and many other harmful behaviours. You’re only a good person if you can continue to act as such even when under the influence of such negative feelings.

For example, I won’t kick a man when he’s down, even if in the haze of the moment I really want to. Why? Because principles make the man, and if you only follow your principles when it’s easy, they’re not really principles, are they? Could there be any true honour in such a person? And what about you? If you could break yourself down into a series of statements, what would they say about you? Is that the person you want to be? Is there anything missing from that figure?

Find out what kind of person you are, and if there’s anything in that person you don’t like, work on it. Become someone who is proud to be defined by the principles by which they live their life. Which leads me to my next lesson…

3.       It is possible to change yourself.

NOT EASY. But possible. Habits can be broken just as they were learned, new habits can be forged from the stuff of the old. You can bend your personality into a better shape. But it takes time and work.

I don’t recommend you do it the way I did, but I am proof that it can be done. What I did is to pull on every thread in my conscious mind and untangle my entire sense of self. Unsatisfied with the way I was, I sought to deconstruct myself, and rebuild myself in a better image. I borrowed personality traits from all over. The best people I knew, the ones I admire. I introduced behaviours and inflections, improved ways of thinking, changed my accent, I even added personality flaws. I took the broken eggs life had given me and worked to bake them into a cake.

Personally, I would recommend a more incremental approach. What we think of as self is really more like a big, complicated computer program. And each line of code is really just a different habit. We are smorgasbords of habits. Rituals, routines, repeated actions, we learn to navigate this world by building a series of pre-programmed behaviours into ourselves, so everything we encounter isn’t always like the first time we encountered it. We have this recorded response to fall back on. Habits are incredibly easy to form, but almost impossible to break.

But if you learn to read the base code of yourself, you can bypass that by overwriting old habits with new ones. Practising new behaviours until pretence becomes persona. Some things can’t be undone. Some things are just hard limits imposed on you by genetics and circumstance, but even those things you can’t control – you can learn to control HOW you choose to respond to them.  Turning every negative into a positive is just a question of perspective. Skills can be learned, attitudes adjusted. The only true obstacle you have is how motivated you are to change – and believe me, I understand that motivation is a very REAL obstacle.

But it is possible. Everything you want to be IS possible. Why? Because…

4.       Human beings are infinitely capable.

What do I mean by this? I mean that people can do almost anything they set their mind to given time and effort. That's the human superpower, and if you stop to think about it, it's goddamned amazing. Every time you see someone performing some amazing skill on TV and think to yourself “man, I wish I could do that”, what’s really happening there is someone who never tried something is watching someone else who DID. The fact that other people can do those things doesn’t prove that they are better than you; it proves that PEOPLE can do those things. And here’s the important thing. You are a people. Realise that. Don’t assign limits to yourself.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that things like age, disability or illness are not legitimate limiting factors; of course they are. All I’m trying to say is… don’t undersell yourself. Whatever obstacles you do have in life, never let them be your defining factor. If you can’t do one thing, you can do INFINITE other things. The number of things that are truly walled off from you, that you are utterly incapable of achieving is far, far smaller than the endless list of unexplored options you may be right for. There are SO many things we assume we could never do; until we try.

I know that at least someone reading this is saying to themselves, right now, “that’s easy for you to say”, you’re saying “you don’t understand, I CAN’T”. And you’re wrong that I don’t understand. Asking you to try does not mean I am trivializing how difficult it is, or even how impossible it seems. Look, unless you know me well you won’t understand just how sincere I am in saying this, or that I am not merely paying lip service to my own point, but believe me, I am just the worst. I speak from no privilege, with no presumption, and with absolutely no advantage. I have, when in the darkest pits of my own self-loathing and despondence, discovered within myself, at times, an amazing well of strength I didn’t know was there.

If I can do that, ANYONE can. Literally fucking anyone. It’s not like tapping into a waterpipe, you can’t just unload a torrent of free willpower by thinking nice thoughts. But you are SO much capable than you know, and if you think your struggles stand in testimony against this, think again. Think instead about how much strength you needed just go get through those times? Sometimes the superpower a person has works round the clock just to keep them looking normal, like if the Hulk had to drag a moon everywhere he went. He would be too tired to do anything else, but he still is that strong. And so are you. You have that power, and you can discover new ways to harness it.

, my friends. Try. You may surprise yourself. And if you feel compelled to tell me that you could NEVER be as good as those truly great people you admire?

5.       Fuck modesty.

Modesty is one of my biggest pet peeves, so I’m about to open a big ol’ can of fuck this all over your face. What is modesty? It is the socially engineered expectation of pretending to be ashamed of your own accomplishments. No, it is not humility. Humility and modesty are totally different things­. Now, look, what I just said is sketchy, and I did consult a dictionary to be sure. It turns out that the definition of humility DOES mention the word modest. But here’s the thing, the definition of MODEST is about five paragraphs longer – and all that extra baggage is my point.

Humility is a kind of dignity in strife. A form of remaining grounded to reality and not allowing your pride to run away with itself. Modesty, however, is an extreme. Modesty tells us that we should never laud our own accomplishments. That we should trivialize and play down everything we do well. That enjoying any aspect of yourself is ARROGANT or EGOTISTCAL. Well FUCK THAT. No it isn’t. This is a form of the social bullying virus I have written about here in the past. People who react to someone else being pleased with themselves about something with vicious words like egotistical neither understand that word’s meaning nor what they are really reacting to.

Here’s the real issue. Being a social species, we are compelled to a certain democratic standard of behaviour. Voices in unison form consensus, consensus dictates what is seen to be correct. This means that as a general rule, what everyone agrees on becomes the expected reality. Nobody likes being punched in the face; so face-punching isn’t allowed. You get the idea. But what everyone agrees on isn’t always a good or correct thing. There are many things we all share in common that are profoundly negative. For example, INSECURITY. People who are extremely self-conscious (read: EVERYONE) will feel resentment towards those who seem to be at peace with themselves, or even, gasp, shock, chagrin, CONFIDENT in themselves, even if but for a fleeting moment.

This negative response is EASY, and so it is COMMON. So common that we have constructed a social protocol in which people are unconsciously peer-pressured into expressing a self-deprecating sentiment against themselves at every possible opportunity, just to ward off the very IDEA that they are daring to believe in themselves. They are SO pressured into this mind-set that they literally feel SHAME if they don’t downplay their accomplishments. This is not healthy. This is not good. If how you conduct yourself is dictated for you by other people’s issues, you have an obligation to break the mould. Fuck modesty. Be proud of what you have actually accomplished.

6.       Always be honest.

This obviously sounds like a good rule in general, but it’s also the sort of banal, meaningless drivel you would expect to hear from every tofu-guzzling yoga instructor you’ve ever seen prancing about in crocs and a toga talking about how to harness positivity with homeopathic chakra realignment. It sounds just enlightened enough to be unobtainable and boring, while being unrealistically disconnected from the human condition. But here’s the thing; it’s NOT.

Being totally, 100% honest at all times is nowhere near as hard or as volatile as it sounds. Now I won’t lie to you and say it won’t get you into any drama or rub anyone the wrong way, but these are, after all, MY life lessons, not necessarily ones that will be good for you. But on the whole, at least among your true friends, it will spare you more drama than it will ever cause. People will come to learn that you don’t pussyfoot for their benefit around the facts which they inevitably have to face anyway. They will come to see that you always tell the truth, and so they can COUNT on you for that when the truth is what they really want.

If everyone always said exactly what they meant without waxing their words or obscuring their opinions with layers of socially-ingrained vagueness, the world would be a much better place. No more of the he said she said bullshit, no more two-facedness or putting on a false smile when what people really need to see is a raised eyebrow. Honesty isn’t just a tool of the sickeningly righteous; it’s a tool for the pragmatists. It solves more problems than it could ever create, and it leads us more directly to where we want to go without diverting in a wide birth around other people’s delicate egos.

7.       Stop caring about what other people think.

This is something you will be told again and again throughout your life, and probably have been many times already – but it doesn’t matter, because you’ve never really listened to it, and never will. You will not really assimilate this perspective until you reach your own, personal “ahah” moment and realise what it actually means. There is an elective club of “don’t give a fucks” that roam this world undetected by anyone else, with such a lightness to their movements that we can almost single one another out from a crowd. People who hit rock bottom hard enough to break through the other side and there discovered the punchline to life’s sordid joke.

It sounds trite and simplistic, but it’s true. It sounds like what everyone says to their friends during hard times, but no one ever really embraces it until they have no other choice. And when they do, they find a kind of liberation that can’t really be put into words. To have all of your social anxieties and baggage boiled away until all that is left is this tiny morsel of a being, the real, unsullied you. Beset from the junk. The thing you thought had rotted away under all the mounds of garbage and deep wounds to your soul. But you’ll find it. You’ll realise that you legitimately can NOT care about what other people think of you, and hold your head high where once you slinked, cringingly around unlit street corners.

I can’t stress this enough. I know you’ve heard people say it a million times. But it is OBTAINABLE. All of your confidence and insecurities are tied to this mirror you have trained to your face at all times, displaying a twisted version of yourself that you imagine others see, until you are so self-conscious that you can hardly remember how to walk. But you can, and one day will, toss that mirror aside and march boldly through the crowds without the slightest of cares. I’m not saying not to LISTEN to people, but you don’t have to invest your own self-worth in what they say. I just wish people didn’t have to get psychologically broken before they figure this out, as so often seems to be the case.

8.       Never make assumptions.

This is a rule that has served me well. Conjecture can be useful, but if you proceed with anything on the assumption that things ARE a certain way, without any evidence, you’re almost always going to find that assumption backfire in your face; especially if you have my luck. The truth is this is a major problem with society. People have become so coddled that they don’t understand the difference between fact and opinion anymore. They feel entitled to their ignorance, almost like it's some sort of religious right. They get their opinions from angry people on TV and have lost all capacity to care about fact-checking - and when you confront them about this, THEY feel oppressed.

The only reason to fear reason is when you know the truth is likely not on your side. This isn't something to try to protect yourself from, it's something to embrace. I don't know is an acceptable answer, and it's the reason for you to go looking for the truth. Don't make the mistake of filling in the gaps in your knowledge with fantasies about how you would prefer things be, and then start defending their existence as if arguing with reality might change it. This is nothing less than the worship of ignorance. If you treasure your beliefs more than the truth, more than how you WANT things to be, you have sacrificed your credibility upon the altar of mental weakness. 

Truth should be your ALLY, not your enemy. Life works better when you are INFORMED. When you come into a situation knowing what to expect and how to handle it. The best way to achieve this is to get out of your own way. Have your first impressions, by all means, just shelve them afterwards until they become relevant and focus on the facts that you KNOW before making any decisions. If something seems obvious, that’s the greatest reason to reconsider your opinion. The more certain you are, the more closed off you are to other options. Those options potentially represent the things you don't know, and regardless of your pride, there will always be a vast order of magnitude more things you don't know than those you do. 

9.       See the best in people, not just the worst.

This isn’t easy to do, especially in a world this flawed. Sometimes it seems like there are more idiots than rational people. More bigots and hateful minds that those in search of peace and harmony. But I think it’s more the case that every person is a spectrum unto themselves.

It would be foolishness to deny the animal within. We all have one. A beast, buried in the deepest recesses of our consciousness, under layers of social repression and obligation. It comes out in us during weak moments, those venomous words you spit at those you love when stressed to your limits, those moments you went for the jugular, and don’t really know why. Every drop of anger or hate you have ever felt, however little that may be, condenses somewhere in your psyche and feeds this beast, and I think to be truly enlightened we must acknowledge and control it, rather than deny its existence.

Some people have less control over that compulsion for cruelty, and since human beings are prone to irrationality, their beasts will creep out in the cracks of their personality, latching onto subcommunities, ideologies, certain types of people or practises. The very notion of righteous anger is inherently contradictory, because while sometimes anger is an understandable response, it’s still just an outlet for that beast. It’s just a situation in which we have social permission to be cruel and hateful, and we relish those excuses. This dark side of humanity is something we must be aware of, lest we allow it to control us.

Why are there so MANY instances of hate and negativity? Because we are ALL flawed people, and different people have those flaws in different parts of their personality. That doesn’t mean that any of those people are just bad to the bone. Yes, it is very depressing that so many are so quick to cruelty, but consider this. With very few exceptions, an act of love is what brought us all into the world. And the human larval form being so pathetic, it took several more months of dedicated love to raise us from tiny, hungry, screaming demons that anyone with an ounce of sense would throw out the window into something that could at least conceivably take care of itself.

That’s why no matter how much of a cynic I can be at times, I never quite give up on humanity. Because look at us. Look at US. Several billion testimonies to the intrinsic good of mankind. Billions of souls raised at the teat of sacrifice and unconditional kindness. Aided by hormones and social obligations, sure, but at the same time… we all exist because someone gave up literally years of their live to wiping both our tears and our arses without hesitation, without condition, and without asking anything in return. People loved YOU enough to wait on you hand and foot, to defend you from all the harshness of the world for at LEAST a good number of years.

So it isn’t the case that the world is filled with mostly individuals who hate, and some who love. We are spectrums, existing across all frequencies of emotion. The world is filled entirely with people who love, and a great many who failed to reach than standard in at least one area of their lives. The truth is, we’re all just fallible. We’re all idiots. We just have dedicated areas of specialty for our stupidity. (That’s the part of me that is, in fact, still a cynic). But it won’t help you to focus only on the negative. Notice it, by all means, and attack it with all the strength you have, but draw that strength not only from yourself, but from the knowledge that an equal, if not far greater amount of love exists in the world, too.

THAT is what you’re fighting for.

10.   Other people’s lives are your business only to the extent that THEY affect YOU.

I’ve never been one to shy away from bringing other people to task when I think there is a problem with their belief system or their values. And I don’t always wait for an invitation to do so. I do consider it the duty of every thinking person to attack misinformation and disinformation, to challenge the faulty consensus, to cure social diseases with or without consent, and to tame the wild horses of other people’s imaginations. But one thing unites all of those concepts; ­harm.

If I think you are harming people, or by way of inaction or complacency, allowing harm to be forwarded through you, I will take that on. This is the true basis of morality. Some philosophers consider wellbeing to be the basis, but I respectfully disagree. If wellbeing sits at the heart of morality then we are obligated not only to prevent harm, but to create health; and while that is morally laudable, I do not believe we all have a duty to all make each other’s lives better, only to not make it worse. Anything more is a pleasant bonus, not an obligation.

So if you think someone else’s lifestyle is some form of attack on your moral sensibilities – ask yourself only this. In what way does it harm you? If two people of a combination of sexes, gender identities, skin colours, religious affiliations or anything else should couple, and you find that morally offensive – ask yourself if that’s REALLY morality? Because if you can’t identify the difference between YOUR personal preferences, and morality, that makes you a dangerous human being. Someone who walks around without any actual grasp on what morality is should be receiving medical attention, not preaching at other people.

And I don’t just say this because this is my soap box. I have to remind myself of this, too. It’s a conscious, and difficult decision to turn a blind eye to people spouting what I consider to be hateful messages about immigrants, flawed political ideas, to be in love with the idea of millions of people walking around with guns. These ideas sicken me. But I have to draw a line between ideas I consider to be bad, and the people who hold them. I will challenge bad ideas all day, but I’m not going to make it my mission to act like their personal preferences are actually injuring me. Even if it can sometimes feel that way.

11.   BE what you would ATTACK.

By this I mean, don’t just go after the things you think are wrong. Try to UNDERSTAND them. Try to BECOME them. Consider every viewpoint seriously, as if it was your OWN. BELIEVE it on a deep, personal level, and comprehend why others would rationalize it. Only then are you qualified to make any kind of statement about what is wrong with it. Only when you have successfully put your pride to one side and seriously considered the possibility that you might be the one who is in the wrong can you say you have earned your right to say it’s not so.

This isn’t easy. In fact, it’s borderline sociopathic when you really break it down. I’m saying you basically have to be able to jump into anyone’s head and really understand their point of view. Racists, homophobes, Nazis, scum of the earth. But everyone thinks they’re the good guy, and you can’t criticise anyone by just dismissing them as some sort of frothing deposit from the spillway of pure evil. In THEIR mind, they are in the right. And in order to challenge this, you have to be willing to really TRY to understand why they think that, even if the inevitable conclusion is simply that they are irrational or were raised that way.

I make a point of challenging myself to construct an argument defending everything I want to attack before doing so. Sometimes I even talk myself around, and come to see a point of view other than my own. This is a good thing. Correctness doesn’t start with you, so if you consider your own opinion to be the yardstick by which you can judge what is right or wrong, consider that everyone you disagree with is doing the same. For all you know, YOU’RE the Nazi, and you just never got challenged by someone willing to help you see it. This is why we have to collaborate to refine our understanding of reality. Work together, not against each other. This is why we all must work to keep an open-mind.

12.   Know what you’re talking about

Everybody has an opinion on everything, but unfortunately facts don’t give a damn what your opinions are. I participate in debates quite often, as anyone who knows me can tell you. Those who can handle the debate with dignity and respectability generally find it to be a productive experience. I am known for ruthlessly pursuing the truth, regardless of what it might be, and I don’t waste time beating around the bush of other people’s shallow nerves. But I have my rules there just as I do in the rest of life, chief among which is that I don’t draw first blood, but I do not suffer the fools who do.

So naturally, among those who fail to match my standards in such debates, an inevitable onslaught of insults and accusations will usually follow. Often, they will include something like “you think you know everything”. Of course, the reality is, I don’t think that. But when you appear to know everything, the first conclusion of the weak-minded is that you appear that way to yourself as well. It’s sort of like how budgies can’t understand their own reflection in the mirror, people of this sort of simplicity lack sufficient theory of mind to imagine you having an opinion of yourself that is any different from their own impression of you.

But the impression itself, one which inspires such ire in those whose understanding of logic extends as far as “but Bill O’reily said…”, comes from the simple fact that I don’t express any opinions on things until I first know what I’m talking about. You see, it’s the easiest thing in the world to appear knowledgeable. You simply have to be knowledgeable.  If you prepare for a debate before having it by seriously considering every viewpoint and looking into every angle, you end up armed with an arsenal of retorts and responses to every possible challenge. The result is that, to their perspective, you seem to be some miraculous font of correctness that they just can’t defeat.

Of course, among your more rational peers, this will be less a source of resentment and more a mark of distinction. And this doesn’t have to be limited to debate. This is a general life principle. It’s better to know what you’re talking about before opening your mouth than to opine with impunity. There are so many times when you might unwittingly perpetuate a falsehood, or contribute to the virality of a dishonest meme or story by passing it on without fact-checking. These things have consequences. They contribute to cultural attitudes, and if such things could be traceable, you just might find you helped cause a pandemic that ruins lives.

13.   Use what you can do, to tackle what you can’t

You know, growing up I was far more timid and reclusive. I wouldn’t talk much because I couldn’t seem to find the words to say the things I wanted to say. I had difficulty expressing anything, so in the end I just said nothing. It wasn’t until late high school that I discovered I had an affinity for writing. I enjoyed it because it allowed me to take my time. To choose the perfect words. By holding open the speech bubble until I had hacked away at the dictionary and refined everything I wanted to say to a distilled form, I gradually increased my speaking vocabulary as well. I became more expressive, more confident.

When I found my words, I also sort of found my place in life. I realised that some problems can be tackled indirectly, by using what you have. What you’re good at. You might not even know you’re good at it yet, but it’s there. Your passion. Your creativity. Your ART. Waiting to be discovered. And when you find it, you can use it. Maybe not to pay the bills or to right all the wrongs in your life, but you can use it to express the things that can’t be expressed any other way. And you don’t have to do it for anyone else’s benefit other than your own. If you can’t do something you want to do – look at what you CAN do, and find a way to turn that into a window to the life you want.

14.   Turn your weaknesses into strengths

An extension to the previous life lesson. The point of this one is to say that even if you have barriers in the way of your progress, don’t always view them as obstructions. Sometimes, they can be an obstacle course, a playhouse to be tackled and defeated, or even a fulcrum by which you can gain leverage over your future.

If you’re ADD – harness your imagination and creativity. If you’re an insomniac, recognize that you are just too strong and vitalized to be held down. If your body is in pain, guess what? You have a superpower! No one can handle pain like you can. Misery grants empathy. Despondence teaches gratitude. You’re not limping, you just take your time. You see things clearly in the interim between steps. You’re not paralyzed, you’re an observer, like a sentient mountain that can watch the seasons pass in peace.

There is a perspective by which you can come to view the charge of every bad thing in your life as the potential energy for a good thing. Anything that makes you recoil in fear or revulsion is granting you an elastic boost against some other obstacle. Every blow taken is a blacksmith’s hammer forging you into something stronger, or the loading of emotional ammunition into an immensely powerful weapon. Take your weaknesses, and learn from them. Learn how to paint them onto your targets so that your life in chains has instead become a life of specialized training, making you better prepared than anyone for taking on this world from the specific vector that only you can use.

15.   Learn by doing.

Learning doesn’t come easy to everyone. I am one of those people. You could sit me down to a lecture explaining exactly how to do something, and for some reason it just won’t sink in. I can crack open a textbook and read it so many times I cold quote it verbatim and still not understand what it actually says. Some people are just like that, and to an extent I think we all are. But that’s okay. You don’t have to understand everything BEFORE you try to tackle it.

Take it from the guy who obsessively plans things to the smallest detail before starting everything. There comes a point where there’s only so much you can do in your head. You have to roll up your sleeves and get a feel for how it all fits together. Explore your tasks with your fingertips, come to know them like you know the streets you grew up in. If not comprehending, then at least recognition can be your guide. It’s only once you get down to the wires and coding that you can begin to see the patterns emerge.

Learning doesn’t come easy to me, but things don’t have to be easy to be possible. Sometimes you just have to find the path of least resistance, and sometimes, paradoxically, that involves going the long way around instead of getting stranded at square one. Get your hands dirty. Try to grapple with the things you don’t understand. There are no guarantees, but you’ll find that there are elements to everything that can’t be learned through standard studying methods. There is an emergence to reality that can only be absorbed through touch.

And when that fails?

16.   Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

It doesn’t make you look stupid not to know something. Everyone has a first time for learning everything, and it can’t all be crammed in during childhood. In fact, it is the willingness to learn which makes asking questions such a GOOD thing. It shows that you KNOW you are not yet done on your journey of self-improvement. There is wisdom in this humility (and yes, this is ACTUAL humility). Asking questions demonstrates that you are aware of what knowledge you lack, and you are actively working to improve it.

Anyone who might call you stupid for asking questions is criticising you for the exact issue you were in the process of correcting at the time, which is as stupid as laughing at an overweight person in the gym. It makes no sense to criticise someone for the problem they are literally fixing as you do it. The real stupid ones are those who have no questions to ask. They’re the ones who lack that curiosity, the innate human drive to become more than you are. That’s the best thing we have, and it should be cherished.

17.   Friends aren’t just the ones you would take a bullet for. They’re the ones who would take a bullet for YOU.

It’s easy to say you would bend the whole world for any of your friends. It’s quite another to know in your heart that the sentiment is not only true, but returned. If you should find yourself compiling a list of your friends and realise it is miles long, then in my opinion, you are not compiling a list of friends. Now it might very well be that I simply have a different standard of friendship, and my usage of this term does not map with yours. That’s fine. I am telling you MY definition of friendship. Because the truth is, in MY view, there is no real way to compile such a list and have those you call friends be in a different category to those you call family.

True friends should be just as beloved, and every bit as rare. In a way, that’s what makes them so precious. And if you don’t know such people yet? You will. Someday, you might even be betrayed by one of them, and foreswear the entire concept. It’s easy to do. And it’s hard to trust someone that much once, let alone multiple times. But the reality is we are not islands. At some point, you end up needing to put your trust in another, and that is not a sign of weakness. It’s a leap of faith. I hope you find people in your life who you know would catch you. Chances are… you do, even if you don’t know it yet. You won’t find them if you don’t remain open to the possibility.

18.   Live as though the world is as it ought to be.

Cynics are those who see what is wrong with the world but find it easier to become part of the problem than the solution. It is those who have been defeated by life who take refuge in cowardly sentiments like “you can’t change the system” or “people are just assholes”. They’re not. Because so long as we see what’s wrong in the world, we share something in common besides the easy way out. We share a drive to make things better. Giving up may be easier, but fighting is how you end the pain.

Don’t wait for social permission to take action. Don’t take a vote before standing up for what is right. If you can see what is wrong with the world, and you have ANY ability to affect it, do not let the cynicism of others paralyze you. If you’re not willing to live the way you think the world should work – you’re a hypocrite, but worse than that, your dreams are wasted on you. What’s the point in wanting for a better world if you won’t do your part to help it be that way? Maybe everyone is as good as you are deep down? Maybe if everyone who feels the way you do took action too, the world WOULD be that way?

That’s all the world really is. People making decisions. Choices that have consequences that ripple like a skimmed pond influencing everyone it comes into contact with. Don’t be the influenced – be the influencer. Compromise when you have no choice, sure. Be affected by others just as you want them to be affected by you. But don’t lose who you are.

19.   Savour every moment.

Or at least the important ones. I know this sounds boring and generic, like the scribbled sentiment of a hallmark card. But really think about what this means. Have you ever suffered a sickness, like a really painful sore throat? And as you sit there fixating on the pain and discomfort, you wish you could remember what it felt like to have a throat that isn’t sore? But because human beings live in the moment and the flavour of past events disappears so quickly, we find it hard to do that.

So do it now. Think about the things in your body that aren’t hurting. Think about the things in your life that are right. What it feels like to have an arm or a leg. The people you still have access to. The utilities you take for granted. Know them, and commit to memory, right now, what it feels like to not have a sore throat, or an upset stomach, or how it feels to have a phone at your fingertips, or to be able to call someone you love and tell them so.

Do this, not because when that bad day comes and you can’t access these things you will then be able to perfectly remember them. You won’t. The flavour of the moment will still be absent.  Do this instead so that when that day comes you won’t be spitting curses at yourself for NOT having taken the time to savour that experience. THAT’S the worst part. That’s where the “I wish I had just one more chance” comes from.

Feeling ill and wanting to remember what “well” feels like is frustrating, but even worse is wanting that, and knowing you never took the time to think about how it feels to be well in the first place. You see, one feels like a frustration that you couldn’t do anything about, but the other feels like a failure on your own part. You may find that you feel just a little bit better on those bad days from knowing that while you had access to the thing you love – you were keenly aware of it.

And if you think it’s too late for you to do this – stop. Change your perspective. Because you are focussing on what you CAN’T change, what you have already LOST. This is about taking inventory of what you have. What could you lose tomorrow that would make your life even worse? Think of those things or people, recognize them, appreciate them, cling to them. Know that you have more than just your pain in this life. This won’t only benefit you in the future, you may just find it benefits you right now.

20.   Expect the worst.

Have a plan for every worst case scenario you can think of, and extras for the ones you can’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been faced by an unexpected disaster and simply opened my “this specific disaster” box to handle it. I make a point of being prepared for every possible situation, and not just because I’m Batman (although I do have a plan to take down the Justice League should they ever go rogue). I do it because I’ve been blindsided far too often in life. Every time you count on someone else, or trust in the system not to fail you, that’s when everything goes wrong.

And it’s not just about having a plan; it’s about being mentally prepared. There have been times in your life when you have woken up to a nightmare. Whether it was an agonizing pain in immediate need of attention, the screams of a loved one in need or a crash of something breaking. We’ve all been thrown into those situations and had to cope with it on the fly. If I told you this would happen to you in five minutes, the stress of knowing it would eat you alive. Trying to prepare for something like this is like preparing to operate on yourself. Your own survival instincts compel you to reject it. That’s why it helps in the long run if you can begin constructing a “disaster mode”, a calm, rational mind-set which you can slip into when the worst happens. Because when it DOES happen, you don’t have the option of rejecting it.

To do this, sometimes a little more than practise alone is necessary.

21.   Take control of your emotions.

Take it from me, this isn’t easy. Growing up, I was a wild tempest of emotion. More often being taken along for a ride by them than just experiencing. At some point I just kind of overloaded my own circuits and burned them out. It took me a long time to relearn how to feel, so in a way, it’s like I’ve had two childhoods. This has shown me the power of emotion, and the danger of it. More than most people, I have a sense of how emotions should exist to serve your thinking mind, rather than outright taking control of it.

Your emotions are an important part of your nature, the very essence of your being. You would not be you without them. Your emotions help you to understand when something is wrong, or harmful. They keep you running when you need to run, and they keep you swinging when you have no other choice. Emotions are our first warning system against danger – but THEY ARE NOT THE DECISION MAKERS. They can cause you to overreact, or even to react based on wrong information. If someone feels off to you, for example, your feelings might compel you to judge them harshly, but your intellect can analyse that experience and realise that those emotions came from somewhere else.

Emotions present to you the problem, but it is up to your MIND to find the solution. Thought comes first. It has to, because your thoughts are what you are. Your emotions are just chemical reactions taking place in response to what happens around you. To react on emotion alone is to react by instinct, like an animal. It is to surrender your humanity, and all that makes you special and who you are. When your emotions call for you to panic or freak out, simply acknowledge the situation they are trying to alert to you to. Accept the message, and then put those feelings in a box while you take action with thought.

You don’t have to be ruled by your emotions, and you don’t have to supress them. Just find the right place for them, and keep them there. If you really find it so hard to control your emotions, just try analysing them before you react BASED on them. If you can’t find a rational justification for the response, allow yourself to consider the possibility that this emotion should not be in command of your vessel right now. People think that they can’t reason with their emotions, but they can. If anything, reason is what calms them. You only have to try. But I understand this is easier said than done.

22.   You cannot purchase redemption.

People think that owning up to their mistakes is synonymous with taking responsibility for them, and that conflation between responsibility and blame has had tremendous negative impacts on things like rape culture and legal accountability. It’s bullshit. An apology or an admission of fault is not a solution to any real problem, although it can’t hurt. What people don’t seem to understand is that mistakes or past sins are not erased by offering up some sort of sacrificial lamb. They say two wrongs don’t make a right, but what is actually meant by that phrase is that two NEGATIVES don’t make a POSITIVE.

You can’t just sit there and feel bad for what you’ve done and think that balances some cosmic ledger. You can’t try to self-flagellate your way out of the consequences of your actions. They have to be braved. There’s no watchful eye in the sky who can take away your debts, the only way to truly take responsibility is to ACCEPT what you have done wrong, and work to actively CHANGE yourself for the better. Doing right by the person you wronged is a damn good start, but it’s not a way of resetting the scales, and if you’re doing it for that reason then you’re ultimately just acting out of selfishness. You shouldn’t need an incentive to take care of someone you wronged. It should be a natural response.

I’ve seen so many people think they can bargain their way out of the consequences of a situation they helped create, but no, it doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t matter if your guilt is sincere or false, if you act out of compassion or rationale. If what you’re trying to do is use some kind of hard labour to work off a debt, you’ve missed the point. It isn’t a debt. There isn’t anything to pay back. Actions have consequences and those consequences ARE how the universe finds its own balance. But the imbalance within yourself has to be resolved with more than a confession. You have to work at yourself. You have a responsibility to not only do right by the wronged, but to make sure you don’t wrong anyone that way again.

23.   Learn from the past. Don’t live in it.

Show me a perfect person and I will show you a person whose life means nothing. The lessons we learn, such as the ones I am now listing, are not exercises in futility. They are part of a journey. On that journey you will make mistakes. You will do things you regret. Now I am not going to tell you to forgive yourself for those mistakes. You shouldn’t. That may be an unpopular opinion, but it is also one easily justified. Just think of those who have wronged you. You may forgive them, and that’s your right. But do they have the right to forgive themselves? No. Regret is there for a reason. It’s to make us better people.

But learning from the past and letting it consume your life are two different things. You don’t HAVE to forgive those who have harmed you, but you shouldn’t live under their shadow at the same time. You shouldn’t forgive yourself, but that doesn’t mean flogging yourself daily. The reason these feelings like remorse or revenge exist are to motivate changes. Whether you want to change yourself, to make yourself less likely to be victimized, or to wrestle some kind of positive change into a world wracked by injustices. Let those feelings motivate action where it is healthy. But if there is nothing to change – let them go.

Don’t let yourself be defined by what has happened to you in the past, even if it has covered you in scars. Don’t let yourself become a trauma with a person attached. You are so much greater than that. Inside of you is a whole universe, bigger and more complex than a thousand lifetimes of regrets and mistakes. These things you cling to are remnants of lessons long ago learned and treasured. And all that pent up energy driving you to act? It comes from the memory of itself, a compulsion to change what needs to be changed as a consequence of those events. If you have done all you can at this moment to rectify those problems – allow yourself to let those clenched fists fall open.

This doesn’t mean forgiving yourself or others. It means understanding that the reason these emotions exist is to compel an action that has already been taken. The reason behind the drive has been satisfied, but people themselves are never satisfied, and that is why you have to intervene. Make a conscious decision to put the past in its place. Learn from it. Let it change you. But don’t let it dominate you. What matters now is your future.

24.   Listen to other people.

It isn’t brave or empowering to just blot out everyone else’s opinions. It isn’t a heroic struggle against adversity, in fact it’s easy. It’s TOO easy.  Anyone can just ignore people they don’t want to listen to. If you think you’re being clever by plugging your ears and singing over the appeals of your peers, then let me tell you, you’re not. Only a fool assumes that nobody else has anything of worth to share with them. What’s really challenging is being willing to hear them out. Whether you like it or not. To give serious consideration to every idea.

This is a lesson I learned not through confronting one of my own failings, but through the constant irritation of being one of those people. You know, the ones who everyone else opens up to. The ones who everyone feels compelled to spill their guts to about every deep, personal issue – but who they NEVER LISTEN TO. So I try to listen to the opinions of other people and to seriously consider what they say. The harder I want to disagree with it, the more I force myself to stop and really think about it first.

I’m tired of being right, of being the one who keeps warning others about the disasters on the horizon, only to have them completely ignore me and still get hit by it after all. I don’t mind being the one people come to for advice; in fact I like to help wherever I can. And sure, you have no obligation to take my advice. But at the same time – don’t ask for it if you don’t really want it. I can’t change the fact that no one ever listens to me, but I can at least learn from it and offer them that courtesy. That is something I work very hard at doing.

25.   Never let someone else’s presence in your life be the most important thing about it.

A life dedicated solely to another is a wasted life, and it dishonours that other person as well, as instead of enriching the world in their name, you have become an expansion of their own selfishness, doubling the negative impact they have on the world while keeping the positive impact for yourself. In a way, it turns them into an object. People are not affection dispensers that exist to make you feel good. A true loving relationship is one in which both participants try to bring out the best in the other. Living in worship or subjugation to that person is a waste of your energy and theirs.

And if you can’t find someone to give you equal love and respect? There’s nothing bad about being alone.

26.   Get back up.

Get up. It doesn’t matter how hard you got brought down, it doesn’t matter how many times they kicked you, it doesn’t matter how much it hurts. Get. Back. Up. The fact that you can hurt is the reason you can and will get back up. That pain, as an emotion, represents your thriving will to exist in a state other than defeat. Because there is still something within you that can suffer from imprisonment. You are not so broken that you have accepted the cage, and that makes you powerful.

Maybe you’re just waiting for a sign, for someone or something to give you the smallest hand up, for that tiniest bit of added ease to be an incentive to commit so much energy to the struggle. You can’t count on that in life. But fine. Let this be it. Let this be your sign. This is me telling you that now is the time. Now is ALWAYS the time. And the proof of this is in the fact that you can still be hurt. Because deep down, you still want to get up.

Pain is a symptom of having a WILL to survive. No matter how defeated you feel, no matter how broken you may be, know that there is some part of you, some divine organ in your soul that will not and cannot let you give in. Because if you can hurt, you can want for something, even if it’s just for there to be no more pain. And if you can want for something, you have hope. Those death throes you feel are the spasms of a soul that refuses to stay down until the final count. So get. Back. UP.

27.   You can’t choose to be happy. You can only choose to allow happiness in.

Peace of mind isn’t something you can order up over the phone or download from the internet. It’s not something you can request. It’s just something that kind of finds you, in its own time. And even then, it doesn’t stay. You’re never going to be happy all the time, and you know what? If you were? You would just become desensitized to it. That’s the cruel trick of life. The struggle to achieve which is so intrinsic to human nature is literally designed to be an insatiable hunger.

You’re not SUPPOSED to be able to fill that hole. The higher you climb, the higher you want to climb, because that urge to keep getting better is what has brought us this far up the evolutionary dogpile. It’s why we’re still alive. But it’s also why the richest and most powerful keep trying to accrue more wealth and power. Why those who have everything they could ever want still seem to invariably turn to drugs and corruption.  Endless happiness is like the floater in your eye you keep trying to chase but never catch.

I think you have to have fallen to the deepest pits of despair, and made it your home to really understand what happiness is. To recognize it when it graces the periphery of your ceaseless sensory bombardment. It isn’t a blinding sunbeam that parts the clouds. It’s a glance of soft light that traces the contours of a vase by the window. The gentle swaying of a tree in the wind. The tiny moments when you peer into the cracked stone of a pavement and feel something not quite explainable move through you. The stillness between struggles. Happiness is realising you have the capacity to not be in pain, if but for a short while.

But you have to let it in.

28.   What’s more important?

I don’t know if this is strictly a lesson or more of a general attitude, the lines are beginning to blur at this point. This is something I say to myself whenever I can. It’s a kind of motivating mantra that helps me put things in perspective. Every day I find myself so bogged down with trivial concerns and problems that seem so big. I seem to have so much going on in my head, it can become this chaotic fog of anxieties, obligations, and half-formed thoughts.

What’s more important? I’m not sure I even understand what the question means, but somehow it cuts right through the fog and brings me into perfect alignment with my own centre. I suppose what it really means is… keep your dreams inside you. It’s a reality check. Know what it is you want to do, why you want to do it – why it NEEDS to be done, and always make sure you are moving in that direction. It doesn’t matter how slowly you’re moving, just so long as you’re closer today than you were yesterday.

If you find yourself going backwards, that’s okay. It happens. The purpose of this mantra is not to shame you for your mistakes, but to help you recognize them, so you don’t keep going backwards. Whenever the haze overtakes your eyes, whenever you find life hitting you with obstacle after obstacle and in all the chaos you get turned around, you lose sight of who you are and where you’re going… stop. Ask yourself. What’s more important? The answer isn’t always obvious or easy, but it’s always there. It’s always a truth that lives at the core of you. Seek it. Find it. Cherish it. And then dedicate every moment of your life to realizing it.

29.   Everyone has their own story.

You’re not the only one who has known this pain. You’re not even the most hurt person you know. The truth is we are all tangled in an invisible mess of other people’s plot threads. We all play unseen roles in other people’s experiences. Our words, our presence, the things we do all have a weight to them that cannot be immediately felt, but which change the balance of countless variables around us. Even those you try to keep away from your life to protect them are, in this way, affected by you. They all have their own story, just like yours.

Never consider them the supporting cast in your own. When you close the chat window or hang up the phone, they keep existing. Things happen to them. They change. They hurt. They experience things you can’t imagine. When you next speak to them, do not assume that time has stood still for them or that they are the same people you last spoke to with the same limits or issues. Likewise, if you think you have someone pegged at a single glance, if you think they can be boiled down to the handful of conclusions you reached about them – think again.

You might think someone is lazy because they are poor. Or that they are snobbish if they are rich. You might think the Republican is a monster, or the Democrat is a wuss. But stop and consider the possibility that those other people arrived at the conclusions they did for very real, sensible reasons. They are real people. They have histories spanning years or decades, and you can’t sum them up to one memory or a title. Maybe if you had been in their shoes, you would be like them too. Maybe their stories matter as much as yours does.

If someone seems to have changed, or if they now hold views you didn’t expect of them, inquire as to why. Learn about them. Take a few steps of their journey with them rather than just dismissing them out of hand. Chances are, they’ve learned a few things you could benefit from as well. You don’t have to manifest their views in order to respect them.

30.   Don’t be afraid of tasking risks or seeking out new opportunities.

This is a lesson I have learned, but not internalized. Fear and the resistance of obstructive circumstances can be hard things to face. Perhaps even insurmountable. But the fact that I am not practising what I preach on this one does not make the lesson wrong. It means that I am proof that it is right. I am stuck at square one because I have yet to embrace this lesson, and I know I am wrong for not doing so. Don’t be like me. Be better.

31.   Never make promises you can’t keep.

As a kid I always longed to visit Loch Ness. Something in my spirit called for me to be there, and I’ve never figured out why. My parents always promised to one day take me there. That never really happened. It's nobody's fault, we were a poor family. And it’s not a big deal now, but it was a major disappointment to me at the time. That was probably around the time I first decided that I wouldn’t take promises lightly. But I’ve been disappointed far worse many more times since then, and this has only compounded how seriously I take them.

Broken promises sting like the worst papercut, whether it’s the broken trust of a colleague who lets you down, or the almost always unsustainable vow of eternal love. Living in a world where we can count on one another is so important, particularly to us, as a social species. That’s why it always wounds our hearts at least a little bit when other people fail us, and so much more when we are betrayed. Deep down, I don’t really believe that other people can be counted on. I’ve been betrayed too many times myself, been disappointed by too many people to really believe that. But I’d like to. And that’s why I live by example on this one.

When you make a vow you are taking a hypothetical future and converting it into a fact. You are staking your honour as a human being on that reality coming to fruition. Promises are more than just words, they are assurances of trust, a stable wall upon which those who are in need will lean in difficult times. Even a small promise, something seemingly inconsequential, carries encoded within it your intrinsic trustworthiness. Letting people down when you have given them that stability, that reassurance in the future has a negative effect on you, and on the rest of the world. Take your promises seriously, or don’t make them at all. This is the only way you can help cultivate a society where we can count on one another.

32. Count your victories (Not just your defeats)

I bet if I asked for you a list of every mistake, every dumb thing you did, everything you got wrong this week you wouldn’t have to think all that hard to come up with one. But who is counting everything you got right? That’s just not how the human mind works, right? I mean, how do you count how many times you DIDN’T trip up?  But YOU know what your limitations are, probably better than anyone else. You know what you struggle with, what’s difficult for you. If you are trying to improve yourself, if you’re trying to expand your horizons, and all you’re counting are the trips, how can you ever make any progress? For progress to be made you also need to CHART it, to RECOGNIZE when it happens, otherwise, how can you know if you’ve progressed?

There isn’t a scale for what constitutes a valid success. Everyone’s life is different. It’s more about what challenges you’re dealing with, and how they personally affect you. Don’t let anyone tell you that if your biggest problem is getting out of bed and facing the world in the morning, that’s not enough to be considered a real challenge. We define challenges not by some objective standard, but by how CHALLENGING they are, and that is necessarily a personal definition. The best singer in the world might find no challenge at all in singing a particular song, that doesn’t mean it should be easy to anyone else. Likewise, if just walking from one room to another is a challenge for you, for whatever reason, the fact that it would be easy for most people doesn’t negate that difficulty.

Whether it’s physical or emotional, every single day you are fighting against the resistance of your own limits, and every day you advance a lot further than you realise. Don’t just set your course – chart it. Recognize your victories as they come. Some days it will be one step forward - three steps back, but here’s the thing, you KNOW, now, that you can handle that step forward. But no one ever had to convince you that you could fall a few steps back, did they? That’s why it’s important. Because in the grand scheme of things, that one step was a permanent expansion of your frontiers, you pushed the borders of your world just a little bit further than they were the day before, and if you don’t think that’s a victory, you’re crazy. It is. But you have to let yourself be proud. Today you did several things, probably MANY things to be proud of, but all you’re thinking about is the coffee you spilled this morning.

It’s easy to be conscious of your defeats. Life trains us to be that way. And you should be- that’s how we learn. Unfortunately, you have to train YOURSELF to  be just as aware of your victories. It’s as hard for me as it is for anyone, but trust me, your life gets a lot better if you recognize and reward the progress you make, when you make it. Because the truth is, we’re all going somewhere, and we’re all trying our best. Today, you’re a little bit closer than you were yesterday, EVEN if today was a bad day. Stop and think about it, and you’ll see I’m right. 

33.    And finally, this above all else: Times will be hard. Sometimes they will be harder than the worst times you’ve ever lived through. But they will be better, too.

People have a tendency to be so negative. It’s like the bad things in life stick to us while all the good things seem to rot away with time. Scars remain but caresses leave no marks. Pain stays with us while kisses are forgotten. As human beings, we fixate on the negative, we stew in it until it’s pickled into our souls and we can’t get away. Sad memories, loss and failure become a part of us. We get so used to seeing the bad that we forget that good can exist too.

But that’s just genetics. We’re prone to negativity for survival reasons. It’s the evolutionary advantage of fleeing in terror from every sound. By only believing in the bad things we have a higher chance to survive when the bad things are real; and there is a legitimate advantage to that. We SHOULD be aware of the bad.

But look, we’re more than just animals. We are the part of the universe that can think and feel and analyse. The part that looks upon itself in awe. So we have a responsibility to BE more than animals. Animals can get by on instinct and reaction alone, but we can’t. We have to be able to maintain our sanity as well as our bodies. To do that, we have to internalize the fact that however dark our nights may be, there can and will always be a sunrise.

That goes for you, too. The person reading this right now. You’ve lived through hard times, and they’re far from over. Life is a constant struggle. But that’s not ALL it is. Whenever you have a good day, remember it. And next time you have a bad one, remember that those good days exist. Whenever you triumph over your own shortcomings, or defeat the adversity in your life – REMEMBER that you did it. And next time you face an un-climbable wall, remember what happened to the last one, and break right through it. You’re stronger than you think you are, and dark days will always be bright again.

At least, that’s what I choose to believe. That’s my hope. May it be yours, too.