Why I do what I do and why I want to do more.

It occurred to me a few days ago, while reading the opening paragraph of yet another book about motivation/self-help, that I still haven’t done anything that would contribute to my life being better. I’ve spent time and money on pursuing the ideas of highly motivated people, only to continue doing the same thing I do every other day. It doesn’t matter how much of this information you absorb, none of it will actually help you if you don’t take action. If you don’t do anything different, you’ll just end up being someone who knows a lot about what successful people do, and how satisfied they are but you’ll just be the same as you always were. In fact, ironically, you’ll actually be less happy than you were, because you’ll beat yourself up about not changing. I think that I have finally reached the point where the beating myself up has got to stop and I need to actually do something. So here I am, writing this.

One of the hardest things in life is finding the motivation to do anything above the ‘comfort’ level. Most of us are tuned to live life at a certain steady intensity. The old prison mantra of ‘do your time’ could apply to a large proportion of un-incarcerated people as well. We seek comfort and security, we get paid, we have kids, we die. Very few of us go beyond that by trying to find something truly satisfying. Make no mistake, the comfortable life has it’s perks, that’s why we choose it. But I’m sure many of us have wondered if there is a higher level of satisfaction that can be attained.

For me this higher level of satisfaction is to be involved in the intellectual pursuit of truth and meaning in this world. Doing what I’m doing right now, is making me feel more alive than anything else has today. Simply putting my thoughts down on a page, somehow makes them seem more real. As though, they are in this moment being etched into history. Of course, I realise this probably isn’t true, I doubt these words will go ‘viral’. However, they may cause someone to think, and that is the first process in the intellectual process of finding truth and meaning.

I often wonder why I seem to have this apparent desire to have my voice heard, while simultaneously being frightened of letting anyone hear me. I have this remarkable ability to not be noticed, it’s as though I have access to Harry’s invisibility cloak whenever I want. Is anyone else so conflicted?

Do I want to be agreed with, or argued against? I have a history of only engaging with someone on social media when I disagree with them. It’s as though I can’t bear the thought of them not hearing the opposing view. So I tell myself that I just want to see ideas collide. The collision of ideas is a must for civil society. Free speech ought to be considered the bedrock of a free society. Everything we hold dear builds from free speech. No ‘progress’ can be made without it and the truth is elusive if all voices aren’t heard and avenues traversed.

Every time you silence someone, you deprive the person the right to express an idea and you deprive yourself the right to hear it. Why you ask, would you want to hear an idea you disagree with? The first and most important reason is that the other person may be right and you may be wrong. The position of being entirely sure that you are correct and that the other person is incorrect is like trying to play god. Certainty, to the point of ignorance of opposition, is as intellectually repulsive thing imaginable. And yes, I reserve the right to be entirely wrong with everything I’ve ever said.

Second and less obviously is that you are given an opportunity to consider your own position once more. ‘Why do you believe X to be true?’ This enables you to either have your belief challenged or clarified. Both are good results if the pursuit of truth is paramount to you.

Third you are given the opportunity to try and change the other persons mind. By allowing your opponent to voice his opinion unencumbered, you may be able to locate the flaw in his reasoning or at the very least, ask yourself the question:

“Why does this person think what they do?”

If you can do this, you may see the point in his reasoning where the two of you hit crossroads. This allows you try and convince him of his error. And maybe you can get him to:

“Change his mind!”

After all, isn’t this the goal in the first place? If you are so sure that you are right then shouldn’t you want everyone to think the same way? Or do you simply want to be able to silence people and give them labels? If it is the latter then you probably shouldn’t be in the intellectual game at all. However, if it is the former, then all of us ought to be learning how to express ideas, and to encourage others to do the same.

But why should we bother? So many of us, me included, are so easily seduced into silence. We are lulled into a sense of security and apathy by the cultures and societies we are lucky enough to live in. Our nations have enormous wealth and comfort as a result of the struggle of our forebears. They fought and strived so that we may have any number of freedoms. Our hunter/gatherer ancestors would have heroic stories of survival to tell us. However nowadays things have never been so easy in all of human history. If you find yourself reading this, you are likely situated in an advanced western nation. You probably have social security, a steady income, food, shelter, instant access to any number of services over the internet. Yet when asked

“Are you happy?”

You may reply, ‘meh’, I get by. My typical response when asked ‘How’s it going?” is “Yeah, not bad”. Shouldn’t we be happier than that? What do we really have to be sad about, our lives are easy compared with all other human existences in history, yet depression rates are on the rise. Through my recent motivation/self-help reading I have come to believe that our lives lack drive and ambition. Our ancestors had to be ambitious (because life was hard) or they would have died and not been our ancestors. This ambition is still within us, it’s left over from our evolutionary past. And with most of us, it’s left unfulfilled. We have stable, steady lives, filled with conform and contentment. What I believe we lack is something to strive for. Something to get out of bed for every morning and be looking forward to. We have become lazy because we don’t have to do anything special to survive in todays world, particularly in advanced nations. We can sit on the couch watching Netflix all day (guilty) and even have someone deliver food to us. Our ambitions are sacrificed for comfort in the moment. We seek immediate gratification safety and security, which I suggest leaves us deeply unsatisfied in the long run.

It is for this reason that I think we need ambition. We need to strive for something. For some this might be fame, fortune and everything in between. But for me, there is no higher calling than the pursuit of truth and meaning in this world. I want to be involved in the collision of ideas. I want this, not so I can win arguments or be right. But rather to satisfy the ambition that lurks within. Be ambitious comrades.