The paradox of “Normal”

Last week I got a haircut because I wanted to look normal again.

I had been growing out my hair for nearly 6-months, as I had largely been confined in my home since the world decided to roll over and disturb the peace of what many of us considered “normal.”

And, that same week, I decided to pick up a book and start reading again. A book about humanity now sits by my nightstand, and a book about Love sits next to my laptop desktop.

I then had a much-needed reunion with some of my best friends from high school – our bi-annual reunion, as I “normally” spend 10 months of the year outside of Canada. Yet, during high school, I would spend 8-hours a day with these people.

Because, last year this time, what was considered normal to me was reading one book a week, getting my hair cut every 3-weeks, traveling the world, performing magic, and writing daily.

I want my life to go back to “Normal.”

But for the past 6-months, while I grew out my hair, I had to adjust to a new type of normal as I battled my health concerns and not to mention all things considered with how the rest of 2020 has been going.

And so, while I progress towards my past “normal” life, what I’ve begun to realize is that the true paradox is assuming that “normal” exists in the first place.

When I was 14, “normal” meant waking up at 4:30 AM to train basketball for 2 hours with at the time my best friend, before going to class, followed by 2 hours of musical theatre rehearsal, followed by basketball team practice, and getting home at 9 PM to self-study four AP courses. In university, “normal” meant waking up 5-minutes before classes started and stumbling over to the business building while somehow managing to grab an ice-coffee so I could stay awake before my afternoon nap.

I have gone through phases where “normal” meant I felt fat. To phases where I was used to having 6-pack abs. To phases where physical fitness wasn’t even on my agenda.

For the past 6-months, “normal” meant being quarantined at home like a couch potato and suffering as I thought about how much life I was missing out on. I wanted to see the world. Two years ago, around this time, I had traveled to four different countries in the summer.

My hair was so long that it could cover the entire length of my face down to my chin. So yes. I cut my hair – finally – because I wanted it to go back to normal.

But normal doesn’t exist.

As much as I want to go back to the way things are, it is better that I soon realize that there is nothing I can do to escape reality.

Whether it be the way my physical health adapts, or my mental health, or my relationships with family, friends, with society, it is all a misunderstanding that normal is something we can actually achieve.

My life will never be able to go back to normal because I’ve experienced new things; I’ve seen society change. I evolve – for better or worse – and I’ve made new relationships, forged new contracts with the universe. Each of us has a unique version of what “normal” is.

I miss the days of being 12 and having no worries.

I miss spending time with my best friends.

I miss the “normal” of my childhood friends who I’ve mostly lost contact with.

But I can’t dwell on something that doesn’t exist.

So here’s to forging a life worth living, writing about, thinking about, remembering, missing, and let’s forget the normal life.

I want an extraordinary life.

I want to close with one of my favorite poems, which might shed some light on these paradoxes I am battling.

Paradox – Sarah Kay
When I am inside writing,
all I can think about is how I should be outside living.
When I am outside living,
all I can do is notice all there is to write about.
When I read about love, I think I should be out loving.
When I love, I think I need to read more.
I am stumbling in pursuit of grace,
I hunt patience with a vengeance.
On the mornings when my brother’s tired muscles
held to the pillow, my father used to tell him,
For every moment you aren’t playing basketball,
someone else is on the court practicing.
I spend most of my time wondering
if I should be somewhere else.
So instead, I have learned to shape the words thank you
with my first breath each morning, my last breath every night.
When the last breath comes, at least I will know I was grateful
for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be.
All those places I made it to,
all the loves I held, all the words I wrote.
And even if it is just for one moment,
I know I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.

Self-judgment

I truly believe that judgment of others is oftentimes just a self-projected judgment.

That is, when you judge others, you actually learn more about your internal self rather than the person you are attempting to judge.

She’s ugly

He’s so fat

The way he walks is weird

When you project these feelings onto other people, it’s a self-reflection of your own insecurities and contempt

Too much contempt, too much hatred being held within, and you end up projecting it on to others out of fear of letting it eat yourself up.

So cleanse your soul of this contempt and try to understand that humanity is beautiful

 

finite desires

The first thing we learn in any introductory economics class is the definition of economics, which is widely accepted to be how we, as rational humans, with infinite desires, should act in a world with finitely scarce resources.

There are two important notes here:

  1. Humans are rational
  2. We have infinite desires

Both of these concepts, when looked at carefully, actually seem very contradicting if you’ve lived past your teenage years.

Because, well, 1) humans are the exact opposite of rational, and 2) if we had infinite desires, why do people give away their goods to other people?

Economists rarely address the legitimacy of the rational choice model, unless you study the field of behavioral economics which blends psychology with microeconomics.

Most people understand though that we really aren’t rational.

The second note is humans having infinite desires, which also seems a bit off.

If I had infinite desires, why would I ever choose to share what I have with other people?

Rather, in life, my decisions aren’t actually to obtain as many goods as possible. Don’t get me wrong: material goods are great. But there is a limit.

The richest people often end up starting philanthropic work because there is indefinitely a point in our lives when we realize that earning income, although is necessary for modern day survival, does, in fact, feel rewarding, what is more fulfilling is actually giving.

To flip the terms:

Humans are irrational and we have finite desires.

With this framework, we shall see how humanity should better reflect choices.

This will be a future topic I will address once I’ve learned more about this framework. If you are interested in this framework, I learned it in my humanities professor’s amazing book that brings economics into conversation with Thomas Aquinas.

You can find it here: Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy

 

problems

Don’t bring up problems unless you intend to provide potential solutions, or at least put in the effort to help work towards solutions

we know there are many problems in this world

we see them

we hear it

the media is great at telling us what’s wrong with society

let’s instead be better at saying what is good with it

for one: tater tots are the greatest breakfast dish.

Philosophy makes you more sad

One of the most popular maxims in the world of philosophy, granted to us by good old Socrates, is that “the unexamined life is not worth living”

Surely, the unexamined life is less interesting. But does it make a person sadder?

To be a true philosopher, you must contemplate life and approach your transcendence.

Simone de Beauvoir, my favorite philosopher, and area of study, explains of the stages of freedom in her book Ethics of Ambiguity.

Now, I won’t go into too much detail about each step of the ladder, as there are 5 steps before we approach “genuine freedom,” which is ultimately how we reach our transcendence. But the important thing about de Beauvoir is that she addresses nihilism.

Nihilism is the third and inevitable step towards transcendent freedom.

Nihilism is an attitude; it is a conclusion that life is meaningless.

Now there is both active nihilism and passive nihilism, the latter of which we want to especially avoid.

Passive nihilism is what I would call modern-day dispassioned depression.

This is a dangerous combination because it is an awareness of one’s own sadness but also paired with a lack of passion or willingness to actually do anything. It’s almost like a complacency with one’s own conclusion that life is meaningless. Quite a sad attitude to carry for the rest of your life.

Eventually, you’ll burn.

Active nihilism, on the other hand, is how we are able to escape the nihilistic attitude entirely and approach the next steps to transcendence (which is called the “adventurer,” a person who does things for the sake of doing)

The active nihilist is in a rather precarious situation (as nihilism, in general, is quite a dangerous rope to cross). The active nihilist is aware of his conclusion that life is meaningless, but he fights against this conclusion—contemplating the notion and challenging his own predicament.

Eventually, the active nihilist, after much (or little) contemplation, will either move on towards his transcendence or revert to a passive nihilism.

I think every philosopher will approach nihilism at some point in their contemplative career, and often many times. Nihilism isn’t something we are able to just escape entirely unless you have approach full and complete transcendence. I know of no such person, except maybe the Buddha.

So yes, philosophers, true philosophers who are dedicated to a life of contemplation, will reach nihilism at some stage in their path to transcendence. Simone de Beauvoir calls transcendence “genuine freedom”; Nietzsche calls it the “Overman”; Plato has the “Good” and “Truth.”

All-in-all, if we want to truly achieve our philosophical potential, it’ll be difficult, it’ll be confusing, and it’ll also have a lot of sadness.

A sadness in nihilism. A sadness in lack of direction. A sadness through too much contemplation. But just know that sadness can be turned into passion and used to approach our transcendence.

Good Luck.

If you’d like to read some Simone de Beauvoir, check out her book Ethics of Ambiguity where she discusses freedom, humanity, and the meaning of life, etc. (She has a special place in my heart; she also essentially founded the second feminist movement).

Pressing issues

I’m probably like most people around my age that live on the West Coast in Canada:

Liberal–at least socially.

Scorns at hate crimes and racial bias

Low-key panicking about global warming and the inevitable doom of our environment

Cares about charity and curing poverty

And probably have a few not-to-kind things to say about Trump

But a part of me realizes that I complain too much

The inner economist realizes that the world isn’t as black and white as we’d like it to be. And the world doesn’t care about opinions or complaints; the world cares about facts, data, statistics, and results.

“If morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work.” – Freakonomics

The great thing about studying economics though, particularly if you also study politics and behavioral economics, is that you begin to understand the world a lot better. You begin to grasp the concept of incentives, of society, of the rationality (and irrationality) behind human decisions.

I think it would be a disservice to myself if I didn’t continue my passion for studying economics, as well as the “moral” aspect of the world. Maybe then, in the future, I won’t need to be talking about the pressing issues of the world; instead, I’ll be able to discuss the solutions we can apply to fix those issues.