Most people are addicted to their pain and their drama. If you offer them a way out — even if they ask for one — they will almost certainly ignore it. They have too much invested in the dysfunctional narrative which they believe is reality.
That kind of dysfunctional narrative can’t survive tough questions, though, so humans avoid those hard questions.
That means your root assumptions about yourself and your life are almost never examined. You are too invested in justifying your old decisions and protecting yourself from imagined dangers that you go right along living out the same old mistakes and experiencing the same pain, frequently to the point you have to become numb to survive.
Even if you believe you need change, you find excuse after excuse to keep living as you always have. You say you’ll change your life, but before you know it, the weeks turn to months and the months turn to years. By then, your life is so far down a miserable road that you convince yourself it “isn’t that bad” — because you know there’s no way out.
It’s all because you refuse to ask yourself the right questions — and you refuse to deal with the bits and pieces of painful reality you allow yourself to see. You’re too invested in what you’ve done. You’re too invested in the life of unhappiness that you’ve come to know and accept.
In the same way, the root moral assumptions of a society are almost never examined. This is why people who considered themselves good and moral people couldn’t see anything wrong with slavery for hundreds (or thousands) of years. This is why so many otherwise decent people can make bigoted blanket racial judgments all their lives. It’s also why the almost all people can assume it is right and moral for a majority of voters in elections to send people to elective bodies that take control of most of the lives of every single person around them.
None of these evils can withstand the slightest moral inquiry, yet almost no one questions his or her own moral assumptions or those of his or her own society. One day, educated and moral elements of society will see political coercion in the same way you and I see slavery today.
It’s amazing how much of human life is experienced on autopilot — and how little we’re consciously aware of that.
Why do you do the things you do with your limited time on this planet? What are you hoping to accomplish? Who programmed you to be motivated by these things? Is there a better way to live?
There are millions of questions you ought to be asking yourself. Some of those are questions any thoughtful person in this culture needs to be thinking about. Others of them are specific to you. But with all of them, there are things you should be questioning — before you wake up and find it too late to change your one shot at life.
What are some of those questions? Here are a few random things that come to mind:
— Why do you turn your children over to a government to be taught whatever politicians decide they should be taught? Why do you trust them? Do you think you couldn’t teach them what they need to know instead? (And even if you comfort yourself that you’re sending your child to a private school, do you know that government-mandated teacher training and government-mandated learning outcomes still apply anyway? Do you children belong to the state?)
— Why do you watch “the news”? What do you hope to accomplish by this investment of your time? Do you realize that what you’re being given is entertainment-driven, manipulative and shallow? Should your time be spent consuming different information — or spent on something else?
— Why do you worship the symbols of the people who rule over you? Why do you pledge loyalty to a piece of cloth called a flag? Why do you believe that something about being born on one side of an imaginary political line makes you part of something better or more deserving than others? (Even if we don’t put it that way, you frequently act that way if you’re a typical American — or typical citizen of any country which brainwashes its children.)
— Why do you put up with the things that make you unhappy? Why do you follow cultural convention instead of pursuing what might make your life more worth living? Why do you allow other people’s opinions to stop you from changing your life? Why do you care so much what they think?
— Why are you so convinced that a little more (or a lot more) financial success or power or position is going to make you happy? You say you don’t believe that, but you arrange your priorities in such a way that it’s clear you do. Nothing matters more to you than your money and success. Will that make you happy in a couple of decades — when it’s too late to change anything?
— Why do you claim you care about your children’s welfare but then arrange your life so they’re sent off to someone else to be taught values and culture and everything important? And why do you hold onto this institution so much — because it gives you time to pursue other things — but you pretend it’s for your kids instead of for you?
There are a million questions — and almost everybody is afraid to ask them. But until you ask the right questions — maybe some on my list, maybe some others — you’re going to continue giving yourself the life that makes you so unhappy that you have to numb yourself to what you really feel.
You tell yourself — as most of us have told ourselves over our young lives — that you have big dreams and you’ll eventually “make it.” But as Bob Dylan once sang, “You got some big dreams, baby, but in order to dream you gotta still be asleep.” (“When You Gonna Wake Up?” Slow Train Coming.)
Cognitive dissonance makes it almost impossible for most people to comprehend any reality that contradicts their existing narrative.
What does that mean?
It means that when your mind encounters a fact which contradicts something which you already believe, your mind experiences a tiny bit of pain called “dissonance.” You instinctively know that both things can’t be true. So if you’re emotionally invested in believing what you already believe, your mind unconsciously chooses to ignore the new reality you’ve just learned.
If you have been raised in this culture — as I was — it’s incredibly difficult to set aside its core assumptions, about the society itself or about the ways in which life ought to be lived. When you go through life like that, you will eventually see things which make it clear that something is wrong — but you will choose to ignore those things.
What’s the point of this life if you’re going to live just as every other mindless zombie? Is that a life worth living?
For me, life has become far more worth living — and far more meaningful — since I’ve been willing to ask hard questions, accept difficult answers and then try to figure out how to live in meaningful ways which most of your friends and family and neighbors will never even seek, much less find.
George Bailey was right. This is a wonderful life. But it’s wonderful only for those of us who throw off the blinders that stop us from asking questions and living life in an entirely different way.
Of course, if you’re happy with the same shallow life and same lack of meaning which most people experience, then stay with what you already know. But that’s not a path that leads to happiness, love or fulfillment. And you already know that.