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Posts Tagged ‘examined life’

The road ahead

When I started this blog, I made the explicit decision that I wouldn’t talk about politics.

Of course, one could argue that everything is political. I have written from time to time about feminist ideas, and I talked about my own efforts to read more diversely (something that is just as important as ever). I also talked about the importance of voting. But I have not written about candidates or elected officials, I have not talked about bills or policies, I have not talked about political headlines from the news.

Instead I have written about meaning and change and grief. I have written about friendship and relationships. I have written about getting to know who each of us are.

I have written about living an examined life. Most of the people who read my blog, you get that, and it is what you strive for as well. I know that because you have come up and introduced yourselves, you have talked to me at parties, you have written me emails and comments.

But we are not only individuals; we intersect with the larger world. We are part of groups and communities, cities and states and countries. We cannot live an examined life without considering those connections. We exist in an interdependent system. None of us live outside politics. Some of us have more of a choice than others, but in the end, while we can try to ignore politics, politics will not ignore us.

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I’d say hard times are coming, but hard times are already here. They’ve been here all along, and they are getting worse. Hundreds of hate crimes have been reported in the last week. HUNDREDS. Many of these are happening in schools. President-Elect Trump has appointed a known white supremacist as his chief strategist. People are worried about increased violence to and the loss of civil rights of Muslim people, Jewish people, people of color, LGBTQ people, women, immigrants, and the disabled. People are worried about losing access to health care, and some of these people will die without it. And there is more. Much more.

John Scalzi, our preeminent science fiction blogger, said, “I think it’s going to be bad. I hope that the bad falls within historical norms. I wouldn’t count on it.”

Which means we have to prepare. Now is the time to take care of medical procedures, to stockpile medicine, to take a self-defense class, to learn about computer security, to get an updated passport, to plan ahead. Now is the time to get to know the people in your local communities, to make phone calls and write letters, to donate and volunteer, to learn how to be an ally and intervene, to get your ducks in a row. If you’re going to protest, now is the time to get your gear, learn your rights, and set up your logistics. Now is the time to pay attention and stay informed, to support responsible and in-depth journalism, and to remind yourself of what you believe to be right.

What if this is all absurd overkill? Well, I certainly hope it is. But there are enough signs that say it isn’t that considering this kind of stuff is only practical. In addition, many of these actions are generally good things to do whatever the circumstances. They are also the kinds of actions that are easy to put off. So now is a good time to stop procrastinating and actually do them.

So this, then, is my call to action: Stop procrastinating. Plan ahead. Do some good stuff. Take care of yourselves, and take care of the people around you.

And above all, don’t stop caring. Living an examined life is not always easy, but it is always, always worth it.

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Whatever your feelings might be about Jeff Bezos, according to this article he said something very interesting at a Q&A recently: “He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait.”

I love this insight because I change my mind all the time, and I think having some mental flexibility is very important. I’m not talking about fickleness here, as in not following through on commitments and responsibilities, or flip-flopping views for convenient or random reasons.

But changing your mind is a very natural thing to do. Perhaps you’ve had more time to think about an issue, or perhaps you’ve become more educated about it. Maybe something else has happened that has changed an issue’s ramifications. Or maybe you simply woke up one day and realized you were incorrect. It happens.

Photo by H. Kopp Delaney

I’m sure I don’t agree with everything I’ve written on this blog anymore, or have developed a more nuanced view. Often when I sit down to write an essay, I am learning and thinking as I type. And then I learn more from any discussion we have together in the comments. And then I think about it for a while. And then maybe I read something else that plays into all of that in some way. I often understand something better as a result of this process.

The problem with not changing our minds is that this rigidity makes it a lot more likely that we’ll get stuck. We’re less likely to think of creative solutions to our problems or different ways of seeing something. We’re more likely to remain ignorant because we don’t always get enough information right away, but if we can’t change our minds later, we’ll be stuck with whatever opinions we formed without sufficient data. We’re less likely to think for ourselves and more likely to hold onto unexamined beliefs that were instilled in childhood.

How can we live examined lives without being willing to change our minds when necessary? How can we really listen to what the people in our lives are telling us if we won’t allow even the possibility that those words will have impact? How can we live in a constantly changing world without allowing our minds to change along with everything else?

Of course, as with everything in life, finding a balance is necessary. In order to embrace the possibility of changing our minds, we have to put in the time and effort required to weigh different viewpoints and incorporate any additional data we may have learned. Sometimes we will come to the conclusion that we don’t need to change our minds, that our viewpoint is still working just fine for us. And sometimes the arguments presented to us don’t merit much (or any) investigation.

But pure long-term consistency of thought can sometimes show a lack of any actual thinking at all. Personally, I’d rather keep exploring, learning, and asking questions. Changing your mind doesn’t have to feel like failure; instead it can be seen as a victory.

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