I think that insights have the power to change the way we think and ultimately our lives. So I’ve decided to share some of my insights every month! Here are 3 insights I learned or I thought about in October.
Insight #1: “People rarely appreciate their ignorance because they lock themselves inside an echo-chamber of like-minded friends and self-confirming newsfeeds, where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged.”
From the book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
Since we are social creatures, we usually belong to one or several groups. Think about our families, friends, colleagues at work or school, partners and so on. We do not choose our family, but we are raised by them so they usually pass on many of their beliefs and behaviours onto us. We do choose our friends, and we usually choose the ones that see the world like we do – or in a similar way, at least.
When we have to choose everything else, we apply the same rule: if it matches what I think and how I view myself and the world, I accept it. This is how we unconsciously choose new friends, movies and TV series, books or social media accounts to follow.
While it is normal to want to be surrounded by people and information that you identify with, it is also very dangerous. That’s because once your identity becomes intertwined with that of the group, change or growth may be dangerous. If you change too much, your group will no longer want you or you will leave that group. Or, in the worst case scenario, you will give up your growth for the sake of the group.
Think about this: if you are part of a group of people that are Christians, you are more likely to continue to believe in God than to question whether he exists. If your friends all think that climate change is a hoax, you are less likely to look for the truth about this. If your friends are racists, you are probably a racist too. If your friends think that women are stupid, you are more likely to think that too.
If you stay in a certain group, it means that you already believe what they believe or you will adopt a big part of their beliefs (consciously or not). The problem is that your group may be wrong, but being part of that group depends on believing what they believe. And staying in that group is comfortable, but it can also encourage you to stay ignorant or adopt dangerous beliefs and ideologies.
I never realized this, but now I find this lesson to be so important. In the last two years, I let go of friendships and isolated myself. The only constant person in my life is my boyfriend, Radu. And until I read this ideas in Harari’s book, I had no idea that this isolation allowed me to grow and change in any way I choose. This loneliness and space in my life gave me the freedom to let go of old beliefs and search for the truth and accept it. I never felt any pressure to stay the same.
However, I have always put myself and the truth above group loyalty. For example, I come from a very conservative, Christian family. They think people should go to church, read the bible and fear God. But to be honest, I stopped believing in God years ago. My parents (almost) accepted this, but most of my family still thinks I am just a lost sheep who will eventually go back to church. And this often makes me feel misunderstood and different from them, but I would rather live my truth than be closer to them.
What you can do
I think that your life can follow one of these scenarios.
Scenario #1: You already have your family, friends and boyfriend/girlfriend. You see the world as they see it. And since you all believe the same things, you encourage yourselves to continue believing that (without stopping to look for evidence whether that is true). In this situation, your group is more important that discovering your ignorance, learning more about yourself and the world and finding the truth.
Scenario #2: You begin to expose yourself to new ideas because you started reading interesting books, met new people or just realized that something no longer makes sense. But you realize that if you continue down this path, you can no longer be a part of that group and truly connect with them. So you give up on the knowledge you have found and run from the uncertainty of the unknown to continue to be part of that group.
Scenario #3: You begin to expose yourself to new ideas because you started reading interesting books, met new people or just realized that something no longer makes sense. You begin to understand that you (and your friends) were quite ignorant about some things you took for granted. But somehow you see the value in changing your beliefs and lifestyle and embracing the truth. So you choose to walk away from the truth, to be able to make your own choices and live life differently.
Obviously, I do not know your situation and I cannot make any decisions for you. But I do think it is important for you to understand that sometimes, you will have to choose between knowledge and group loyalty. You will have to choose which one of these scenarios you want to live by. And when you make that choice, think about what you care about the most.
Insight #2: “When I want something and it doesn’t happen, my mind reacts by generating suffering. Suffering is not an objective condition in the outside world. It is a mental reaction generated by my own mind.”
From the book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
We have all experienced discomfort, pain and even desperation sometimes. Yes, those feelings were all real…but they all started in our minds. And perhaps this can teach us how to stop the suffering.
We all have many dreams, desires and wishes. We would love to own a company one day. We crave to be loved as we are. We would like to go on a vacation on a Greek island one day. We never want to be bullied. We want to stop dreading Mondays. And the list can go on and on and on.
We, as a species, spend a lot of time thinking. We think about the past, the present and the future. When we experience something pleasant, we want it to continue forever. When we experience something painful, we want it to stop and we never want to feel that way again. That is normal.
But I think that we are setting ourselves up for pain and misery. We always want something: more money, a day off, a better boyfriend/girlfriend, new clothes, an expensive car, a bigger home, more freedom, more Instagram followers, more self-confidence, less weight, more chocolate cake. And since we always want a millions things, we are never satisfied…as a result, we are almost always in pain.
We need to realize that we can stop that pain. And the best way to stop it is not by chasing all those millions things we need or want or think we want. That would take us a lifetime and even when we have everything on our list, we will find something else to want. The way to stop our suffering is to realize that we do not need anything else than we already have.
What you can do
I know that you probably have your own dreams, goals and desires. I think we need to have something to aim for in life. But I think we should aim for results and goals, not things. And even if we work hard and never reach those goals, we should remind ourselves that we do not have to punish ourselves with pain.
When you lack something or want something you do not have, realize that your pain or discomfort is there because you create it in your own mind. Remind yourself that “you do not absolutely need to have that”. Remind yourself that you do not need anything to make you feel happy (anything besides safety, a home and food).
I know this sounds easy, but making this change is very hard. Learning to detach from your goals or desires is hard and this can also be painful at first. But I think that the less we crave things and cling to them for happiness, the happier we will be.
Insight #3: Use your real voice and talk about what matters. If you have something important to say, say it as you want to say it. – Paula Ghete
This is a lesson I learned after something that happened in my life. I was frustrated about a certain behaviour that some people have. And I think it’s important to talk about this, so I wrote an article about it. It was one of the few articles that I wrote in my real voice which is a bit more frank, honest and direct. In my mind, I always think about things how they really are, without sugar-coating anything.
But I was a bit anxious about it. I wondered if people would understand the real message behind the article or not. I was worried they would misjudge my intentions, twist what I wrote or judge me based on their opinions – not the truth I wanted to share. And since I was criticizing a popular behaviour, I thought they would label me as a “hater”, not as someone who sees why it’s wrong. Since I was worried about this, I asked Radu to read it for me and give me feedback. And he misunderstood my article and message just as I worried other people would…
So I didn’t post the article. In fact, I deleted it, even though I spent hours writing it. And then I drowned inside my own mind. I was filled with doubt, worry and anger. I kept asking myself: Should I not write as I think? Should I always change or distort what I say to make it “nicer”, but less real? Would people judge me for speaking my mind? Is it wrong to be frank and say things as they are if I do not offend or insult anyone? And if I can’t write the way I think and feel, why would I even write at all?
And then I realized this: I need to use my own voice. I may be the only person who thinks the way I do about the things I think about and who can talk or write about them as I would. And you need to use your own voice. We need to start being more real and honest, especially if we have something good to say about things that matter. Otherwise, why should we even speak, write or share anything at all?
What you can do
I know that some of you may have felt the same way. You were anxious to talk about the things you care about because it seems like you are the only one who cares. Or you were worried about what people would think of you. I get that. We want to avoid criticism and sometimes, we give up on our true selves just to make sure that we are not criticized by others.
But think about this: what matters more? Do you care more about living your truth and sharing your message or do you care about being accepted? Do you want to be appreciated and judged for who you are or to be appreciated for who you are not?
I know that we often do not want to talk about politics, religion, veganism, pollution or social responsibility not because we do not care, but because we are worried we will be ignored, judged or misunderstood.
So if you ever feel like you want to or need to talk about something, ask yourself this:
– Is it based on truth and facts? If it is, talk about it.
– Is it important? If it is, talk about it.
– Should everyone know about this? If they should, talk about it.
– Is it urgent? If it is, talk about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not telling you to call people out and bully them online or in real life. We are not supposed to insult people. But we are supposed to ask questions, share an important message and start a conversation or debated about important topics.
We live in a day and age where the people who are educated and passionate about certain things are often holding back and not using their voices. If that’s you, please start using your voice because it matters. We need the people who are smarter, more informed, more educated and more passionate to show us where we are wrong and point us in the right direction. So use your voice – your real voice!