I’ve been writing this blog now for a few weeks and if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that writing a blog is a lot bloody harder than you think it will be. If there’s anything else I’ve learned it’s that writing a ‘taoist’ blog is even harder.
As I said in my first post, I picked being taoist as the easiest, laziest way I could find to have a meaningful life. A sort of ‘religion for dummies’ approach to meaningfulness. 2 years on and it’s become clear to me that taoism is a lot tougher than it looks. And it all boils down to the problem of caring.
I’ve written about how false the concept of ‘coolness’ is, or how wrong it is to base your opinions on social agreement. I’ve quoted Lao-Tzu, who says lots of cool things like “stay in the centre of the circle”, “don’t chase after peoples approval” etc etc. I’ve told you to disregard what you think you know on every subject from apples to music to racism to law to politics to religion. And my biggest ‘blog nemesis’? What other people think.
But when it comes down to it, can you ever stop caring what everyone thinks?
Caring is hardwired into your brain. Not caring is one of the hardest things it is possible to do
Lao-Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching that:
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Which I think is an interesting insight into how the human brain works. It’s all very well me telling you to stop buying into the social conditioning that says apartheid is ok, or that new-fangled music is rubbish but if you don’t use other peoples’ opinions as a reference how does your brain have any idea where to begin? As I explained to my daughter, the word ‘high’ is spelt stupidly, and should not have a G in it. But it’s better than no word. And it’s probably better than a system where we all just invent our own spelling and our own words for things and no-one has any idea what you’re talking about.
Like a shipwreck survivor floating in the ocean, your brain is completely surrounded by open, uncharted nothingness. It has no idea which way is north, and it has no idea where to go. Clinging to a plank of wood might not be as good as having a boat. But it’s a lot better than drowning. And the light you can see may not be a lighthouse. But you’re better off swimming towards it than just flailing around aimlessly ’til you sink.
In the same way your brain will always want and need some guidance, some points of reference to help it chart its way through the world. Some of those it will get from intuition, some from habit, and a lot from looking around it at what others think, and what they do, and what they say. To figure out what’s ‘good’, it needs to know what is ‘bad’, and to know what’s high, it needs to know whats low. It will beg borrow and steal these concepts, create them from scratch arbitrarily if needed because basically – it’s better than nothing. So your brain needs to care what others think, whether you like it or not.
Writing this blog a crash course in how much I care
I started writing this blog without anyone I know even knowing about it. I wanted to write for myself without any pressure to be funny or interesting or cool or intelligent. I just had thoughts that were not to do with my job or my everyday routine, and that I thought would sound weird in normal everyday conversation, and I wanted to put them out there in case other people maybe were as weird, and introspective as me. And as I saw the first couple of comments and follows it felt nice. It felt like a warm pat on the back.
Once I’d nervously shown my wife my first posts and she had nodded her approval, she suggested I tell my friends I was writing a blog. Maybe some of them might like it. So I did. I told all my friends. And it was great – the chart of my readership went up loads. Suddenly it isn’t just me, writing for myself, I’m like a cross between George Orwell and the Dalai Lama. I’m on my way to literary fame and success. The possibilities are endless!
Only that’s where the wheels fall off slightly. The next post I write I don’t really like that much. It’s a post about not caring about being cool in which, ironically, I am totally aware of not making myself look uncool. It’s like a desperately bad standup act, where I’m trying to be funny and failing. I panic. Maybe I should write something serious. Yes. Something serious and intelligent that will show people how serious and thoughtful and intelligent I am. Except I don’t like that one either. I’m worried it sounds boring and overly serious.
The readership numbers drop off, and when I put posts on facebook the number of thumbs starts to dwindle. Oh crap. As I stare at the barren absence of comments, crippling self doubt and writers block set in.
Basically for all I say I am taoist and chilled out and all the attempts I have made to look at the world the right way, I still totally – and embarassingly – care what people think. Like an only child on steroids I am roaming around in a desperate quest for other peoples’ approval and to try and pretend otherwise is just stupid.
But not like this guy…
Maybe it’s ok to care a little. Just within reason.
As I said above, every human brain is hardwired for screwups – for misunderstanding and prejudice and insecurities and weakness and doubt. So there’s no point trying to be an emotionally neutral robot, any more than there is in trying to be perfect. Your brain needs to care in order to function, and if it sometimes gives you a shoddy result? That’s better than nothing.
The key I guess is to try and balance integrity and self assuredness with a respect for what others think, and to be awareof how others influence your actions without totally disregarding them. Don’t think be “prisoner” to others opinions, but at the same time don’t be a sociopath. Sounds easy. Doesn’t feel it.
The best you can do… is the best you can do.
A wise man once said:
‘”true happiness comes from inner contentment… acknowledging our shortcomings and trying to develop [but] accepting that some of them will never be overcome”
It wasn’t Lao-Tzu as it happens, it was my Dad, who’s pretty much the wisest person I know. He has a self assuredness, a steadiness that I admire and when I was a kid I assumed he knew everything (no mean feat, especially as he didn’t have wikipedia to help HIM answer questions the way I do with my kids) and could do anything and that he was perfect . Now as I’ve grown up and gotten to know him as a person instead of just a parent I’ve seen that he isn’t perfect, and he doesn’t know everything, he’s just very aware of himself and comfortable with who he is.
Writing this blog has shown me that maybe I still have some work to do, both as a writer and as a person. But maybe just realising that and trying my best is a step in the right direction. Maybe that’s all anyone can hope for.