The Difficulty of Hearing What You Want to Hear

To those who struggle with discipline in an artistic field, there is an issue of hearing what you want to hear.  When you hear that your work is good, that you should keep it up, that you should concentrate and develop it…  There is for you a temptation to throw caution to the wind and leave the rest behind and be that artist you can be, and that alone.

Of course, those who have talent must occasionally get confirmation and often deserve it, but it can also run amok.  I don’t speak of the pitfalls of the inflated ego, where one’s hubris outstrips their talents and they believe everything they touch is gold.  Rather, I speak of the simple capacity for attending to that which may allow a person to succeed in continuing to produce.  The capacity for the discipline to deliberately make commitments and deliberately stick to them – despite the muse.

After writing the posts I have this month, I have realized a great deal of the difficulties I have always faced, but this recognition has yet to change anything for me.  I have not made commitments deliberately.  I have not deliberately made good on commitments.  The indication from others that I must keep writing has only made me succumb to what is easiest and most fulfilling: writing.  Under the presumption that someday I shall be “saved” and I will be happy I continued to write. 

How can it feel simultaneously that this is a deal with the devil and a matter of following my higher calling?

Truth is, I can’t ignore the muse.  I must commit time to both writing and what is practical.  It is finding a structure in which both work together that is the most difficult, because the muse refuses to abide by my schedule.

Liars and Commitments

I always try to be honest. I very rarely misstate facts intentionally. I may withhold facts or not say the whole truth, in order to protect. I may speak indirectly to keep some things secret to some people (e.g. kids). I write fiction, which has the presumption of being a story, of some higher truth but not literal. But I don’t lie and I don’t resort to these other methods of communicating facts lightly.

Communicating is a form of commitment. It is a commitment to the person you are communicating with, that these are the facts as you understand them. It is a commitment that the person you are speaking with has a right to hold you to. If you are inconsistent, they have a right to point this out. If you are inconsistent in a way that is beneficial to you, they have a right to be suspicious. And if you are stating the highly unlikely, or what is highly unlikely given the audience to which you are speaking, they have a right to question. The system of communication breaks down when people are dishonest, and we have a commitment to the system of communication in so far as we want to take part in it.

Lies are adversarial, not just to the people to whom you are speaking, but the system of communication itself. Liars are adversarial to community. I have spoken of breaking commitments, however, and the trouble of making commitments deliberately and following through with them deliberately, rather than making them flippantly and later rationalizing away. These are also antithetical to community. They are not adversarial for the reason that they are not done with necessary intention – though under the recognition of what you are doing as ‘flippant’ or what you will likely do as ‘rationalize them away’, they may be.

Lying is also viral. If someone knows people are lying, particularly about other people, then they are less committed to the principle of truth telling about others themselves. It can be quite painful to be thoroughly committed to truth telling when you know others are not, and this can sometimes lead at least to exaggeration and at worst preemptive lying.

To be level headed, to not overcompensate or undercompensate for the emotions which you know may well be affecting your judgment, is a sometimes quite difficult proposition. It is better – I believe – not to compensate at all, but find the peace of mind to state facts and analyze these statements for errors in omission or minimization or exaggeration at a later time, making any necessary clarifications.

Truth-telling is a form of commitment I am good at and do not compromise lightly. Truth-telling is also the ethical characteristic which best holds a person together, as well as a community.

Ego

I have a large ego that I protect vehemently.  In reality, it is barely a bigger ego than I had when I was 7.  It does not grow and does not shrink.  It does take a beating, however, and need too much time to heal.  For this reason I protect it and do not properly develop and share. 

I am jealous with my time.  I am jealous with my energy.  I am jealous with my image.  I am jealous with my knowledge.

It is not such a vulgar ego.  It is a quiet ego.  It is a confidence.  For reasons of preconceptions and my own isolation, it may be mistaken for arrogance, but it is not haughty, even if I am oft too cranky and quick to criticize.

It is a possessive ego.  It is not so with others, but it is with itself.  It does not “waste” itself on others and it does not open itself to the criticism from the too-quick-to-judge-unknown, though it demands little of anyone else.

The age after youth should be time for sharing.  Your experience rich and talents still in their prime.  I envy those who just live who they are in every moment, without selective display.

I may understand from where this comes, but it does not stop the fear.  I press on to encounter the unknown.

A Definition of Success

In order to be deliberate in your decision making you must have conviction in how the world is and how you want it to be. You need time and intelligence to understand how the world is and to trust that understanding. You need both of these, as well as an understanding of yourself to understand how you want the world to change. Seeing this change happen is the definition of success for an individual. Understanding what success is for you is the first step towards realizing it.

When I ask how the world would change for me, I hesitate. I do not hesitate for change in my life. I can think of any number of things I would like to change for me. I would like more travel, more time to write, more time to research, more opportunities to give informed opinion to more people, more time with my son, more opportunities for intelligent companionship, more opportunities for sensitive companionship, more opportunities for intimacy, more time among natural beauty, more time drinking with old friends, more time drinking with festive strangers, more time to watch movies, more time to read books, more money to eat good food, more time to watch sports and talk politics with my Dad, more time to talk art and psychology with my Mom… But if I had to say how I would change the world, here I am more reluctant.

I am “live and let live”. I am not one to dictate the world to others unless I know and clearly that they are wrong. I do believe in the protection of the environment; I do believe in security; I do believe in approaching social policy sustainably; but I am passionate about protecting “live and let live”, the variety and diversity of human culture, and faith against the adversarial in spite of adversity.

I can live with moments foiled by adversity, but I can’t live well with moments foiled by adversaries, including moments foiled by adversaries under the cover of adversity or other people. In some sense, this is what Saving Social Faith is really about, saving people from the fear of unwarranted adversaries. For my part, I had always thought I would help with this task with writing and research. I am realizing that I must do more, but it is starting with this.

I will always honor those who save the environment, protect our safety, and think of our future with sustainable social policies; but for my part, I can only work to keep and promote the faith in those who save and protect. If you know of ways to promote a warranted confidence in our institutions, infrastructure, and security, I would like to hear.

The Torture of Mistrusting Yourself II

I have spoken of the torture of my excursions into research and writing when all commitments are broken, as though by the call of God to take up my pen; that state that makes me so wretched, which I try so much to defend; that time when all things make sense, and yet there is but disarray around me – to which I am oblivious until I must try to excavate my kitchen from garbage and grime. There is more to it, unfortunately.

I fail myself also in how I make my plans. I typically overestimate my abilities to produce. If I am energetic when making the plans, I presume I will be energetic at all times covering the scope of the plan. If I lack energy, I presume I will have far more energy to do things at a later time. This can also be said of how I make commitments to others, but it is different as applied to myself in that, I know this of myself, and can use this as an excuse to abandon plans. I can say “I was simply being overzealous” and feel no guilt and suffer no other direct punishment, if the plans are for myself.

I may fail myself in my health. Particularly when under stress or sometimes in my moments of concentration. I can fail to eat well. I can fail to sleep well. I can fail to exercise at all. I may put on weight I cannot spare. I may drink more caffeine than I can handle. I may consider myself invincible and allow myself more beer than is conducive to the next day’s work. I may fail relating to people and treat them all as part of a scenery to which I’m oblivious. I may not bother to love or reach out or care for others only to find myself soon thereafter alone and lonely. I may disregard prayer or meditation. I may not think twice about the hole I am digging for myself.

Then again, I may be riding high; I may be at the top of my game; I may be reaching out to others; I may be happily making progress in the right direction; And I may for reasons unfathomable to me, be struck by a migraine which sidelines me for two days with blurred vision, sensitivity to light and sound, disoriented thinking, and a temporary imprisonment I can’t possibly deserve.

All you can do is endure, and first do no harm. But I also fail myself when the excursions are over and the migraines subside, because I too often forget where I left off. I do not remember what had been on the agenda or bother to pickup with the tasks I had missed. I simply start anew, as though the excursion and migraine had wiped away all of what I was working on and towards. It seems like such a simple thing to accept your former self as you. The same you which committed to doing things for themselves and others now. It is a part of integrity which I struggle with more than ethical or logical integrity.

These intervening moments like migraines and excursions form a schism between my past and current selves. I never considered myself “flaky” and I must say, I never want to have to. But I let myself down in another way, in how I compensate for this difficulty. Instead of making commitments and sticking to them, I am reluctant to make commitments. Being non-committal protects me from breaking more commitments than I would otherwise, but does not help me toward succeeding in the areas I wish to succeed. To do this, I can’t avoid commitments altogether.

To find success, I must work on both the deliberateness of my commitments and carrying out my commitments deliberately.

The Torture of Mistrusting Yourself

To determine the conditions in which I have failed myself, is in some ways more difficult than the task I have addressed in How I Have Failed Others. It sounds nice and philosophical to say the tasks are simply the same, but I don’t believe they are, primarily because the commitments I make to myself rely on me to an extent which other commitments do not.

As with others, I fail myself, principally, in failing to keep to the plans which I make for myself. I do this largely because I get over-committed, things come up, and I make honest-though-mistaken use of my time. These are standard and apply to commitments to others as well. I also fail myself in the other two ways which I mention in the previous post. I fail myself in the games I play with myself and I fail myself by flights of fancy, temporarily abandoning all structure. These two, however, are distinctly different when the commitments are only to myself.

Generally my problem is not that of playing tit-for-tat with myself, and therewith breaking commitments as retribution. My problem is, instead, that of *not* playing tit-for-tat with myself. When I do let my former self down, there are rarely any immediate consequences – any consequences within my window of association – which train me to fulfill my commitments to myself. There need to be legitimate punishments.

In fact, the moments of “flight” I have spoken of are quite the opposite. In those moments I am taken by an idea in need of investigation or something in need of writing, I break commitments to seek a sort of near term fulfillment, which rewards me for breaking my commitments to myself. I do not simply stay at home to drink beer. Rather I do something far more satisfying, which I can also justify as of much deeper and greater significance than mundane commitments – and a deeper and greater significance to me. Because they are of deeper and greater significance to me and I am breaking commitments to me, I do not have that guilt of being mistaken or selfish. But if those moments come at the wrong time – and I cannot well time them – they promise me far greater trouble than success.

What it seems I need is likely what many people need, but is hard to achieve: good planning/resource allocation and an appropriate system of rewards and punishments for breaking commitments. In this, a valid system of rewards and punishments is crucial. But for me it is always undermined by chasing nobility, those matters of greater and deeper significance.

The torture of mistrusting yourself – using Nietzsche’s phrase – would seem punishment enough, but chasing nobility provides a near-term fulfillment, which rewards commitment breaking, and mistrust alone is not enough to offset it. And still, I struggle at this very moment to say I should not chase those moments. When I look at those things I have accomplished by chasing ideas whole heartedly in 10 day intervals – I have to say they are some of the things I am most proud of.

It is a kind of torture indeed.

How I Have Failed Others

I don’t intend to list the ways in which I have failed others. What I want to understand are the conditions under which I have failed them.

When I have a sense that people are judging me wrongly or with bias, I get defensive. When I am on the defensive, I may be quick to take credit where only partial credit is due; I may be more critical of others than they deserve; I may wallow in self-pity and give little of myself to anyone else; I am quickly indignant and questioning of motives; I am quick to accept adversaries as an explanation for what is wrong; I feel that “If I do not stick up for myself, who will?” overcompensating myself, for lack of a sufficient network to vouch for the credit I deserve. All my time and energy is spent on the ready, in a consistently heightened state. Perhaps unnecessarily so.

Logically, depending on the duration and the appropriateness, the above is an example from resources “diverted” or “misappropriated” or “over-committed”. I am not always so willing to use my resources, however. At times I can be petty. I can fail my commitments purposefully. I can feel slighted or not appreciated or annoyed, and intentionally not do something I committed to doing for the sake of “getting back” or “setting aright” or even revenge. I am not usually so callous. Rather, I let things slip, and do not feel bad. I put things on the back burner and never do get to them, because there were others I’d rather do things for. I may feel so personally unimportant to those I am committed to that I just don’t care whether I do what I said I would or not.

Other times I am aloof to the significance of keeping commitments. I don’t think at all about what I had said I would do that day. I am so easily diverted from any schedule that I don’t even look at my calendar and when I do, I push everything back or decide it was unimportant after all.

There are external and internal issues with resource contention, there are the games we play, and then there is that feeling like you are seeking that something or have found that something which is far more important than anything that could be on the schedule today. You can’t plot a course if the person steering the ship may very well at any time decide to go back to the dock and buy themselves a puppy.

Still, there are too often times that I feel I “just can’t” do something today and in reality I am much more energetic doing something else, that I give into the notion that it really is ok in such not-so-rare moods to give into commitment breaking. But if I cannot handle the commitments I have made, I should fulfill them and make commitments which end those kind of commitments eventually, in the future. I should not relent so whimsically to breaking the existing commitments.

Diversions and resource contention will always be an issue. One must always be judicious in their game play, but that will likely always be an issue too. I can, however, decide to stick to the schedule and not go fishing to try and reel in the big one. I am, after all, not easy-come-easy-go or happy-go-lucky, even if I sometimes can’t keep myself on track.

The Philosopher’s Eye

In the basic toolbox of any philosopher is the capacity to check the reasoning in an argument (validate a proof); the capacity to find counterexamples; and a third part which too many ‘thinkers’ lack. I call it “The Philosopher’s Eye” because it is more akin to the artist’s eye than it is to any deliberate peculiarity.

What they see could be seen by others, but it is not seen by others, because others have not fully practiced inference. In this, it is not unlike the person who first learns to draw faces. If you begin to draw faces (in an experiment which will not take more than a week to conduct) you will see faces different. You will note that perhaps you could have seen them that way all along, but that you now see them quite different. The bridge of the nose, the shape of the chin, the angle of the eyes… And if you are old enough, you will notice that what you had seen when you were drawing faces is something you may lose if you stop.

The Philosopher’s Eye could be understood like the scientists, who while studying or looking for a peculiarity, or testing a hypothesis, may literally see things others do not. But while the scientist may see things within their domain, the philosopher has no domain per se, and practiced in inference, applies that inference like the artist, everywhere.

The Philosopher’s Eye is not to be confused with the indoctrinated who cannot see things any differently than what a ‘theory’ or ‘philosophy’ tell them. Like the scientist’s eye, they are informed and on solid ground. But their foundation is on only the most general principles of logic, inference, and psychology – a solid foundation for an open mind. They can see, and quickly, to the deepest conclusions available from the surface by these basic principles. And are thereby able to quickly identify counter-examples and peculiarities which form the start of interesting theories.

Admittedly, all great thinkers do not and cannot live at all times with this Eye, less they go mad trying to reconcile all the peculiarities they have seen.

A Birthday Wish

That simple ethical people not live in fear.

More than any given value of being ‘American’, I think this is traditionally and rightly the principle we stand by.

It is why our nations official motto is “In God We Trust”.

It is why we fight in wars when sometimes the cause we are fighting for is unclear.

And though they are our friends, it is why we have learned from Europe and have not become Europe.

Fear is not the only thing we have to fear, but freedom from fear is necessary for everything life is worth living for.

To actively protect against it is a burden. So I only wish for this: work on your faith and trust in general. So to not incidentally cause more fear than is necessary for our protection.

A Delicate Network

We are a delicate network. Your identity to that network is not always clearly defined. It is so undefined that there is some temptation to give yourself up to that network, to become only a node in the net which moves with the waves and takes what comes. But for the strength of that network itself, your identity has to be more.

It means that each node is strong and is not easily undone. A person is undone when they have lost their integrity. Integrity is that which makes us decidedly an individual and those without it have given themselves up to the waves.

There are two basic forms of integrity which a person can’t give up – ethical integrity and logical integrity. Ethical integrity is compromised when we act and speak in ways which would conflict with our ethical principles, upon reflection. Logical integrity is compromised when we are unable to reason from principles (including ethical) and beliefs, in a logical manner, to other beliefs and actions – we are not capable of effectively reflecting.

We cannot do as much about what comes our way. In many ways, we can only choose good friends, do our part to stay out of trouble, and hope for the best. But we can do something to live within ethical principles and use logic to effectively reason about what to do, say, and believe. This site is intended to journal my struggles in maintaining that integrity against the currents that attempt to compromise it.