“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
This has been an interesting few weeks for me. I won’t go into the reasons why. All I can say is that I’m 52 years old and at times it feels like I’ve lived my entire life to this point as a child. I think back to decisions I’ve made…and didn’t make…and think about why I thought the way I did at those times in my life…It’s a humbling experience.
To be clear, I’m not talking about anything illegal, but that doesn’t matter. As I’ve made my way through fitness, first as a beginner, then an enthusiast, then a starting personal trainer and now a more experienced one, certain things have become apparent. The biggest one that I not only see in the fitness industry but as a card-carrying member of society, is that despite Socrates’ quote, an unexamined life frequently seems to be rewarded, whether worth living or not.
It’s rewarded in the way people don’t have to make the effort of thought. Thinking is hard and frequently requires sacrifice. It’s easier to just react.
Early in my career I saw up close the effect of people’s focus on weight loss. It wasn’t good.
I saw the stress, the obsession, the destruction of self-confidence, the overwhelming feeling of failure in people that were doing everything “right” but didn’t know the reality of trying to lose weight.
It was the examination of these observations that allowed me to move to a much healthier focus for my clients and readers. Sure, it took time and a lot of work, but most importantly it took a lack of ego. It took a willingness to admit to myself that I was wrong. Believe me, I’m not patting myself on the back. I got into this to help people and I could never have continued doing what I was doing while I was seeing what I was seeing, but unfortunately, I frequently see people in this industry who don’t have those same values or lack of ego. I had a conversation with a fellow gym owner, for example, who wondered why so many of his clients started “falling off the wagon” at almost exactly the 4-month mark. When I mentioned that maybe it was because his program was unsustainable, he got angry at the suggestion. He wasn’t willing to examine further. Much easier to blame his clients and keep his ego intact.
It’s easy to see how often people’s beliefs, political and otherwise, are determined merely by which “team” they feel they’re on.
People declaring themselves pro-life while actively trying to take health care away from people.
People talking about babies as a sacrosanct while voting against a program to make more baby formula in a critical shortage.
People who decry abortion but rail against programs such as comprehensive sex education and easy access to contraception that are proven to decrease them.
People more interested in arguing over a slogan (Defund the Police) than talking about a policy (funding programs to hire mental health workers so police don’t need to respond to calls others may be better trained to deal with) that most people, including police, agree with.
This is exhausting.
It demeans and every one of us and makes the world a worse place. A place full of emotional overreaction and little to no advancement. A place full of fear of “the other.” A place where nuance goes to die.
I remember when I first realized this was happening.
During Obama’s first term a Facebook “friend” shared a clip of one of his speeches. It was a 10-second clip taken from a speech that probably lasted 20-30 minutes and when taken that far out of context it appeared as if Obama was speaking as if mothers shouldn’t be in the workplace to the same extent of men. My “friend” was furious at the assertion, as anyone would be.
As this seemed the opposite of something Obama would say, I took the extraordinarily complicated step of looking up the speech online. It took about 15 seconds. It became immediately obvious that Obama was saying the polar opposite of what the clip represented so I wrote a comment to my friend telling him of this fact. I expected him to react by saying something like, “Wow. I didn’t realize that. I guess my source was pretty messed up. I’ll take the post down. Thanks for letting me know.”
His reaction was more like, “I don’t care.”
Now when presented facts in this light, it seems pretty easy to take the side of thought and common sense, but the reality is that without conscious thought and effort that rarely happens. Study after study has shown that when we believe something and are shown incontrovertible facts showing the opposite…
We dig into our beliefs even harder!
Doesn’t make much sense, huh?
Yeah, we humans are kind of silly, ya dig?
We’re complicated. We’re emotional. We’re NOT logical creatures. Most of the decisions we make are done emotionally first and justified by logic later. You ever bought something you don’t need?
Advertising executives own 40-foot yachts because they understand this.
If we’re not careful, we’ll get to a place where facts don’t matter at all, emotion is our primary concern, and nuanced critical thinking is an afterthought.
Look at the examples I gave above. How can people believe such obviously contradictory things?
I know I’m rambling. That’s what this subject does to me. Just do me a favor: The next time you react strongly to something – ANYTHING – take a breath, step back and ask yourself why you’re reacting that way. Ask yourself why the subject is important to you. I’m not even saying your reaction is wrong, just that it may warrant examination. Maybe you’ll even figure something out? Maybe you’ll change your mind about something? Maybe you’ll understand your beliefs, and yourself, even more?
So, what does all this mean? What am I trying to say? What’s the point of this convoluted post?
I just want the world to be a better place and I’m convinced the key to that is thought. Thoughts about:
what you believe
why you believe it
what those beliefs mean in the context of your other beliefs
what those beliefs will look like in the future
Yes, I know this will take time and effort. I know it may wind up damaging your ego a little bit, but is your own vanity really the hill you’re going to stake your claim on?
Get the f**k out of your own way and make the world a better place. It’ll take work, but this is work that needs to be done. There’s no other way.
Mitch Rothbardt Castro Valley Fitness 510-755-9191 Mitch@CastroValleyFitness.com