0511 – prioritize strength

The more time I spend online, the more I read news articles and forums and reddit, the more I look at what’s going on on Facebook and Twitter, and even with group chats with friends, the more I’m convinced that most things are just entertainment. [1] Time-pass. I wanted to say mindless entertainment, but that can be a little misleading because this entertainment can be really engaging. You can end up using up a very substantial amount of your limited cognitive resources just thinking about and discussing some issue that you’re not actually directly involved in, that you’re not going to make a direct impact in.

I used to be very involved in peripheral discussions, and I still sometimes get involved, so I’m very aware of the justifications involved. A seductive idea is that everything is connected and that we’re always involved whether we like it of not, and that it’s bad to be aloof, it’s bad to be distant and uninvolved when there’s so much pain and suffering and injustice in the world. No drop of water feels personally responsible for the flood. But we have a “moral responsibility” to get our hands dirty, to get involved.

This was an easy decision to make when I was in college or when I was a conscript- I didn’t care for what I was doing, I was checked out. So everything else was endlessly fascinating and deserved my full attention. As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve gotten more responsibilities, bills to pay, a job I actually like. And these are all things that demand my time and energy, which is limited. So I have to think more carefully about how I want to allocate resources.

I don’t actually need to compromise on my fundamental principles and values. Or rather, my principles were vague to a degree I did not realize until I was forced to make them precise. This project is part of my way of developing more clarity about my own priorities. If I had infinite time and energy I would sit down with every single human being and talk to them for decades. But I don’t have unlimited resources. So I’m forced to prioritize.

So then. Thought experiment. If I can only talk to one person, who should I talk to? That’s obvious, me. I am the most important, significant, influential person in my life. Visa is the biggest player in the game of Visa’s life, which is interconnected with other people’s.

(I paused writing here because I got to work.)

So. While the previous statement is “obvious”, are my actions consistent with my belief? It doesn’t feel like it. So that’s a no. I do believe that I am the most consequential person in my life, but I do not behave as if that were true. My actions are not consistent with what I think my priorities should be. If I were true, then I would be talking to myself first thing in the morning and last thing at night, every single day.

The fact that I publish these vomits in a public space implies that I care about what other people think. Which is fine. It’s possible to care about multiple things at once. The question is what do I care about MOST? It appears I’ve never really been able to properly give a good answer to that. Every single time I’ve talked about it in the past, or tried to approach it, even by myself in private, I find it difficult to come to a good honest answer that I can truly get behind.

I think I can now say that the answer is personal strength. I’ve experienced about 5 weeks worth of strength training (in the physical fitness sense) and I find myself feeling stronger in a very fundamental way that I had never considered before. When you lift a heavier weight than you were ever able to lift in your life, and you do it with just a little bit of concentrated effort, you begin to wonder what else you can destroy with a little bit of concentrated effort.

Now I’ve known this intellectually for a long time. I’ve been writing about it for a long time. But it somehow required me to lift a heavy ass weight over my head and feel it in my muscles and bones before I found myself beginning to “truly believe” that this is true for me.

Caution-check: Is this really true? Is this new? Is this different? Haven’t I said or done this before? Surely I’ve experienced getting stronger in some way before. I find myself thinking about learning a particular song on the guitar and how that makes me feel more powerful. Learning to play Radiohead’s Exit Music (For A Film) made me realize that I can develop my musicality to places that I had previously thought were unnavigable. But then I still haven’t gotten around to properly playing Nat King Cole’s L O V E. It’s achievable, I know it’s within my reach, but I haven’t sat down to practice it. So I should make it a priority. I should print it out and play it in my spare time. Because once I’m able to play it, I know that I’m able to play a whole bunch of other things, too. And I deeply enjoy it. I deeply enjoy being able to do things that I wasn’t able to do before. And I think that is my highest priority in life. To grow stronger, more powerful. Because that is pleasurable in itself, and that gives me more resources and leverage to do everything I want to do.

[1] Etymology time! The word entertain is made up of ‘enter-‘, as in entrepreneur, enterprise, which seems to mean ‘to undertake’, ‘within’, and ‘-tain’, which means ‘to hold’, as you see with contain, maintain, sustain. It gets interesting to think about why we like to be entertained. We want to be held, to be transfixed, to be captivated. There’s a sense of fixedness. Is it a big leap to suggest that we’re somehow afraid of change? Of flux, of darkness, wetness? That if we weren’t held in place by something, we’d fall into the unknown, or fall apart, and that’s scary or uncomfortable in some way.

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