The most un-selfish skill set

There's one skill that I value above all others:

The power to detach myself from my beliefs.

How many souls can you think of in your own life who dig into their beliefs like a dragon hoarding treasure?

Most of them, if your honest. That includes you and me, too.

When I was younger I was way worse about it. I took my thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and opinions as holy gospel.

If somebody were to challenge those beliefs, I took it personally... and responded accordingly. Lots of anger, frustration, self-doubt, and anxiety.

Now imagine a few billion people geared to act that way to each other, locked in a room and forced to live together.

Explains a whole lot.

There's a funny thing that happens when you dive deep into philosophy and the history of ideas.

I've found a lot of people think of this as learning a collection of facts, like showing up to a science or history class and memorizing details.

While there's some of that going on, I think of it as a set of skills.

The real magic is learning how to think.

How to relate to ideas.

Being stubbornly, irrationally married to your ideas in a room full of people with big brains and lots of questions is right up there with getting dragged topless over cut glass.

You won't do it but once if you can help it.

There's something mighty powerful in these two things:

  • Having honesty and courage to admit the strengths of your opponent's position
  • Having the integrity and curiosity to be honest about the weaknesses of your own

This is damn hard. One of the hardest things any human can do.

Even though we know better, every professional philosopher I ever knew loved his or her own ideas.

They all told me that it stung every time they got criticisms. Submitting a paper and getting the comments back from the referees is like running face-first through a brier patch with your eyes taped open.

The people trained in this art, with decades doing the job, still find it hard to separate their beliefs from their self-image.

How well do you think civilians are going to do?

And how well do you think that will happen when everyone's been told that they are special and unique with Important Ideas?

You get a recipe for small minds thinking small thoughts.

Pettiness at scale.

Egotism may be the the downfall of our civilization, if not the whole species.

Arthur Schopenhauer used to say that the only way out of this trap is through art and compassion. These things lift us out of the circle of selfish desire and allow us a tiny glimpse of reality as it really is.

I don't know if he was right about that part, but he was sure on to it when it comes to the power of detachment from the ego.

Getting lost in a craft, a hobby, or any kind of creative work... or acting in the selfless service of others... sure is a quick way to forget what ails you.

To do that, you have to let go of your beliefs, and your needy desire to be right, and flow with the activity.

Maybe Schopenhauer had it right after all.

Be good & take it easy.

Matt Perryman

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