I lived once with this hippy in a house full of college students. He was all into peace and love and togetherness.
He was also a Seattle Mariners fan.
One day I sat down with him while he was watching a game. A shortstop on the opposing Cleveland Indians made an impossible-seeming catch and I said, “That was amazing!”
This peace-loving hippy jumped up from his chair, enraged. He was shaking. He pointed his finger at me and said, “I just can’t handle this. I’m gonna have to ask you to leave. I can’t watch this game with you cheering for the other team.”
I thought wow. So much for peace, love and unity. Just don’t mess with his Mariners, I guess.
I’ve often noticed, and I’m sure you have too, that people are magically blind to when their own team cheats. But when the other team cheats it’s some sort of ethical apocalypse.
The fact is most of us feel the emotion first, then we construct some rationalization to justify the emotion. And a lot of times those emotions we rationalize are just about supporting the team. Defending our friends. Defending our social circle in our own head. Defending our past selves in our own heads, in long-ago arguments…
Until eventually you have people believing things that are obviously false, obviously harmful, obviously self-defeating. Because that’s what their family told them. Or that’s what their friends believe. Or that’s what their religion says. Or that’s what they believed once, way back when. They lost an argument and they cannot let go.
Believe it or not, the solution to this problem is not to try to become more “rational”. It won’t work. My brain will always want to act in the best interest of the family or the tribe, whether I like it or not. And my brain does not like to admit that my tribe is wrong.
The solution is to make more friends.
Specifically, to make more friends that are totally different from your current circles of friends. Totally different teams, different tribes, different families.
It’s only then that I start to cheer for great plays instead of just rooting for my own team. Here’s what I mean.
It’s only when I have different groups of friends, rich, poor, homeless, middle-class, working-class, students worried about debt, business owners worried about costs, people just scraping by worried about how to pay the rent–it’s only by having multiple groups of friends that I can finally see what money is.
I can finally stop clinging to beliefs about money just because those beliefs are mine, handed down to me by my family, or my school, or my culture, or whatever.
You know how science advances?
Not because scientists are rational. No. Scientists are irrational. They get attached to their theories. They don’t want to admit that their theories are false. No one ever wants to admit that they are wrong, and the academic world provides powerful incentives to never admit defeat. Meanwhile, other scientists have other theories, competing theories. They are equally irrationally attached. So what do these irrational scientists do while clinging to their theories?
They dig up every fact they can to support their ideas. They come up with every plausible form of analysis to support their conclusions.
And then they go to war.
When the next generation of scientists comes up, they see all these facts that have been discovered. It’s the next generation–they are the ones who act rationally. At least until they take sides on their own, new conflicts.
So science as a whole advances rationally as if by the scientific method, precisely through the irrational actions of individual scientists.
Life as a whole is a lot like that.
I wish I could tell you that you could just think your way to being wiser, more intelligent, more rational. But it won’t happen. You have to let competing ideas about happiness, money, culture, exercise, diet, friendship, relationships, business, values, romance, children, religion–you have to let these ideas go to war in your head.
And you won’t really let it happen unless you’re really rooting for the competing ideas. And you won’t really root for those ideas unless you have real friends who really believe them.
If you are suffering, you have beliefs or ideas that are false, harmful or self-defeating.
My own self-defeating ideas did not go away because I thought my way through them.
They went away only when I associated with people who disagreed with them, and I became such close friends with those people that I started to root for their ideas, their beliefs and their culture.
And I don’t worry that you will associate with the wrong crowd or get the wrong ideas. I know you will do that. I did that. Along the way to getting better, you will sometimes get temporarily worse.
But taking that risk is a necessary step. You have to do it if you want to start uncovering all the facts that are relevant to your own life. And you have to emotionally connect with contradictory things in order for your old beliefs to fall apart and your old self to collapse.
It’s only after the collapse that you can start to judge your beliefs and values by evidence, instead of just clinging to them because they are yours.