“Are the people I’m following going where I want to go?”
“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for.”
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland.
Yeah, we’ve covered this ground before, but it needed covering again — it needed another coat of paint. So…here we are. Back. Paintin’.
So I have a friend who was raised in used to be a member of what the French government calls a cult. Then again, the French government thinks that everything that isn’t the French government is a cult, so…anyway, what some call a cult and what others call a great piece of Americana.
And this friend, let’s call her Stacy, still feels traumatized by her cult experience. I tell her it’s her fault for being born into it, but that just starts her crying again and…I know, right? It’s totally her fault. Chicks.
Because of this, Stacy is skeptical of belief itself. She is skeptical of all ideas. She’s always looking for holes in them. She can’t just let it go. If it doesn’t make perfect sense now, it’s bollocks. So angry is she at her past self, at being duped, that she’s on a permanent BS witch-hunt: she will shoot the messenger and the message and if either one dies…it’s a witch.
This — Stacy’s skepticism — is not a bad thing. It’s just a misplaced thing. A mis-sequenced thing. It’s not a matter of whether or not to be skeptical — you definitely want to be skeptical — it’s a matter of when.
Here’s how I take advice, and how I suggest you try taking advice, even mine.
Step 1: True believer. When I find a new person, and I like their stuff, and I want to be like them, do what they do, have what they have, I read and listen to everything they’ve got that. All of it. I talk about it and them all the time. I suspend my disbelief and follow their tips to the letter, even — especially — the parts that seem a bit “off” or weird to me. If no physical pain, discomfort or injury is involved 1, I’m there. Following. Trying. I figure they must know or be doing something I’m not if they’re having and experiencing things that I want to but have yet to…this is a grammatical clusterhump, isn’t it?
Step 2: Loyal doubter. Having actually tried some of it and experienced success or…”tweaking opportunities” ( 😀 ) I start to find holes in the original advice. After what seemed like an eternity of largely unquestioning TB (true believerism) I finally start to actively doubt, to reject, to disagree. Not for the sake of disagreeing. Not because it’s cool to be a skeptical hipster. Not because it’s some mindless, reflexive “critical thinking” exercise that condescending, brown-haired women with psychology degrees and names like “Meredith” try to — what, do I sound bitter? — try to get you to do. But because I’ve actually had some empirical experience; I actually have data of my own to bring back.
Step 3: Individual again. I stand on my own. I’m not the same person I was before step 1. I’ve integrated the advice into my being, with experiment-based modifications along the way as necessary. And now I’m living and (in some cases) giving it in new ways. My way. I’m ready for to do and try new things, and perhaps to go through this same process with a new sensei.
Believe it or not, shock horror, it turns out I wasn’t the first person to notice and experience this three-step process. Not by a long shot. Almost a thousand years ago, a, no, the man from Japan who (if I recall correctly) invented “Noh” theater, lived, taught and named this idea: 守破離 (ShuHaRi).
- 守: Follow the rules (guidelines).
- 破: Break the rules.
- 離: Make your own new rules.
Just rejecting things out of hand is jumping to 破 (ha) before the 守 (shu). Step 2 (破) is when to start being a Skeptical Stacy. Not Step 1 (守). You give it a chance first, beat it up later. Grow first, outgrow later.
Now, I don’t like being told to do things in sequence. I don’t even read books in order (no, not a joke about how Japanese books are bound). But perhaps this is the exception. If you like the sensei, if you want to be, do or have like him or her, then give them a chance. Pretend it’s a movie. Suspend your disbelief. Become a true believer — temporarily mind you, only temporarily. Eat, sleep and drink their ideas. Take in all you can take while you can 2. And then reject and remake all you like. And then maybe go believe something else again, for a little while.
Is this the best way? Dunno. Prolly not. But it is what I do. And it works pretty well and pretty fast.
The world is full of good books. A few dozen of them are even supergood books. Awesome books. Here’s the raw truth about each individual superawesome book: you’re screwed if you don’t read it. And but you’re also screwed if you only read it. You kinda need them all. Be a true believer. Just don’t ever remain one. Outgrow your heroes…just be sure to grow into them first.
- Not a fan of suffering. I don’t do it. Not even temporarily. Not for you, not for other people, not even for myself. ↩
- I mean, information is like…a steal. Someone out there spent perhaps years of time and energy to learn and then write up the cheat codes to a certain section or level of the game of life, and all you have to do is read or listen to it. ↩