5 Lessons From 2021
A pretty, crazy year. Here are some thoughts.
1. Results and mindset.
You don’t control how you feel. You don’t control outcomes. You don’t control what people think of you. The only thing you control are your choices, your habits. How will you act despite the frustration? How will you act because of it? Will you become better because of the obstacle? Because you’re in a queue, a traffic-jam, a situation full of drama? Will you choose to have the difficult conversation? We often have a default mindset, a view shaped by our culture, our beliefs, our upbringing — this is how the world should be. This narrative, this story (because that really is what it is) helps us in creating and maintaining security, comfort, and continuity between our identity and the events unfolding in reality. But this narrative, this lens through which we view life, limits us in that it will always, inevitably, be incomplete. Thus, in being so dogmatic towards our views that things should be a certain way, we miss out on the reality that we can act a certain way. Is this too abstract? Take a traffic jam, for example. We only get frustrated because of our belief that the roads should be relatively clear. We can follow the default mindset and get angry at the other drivers, the truck driver who cut us up, but in doing so we forget that we always have a choice. We can choose to accept the traffic as a part of reality, not an exception to the rule but the rule. We can choose to believe (or accept) that many of the other drivers are just like us, in jobs they feel okay in just wanting to get back home to their families. You always have a choice in this regard. It just takes a lot of effort.
Nothing will fulfil you forever. Nothing will fulfil you. Not another person, not a holiday, not another thing. In fact, sadness often comes after ordering or receiving something after much anticipation and realising it will neither solve your life problems or bring you all that happiness. We are all on a hedonic treadmill, always striving for more as our new circumstances become our new baseline and status quo. If we accept that we will never be fully satisfied by earthly things we can point towards something bigger than ourselves, a greater meaning, be it a unity of people on this earth, a greater cause or religion. We can find meaning in doing something good for something bigger than just ourselves, whether a charity like Oxfam or climate change research.
Wisdom cannot be taught. I believe that there perhaps is a certain limiting threshold to which the wisdom of previous generations can be expressed and communicated to the current generation. Every successive generation cannot (always) simply learn the lessons of the past — they must earn it perhaps through experience. Of course, perhaps this applies to only specific scenarios since we can of course understand the theory and abstract behind advancing efforts in diplomacy and conferences over outright war, for example. However, in more abstract, but no less significant, cases of finding meaning and achieving enlightenment and peace of mind, it seems self-evident that such wisdom cannot be taught by mere words. Words are indeed slippery. Just notice how it feels when you try to express yourself — it is so difficult to find the words to really express what you mean. This is also why stories and narratives are so important — they transcend words which fail to provide an exhaustive account of the reality we experience. And since wisdom isn’t derived from reading books or thinking alone, it must mean that it is found by getting out into the world and experiencing it. Wisdom is found from acting and failing, again and again, with some wisdom of previous generations thrown in there along the way. Some Christians often say that you can only truly understand and appreciate the Bible after you appreciate the Bible that is the world. Look out at the world in front of you — learn from it. Live in it. Make mistakes.
Expand your interests by taking on more responsibility. Man is a beast of burden, as Jordan Peterson says. Thus, ‘we must bear a load to justify our miserable existence.’ Harsh, but it is quite hilarious how, no matter the circumstances, we find a way to be miserable. We are, as mentioned previously, always striving for something more afterall. However, in bearing a burden we deem valuable, we can create and find immense satisfaction and meaning. We can expand, develop our interests, be it in music or sport, by taking on more responsibility. How is this done? By volunteering more hours, taking on a higher role, by joining a committee for your society or looking for areas that need help. Don’t just be a part of a community, help develop it!
5. Listening to yourself.
There is no golden rule for everything. In fact, the golden rule given by Jesus, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is so powerful not only because it summarises the New Testament but because it applies to every scenario. It forces us to reconcile our views in each specific circumstance. Why am I talking about this? Because it also applies to ideologies, ways of doing things, and ways of living your life — there is no one correct way to do it. There are good ways that work for a lot of people. There are certain things that science has proven to be healthy, improve productivity, such as stable routines and good sleep. But ultimately it often comes down to what works for you. It comes down to finding enlightenment, meaning yourself. That, unfortunately, often means spending a lot of time trying new things out, for sufficient time to determine its viability and worth (which by the way can only be figured out in hindsight, not before) and failing a lot. Learn from other teachings, of course, but realise that every person’s circumstances differ entirely and trying to replicate someone else’s lifestyle and even life is a painstaking process that will never succeed. Every person is specific. Every person has their own insecurities. Everyone has their own needs. Thus, the golden rule for each person is specific. The effective advice for you to get out of that rut, to learn Arabic, or even to sort out your sleeping schedule is often quite specific which is why, sometimes, focusing only on teachings from others might do more harm than good — you forget your own valuable inner voice. [Sidenote: This is more of a potential little danger of being to dogmatic and set on certain views, beliefs or ideologies rather than a total abandonment of them in favour of only listening to your own inner voice. It is incredibly valuable, useful, and practical to learn from the knowledge of ages past.]