I wrote about fake stories in our society in the previous post. I scratched only the surface of several ideas as an example of what is wrong in our society. The post was already too long to include also more in-depth details behind the mentioned ideas. You can take this post as a follow-up to bring more attention to some concrete examples of what we need to improve.
We Blame Ourselves
Prevailing ideologies support individuals. That means the problem is in us because voters know best in democracy, customers are always right in capitalism, or students think for themselves in liberal education. Those ideologies taught us that the resulting fame or shame from whatever we do is something we deserve.
That is the reason for many depressions. You may feel helpless when some government representative runs the state differently than what is right for you, no matter if you vote for your representatives or not. You may feel irritated by obtrusive ads or notifications fighting for your (customer’s) attention. You may feel overwhelmed with so much information you should process before voting for your representative, buying a product, or deciding what to do with your life. All that leads to anxiety and depression.
The idea we are/know the best is flawed. It’s not true. We are just a set of chemical reactions; we are programmed by nature and defined by our surroundings. Surrounding is an input to our receptors formed by nature, which converts it to some output. This is how everything in the universe works.
Let’s make a brief history of life: it all started with water. Not long after oceans were formed, the first single-celled life formed. Earth’s atmosphere had no free oxygen but a lot of carbon dioxide. Logically, nature programmed early life forms to consume that available carbon dioxide. The output of photosynthetic prokaryotic organisms was oxygen. Oxygen created a new situation, and evolution responded with new programs. Fast forward, animals appeared, and one branch of animals evolved into humans consuming oxygen and carbohydrates.
We are just a product of long history and set of chemical reactions just like grass. We are not responsible for what we are. Even thoughts are tied to the same process. All animals have a brain, which is a fantastic tool, and it goes with pre-programmed basic needs, such as control of all body parts, detection of hunger or thirst, response to a threat, and so on. Every feeling first starts as a signal from somewhere inside us (e.g., low energy level) sent to the brain, which then converts that feeling to action (e.g., find something to eat).
Humans were endowed with cultural life, which means that we can have more complicated feelings about more complex situations mentioned earlier (e.g., politics, consumerism). But it’s still part of our body, part of chemical reactions. Thoughts come and go freely based on the state of our bodies and surroundings.
Paradoxically, we surrounded ourselves with ideologies suggesting precisely the opposite: our thoughts and actions are just our responsibility disjoined from the rest of the reality. We blame ourselves and fall into depression for something we are not responsible for. Religion is usually one big fake flawed story (I will devote a full post to it) but back then (before mentioned ideologies), people at least didn’t say success or failure came from them but from God because He wanted it that way.
Today, if you, for example, write a very successful book, it’s you who gets all the fame. With that comes the negative part: people will have big expectations from your next book and compare it to the previous one. You can feel an anxiety that you might not write that successful book ever again. Oppositely, if your book is a disaster, no one will look for your next attempt. There is no way you can escape prejudices. Working as a creative person is very hard.
I don’t want to say we should go back and believe in gods. I’m trying to show that the ideologies which run our society today are flawed. I don’t know about any better alternative; actually, I’m not even sure we should risk trying to find something else as this is so far the most peaceful period. We need some stories to organize our civilization, and it will never be perfect. I think we should be aware of the negative parts of the used social package and avoid them. We don’t need to be dogmatic.
We Punish Others
The universe’s laws are complex, and we cannot expect we can use some simple fake stories to establish an order. Our civilization will never be simple, but I don’t think that is an excuse to opt for directive ideologies and share them by force. Forcing anyone to do anything leads nowhere.
Humans created a very complex civilization, which is hard to understand. Our ability to think made colossal progress—it simplified life on so many levels—but it complicated life on so many new levels simultaneously. Many animals can live independently since day one; they need only a small amount of time compared to humans. We humans need years to learn everything we need to know to live just in our country.
We don’t realize anymore that we needed many years to learn what we consider as fundamental knowledge. Even though cultures are not that different nowadays as a few hundred years ago, you can experience Aha! moment by visiting a culture you are not familiar with. You can be surprised by what others expect from you; for example, nodding the head for yes and no can be the opposite, somewhere people shake hands, in other places they hug or even kiss, and so on.
Kids are another great example. Children are not born with our beliefs encoded in their brains. They can recognize if you are a friend or foe, i.e., if they should be scared of you, but they don’t know why you are so sensitive about all the stuff you own. Children have no notion of what is a toy and what is not. The idea that kids should play with toys is just our made-up belief.
Unless Earth is here to evaluate to 42 (see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), or the whole universe is just one big simulation (see simulation hypothesis), there is no higher meaning for any life form then to reproduce (as far as we can tell). So we have instructions encoded in us that we need to reproduce alongside with what to do at the beginning: observe and learn.
That’s why every child wants to repeat what adults do. If we don’t play with them or if they notice we don’t play with toys in general, there is no way they will continue to play with toys alone as their intuition will draw them back to us to do adult’s stuff to learn what they truly need to know for survival (and later reproduction).
Now, I hope you understand how crazy it is to force kids to play with their toys, not touch adult stuff, be quiet, follow precise orders, and punish them if they don’t obey these ridiculous rules. From my experience, people start to understand children are also human beings who simply need to learn everything, but I have no doubt this is still rare approach.
Unfortunately, sometimes it goes from one extreme to another. Kids need our attention and freedom, but not unlimited attention or liberty. The meaning of observing and learning is to grasp what is OK to do and what is not (because it hurts me or others). Individuals with too liberal upbringing without limits will be more depressed than others with more strict rules in the future. Why? Because they will not learn to be tolerant of others, and mostly, any institutes are bureaucratic monsters not caring about you.
For example, classical education doesn’t care about you. It’s still the old “I’m the teacher, and you listen to me” without any compassion. Teachers who sincerely want to teach you their subject instead of grading what you learned alone are still rare. At least from what I can tell based on my experience.
Another great example can be a system of fines. Let’s say you are a law-abiding citizen and you slip only once. What is the reaction from the system? Penalties and bureaucratic procedures which are making you angry. Fines are nonsense. Would you punish your child with a fine for a broken glass?
We Have to Change
Of course, you would not punish your kid with a fine! I hope. You would offer compassion and help him or her learn how not to break it next time. That’s much more motivating to be more careful next time.
Even worse is a fine in a hopeless situation. Just this morning (time of writing), I was woken up by a horn at 5 AM. Here in Prague, we have a rule you should be quiet between 10 PM and 6 AM; and you should not use horn at all unless as a warning to avoid an accident. That guy broke two laws for which he could be fined. Why would anyone do that? Well, today is road cleaning, and you have to go away with your car; otherwise, you would be fined, and your vehicle might be towed away (i.e., it could cost you even more money and problems). Someone blocked this guy from leaving. He could call the police and wait for them to avoid fines, but then he would be late for work and lose money (because let’s say, he is a bus driver and he gets a bonus only if he goes every time on time).
That’s a very hopeless situation, and I don’t blame him. I would be angry, and I wouldn’t care if I woke up everyone around as well. No wonder people behave as they do if we have to live under such a flawed system.
The usual answer to how to fix it would be to vote for someone else, run for office, spam the office, and so on. We have the idea we are awesome, that we can change something alone, and the only thing we need for it is a higher position in the hierarchy as it’s more powerful. The truth is: it’s nonsense. Our hierarchy with the notion of the higher position being powerful is the story we invented.
Sure, the president, premier, or CEO of a big company is indeed a more influential role, but they would be nothing if we all would stop believing in democracy, countries, or brands. We believe in such concepts, and for that, we need someone on the top.
It’s similar to money. At the beginning, people exchanged goods directly. It was soon tedious to exchange goods: I need shoes, and I have only apples to offer which shoe-maker might not want right now, or only one apple and other fruits. People came up with some common goods to use for exchange, such as barley. It was very impractical and switched to silver and gold soon after instead. Years after that, we switched to pieces of paper tied to gold. Growing population and gold standard did not work together, and now our belief is just in intangible ones and zeros.
Money, even non-physical, works because we all believe in it. If a baker stops believing in it, we will buy bread with neither pieces of paper nor ones and zeros. If we all stop believing in democracy in the Czech Republic, our president or premier is out of their job.
Government is here to provide services for all of us, hired by us. Liberal government can do solely what we allow it to do, and that’s why it’s pointless to wait for our leaders to make some change. At least, as I wrote in the previous post, “any forceful story, no matter how well-intentioned, is wrong.” The government should only reflect the people whom it represents (and I think this is happening quite well).
The change should come from all of us. We all should be more mindful, be more critical, and help others.
How to Change
First, we have to start with ourselves. As I said, we are a set of particles playing together. These kiddos can be together happy while playing next to particles of oxygen and other good friends. But they can shape to a scared position once they are close to a set of particles forming crocodiles (without the presence of particles of fence). Many stimuli are changing what we call thoughts. Some might cause us to feel discomfort and act inadequately.
The best way to observe our bodies is through meditation. I’m no expert in this field, I still have a long way to learn to use meditation properly, but it’s clear there is no other way. I should do it more, and you should do it too.
Meditation can be used in so many ways and for so many reasons. When I got to meditation for the first time, it helped me to rest. I worked into late hours, and then I couldn’t sleep. I watched TV shows to turn off the brian. Of course, that’s a foolish thing to do, but I was young. Once I started the meditation and I calmed myself down, I was sleeping in no time.
Meditation, according to many sources, is about clearing the head—creating so-called headspace, as is also the name of the one popular company focusing on meditation. To be honest, I don’t enjoy guided meditations. It’s like forcing me to change focus on the guide’s will and to neglect my thoughts. I don’t try to focus on anything specific; instead, I keep focus and thoughts freely come and go. It’s a mix of mindfulness and thoughtfulness; sometimes, I deeply observe my body, some other times, I go deep with my thoughts. I never know what my meditation is going to be about.
Second, we have to be more critical. Everything that we created is artificial, and it always has two sides. Look, for example, into time. We have new proofs that already hunter-gatherers knew how to read the sky and recognize what part of the season is—a beneficial skill to know when and where food is available (both plants and meat). The first calendars didn’t have to be precise. Today, though, we focus on some abstract precision. Why we have a fiscal year? Why the end of the year, where all products should be finished, is so special? Why do we care about birthdays? All examples have nothing to do with the original purpose.
Time is even a worse example. We decided that school and working days start around 8 AM all year long. Europe Union asked citizens if we want to cancel summertime (as its purpose is not needed anymore), and if yes, should we keep standard time or summertime? People discussed very enthusiastically that we should not make evenings shorter! Remember: time is just a label. The day is going to be still of the same length. We are possessed more by a time label than what is truly happening.
I like what aborigines in Australia do: they don’t care about Halloween, or name day, nor even birthdays. They celebrate only personal achievements, such as learning a new skill. It makes much more sense to me.
Lastly, once we are relaxed and understand our feelings (thanks to meditation) and think about everything critically enough, we can genuinely improve society by helping others. As I said, there is no point in aiming for leadership positions. Focus on your circle. Help your family or friends.
We humans have limits. Our mind is limited, and we cannot absorb everything. We have to aggregate because our minds are not able to follow many rules at once. That’s the reason we need hierarchy. People at lower positions (which is nothing terrible) do some work, and other people aggregate their work. It’s similar to the example with exchanging goods: we don’t want everyone to be talking to everyone. That would be a mess.
See an example: I work for a team, and I report to my manager. That manager then reports to higher management and gets in sync with other groups in the company. Without this structure, I would be responsible for being in sync with everyone’s work in the whole company. Everyone would be overloaded with managerial work without time to do the real work.
Does it mean that my manager is something more? No. They can change the team’s course, correct, but not without all team members’ support. Also, the manager alone cannot improve all team members’ happiness. That needs to come from team members. We need to be kind to each other, help each other thrive, and use compassion instead of punishment.
Remember: you are not broken. Blame Muses or supernatural forces. Luck is important. We don’t see it, but it’s needed. Be grateful for what you got, and don’t stress out for what you didn’t get. Meditate to be relaxed. Use critical thinking to find out what is wrong, what you need to change. Don’t chase higher positions in society. Focus on your circle. Help (mostly) your family and friends to be happy and thrive. Only there you can make some real changes. Enjoy life.