I have been asking myself some serious questions lately. Kind of keeping it real. No matter how strong your conviction are, if you have a touch of humility, you should suspect or at minimum reexamine your opinions and principles – every now and then. To keep myself in check, my personal rule has always been: if it takes you more than one minute to identify an asshole around you, then you are the asshole.
Keeping yourself in check is all about asking yourself uncompromising and hard questions. At times too much humility leads into letting others walk all over you in life. But what if one of your principles is to stay intellectually curious, socially selfless, and personally conscious!
One of the serious questions that has been swirling around my head is the question of "Do I have enough?". And by that I mean enough of everything. It’s indeed a loaded question but if one can find the answer, then bliss will follow. The question at the core is: Enough compare to what or who? It is absolutely clear that comparison and difference is hidden beneath the question. It goes back to the same majestic belief of Human Beings Always Compare. They compare parallel or different things and weigh them for their claims to be greater. These comparisons take place in multiple ways and in association with multiple groups of people such as:
– Inner Community: Family and Friend
– Extended Community: Neighbors, High School friends, Coworkers, Childhood pals, …
– Some Sameness: Same city, Same Opinion, Same Hobby, Same Employer, …
I venture to say that comparison with the first and last group is simply stupid and pointless. For instance, if I’m comparing my life with my brother and sister’s, something else is profoundly wrong with my value system and life priorities. On the other hand, if I care to weigh myself against the people of the "same" category, then I have let myself down – because my life has become a pursuit of "approval of others".
I’m just thinking out loud here and the answer (if exists) seems to be getting complicated more and more … I’m continuing to think and write about this. In the meantime, I ran into an interesting and relevant piece from Bob Sutton which states:
"… This attitude fuels a quest for constant improvement that has a big upside, leading to everything from more beautiful athletic and artistic performances, to more elegant and functional products, to better surgical procedures and medicines, to more effective and humane organizations. Yet when taken too far, this blend of constant dissatisfaction, unquenchable desires, and overbearing competitiveness can damage your mental health. It can lead you to treat those "below" you as inferior creatures who are worthy of your disdain and people "above" you who have more stuff and status as objects of envy and jealousy.
Again, a bit of framing can help. Tell yourself, "I have enough." Certainly, some people need more than they have, as many people on earth still need a safe place to live, enough good food to eat, and other necessities. But too many of us are never satisfied and feel constantly slighted, even though – by objective standards – we have all we need to live a good life. I got this idea from a lovely little poem that Kurt Vonnegut published in The New Yorker called "Joe Heller," which was about the author of the renowned World War II novel Catch 22. The poem describes a party that Heller and Vonnegut attended at a billionaire’s house. Heller remarks to Vonnegut that he has something that the billionaire can never have, "The knowledge that I’ve got enough." These wise words provide a frame that can help you be at peace with yourself and to treat those around you with affection and respect …"
First of all, Kurt Vonnegut is simply a genius. If you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend reading Slaughterhouse Five. Second of all, part of the problem is that we live in a society, a world, a culture where consumption is rooted in everything that we do, say or even think. As Chuck Palahniuk wrote in Fight Club, "Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need."
Now I know you didn’t specifically mention materialism as the pivot of comparison but alas the two are so deeply rooted that I couldn’t help but draw the analogy. Maybe Sutton develops this idea further but, in many ways, I believe the mere fact that you are cognitive of the rat race gives you a step above the rest. Similarly, trying to answer the hard questions like "Do I have enough?" or "Am I truly happy?" also, despite being unanswered, give you a step above the rest. Or at least, I’d like to think so. Because I too have an overly-analytical inner-dialogue that seems to circle and follow me incessantly through each day.
Do you honestly believe though that answering any of these hard questions will lead to a blissful life? I think it is just the opposite. After all, ignorance is bliss.