I have spent most of my life being a cynic.
When people said I was pessimistic, I would argue that I was a “realist.” I was constantly looking for the hole in reasoning so that I would have a reason to not buy-in. If anything didn’t line up, it meant the whole thing was flawed. It might come down to wanting to be right all the time.
I don’t want to be that person anymore.
A lot has happened this year, and I’ve made a lot of changes in my life. And one of those changes includes accepting things I cannot control and being able to let things go.
It takes up so much time and mental bandwidth trying to rip everything apart, trying to find the “why” behind something not working or not making sense. Not to mention the amount of time trying to convince other people that I’ve found the answer to prove them wrong or show why their thinking is flawed.
With everything going on, there is an endless amount of theories and conjecture. A few years ago, I would have been in there with them
- Looking for data points to explain why a mask doesn’t work.
- Analyzing statistics to see if police brutality is as bad as they say it is.
- Comparing the facts and numbers from what political leaders say to what is actually going on.
It would be SO easy for me to slip back to that, but to what end?
Aside from the sheer exhaustion from devoting too much energy to this, one of the things that has made me step back and realize the pointlessness of it has been a new interest in philosophy. Specifically, Stoicism.
A major part of Stoic thinking is to not be concerned about what you cannot impact. I cannot impact national level politics. Even when I do uncover some data that indicates I’m not being told the truth, there’s not a lot that I can do about it. Except get in Facebook fights, but that’s not helping anybody.
So what good does it do me to invest that time looking for the holes?
That time could be used for any other number of things, like working on my business, spending time with my family, or any of the numerous other things that could benefit the world around me.
I was talking about this idea with a Facebook friend, and I mentioned that I am happier not trudging through all of it trying to find the holes anymore. He asked if I was happy being a sheep (which is divisive labelling and unhelpful). I said, “yeah, I guess I am if that’s the way you choose to look at it.”
Not being ear deep in the news all day, every day, I am less emotionally invested than I was before. It makes it easier to calm down and look for relevant and necessary information. I can stay out of the black holes and only focus on what I need to know from the sources I’ve found to be as trustworthy as possible.
That’s the thing about it. I’m not advocating for ignorance. Staying informed is important. These causes and issues are certainly worth coverage and awareness and action.
But being in it and mired in the social media side of it all day, every day takes time and energy away from other things.
That’s what it really boils down to, social media.
The inundation of social media in our lives has many benefits. But there are a lot of drawbacks too.
The country is pretty evenly divided right now. Red vs Blue, Republican vs Democrat. Within these large labels, there are tons of others. I’m sure you’re familiar with most of them. And the divisions seem to be growing and separating more every day.
A lot of these lines are drawn in the sand at early ages, and they’re very difficult to cross over, no matter how much evidence you show to prove someone else wrong, flawed, or hurtful. (Just for the record, this applies to every side, not just the one opposite to mine!) With the internet being the enabling instigator that it is, they can just as easily find tons of sources to turn the tables and prove themselves correct or justified.
Couple that with the fact that people tend to be more aggressive and passionate in their communication behind a screen. When you’re just commenting on a post/article, there’s a level of anonymity and distance that makes it easier to act tough.
This makes reasonable debate difficult, to say the very least.
But it also draws you in and makes it hard not to get emotionally involved. And then the argument escalates until the possibility of an adult, friendly debate is completely gone.
At that point, continuing the conversation is as useful as trying to get a ‘yes’ from a prospect who sees no value in what you do.
The other aspect of public debate that makes it nearly impossible is the very fact that it’s public.
When someone is being challenged in a public setting, they’re more likely to bow up and get defensive. It’s human nature. Or maybe the relationship between two people appears challenging to others, so they weigh in and derail what was intended to be a civil debate between two people who have a relationship.
That’s why, when I feel passionate enough or curious enough to talk more about a dissenting opinion, I try to move it off the public forum. Of course, this only works if I actually know the person. But since I try not to care about what strangers think of me, I don’t concern myself too much with people I don’t privately know.
One of the most prominent Stoic leaders, Seneca, says that philosophy is a private journey. He was right. Most people don’t really give a damn about other people’s beliefs. They only want to insert their own perceptions to try to get you on their side. I’ve certainly been guilty of it too. Many, many times.
Seneca says to avoid the masses and turn inwards while you question your beliefs and your reality. Through journaling and Stoicism, I’ve been following the advice of giving myself the space to question the things that are difficult to question, namely, why I think and believe the way I do.
This just doesn’t work on social media.
Facebook and the like are essentially the current version of “the masses” that this philosophy talks about. While there are like-minded people that you can discuss differing opinions with, you usually have to wade through oceans of trolling and pot stirring to find them.
Some other tenets of Stoicism are equally difficult on these platforms. One of the foundational beliefs is that one should be “beyond reproach” before even attempting to look for fault within others. Since most people never reach the level of beyond reproach, the point is that you simply shouldn’t judge other people.
Stoicism also focuses on kindness and forgiveness. Without these, joy is impossible. This may come as a surprise to many (myself included before I started studying it) because most people believe this philosophy distances itself from feelings. But no, joy is the ultimate goal. Following the four virtues, wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation, help you get there.
I’m far from perfect, and I highly doubt I’ll ever reach the level of “beyond reproach.” But removing myself from social media fights and getting mired in current event rabbit holes has made me feel a lot better about myself and the world around me.