How do you live happily among people at war with all joy? Cultivate indifference and press on regardless.

If you can learn to think of your ego as something you must always love and honor and revere and burnish until it seems to glow of its own light, you can make yourself immune from other people’s ugly behavior.

Photo by: Kevin Dooley

I wrote this in a comment on one of my videos:

Inlookers: If you’ve written something I’ve ignored, with an effort you might-could guess why. If you have a serious issue to raise, raise it. If you want to try to silence me or cow me with your disapproval, stop it. It has zero impact on me, but it soils your own character enduringly.

That’s the precise self-adorationist position on ad hominem attacks and other weaponized fallacies: Cultivate indifference and press on regardless. Other people’s bad behavior only becomes a matter of my morality when I choose to behave badly in response. Your choosing to soil your self dirties mine not at all. I grow by pursuing my values, not by wrestling in the mud with your vices.

It is also the best way I’ve found of implementing the second rule of The Church of Splendor: I am not arguing with you. If all you want to do is pick a fight, pick you nose instead. I am not arguing with you.

But that sort of thing is easy to say, and you may think it’s some sort of posturing on my part. It’s not. I live this as a daily reality, waxing and waning with the distractions of mobbed-up minds, and I’ve lived it for my entire life. This is a question that came to me a few years ago, and it seems worthwhile just now to revisit the topic of cultivating indifference.

I guess my question is simply this… How do you do it? You lay your heart, soul and ideas on the line and so often have them thrown right back in your face. And yet everyday, I wake up and see that you have written again, unscathed and unabashed.

Without intending to be flippant, I don’t notice things like that. In any sort of reaction to anything – positive or negative – all I am listening for is the resonance of reason.

There’s this first: The reaction, whatever it is, doesn’t have anything to do with me, primarily. Every action is taken first by the self upon the self, so when someone manifests a secondary consequence of that internal activity, it is primarily about the person acting, not about me or anything that is being acted upon or reacted to.

I recall a story in the local news about a man who had punched his television in order to refrain from punching his wife. The action was a form of self-expression – as are all purposive actions – his way of taking the moral high ground by not being a wife-beater. But, of course, if he could refrain from lashing out at his wife, he could also effect the same self-control with respect to his television. So what was his point? To coerce and intimidate his wife by a measured but nevertheless entirely pretended loss of self-control. The action had nothing to do with his wife, primarily, but with his own weighted attempt to dominate his wife by fear without looking like a bad guy in his own eyes.

Does that makes sense? We are each of us a self, an ego, and every purposive action we take, overt or purely introspective, is taken first by the ego upon the ego – as the expression of the essence of the ego. Everything that each one of is doing, all the time, is primarily an affirmative expression of the idea “This is who I am.” “This is how I behave.” “This is what I always do.” “This is what I never do.”

We compare our lives against other human beings – friends, family, other people we have heard or read about, living or dead, even fictional characters – but the primary relationship of the uniquely human life is the interaction between the self of the corporeal brain and body and the imagined self within every individual human mind. Purposive action, primarily, is the ego’s expression of itself – the mind and body’s physical representation of the abstract idea.

This is a point to be internalized – mastered. When people seem to be lashing out at you, they are very probably lashing out at themselves instead, as a pantomime of lashing out at a universe they view as being inhospitable to their egos. They are very definitely trying to hurt you, but if you reflect upon what is really going on, you will not be hurt. The real issue has nothing to do with you. Like that smashed up TV, you just happened to be there, that’s all.

However: Just because their behavior is bad, it doesn’t mean they have nothing to teach you. I listen for the resonance of reason. If I were to dismiss every complaint because it is expressed in objectionable behavior – or even just argued fallaciously – I would miss out on a lot of excellent opportunities to discover errors in my own thinking. Even as you ignore the form of a reaction – and I mean either criticism or praise – you should attend to the substance, if only to determine whether or not there is any substance.

Do you see? Every response you get to your ideas is in some sense market research. If someone praises your efforts to the skies – but for all the wrong reasons – you should not feel good about this. You have failed, with that person anyway, to convey the value you are attempting to bring to the marketplace. By contrast, just because someone is a complete jackass in the way he expresses his abhorrence of your thinking, that doesn’t mean he’s incorrect. His behavior might be unreasonable and yet his complaint might be profoundly important.

For me, it’s all about the message – if any. I don’t care about the envelope it comes packaged in at all.

What is really important, I think, is that every bit of this applies to you, just as much as to anyone else. There is nothing morally wrong with being in honest error. But I think it is a horrible injustice to diminish yourself – your self – in reaction to other people’s bad behavior. Such a diminution might actually be their goal, but it is impossible for them to effect. Only you can do it, and only by your own free choice.

The issue is always and only one’s own self. I did nothing to provoke this irrational reaction, but what can I learn from it? I am in a situation that I would have sooner avoided, but, being in it, how can I profit from it – even if my profit is simply not to have taken a total loss? I will be alive for a finite but unknown span of time. In this particular irreplaceable instant of my life, am I growing or shrinking? Am I enriching or impoverishing myself? Am I learning something new or am I affecting to pretend to have made believe that something I already know to be true is untrue? Am I engaged, in this moment, in self-construction or self-destruction? Am I trying with all my will to live as a human being, or am I maneuvering to avoid the awesome responsibility of being alive as a reasoning, recollecting organism? Every choice is life or death. Don’t choose death just because so many other people seem to.

There are angels among us, people who want nothing but the best for you and for everyone. But there are devils, too, and too many of the influences you confront every day are born in the fires of self-damnation. If you can learn to think of your ego as something you must always love and honor and revere and burnish until it seems to glow of its own light, you can make yourself immune from other people’s ugly behavior.

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