Life 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned about Life in School–But Didn’t by John-Roger and Peter McWilliams

I think most people are like me when they come across a book like this.  It looks like a cheesy, oddball, gimmicky self-help book that will probably throw around a lot of mumbo jumbo pop psychology.  While I’ve certainly come across these types of self-help books, the vast majority of self-help books I’ve read have actually been very insightful.  I think the bigger problem with self-help books is that like exercise machines, most people only get through the first two chapters or first two months using it, and then it just gathers dust.  Trust me on this one, this is a really good self-help book.  The chapter on mirrors is the money chapter, worth the price of the entire book, which in my case was $1 at a rummage sale.  One of the saddest things about used books is when someone has written a note to the recipient.  If the book doesn’t look like it has been read, then it’s like a gift that had never been opened, and the giver never knows. 

 Why the hell didn’t they teach this in school?  You ask yourself.  Why the hell don’t they teach important stuff like paying taxes, job interviewing, fixing a flat tire, making friends, networking, opening your own business, conflict resolution, leadership?  The answer is a bit complex.  I’m sure the first people to mandate 12-years of public education, five-days-a-week had the best of intentions.  They wanted to create a uniformly skilled work force for the factories.  They wanted to provide standard education for the poor masses, to provide them with the tools to advance in society.  Of course, the road to hell is laid with the best intentions.  What they never anticipated, I believe, is that the masses would consider public education the only form of education a kid needed.  The masses would in effect stop educating their kids in life.  Even worse, with the advent of television, the masses would find it completely convenient to stick them in front of the boob tube and let their brains fry.  In effect, the masses would only have two major influences on their lives, public education and television.  One would only teach them a rather rigid, uniform, strict, technical interpretation of the world with no soul, no spirit, no love, compassion or beauty, and worse, that they are inadequate for their inability to faithfully absorb and repeat rather trivial, banal, technical factoids.  The other would convince them that they were inadequate for their lack of money and material possessions, that with them, they might become happy, loved, and cool and that everything else in the world was scary and dangerous.  I don’t believe anyone set out to accomplish this, but rather, they let it happen, and once a few realized it had happened, they didn’t really care much, because they were actually profiting from it.

 When I propose eliminating most all public education funding (in addition to most all government funding), people reactively consider me crazy and callous.  Who would educate the masses?  Who would overbuild roads so developers can build on cheap land and make gigantic profits?  Who would put blacks and Latinos in prison for selling things pharmaceuticals sell freely resulting in just as many overdoses, deaths, and negative side effects?  Who would bomb Muslims?  My answer to them is simple.  For every dollar you give government, perhaps a few cents go back to the masses.  The rest is divided up between millions of bureaucrats and soldiers, thousands of government contractors, and a handful of people who own the banks which lend our government money.  My question is simple.  Instead of impoverishes us all with taxes, why not allow us to keep that dollar, so 100% of it goes back to the masses and I guarantee you, they will give more of their money to the poor than government and private contractors. 

 So how would the masses, freed from most of their tax burden, educate their kids?  First off, if parents were freed of most of their tax burden, they wouldn’t have to work as hard, and they would actually have more time to educate their kids.  And I’m not talking about homeschooling.  I’m talking about education co-ops.  People don’t realize that education is not as expensive as you might imagine.  A big chunk of the cost is admin, facilities, facilities maintenance, and sports programs.  At the college level, you’re basically subsidizing their sports program, thousands of sports scholarships, and their research programs.  Community college is cheap, because you are not paying for all these subsidies.  Why everyone doesn’t just get a community college education is beyond me.  I know the reason is simply prestige, but the real reason is debt. 

 One of the big flaws of public education is that it doesn’t teach students to teach.  The art of teaching is what makes us human.  No human child can survive without a teacher.  So doesn’t it make sense that in addition to teaching us, we should be taught how to teach?  One of the huge mistakes of humanity is over-specializing.  Certainly, society becomes more efficient if we make some people specialize in collecting garbage, building houses, cleaning our houses, growing food, teaching children, but there is also a downside to over-specialization and automation.  A lot of things we used to do for ourselves required energy.  It is beyond ironic that specialization and automation saves us from expending energy, but then we have to go to a gym in order to expend the energy we just saved from specialization and automation!  Just like specialization and automation makes our muscles weak and turns us into sedentary and unhealthy couch potatoes, allowing government to do all the teaching and caring for the poor and disabled makes our soul, our compassion, our self-esteem weak and turns us into entitled, spoiled, narcissists who are freed to just focus on taking and enjoying.  Giving and teaching is what makes us human.  We can save half the work of teachers by simply allowing older kids to teach younger kids.  This is how humanity worked for over two hundred thousand years and intelligent primates before that.  When an older kid teaches a younger kid, it not only reinforces the lessons they learn, but it also provides them with a self-esteem boost, as younger kids adore the attention of older kids.  It also teaches older kids patience, kindness, leadership, and also how to weld authority with fairness and assertiveness.  The big reason why we all hate our bosses is that they’ve never been taught how to teach or lead.  Out of the blue, they are expected to become supervisors and without any training, they tend to weld authority with passive-aggressiveness and alternating micro-managing and negligence. 

 In addition to this, education co-ops would take advantage of technology and the Internet.  Kids could attend virtual lectures for more advanced material.  There would be companies to provide co-ops with lab facilities.  If you wanted your kid to do sports, there would be companies that provide sports facilities.  I guarantee you, they wouldn’t cost nearly as much as public lab and sports facilities, and they would be filled with more state-of-the-art equipment.  The most important part of education co-ops would be the complete elimination of grades and exams.  Oh, so how could you ever tell if a kid was learning?  How the hell do you think we could tell if our kids were learning before schools?  Trust me, we could tell.  Because education co-ops would be a more personal and intimate experience, a child would not be a number.  You would know the students, and you could tell how much they were learning.  Grading and exams actually destroy the spirit of learning.  It makes kids believe that the point of learning is an award or letter or number that gets them fast-tracked to success.  It makes learning actually a tedious, undesirable means to an end instead of a pleasure and enjoyment.  But how would colleges be able to tell if a kid is qualified to attend their prestigious school?  Who cares.  Do you think they would stop admitting students?  That would be like a sports stadium demanding that every attendee take a written exam on the history of the sports team in order to qualify to be admitted.  Sports stadiums don’t do that, because attendees have something they want, money.  In fact, a lot of tech companies don’t even care about your GPA or what university you went to, because they’re realizing that high GPAs and prestigious universities may actually be a liability to your creativity, imagination, independence, and intellect.  How the hell can they tell if a job candidate is worthy then?  They look at the candidate’s work, they talk to them.  Grading and exams may have worked in the Industrial Age when the focus was on process and protocol, but in the Information Age when the focus is on creativity and ingenuity, grading and exams actually are hindrances. 

 Another thing a co-op would do is also teach life and social skills, but it would involve parents in this.  The main reasons we no longer respect our parents as we once did is because they have nothing to teach us, and nobody ever taught them how to teach their children.  A co-op would highly involve the parent.  One of the reason highly educated, first world people don’t want to be parents is that they don’t get the benefits of parenting we once did.  We look at our own parents and think, what a horrible, unappreciated, stressful job they had raising us.  Why the hell would I want to be a parent.  One of the greatest joys of parenting is being adored and appreciated by your child, and that comes from being a useful teacher to your child.  My parents never taught me life or social skills, but if they had, I believe I would have loved and respected them significantly more.  How could you not when your mother or dad teaches you an important lesson by using their own personal experiences?  In fact, I respected and valued my coach more, because he was full of life lessons shrouded in athletic tips and pointers like, get your head out of your ass, be dedicated, show up to practice, help out, don’t be selfish, don’t complain, etc.  They weren’t just athletic tips; he was giving me invaluable life lessons I cherish and have benefited from to this day.  Parenting would be much more enjoyable (along with being a supervisor at work) if you knew how to teach and lead, and those you taught and led valued, respected, and adored you.  I guarantee, you would want to have kids.

 This goes to the root of our modern problems.  We think we know what we want, but we wind up creating these rules, bureaucracies, specialization, and automation that are supposed to give us what we want, but they actually turn us into unhappy, unfulfilled, unhealthy, lazy, entitled, spoiled, narcissists.  Was this some grand plan of some brilliant sociopath to create a population of disenfranchised, atomized, alienated, anti-social work-slaves?  I don’t think so, although, the roots of modern bureaucratic society were eugenics and social engineering, the idea that pseudo social scientists could plan and design our lives and communities better than us.  I believe most everyone had the best of intentions and truly believed they would create a better society with happier people, but that was exactly what Hitler thought too.  I believe that many people have realized that we have taken a wrong turn, but some of them are profiting greatly from it, so there is resistance to change.  However, I believe, the vast majority of people have no fucking clue how we got here, what is going on, what went wrong, and just assume everything magically fell into place by the hand of god or randomness, and life is hard, and there’s nothing they can do about it, the idiot sheep.  I don’t believe ignorance is bliss.  I believe ignorance leads many of them into self-destructive behavior and addictions that make them miserable.  It’s certainly no joy to realize that we have all been brainwashed and live in a destructive, harmful society, but I also know what can make me happy and I try not to dwell too much on things I cannot immediately change.  Writing this blog helps me vent, but it also gives me a glimmer of hope that I’m spreading a message and with sufficient critical mass, change will happen.  I’m also smart enough to know that I’m not the first to think what I think.  If I think it, it’s been part of a greater idea that has been stirring about, and I’ve just latched on to it and perhaps stated it a bit more clearly than others.

 A word to our rulers.  All this should not threaten or scare you.  Much like North Korea, our world is ruled by a criminal elite.  But if you think for a second that Kim Jong Un can reform and democratize North Korea or simply step down and move to America, you don’t understand how criminal empires work.  Once you get to the top, you’re sort of stuck.  You’re just as much a prisoner as everyone else, except you just get the most material benefits.  Likewise, if some benevolent ruling elite of our Capitalist global economy suddenly wanted to turn into a good guy, he would become easy target of the rest of the club.  Imagine if you’re the high school stud quarterback or the prettiest, most popular girl in school, imagine if you were all like, hey, I’m going to eat lunch with the nerds today, because we shouldn’t limit our social circles and I don’t believe in this hierarchy bullshit.  That kid would be mocked and knocked right off their throne.  Another kid would be elevated in their place.  Simple as that.  Change actually doesn’t come from the top.  Change comes either from a popular revolution which is actually rare, or a sufficient number from the group at the top feel it’s safe and cool to adopt a particular view.  There was a time when the high school king and queen believed in racism and segregation, and now that’s like totally not cool.

 So what would happen if kids were educated in co-ops?  They would all have stronger life and social skills.  Certainly, they would consume less and be more conscientious and probably vote more independent and think for themselves.  This would absolutely threaten the status quo.  But what actually happens next?  Does the world end?  Certainly, corporate and big business profits suffer, wealth is distributed more evenly, but what happens next?  Those on top are loath to lose wealth and power, because that is how they have defined their self-esteem and self-valuation.  They are actually terrified to lose wealth and power, because they have a sneaking suspicion that underneath all their wealth and power is a pile of shit.  Without their wealth and power, nobody would respect, fear, admire, or care for them.  My answer is that you aren’t going to lose all your wealth and power overnight, and if your kids are raised in co-ops and learn that wealth and power does not define them, they will be more than happy living a simple life with close social connections and be perfectly fine.  In fact, they will be happier than you ever were.  You’ve been raised in a dog-eat-dog world, and you’ve triumphed by eating the most dogs, but what have you actually triumphed, because you certainly haven’t triumphed in life if all you have is wealth and power.  You’ve triumphed in a manufactured, artificial game that was designed a long time ago by a bunch of farmers who figured out how to domesticate and enslave fellow humans.  It’s like winning a video game.  You have the highest score, but now what?  People admire and fear you, but now what?  Can you take that admiration and fear and go out and buy yourself some happiness?  Or do you just construct an elaborate excuse of a life to distract you from the fact that you are fundamentally unhappy, unloved, and unloving?

 * * *

 What is the meaning or purpose of our life?  The book claims, “Life is for doing, learning, and enjoying.”  I disagree.  We are, sorry to say, slaves to our DNA, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It doesn’t eliminate choice, freewill, and chance.  Our DNA is a living document, a code that teaches us how to live and survive nature.  But once the DNA creates our eyes, brain, legs, and stomach, and once the creature we call ourselves interacts with others and nature, whole new emergent things arise which cannot be predicted or expected.  So what does our DNA tell us to do?  That is the meaning and purpose of our lives.  Certainly, it tells us to do, learn, and enjoy, but it also tells us to do many other things including procreate, grow, teach, share, give, wander, sense, explore, compete, fight, run away, etc.  As the most socialized and intelligent creature on the planet, our greatest meaning and purpose is to be intelligent, social animals, and as such, this allows us to discover the greatest meaning and purpose of all.  WE WERE CREATED TO BE RESPONSIBLE STEWARDS OF ALL NATURE or at least become extinct trying.  Fact is, and probably chances are that we are not the chosen one, but through nature’s unfathomably long history of trial and error, it created the chosen one.  The chosen one realized its ultimate meaning of being the responsible stewards of all nature, and it’s quite possible they’re still around. 

 The question remains, however, why they would create us if they were already created?  My answer is that life is a sport.  Sports are created by humans not just to entertain us and keep us in shape, but they’re a derivation of play.  Playing is used by children and to a lesser extent, adults, to simulate life and provide us with similar challenges but in a safer and more enjoyable context.  Therefore, this life we live on Earth as humans is a sport.  I hate to think that all the death and suffering on Earth is a sport, and I’m not saying it’s all an illusion, but it’s a necessary evil.  Humanity is played out naturally, and this provides us with lessons.  The problem of course is ethics.  I mean, would humans engage in a sport where animals actually suffer and are killed, just so that we can learn a powerful lesson or be entertained?  My theory is that those in charge can’t just sit idle having learned everything and just sit around enjoying life.  Those in charge want to live naturally and part of that is to be in a process of growth, learning, and changing.  To have mastered life and to sit around doing nothing but enjoy life, perhaps bored these folks, so they went about reconstructing natural life and evolution all over again, and that’s what we’re in, this endless cycle of growth, learning, and changing, starting from scratch, because that’s just what we’re naturally programmed to do for all eternity.  Life is like a puzzle, but instead of taking apart the pieces and jumbling them up and putting them back together over and over and over and over and over again, right after we jumble them up, we erase our memory of ever having put the puzzle together.  Horrible, isn’t it, but what else is there to do?  What else is there to do?

 One of the peculiar things about humans is that we function better if we believe in certain things that do not necessarily need to be true.  In other words, we believe in things like superstitions, hope, luck, fortune, and meaning and purpose, even where they do not exist.  There was probably a time where some intelligent primates were not equipped with such bias.  They lacked superstitions, hope, the belief in fortune and luck and meaning and purpose.  When times were tough, they simply gave up, and hence, their DNA was not passed on.  In other words, part of the meaning and purpose of our life, interestingly, is pursuing and believing in meaning and purpose which enhances our ability to get through life and pass on our DNA.  In other words, if we were in charge of nature, not only would we try to continue learning and growing and changing, but we would also construct meaning and purpose regardless of whether there was any.  Nature may have started out without meaning and purpose, but with the advent of intelligent, social animals, it acquired the construct of meaning and purpose which started out as a simple survival tool like an anus. 

 * * *

 One of the chapters I liked best in the book was about mirrors.  Whenever we judge or criticize others, we are often judging or criticizing something undesirable in ourselves, but it also applies to situations.  What makes you angry, resentful, and annoyed?  Personally, I hate being treated unfairly.  I grew up being treated unfairly, so it’s a pet peeve, but does this mean that I treat others unfairly?  This is a point of enlightenment, because I do.  I get irritated with people who talk too much, but it’s not because I talk too much, but rather, they talk too much because they are nervous in front of other people, and so this is something I don’t like in myself.  I was at a bar and became irate at this person smoking next to me, but it meant that I was irate about my own unhealthy addictions like drinking.  You hear stories of this all the time, but you just don’t think it applies to you or is so universal.  Some of the most homophobic people are also the most insecure about their sexuality or fitting in.  I used to have a boss who criticized everyone for poor teamwork and leadership, and probably of all people at that place, he had the worst teamwork and leadership skills.  I hate getting stuck at red lights and waiting in lines, but is that saying something about my life in general, that I’m annoyed by getting stuck in life and not getting to where I want to go.  And I often rile against our government, but is that more about me not trusting my own leadership and decisions in life and worrying whether I am crooked and give into impulses too much, whether I’m secretly desirous of wealth and power and controlling other people?

 At the same time, we can also look at the things we admire and are attracted to.  I love transcendent music and reading enlightening books.  What does that say about me?  I admire people who are committed and work hard at something to achieve a greater goal.  I admire people who give and share.  I admire people who stand up for something they believe in despite it not being popular.  I admire the underdog who fights against great odds and continual disappointment to finally triumph.  I admire people who think creatively and unconventionally.  I know, you’re probably wondering now if I’m just making shit up to brag about myself.  I have a friend who’s truly warm, kind, and gentle, and I’m not saying that means I’m like him, but it means that perhaps deep down, I am that person, but certain things in life have undermined that person I truly want to be.  I have this thing where I think being too nice and kind makes you a victim, a sucker, and that’s probably me thinking about myself as a child.  Being nice and kind doesn’t make you a victim.  Deciding that you’re better off not being nice and kind is what makes you a victim the rest of your life by being hypervigilant against abuse and exploitation to the point of becoming an unlikable asshole. 

 One of the great things about mirrors is that it teaches you not to take criticism personally, especially from people who don’t know you well.  It’s like that thing where someone goes, “I have a friend who has this medical problem…”  We all know, he’s talking about himself.  Whenever someone harshly criticizes you, don’t take it at face value.  When they say something like, “I don’t really think you care about this, and you’re not putting in your fair share of work,” what they are truly saying is, “I’m not sure I care about this, and I’m not sure I care to invest my time and effort into this.”  Sometimes, actually often, people lie to themselves.  We all do it to protect our egos, just like the old, “I have a friend who…” trick.  Next time someone questions your commitment to a project, forget about your own commitment to the project and start to ask what you can do to get the person more committed to the project.  In a sense, that person is asking for help.  He has lost motivation, vision, confidence, and instead of admitting it, he’s doing the old, “I have a friend who…” trick but instead is using the old, “You’re the one who’s…” trick.  When I think of trolls on the Internet, one of the biggest attacks they do is trying to make you look like an outcast, whether your race, sexual orientation, whatever.  What they are actually doing is crying out for help.  They feel like outcasts.  They have no friends, and all they have is the Internet and a bunch of strangers who they feel won’t like them anyway.  This is probably one of the best lessons I’ve learned recently and especially regarding how to get along with others better.  My tactic has often been to ignore people who criticize me, and just tack it up to the heat of the moment, but now, I see it even better as they’re asking for help by revealing something they don’t like about themselves. 

 * * *

 But I have to expand on this.  If in fact, the way we view others and life itself is actually just a projection of our insecurities, fears, hopes, and desires, then what if EVERYTHING and reality itself was nothing but a projection?  I mean, yes, there is an independent, external reality, but it’s truly just a bunch of atoms buzzing about in elaborate patterns.  The reality that we know and love is different.  It is deeply colored and distorted by the lens of our desires and fears.  So the reality is not out there.  It is like color.  The color does not exist in the object but rather the color is the wavelength of light that is reflected by the object.  Reality as we know it is not inherent in the objects we sense and know exist from mathematical formulas.  The reality that we know is rather the reflection from our DNA that imprints in us our desires and fears.  Our DNA has constructed its own version of nature, sort of like a map, a representation of reality, but instead of political boundaries or lines to represent elevation, this map is filled with lines and colors that indicate whether something is beneficial or harmful to us.  We don’t see reality as it really is.  What we see is this map that is projected through our eyes onto the surface of everything we see and sense and know. 

 And if everyone’s reality is strikingly different than our own, because they all have different needs and fears or levels of needs and fears based on their different DNA but also their different life experiences, and our political beliefs are based on our unique realities and personal experiences, then instead of saying things like, I can’t believe how many stupid people are fascists, left-wing, right-wing, or libertarian, we should rather be saying, their political beliefs are valid for them, and I need to understand what life experiences they had to make them so fearful of chaos so as to support fascism or authoritarianism, what made them so distrustful of authority to be libertarian, etc.  In other words, there is no objective reality constructed by humans to argue over, unless you all agree it’s just a bunch of buzzing atoms.  We’re all arguing over each other’s subjective realities being invalid, but we should now know that we’re wrong.  Every subjective reality is valid to the viewer.  If you want to change how people view the world, you don’t question their subjective reality, you try to understand it and gain their trust, so that they will allow you to change the lines and colors on their map to view things differently.

 * * *

 One of the most revealing and oddest parts of the book comes in at page 157.  “The Master Teachers need the illusion of reality to teach us their lessons as well as they do.”  “But by exposing the Master Teachers (the “villains” of the piece) as the wonderful, kindly, loving friends they are, aren’t we risking the effectiveness of future lessons?  Not likely.  You’ll forget all this.”  If I’m reading correctly, the authors are saying that our lives are some sort of virtual reality learning tool like a flight simulator.  The problem I have with this is that any suggestion that the pain and suffering of characters in this supposed simulation is an illusion is unethical.  We are given compassion, and when we see the suffering of Third World people or even black people in American prisons, I’m not about to be callous enough to say, oh, you folk are just characters in my simulation, and you’re not REALLY suffering or hurting.  I suppose the ultimate way to ensure that you believe that you are in a real world and not a simulation is this morality clause.  For you to say, hey, I get it, this is all fake, that is inconsistent with possessing any character, perhaps the reason you are in the simulation in the first place.  In a way, what I’m saying is that there is only one possible, moral way to interpret our reality and life and that is by assuming it’s all real, that we are in the very first iteration of something that will later be played out in simulations ad infinitum.  But is it possible that if you do believe that you’re in a simulation, and you do assume that everyone who is suffering is just a computer-programmed character, and then you try to enjoy your life in this simulation without feeling any guilt that you actually fail the simulation if in fact it’s a simulation to teach you morality and character?

 Another possible interpretation is that sometimes the intensity and weight of reality can be too much.  Negative feelings and traumatic events can make this reality too unbearable, but instead of ending our lives, we need a pressure release valve, and this is one tool.  One time when I took mushrooms, I received the message that my life was nothing but a play, and an audience would cheer me when it was all over.  Perhaps past spiritual leaders have captured this concept, with or without psychedelics.  Sometimes, when life gets too tough, you have to imagine that it is not real at all, sort of like dissociation where you sort of leave your body.  Of course, the danger is that you also lose contact with your compassion and feelings for others, which is also how many psychopaths start out.  The trick then is to pull yourself back to reality and reengage your emotions and feelings which may be painful for you, but ultimately ensure that you don’t lose any compassion or feelings for the suffering of others. 

 * * *

 I think one of the greatest errors of humanity came about with the Rationalist Era.  While certainly, we achieved many great things with science and the age of reason, we took it too far.  We threw out the baby with the bathwater.  Science and the age of reason taught us that we could use reason, logic, and rational thought to overcome some of our biases and distortions, but what it is now telling us is that most of those biases and distortions are what make us human, and we don’t want to get rid of them all.  One of the misperceptions is that we are mostly conscious, rational people pursuing self-interest and that it is society which gives us our morality, compassion, and humanity.  Modern research is telling us otherwise.  It is telling us that we are mostly unconscious, irrational, social animals with occasional conscious, rational reflection, often times a step behind our unconscious mind.  We are all born with morality, compassion, and humanity.  The problem with the first version is that it sets us up to fail.  If in fact we are mostly conscious, rational people, and it is society that gives us our morality and compassion, then we fail to appreciate our instincts and start to engage in constant war with them.  Obviously, they win, because we cannot maintain constant conscious vigilance.  Second of all, we resent ourselves and others for failing to live up to this lofty expectation.  For example, if all drivers were always attentive, conscious, and rational, the only explanation for them cutting us off is that they did so purposefully with the intent to harm or annoy us.  As a result, we take everything personally, not just other people’s driving.  We also fail to give ourselves any slack for giving in to impulses or doing things without thinking.  As a result, we actually become anti-social, angry, resentful assholes, and ironically, we become even more vulnerable to unconscious fits of rage and insensitive, antisocial behavior.  (If we find that 90% of the time our minds float off to space when we drive, imagine that at any given time, the minds of 90% of drivers around you are off in space.  I’d drive carefully if I were you and be more forgiving of everyone’s shitty driving including your own.)

 What this book is trying to teach us is not so much the, we have a faulty concept of true human unconscious, social nature, but rather, it is trying to give us the tools to stop expecting everyone to be rational, conscious, logical beings.  We will fail ourselves.  People will fail us.  We can’t change ourselves or others by holding a grudge against ourselves or others.  We need to accept and then move on.  When we feel someone should have done something, and they didn’t, should we punish them or should we change the initial proposition to, someone does not always do something I expect them to (probably because they are distracted by other things they are more worried about). 

 “Would you rather be right or be happy?”  “If we answer “Happy,” we are free.  If we answer “Right,” the cycle of misery begins again.  If we’re right we must punish – either ourselves or another.”  “…the irony is that when we punish another, we first punish ourselves.  Who do you think feels all that hate we have for another?  The other person?  Seldom.  Us?  Always.” 

 It’s just like an argument with someone you care about.  Do you want to be right and hurt their feelings, or do you want to save the relationship and be happy in the long run?  Perhaps the most important point here that the author missed is that it all starts with you.  When you feel that you have done something wrong in your life, and you are unwilling to forgive yourself or understand that you did it because you were distracted by more urgent concerns, you resent yourself and feel the need to punish yourself.  Using the mirror chapter before, what this means is that you turn that resentment around and project it on to everyone else.  Your failures, your mistakes, your flaws, your lapses of judgment then become everyone else’s, and that’s all you see in others, and your urge to punish and demonize them is actually an unfulfilled desire to punish yourself.  This book is so full of gems I have to stop reading just to let my mind relish it and let it soak in. 

 Fear is not a limitation, it is “a prelude to illumination.”  “Once you start doing the thing you fear, the fear is used for its true purpose: extra energy.” 

 Even worse is that not only do humans tend to inflate meaning and purpose in everything, we also inflate purpose and intention in people.  According to modern research, since we are not the ever-vigilant conscious, rational people we presume to be, then the vast majority of things that we do have no conscious purpose or intent.  Just like driving, most everything we do, including cutting off people in traffic is without foresight, intent, or malice.  Our tendency to assign purpose and intent to every action of others makes us paranoid and think everyone is out to get us when in fact they are not.  Our desire to punish them for their infractions leaves us unsettled, resentful, and antisocial.  Even worse, we often discover to our dismay that we have committed countless infractions in the heat of the moment or in a moment of distraction when our minds have floated off to space.  Instead of understanding that this is our normal mode of operation, we instead agonize over our hidden intent and malice to do harm to others.  Since we cannot accept this possibility, we become even more prone to dissociation and distancing ourselves from our conscious, rational mind.  In a vicious cycle, we then commit even more infractions.  Then we purposefully try to shut down the conscious mind with mind-altering substances and experiences.  Ironically, the path to a clear mind and a more rational, conscious mind is accepting the fact that we are mostly irrational and unaware of what we are doing or thinking. 

 I highly recommend that you read this book right after Social Animal.  What schools have failed to teach us is how to get along with each other.  As social animals, much of our happiness is rooted in social interactions.  If you want to be happy, the key is developing your social skills and relationships.  The powerful lesson this book teaches is to be more accepting and tolerant of others, but it fails to teach us what we’ve been doing wrong all along.  What we have been doing wrong is assuming that we are mostly rational, intentional, thoughtful, and asocial beings.  We assume that left to our own devices, we would be anti-social savages, so we need a society with lots of rules and regulations to keep us in line.  When people mistreat us, we assume it is intentional, because we think people are mostly conscious of everything they do and say.  In fact, most of everything we do, think, or say is unconscious and habitual including most of our driving.  There is very little we do with thoughtful intent.  The vast majority of times we hurt others is unintentional and if we were to reflect upon it, we would all feel remorse and guilt.  Because we don’t understand this about ourselves and others, we are always assuming everyone else and ourselves are assholes unworthy of trust and company.  Now, I’m not saying our rulers intentionally did this to us, as you can see, I used the term intention.  Just like us, our rulers do most everything out of habit, and I believe they maintain the status quo, not just because it’s extremely profitable to them, but because it’s just habit. 

 Once you start viewing everyone and everything they do as mostly unintentional and habitual, you get along much better with everyone, but most importantly, you get along much better with yourself.  To be happy and content with who you are and what you have done in life is essential to helping you make and keep friends, because you treat others as you feel you should be treated. 

 I would recommend skipping Parts 4 and 5 which descend into a bunch of self-help advice you’ve probably heard like a broken record.  The first three parts were good enough and revolutionary.  The rest is like following a great comedian with a bad amateur.  Although, half the book is filled with big font quotes, it’s still a pretty thick, long read.


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