On Hardship, Opportunity, Transformation, and Fear - Part 2

This series of pieces was originally published on my Linkedin in October of 2015. Although completion of it became a casualty of my circumstances and priorities for a long time, I’m delighted to announce that publications will pick up again (beginning with the final part of this series) in Fall 2019.

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This is the second post in a series on anticipating, responding to, and experiencing personal change. You can read Part 1, "Change starts with your perspective about learning and learning experiences", right over here.

Today's image is a quote by Lewis Carroll. I was unable to find information on who originally did the typography for this stylized version. Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and (a more obscure favorite of mine) The Hunting of the Snark, is one of my favorite writers and a major inspiration to me. I think the best children's fiction, like his works and those of Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss, does a whole lot of supposing of fantastical things.

 

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In Part 1, I rambled about the importance of seeing the world, and all its parts, and all its people, and all its trials, as learning experiences, even as they happen and even when they suck. Specifically, I called out that there is no "right" learning experience or learning resource or learning pathway. Everything can teach you about whatever your passion is, if you're willing to identify and digest the information.

Now, I'd like to talk about being able to change your thoughts, and even your way of thinking, when presented with reason to do so. (In fact, I encourage attempting to cultivate this as a general ability -- it goes a long way for business relationships, that's for sure.)

Tally ho, onward and stuff, with the second of four lessons from my wiser, more flexible younger self.

 

2. Complete transformation requires the ability to regain and retain a childlike open mind.

When I was in middle school, I read Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. Okay, actually, we were required to read it and I just sorta ... didn't ... and got through by the skin of my teeth like I always did, because I had no work ethic. But anyway, I had it, and later on when I was about 15, I read it, and it was absolutely incredible and life-alteringly good and I wished I'd gotten around to it sooner. (My bad, Mr. Hardy.)

Anyway, one of the most important and early concepts illustrated in Sophie's World is that life is like a magic trick, and all it takes to be a philosopher is to retain the ability to observe with wonderment (I would assert that this is likewise at the root of being any kind of scientist). My family's way of phrasing this would be "You have to be willing to constantly change your conceptual matrix".

In the book, the anonymous philosophy teacher tells Sophie to think of the Universe as a rabbit being pulled out of a giant top hat by a giant magician, and says that children and philosophers are up on the very tip of the rabbit's furs, looking at the magician and out at things. But as we get older, we snuggle down deeper in the rabbit's fur and just focus on the nice warm predictable forest of fur around us. This is the part where things get all Plato's Cave, but on the edge, there is wind and risk and fear, but also real life.

The story illustrates this faculty of open-mindedness by discussing how a little toddler might not think it odd if his father happens to levitate a little bit while making breakfast, since his father does strange things all the time, but the child's mother might scream and drop the eggs when she notices the unusual event.

I operate on the principle that everyone is, or should be, fundamentally a philosopher and scientist, so that's how I'm going to pontificate about this; this piece is for those who appreciate the theory of self-actualization but are still yet to act, not those who lack the necessary attitude in the first place. If you don't care about becoming both more certain about real things and more flexibly wise about uncertain things, you probably aren't reading this series anyway. And if you do care about those things, you should be calling yourself a scientist and philosopher, and cultivating those habits like any other.

Anyway, as a scientist and philosopher, you must operate with a willingness to examine how things work -- both yourself, and things outside of yourself. This necessitates a willingness to change your expectations and assumptions, right down to your logical processes themselves.

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Thanks, xkcd author Randall Munroe

The easy way to say this is "You must always be able to be wrong", but it goes deeper than how that sounds. You must be willing to accept that the way you think the universe works -- again, including yourself -- may not be the way it really works, or the way some parts of it work anymore. You must be willing to look into what's frightening, not just at what's familiar.

And if you're anything like me, what seems "familiar" can be the disappointing endings anyway, and what's frightening is the unpredictability of the good ones, which makes us hesitant to change ourselves. There are many reasons to hesitate besides that, but it's a major player among mine. We just don't know what's up there, so it might be scary when we finally look at it!

But it's never really as scary as it seems like it will be.

So let's reconcile with unfamiliarity again, yeah? Let's start looking up and out more instead of looking sideways and down. There's never a point in your life when you're allowed to retire from doing that, no matter how tall you grow or high you climb.

 

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Check out Part 3, "Transformation can't be forced to go your way; it will inherently go a new and different way from anything you try to cause", for a discussion on control and the lack thereof, autonomy and the lack thereof, and a couple of stories that (as of writing this footer) I'm pretty sure are from the Tao de Ching but I only know them from reading them in The Tao of Pooh so I still need to look up their real origins. Thanks for reading!