Do you consistently alter your behaviour with different people to make yourself seem more attractive? Or do you ever find yourself sacrificing your individuality in an effort to seem more agreeable? Are you so caught up in the opinion of others that you lose sight of whether or not you still respect yourself in the process?
While the title of this article is a bit tongue-in-cheek, it points to a greater truth for which romantic relationships are just a metaphor. And that is that seeking the approval of others, although exceptionally common, is one of the biggest mistakes you can make on the path of not only having meaningful relationships, but a meaningful and happy life as well.
Honesty and Attraction
It’s undeniable that as people we have certain biological imperatives, foremost to procreate. So it’s quite natural that we want to be considered attractive to other people as a means of achieving that imperative. But what lengths are we willing to go to satisfy that impulse? Is trying to appear attractive even a good strategy for actually being attractive?
We also have an impulse to morality within us, the extent of which obviously differs greatly from person to person. You could even say that this is an evolutionary impulse, that having a moral code is what enables human beings to live cooperatively and ensure our collective survival. It hurts us to be unkind to another. It hurts us to lie. And likewise, when we try to be attractive and are untrue to ourselves in the process, the inevitable result is that it hurts.
Is there a conflict?
Do you ever find your integrity and honesty at odds with your desire to be attractive? To be considered sexy? Are there thoughts and feelings you actually want to express but don’t because you think they might make you seem strange, different, too outside the box to be attractive? Do you take certain actions because you want to or so that someone else will approve of you?
This is a lesson I’m internalizing in my own life currently. Sometimes I catch myself doing things that I don’t really want to do just so I can be considered sexy, or so I can “get lucky.” I’ve had to experience time and time again what a complete fool’s errand this is,
I recently had an experience that further ingrained this principle into my psyche. I was out with a woman at a bar and later watching movies in a living room setting. I then made something of a move which was rejected. Now, instead of accepting that and moving on, I decided I would stick around and see if something would happen, if I could make something happen. What I wanted to do was to go to bed at 2 a.m. Instead I stayed up past 5 a.m trying to “get lucky.” I violated what I knew I should do, what I actually wanted to do, so that I could have a chance of someone approving of me enough, finding me attractive enough, to merit their affection, even after she had expressed that she wasn’t interested.
The problem with this approach is that I don’t like myself when I behave this way. By all means, I think going after someone you like is admirable. Having the courage to ask someone out and being honest about your feelings are both important factors when it comes to building good relationships. However, once you catch yourself altering your personality so that the object of your affection will like you, you’ve fallen into complete delusion. In this situation, I altered myself. I stayed up way later than I wanted to. I behaved a certain way not because it was who I really am, but as a means to an end. I sacrificed my integrity so I could be validated by another through romantic affection.
Do you ever catch yourself doing this? Are you a different person with different people, or different with people then when you’re alone? Do you love pop music but pretend to love metal because your crush does? Do you pretend to like sushi even though you hate it so you can join a the right clique? Do you spend more money than you have on someone, buying them expensive gifts so that they’ll like you enough to give you what you want, whatever that may be? Many people live their lives this way.
And these are relatively mild examples. In its extreme form, we are capable of doing some really crazy things to get others to like us. I remember one time, about 10 years ago when I worked at a summer camp I willingly drank a disgusting concoction of juice, spit, and all other sorts of gross stuff just because the older guys thought it was funny. I wanted them to like me so bad that I was willing to ingest something I found repulsive. Did it work? Well, sure, I may have made them laugh. But of course, and what I didn’t realize at the time, was they were laughing at me. I wasn’t some great comedian. I was just sacrificing my decency to get some attention, some form of affection and validation. When we desperately need others’ approval, we’ll do desperate things that run so completely contrary to our own well-bring and sense of what’s right.
Being inauthentic is never an intelligent strategy for building a good relationship anyway. What happens when your partner finds out who you really are? What if they don’t like that person? What if you find out who they really are you don’t like them? Did you fall in love with a mirage? If you’re misrepresenting yourself to your partner, isn’t there a good chance that they’re doing the same to you? Some people go for years with a thick undercurrent of dishonesty in their relationships. Perhaps they think that not being alone is more important than having a completely authentic relationship. Or maybe they believe that if they were truly themselves no one would want to be around them. They’re insecure.
What we eventually come to see though, is that, as with so many things, just the opposite of what we believe is the actual truth. Have you ever met someone who is so unabashedly themselves? Who is so forthright about who they are, what they like and dislike, with no regard for how it will cause them to perceived by others? There’s a word for that quality of character. It’s called confidence. And as we all know, confidence is one of the sexiest traits a person can possess.
But many of us misconstrue what the source of confidence is. We think it comes from having a big bank account, a sexy body, or some other material trophy to display. And while those things can temporarily bolster one’s sense of self, they are not and can never be the source of true confidence.
True confidence actually requires very little and yet it remains elusive to many people. All it requires is that you are willing to be fully yourself without wanting or needing to sacrifice any parts of your personality in order to earn the approval of others.
What if you aren’t confident currently? How can you express yourself if you’re not confident in who you are? You don’t need to be confident to start expressing yourself fully, but rather you will become confident as you learn to be fully yourself and accept the consequences of living so authentically, whatever they may be.
An interesting thing to note is that some people will feel threatened when they see someone so unashamed and comfortable in their individuality. They may feel a need to put you down, to make you feel shame, to encourage you to become a tepid watered down soul and blend in. Pay these people no mind. Catering to those who feel threatened by your uniqueness will never make you happy. Only creatively expressing your true self, flaws and all, can offer any kind of lasting contentment.
What if everyone was insane?
An interesting thought experiment is to contemplate if everyone in the world had totally skewed values, how would you interact with them? Literally, not one person prized integrity, kindness, love, or generosity. In fact, these traits were considered ugly and unattractive. How would you behave then? Would you cater to the whims of the world, or would you see these values as totally insane and go on being as kind and as loving towards others as you possibly could, because those were your values? This is interesting to contemplate because there’s a grain of truth in it. In many ways, our world worships insane, anti-social, unkind behaviours. And we get to choose if we will succumb to the pressure to follow suit, or if we will choose a different path.
Of course, we always feel a need to belong, to be loved and accepted by other people. But what I’m suggesting is that such a priority MUST take a backseat to a higher ideal. We must subjugate our desire to bond with our people to the nobility of living in alignment with our values, and let other people decide whether or not that’s something they approve of on their own. When objectively viewing ourselves, we must choose the values that feel right to us. Not because that author said we should, or that holy book says that it’s important, or because society says you must to be normal. But because it aligns with our own sense of what’s right. You have to do it for you. When we seek the approval of others, and that approval is our top priority, then the things that are of much greater importance fall by the wayside. If I need you to like me, then I become your slave, and I become willing to compromise my values in a vain effort to earn that approval.
I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me to my face that they flat out disagree with me, my respect for them actually increases. I realize I’m dealing with an authentic individual. Someone who won’t just nod their head like some drone so that I’ll approve of them. Someone who will risk me getting upset or offended in order to speak their truth. When a woman interacts with me this way, I become more attracted to her, not less. I think some people hear this principle and they just start being rude to everyone, going out of their way to prove they don’t need others to like them, and are therefore confident. I certainly behaved this way at one point in my life. But that’s also totally backwards. You don’t demonstrate the fact that you don’t need another’s approval by acting like you’re better than them, but by relating to them as your equal. Even acting like you’re better than someone is a form of approval seeking, because you badly want them to buy into your mythology that you’re better than them. You want their attention and their adoration. You are still a slave to their opinion of you.
When you are not seeking the approval of another, you are comfortable to disagree with them where you see things differently, but you never take the disagreement so far as to dehumanize the other and treat them as “less than.”
We need to be kind and disagree politely, always being considerate of the other and trying to see things from their perspective, having empathy for them, while remaining true to who we are. Only from that foundation can we truly connect with another human being. And even if we completely disagree, we can relate on the level of honesty and authenticity, knowing that we are both being completely ourselves.
I could more easily be friends with someone who I disagreed with but was honest about their ideas than someone who never really expressed their opinions at all and just blindly agreed with everything I said. It’s impossible to connect with someone who isn’t willing to be themselves and is always trying to hide under the radar.
Not only is it vital to express ourselves honestly when it comes to close personal relationships, we also have a social obligation to speak up and voice our opinions. A system with only one person making the decisions and with everyone else afraid to voice their opinions becomes a dictatorship. Having a leader is fine, and quite natural. However, having a leader with an array of blind followers is deeply problematic.
In my previous job as a furniture store manager, there were countless times where I bit my tongue. Now, some restraint is a good thing, taking the time to be thoughtful and express yourself wisely. But that’s not what I did. I silently watched things happen that I completely disagreed with because I was afraid that if I voiced a contrary position I would jeopardize my job. Although I didn’t have final authority over decisions, I always had the opportunity to speak up when I felt something wrong was happening. This was an opportunity I rarely took. When I did, I would sometimes get discouraged from doing the same thing again, which would reinforce my desire to stay silent and just do as I was told. People have lots of strategies for manipulating others into submission, but the basic goal is the same; to maintain control by frightening people into doing what you want them to do.
But the important thing to observe about this is I certainly cannot make anyone else responsible for my silence on issues that I felt were wrong. Nor can I blame others when immoral things happened but I just sat and watched, which is equivalent to giving my silent permission. 100% of the time, it was my responsibility to speak up and give voice to the values I felt were under-represented. It’s interesting to look back on this time in retrospect. Because I believe in a higher order to reality, it’s easy for me to see the good that was latent in that situation. Other people behaving immorally gives you the opportunity to develop your courage and be the voice of what you believe to be right. Seeing so much insanity around you gives you the opportunity to clarify your own values. Seeing the bad helps you understand the good.
The reason why we don’t speak up is because we’re afraid. I really do believe it’s that simple. If we didn’t fear the consequences of expressing our values, it would be easy. And as it turns out, the very fact that it’s not easy ends up being a great gift. In the difficulty lies the growth.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that NOT expressing our individuality – our abnormalities, values, unique desires – is ultimately much more painful than not being true to who we are regardless of the consequences we may face for living so authentically. Any consequence we may suffer for being ourselves – losing our job, friends, approval of others – pales in comparison to the pain of living our lives as a shadow of our true selves. I’m sure everyone can attest to this from personal experience. While doing our best to blend in may offer comfort and security, it will never satisfy us. And while stepping out to be our authentic self may be scary, it is the only place where we can find true freedom.
What about you?
Where are you being less than fully yourself? What systems or social groups do you belong to that no longer resonate with you but you remain in because of your need for approval? Maybe it’s a religious group that doesn’t align with your truth. Or a job that opposes your values. Maybe it’s a secret you’re keeping from the world. Maybe you haven’t told your parents you’re gay. Or you aren’t being honest with your partner about the kind of relationship you’d really like to have. There are a myriad of ways you can be inauthentic with the world. But there is only one way you can stop such an insane behaviour. And that is as simple as making the decision to no longer settle for being less than who you really are.
It is my desire for you to have an exceptionally fulfilling and deeply satisfying life. And I know from my own personal experience that the only way to start that journey is to have the foundation of authenticity. Falsity and happiness can never go hand in hand. Happiness can only follow an individual who is true to themselves. So if you want to be happy, and to live a deeply meaningful existence, you’ve got to let your freak flag fly!
This article has been all about not sacrificing your individuality for the sake of another’s approval. That’s a terrible trade, and one in which you’ll come out on the losing end every time. Relationships, and particularly romantic relationships bring out and expose our commitment to authenticity most accurately. You may be able to be authentic with your close friends, but start showboating and telling white lies as soon as a hot girl walks in the room. This is undoubtedly an ongoing process, and requires consistent effort and experiencing for oneself the absolute futility in seeking others’ approval. But it’s an effort that’s completely worthwhile. For on the other side of seeking validation from others lies something vastly superior; validation of and from oneself. When you no longer look to others to tell you who you are, how good you are, what to do and how to do it, then you’ve made it. You’ve found your freedom as an individual, and I couldn’t approve of you more 😉
Swimming in the shallow end
You have to stay crouched to stay warm
Only children can submerge themselves
The water level shrinking by half a foot leaves you freezing
And water rising makes you happy
The tide matters so much
It’s muscles too weak to swim,
A child stays with its mother in the shallow end
And needs water wings
It is dependent
Death and freedom are represented by the same symbol
The deep end
We yearn to swim where we may drown
So we may stay with our feet firmly planted on the ground
our bodies becoming frail from inactivity
in the crowded pool of water
of course we do not want to die
Or we may take a step toward the deep end
Not splashing water at others along the way to propel ourselves forward
Don’t make the pool more shallow for all
Help others paddle along the way
Let your feet rise up
And your shoulders sink
And find the life beyond death
And yell it back to the shallow end
Whether the water rises or falls
You remain fully in the water
Happy with whatever comes
I’ve been a cigarette smoker for about the past 5 years. During that period, I’ve had times where I didn’t smoke for 3-4 months, after which I’d pick the habit right back up again.
Now, any particular vice is not really an addiction in itself, but rather a symptom of addiction. Addiction expresses itself within a vice, like smoking or drinking alcohol. That’s why people who struggle with addiction are often addicted to multiple substances simultaneously. Usually this happens gradually over time, because addiction is a pathological disease. All vices demand that the user steadily increase their addiction in order to receive the same kind of relief that a lower dose gave them previously. From this perspective, it’s easy to see why users of an addictive substance eventually seek newer, stronger, and more novel forms to express the addictive behaviour that lives within them.
Addiction is a paradox in many ways. Addictive substances offer pleasure, relief, and temporary freedom when the pain of life becomes overwhelming. But they also create pain and a great deal of disruption in our lives and the lives of people who know addictive personalities. Not only are addictions financially costly, but we incur a great cost to our health and well-being as well.
So the very thing we look to escape pain ends up compounding our pain. Is there an intelligent way to transcend this insane cycle? To deal with our pain directly rather than using an addiction to avoid feeling our pain in the present, and thereby creating a bigger problem for us to deal with down the road? These are questions I’m currently exploring, and it is my intention to share the lessons I learn along the way.
One of the strange aspects of the mission to dissuade people from toxic substances is we have seen so clearly what isn’t effective. Load up those cigarette packs with as many skulls and daggers as you please, it hasn’t once convinced me to keep from lighting up. The addiction is so much more powerful than any warning of danger at some undisclosed point in the future. So then what are some truly effective means to discourage people from engaging these harmful substances? This is an area I’m highly interested in and currently exploring as well.
Smoking is Anti-Social
When I say smoking is anti-social, I mean that in a somewhat nontraditional sense. I’m not saying that smokers don’t have friends. Obviously that isn’t true, and part of the appeal of smoking is that it can appear to facilitate social connections; a bad habit in service of a bonding experience. What I mean is that disrespecting your own body and failing to take care of your own health actually increases the burden you place on society, on other people. This is particularly true in a country like Canada, where healthcare is paid for by tax revenue, i.e the labour of others. When you consider the fact that a prolonged cigarette or alcohol addiction will almost guarantee you an extended stay in the hospital, then it becomes fairly obvious that doing something you KNOW is injurious to your health amounts to public theft.
This is not the kind of person I want to be. I want to be a positive member of my community, not someone who drains the system of value.
So it’s here that I state my intention to stop smoking. I plan to do this my slowly tapering off my usage and eventually not smoke at all. And of course, I plan on sharing the lessons I learn along the way in the hope that it may be valuable to others also struggling with addiction. If I can offer any help to such people, then that alone will have made the effort very worthwhile.
Do human beings have free will? Or are we subject to unconscious forces that govern our thoughts, feelings, and actions? Is it possible that there is such a thing as partial human agency, where we are in control of some but not all of our lives?
I submit that the prevailing and most popular thinking when in comes to human action is that we have free will. This is almost taken for granted, and it’s safe to assume the majority of people you interact with on a daily basis will hold this position. After all, it’s what we’ve been taught from the time we are born. We are told one person is good because he made good choices and is successful, while the other is bad if he is on the wrong path, choosing a lifestyle that runs counter to his well being.
It’s also the central tenet of most religions. Religion is an easy club to join. It only requires you to say a prayer, or hold a certain set of beliefs that you regard as true. However, one thing that all religions have in common is that they require participants to choose that particular faith. Failure to do so requires in some form of eternal punishment, justified by the individual not making the right choice. The point being, is that religion is one of the most potent forces for positing the concept of free will. Without free will, how could churches hold people accountable for choosing the wrong beliefs?
There are exceptions of course even within religion, Christianity namely. The Presbyterian sect of Christianity believes that God chooses who his followers will be, with no foreknowledge of their faith, prior to their birth. Therefore, if you’re not one of the lucky chosen ones, too bad for you! But I would say religious determinists are a very small minority. The majority of religious people you meet will say they believe in the power of every person to choose God, find redemption, and so on.
You could say that free will is the most common ideology because it seems the most accurate way of viewing human action. After all, in any given moment we appear to have a myriad of choices in front of us. I could continue to write this article, I could stop and check facebook, or I could shut my laptop and go get something to eat. Which path I choose is up to me, right? The variety of choices we have at any moment creates the perception that we have free will. If someone were to literally force us to do something, we might say we have lost free will. But in normal everyday circumstances, we have the freedom to make decisions and live our lives as we see fit.
Free will is also an appealing perspective in many ways. No one has control over me but me. In the Matrix, the character Morpheus asks Neo is he believes in fate, to which Neo replies that he doesn’t. When Morpheus asks Neo why not, Neo replies, “Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of life.” That sums up the appeal of free will nicely. Free will encapsulates a hopeful optimism, that we can change course when we want to, steer our life in the direction we choose. And if things aren’t going well, then we have the power to change our circumstances by making new choices and creating a new environment for ourselves.
On the downside, when you have the perspective of free will, you tend to look at people very one dimensionally. It creates the perception that people are as good or as bad as their choices. If a person makes a bad choice, then it’s their fault. They’re no good. Criminals and people who violate others are sick, hopeless. Such people are undeserving of rehabilitation. They made their bed, now it’s their time to lie in it. When you believe in free will, it creates a kind of mental hierarchical system, where human beings are placed higher or lower depending on the choices they make.
Determinism postulates that the universe, and the human action contained within it, are subject to a mechanistic chain of cause and effect, originating at the start of the universe to present day and beyond. This meaning that, throughout your entire life up until now and carrying on through the rest of your life runs the principle of cause and effect. You do this because you did that etc.
Einstein is perhaps the most famous proponent of this belief system, seeing the course of events as something far greater than human beings could ever possibly control. He claimed, “Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.”
The 19th century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, also viewed the world from a determinist standpoint. He said, “Man can do what he wills but he can not will what he wills.” For example, I can go buy chocolate ice cream if I want to, but I can not decide the fact that I want to have chocolate ice cream. The decision to eat ice cream arises from beyond the sphere of volition. The feeling of wanting ice cream is the present moment sum of a lifetime of prior experiences, that has all led up to this moment of me wanting ice cream.
Where free will seems like the obvious truth, determinists like Einstein and Schopenhauer look deeper than the surface appearance of things. The question they had is not “What do I want to do?” but “Why do I want to do what I want to do?” What causes mankind’s varying impulses to take certain actions? And they concluded that these impulses arose from beyond conscious control. That every impulse is just another effect in the long chain of cause and effect. Not only is every event, including every thought, every step, every cone of ice cream, an effect, but it is also a cause. Nothing is only a cause or effect, every thing must necessarily be both.
The perspective of determinism has some obvious advantages. It gives you very compassionate eyes. A criminal is a victim themselves, unable to NOT commit the crime for which they are guilty. Of course this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go to jail. We always need to take measures to protect society from the mentally ill, a group to which criminals universally belong. However, when you believe in determinism you no longer resent someone who has done you wrong. You see them as not being able to act differently in the moment they did what they did. No different than a puppy who pees on your floor. You no longer see them as evil.
Determinism also can raise your self esteem and allow you to forgive yourself for past wrongs you’ve done and mistakes you’ve made. You realize that on a fundamental level you are no worse than any other human being. You are no better either. You are able to relate to other human beings as their complete and total equal. You realize that, had you been born into that person’s body, with their parents and their life circumstances, you would be that person. So I am not really this person, Edward Carmichael, nor are you your name or life situation. But rather, you are the consciousness that inhabits the particular form that we call a human being.
I am both Mother Theresa and Hitler. I am every human being that lives, has ever lived and ever will live.
The downside of having the perspective of determinism is that initially, it can lead to despair. If everything is determined, doesn’t that mean we don’t have the power to change events? And that is a discouraging thought when we see the immensity of suffering in the world. Is mankind doomed to suffer eternally? And if I’m not in control of my life, how do I escape unwanted circumstances or make a meaningful difference in this world? How do I contribute to alleviating suffering under this paradigm?
There are also well known scholars who submit something of a blended theory between free will and determinism, commonly referred to as compatibilism. Daniel Dennett often writes and speaks about such an approach, where we don’t have the degree of agency that’s commonly thought, but we’re not completely subject to the laws of determinsm.
My current operating model of reality could be described as something akin to compatibilism.
It’s rather obvious to me that we don’t have free will in the traditional sense. We can only act according to our beliefs, which we don’t choose in the strictest sense. We believe what we believe because it’s what seems true to us. And we don’t get to choose what we perceive as true. What seems true is simply a dictate of our intelligence. And we do not get to chose how intelligent we are.
There is a checkmate argument that invalidates the concept of free will that goes something like this. If you don’t believe in determinism and do believe in free will, is it possible for you to have a different perspective at this moment? In other words, if you believe in free will, you can’t NOT believe in free will. Are your beliefs not subject to your current state of consciousness, which has been evolving your entire life up until this moment? If you look deeply into these questions, you’ll see that the traditional notion of free will is ludicrous.
However, it is equally obvious to me the way in which we think dramatically influences our experience of reality. Strictly speaking, we don’t choose our thoughts, thought happens to us. So our only real power lies in the way in which we interact with those thoughts, our relationship with them. While we may not choose our thoughts, we can certainly cultivate the appropriate relationship with them over time.
The key aspect of improving your relationship with the world of thought is to realize that not every thought is true and to engage only with those thoughts that are most conducive to the happiness of yourself and others. In this way, although you may not be able to actively choose which thoughts enter your consciousness, you can evolve to intuitively know which thoughts are consistent with truth (an accurate perception of reality) and also consistent with the kind of world you want to inhabit.
The Higher Order
Philosophers have been wondering and debating since time immemorial if there is indeed a higher order to reality. Marcus Aurelius, the second century stoic and Roman Emperor, said in his book “Meditations”, “Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs?” He believed that the realization of a higher order was what enabled him to live in peaceful accordance with the world.
Is it an accident that we are here? Are our life circumstances orchestrated by a divine intelligence, and if so, does everything we experience in our physical reality exist for our individual betterment? These questions, of course, can only be answered anecdotally and have no bearing in scientific reality, and therefore, are often briskly dismissed by many.
I believe these questions are still worth exploring on an individual basis. One thing is undeniable, that you grow and evolve throughout the course of your life. Although there is no direct evidence, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that points to how the outward conditions you find yourself in have shaped your character in positive ways. You are not the same person today you were 5 years ago. Nothing is static in life, which includes your innermost self, who you are as an individual. You could make the argument that you evolve regardless of circumstances, and thus evolution is no evidence for an intelligent or higher order. And that’s a fair point. But can you find an example of where a challenge or limitation in your life actually worked for your good? Where NOT getting your way turned out for the best? No doubt everyone has had not only one, but countless experiences like this.
My purpose in writing this article is to invite you to consider adopting some new perspectives. Trying on a new lens or worldview is a very healthy thing to do. When we consider the possibility that we might be wrong, that are previously held ideas are not as infallible as we once thought we were, then that is the foundation for true growth. It is the beginning of perceiving reality more accurately.
I invite you consider that perhaps you don’t have free will. That the course of our lives is determined. And consider that there may be a higher order, in which case, your fate is a benevolent one. And in that realization to have gratitude for every single circumstance in your life. To not resent people or events. To not be afraid to make mistakes, because under this model, there are no mistakes. You cannon step outside the higher order even if you try. And to fully appreciate what is. That it’s all for you. And most of all, that it’s all good. 😉