The First Defense Of An Insecure Mind

Many cultures have ways for people to defend themselves against matters which they consider uninteresting.  If one is familiar with American young people, for example, talking about history or mathematics or anything else that is not immediately entertaining will frequently elicit a response that something is boring with a perfectly executed eye roll.  In Thailand, large amounts of people devote themselves to a life that is “sanuk,” that is, fun, and those things that are not fun are considered “mai sanuk.”  This labeling process is so widespread that one often does not think about the deeper meanings and repercussions of this.  Where did people get the expectation that life was supposed to be fun in the first place [1]?  It is true that the United States has enshrined in our Declaration of Independence that the pursuit of happiness is a God-given natural right, but happiness is a tricky term in political philosophy that is not always well-aligned with fun.  It is an expression of the summum bonum, the highest good, and as anyone who has ever climbed mountains knows, to reach the peak requires a great deal of work that is not necessarily fun in the moment, but is worthwhile in the ultimate sense.

How is it that fun and happiness (in its ultimate sense) came to be so thoroughly confused?  Very little that is worthwhile is immediately enjoyable to most people.  If we wish to be good at anything, whether we are talking about school or work or being a morally upright person or honing a hobby, we will have to do a lot that is not necessarily very fun.  We will have to read books and engage in difficult practice and develop our self control so that we focus on our priorities of getting better at what we have set our will to do.  People may think it is great fun to be a talented artist or writer or musician, for example, until one realizes the hours and hours that one must spent practicing one’s work in order to become better, all of which can be quite tedious unless one remembers the higher goal in mind.  Being skilled when it comes to book knowledge requires a great deal of reading, and to be skilled at math or science requires a great deal of practice as well over difficult problems or recalcitrant laboratory problems.  Examples could be multiplied–there are even empirical laws that suggest that to become truly expert at something requires about 10,000 hours of doing something, which means a lot of work that is not fun in order to become actually good at a task.

It is unsurprising, even if the amount of time it takes to acquire skills is less than 10,000 hours, that so many people would not wish to devote themselves to the difficulties of becoming truly skilled at something.  And yet, being human beings to whom dignity is of considerable importance, they wish to defend themselves as well as take down the pride and dignity of others who have developed a certain amount of expertise in a task that is not a popular one.  How do people grapple with this difficulty?  What is frequently done is to engage in verbal jiu jitsu by which one does not defend one’s lack of interest in devoting oneself to excellence but instead one attacks the interests and nature of others as boring.  It is not our fault that we have not done enough problems to understand algebra or taken the time to understand the importance of knowing our history, but rather that such subjects are boring and the people who like such subjects are boring as well.  And even if we do not speak this way ourselves about these subjects, most of us would rather not admit that we have been remiss in developing expertise in an area and so we often label something as boring rather than admit our own lack of knowledge in such an area as would be the honest answer.

Why do we act in this way?  It is no shame to admit that we are ignorant about something.  Even if we devoted our whole lives to acquiring knowledge and insight and wisdom, there would be many areas that would escape our notice because we lacked the time or resources to understand them.  And when we are young we simply do not have the time to have acquired very much wisdom.  Furthermore, no one expects us to have acquired such things in our youth, only to respect those qualities in others and to appreciate the insight and wisdom that others have gained through lives well lived, so that we may learn from the wisdom of others and make at least a few fewer mistakes ourselves than those who have come before us.  To the extent that we appreciate whatever knowledge and insight others have to share with us, we do not find them boring, even if their interests and perspectives and experiences are far different than our own.  Furthermore, the less we consider boring and uninteresting, the more knowledge and insight we will be predisposed to gain by listening to what others have to say and thinking about what we have heard that we have taken seriously.  Paradoxically, to admit one’s ignorance and to seek to learn makes that ignorance short-lived, and to attack others as boring only makes us more entrenched in a self-satisfied ignorance that is of benefit to no one, least of all ourselves.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to The First Defense Of An Insecure Mind

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Happiness Is A Serious Problem | Edge Induced Cohesion

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