The good, The bad, and The ugly
I have a strong tendency to focus on what I am not. I’m not tall enough; I’m not smart enough, I’m not handsome enough, I’m not funny enough, etc. This notion, in my mind, stems from the human desire to belong. If we see the way people act toward us and deem it unfavorable due to some attribute that we display, then it’s easy for us to judge ourselves as flawed in some fundamental way.
There are of course other ways to think about this scenario. The first, presented by Jordan Peterson is a quote “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” I know that I do this sort of comparison regularly. I see someone else having a seemingly great life, and I become jealous. I think the thing to note here is to not judge a book by it’s cover. While this other person might have a remarkable life, they very well could be harboring some terrible things as well. We can think of any number of scenarios - the adulterating CEO, the drug addict lead singer, or the more ordinary outwardly perfect, but inwardly broken home.
To be able to compare ourselves to who we were yesterday, it seems as though there is a pre-requisite. Perhaps we must first fully accept ourselves. Logically, it follows that if we are not tall, athletic, handsome, etc. that we should not expect to be treated as such. I know from my experience that my brain does not always work that way. It is easy for me to see someone who is tall, athletic, and gifted and for me to become jealous. It’s a ridiculous thing for me to do on MANY levels.
I am fundamentally different from that other person biologically, psychologically and socially. For me to expect to have the same genetics as another person is absurd and thinking that I might be able to change the genes that I have been given is pretentious to the level of playing the divine. My psychological makeup is driven by biology as well, both in the sense of the cognitive hardware I was given (maybe I’m smart, maybe not, etc.) along with how I am treated because of my cognitive and physical composition. For example, if I am tall, beautiful, and charismatic, then I will be interacted with by everyone as such. This particular treatment will modify my behavior as compared to a short, ugly and monotone person. This last aspect also ties into the social realm. If I am beautiful, I will most likely tend to hang out with other beautiful people because it is in my nature - flocks of a feather fly together.
These biological, psychological and social attributes combine to create an unconscious score. This rating places us within the social dominance hierarchy. It is tough for us to game this system as people around us very well know where we should be in the regime. Unconsciously this ordering allows us to fall into place. So when we try to step into a small metaphorical social community, and we enter at the top of their hierarchy, there is (we represent and impart) chaos, and we can quickly become rejected. The same can be said if we try to reach up through the hierarchy in terms of money, power, or sexual relations. It is when we embody a leader - someone with non-anxious presence and clarity of direction - that we will rise to the top of any one of these nested hierarchies. The thing to note is that certain genetic, psychological and social aspects pre-dispose us to climbing withing these hierarchical structures. For some, it looks effortless, because it is. While for others, less fortunate it is a constant battle for just the scraps.
So then, if we live within this complicated system and we are given a specific set of hardware upon which life develops a software operating system, what should we be doing with it?
The first word that comes to my mind is acceptance. I think it is essential to take a careful inventory of our lives. We can begin by asking several questions:
What is it that we do have (our best attributes)? What are some of our greatest strengths and how can we leverage those?
It seems that we tend to gloss over our best attributes. This facet might be because our best characteristics require the least effort to put forth because we are good at them. Our brain works on habits, and if we have a habit of being nice, then it will take more energy for our mind to be not nice. This concept also has a lot to do with our biological pre-disposition. Perhaps if we engage a friend, or colleague, or several of both, they will be willing to tell us how they see us showing up within the world. We are sadly cognitively blind to some things that we are doing, and how others are viewing us in the world. We must keep in mind that any feedback we get, generally speaking, is convoluted by the other persons social and psychological space. So to ask for direct feedback is one way to lessen that bias potentially.
What is it that we don’t have (things we think that we are missing)? What are some of our biggest perceived weaknesses and how are we able to develop them, and potentially turn them into strengths as well?
I think that we steer clear of the things that we believe are missing because when we think about them, we feel some sense of lack. This notion seems to feed back into the desire to be accepted (at least in my mind, that’s why I sometimes avoid looking toward these dark places within), which plays on our longing to be special, unique or different. Perhaps the things that we think are missing are not there to clear our path. For instance, if we were tall, handsome and funny - maybe we would not become intellectually obsessed - leaving us flat and one-sided (again, perhaps not, perhaps so). If we can take the time to look at some of our biggest weaknesses, we will be likely to find what we need to. I never felt smart growing up (and still don’t). However, this has become a profound strength for me. Because of this perceived weakness, I have developed a tenacious work ethic and tend toward needing to know. This curiosity has brought me a considerable amount of joy as I travel through life and investigate the many things that I do not know. If learning came quickly to me, perhaps I would have become bored as I have seen so many HIGHLY intelligent people become.
Let us now talk about fairness and equality. Fairness and equality are two human constructs that do not exist in nature. In nature, there is no good or bad, better or worse. There is just life and death. Seemingly life is better than death (life’s fundamental desire is for survival). Aside from that, things are a constant fight. There is no mediator to ensure equality of either opportunity or outcome. Therefore, it is especially absurd to think that I should have the same result as someone smarter or better looking than me. They have a different value to offer society (intellect and genetic fitness) and therefore are entitled to a different reward. This concept can be distributed to all modes of thinking. Survival of the fittest is indifferent to fairness. Natural selection is predicated on the notion of selecting the best traits to be passed along for survival. As society strengthens its systems, we are no longer allowing for this process to occur. This idea is not to say that someone’s genetic makeup is better or worse. What it is to say, is that certain attributes should be selected for and in today’s society, strictly speaking, they are not. So then, if we have been dealt a crappy genetic hand, we can be upset about it, or learn to leverage what we have. This idea is the only fundamental thing that each of us has; the choice to choose how we allow certain situations to affect us.
The long and short of this post comes down to a few things. I walk around and often find myself in a state of at least being displeased with where I am in life, at worst being angry about it. Intellectually, I realize that this gets me nowhere. Cognitively, it is a trap, a rut; I fall into seemingly often. Intellectually, I see it as a practice that I need to keep pulling myself out of the groove, focusing on what I do have and moving forward. It is insane to be upset with the person that we are not when it is physically impossible for us to become someone else. We are who we are, and our life long journey is learning to accept that. The only choice we can make is how to let our situation affect how we think, feel and act. It is only once we profoundly and truly accept ourselves that we might take the next step and that is of accepting someone else as they are without trying to change them.