Ah, Ramadan. A time of reflecting on and bettering yourself. Keyser Barbatoze is here to tell you've been doing it wrong.
So, I hear Ramadan is the month of self-improvement. In theory, that’s a wonderful idea. Millions of people across the globe leveling up simultaneously because Ramadan! Unfortunately, this ends up translating to losing a little weight or quitting smoking for a bit.
That’s not inherently bad, just not where your head needs to be at when you hear self-improvement. Try this instead.
5) Static is Bad (But Not Always)
One of the most powerful forces in life and nature is entropy; the gradual decay of all things. Everything degrades, everything withers, everything will eventually turn to dust. Including you, everyone you ever loved, and everything you ever built, owned or ever saw.
Obviously, this decay is so gradual that we don’t actually see it happening. It manifests itself to our human eyes as static, or everything staying the same. Every time you complain about going out to the same places and seeing the same people, you don’t realise that this guy’s got a new gray hair, the wallpaper’s peeling a bit by the bathroom, the chef has been replaced. It is never the same, only ever worse. So, just to recap, static=decaying=bad.
Now I know the natural-seeming reaction to realising that everything is going to shit around you is to effect some screaming change. LIFE’S TOO SHORT, you yell at your computer screen, YOLO SWAGTASTIC! Except no, you’ve got to realise that hasty, not-thought-out change is ephemeral at best, and will crumble that much faster. What’s to be done, you ask?
Do NOT confuse gradual change with being static. The best kind of change, the most lasting kind, is the change you slowly introduce, one day at a time. The same way that anyone’s who’s ever done a crash diet gains it all back, you can’t pretend to be able to change yourself overnight. You don’t read a book on business savvy and turn into Warren Buffet overnight. The ideal kind of change, done right, will appear as though you’ve hardly changed anything at all, except that six months later someone’s going to say “Hey guys, have you noticed how Karim doesn’t wave his dick around like a helicopter in public anymore?” And everyone else is going to reply “Yeah, I have actually. Good for him!”
4) Know What the World is Like (And Never Forget It)
So, the world. What is the world, really? Well, that’s easy. It’s a wondrous place full of rainbows and smiles where nobody shits and everybody has a Pekingese. Right?
Except no, you know that’s not right. But neither is the world a monstrous dark Sin City-esque dystopia where everything’s gone to shit. In reality, the world is a machine. The gears turn, the pieces click and clack and life goes on. It’s harsh, sure, but it’s also a land of opportunity.
Cracked writer David Wong gave a great example. He said that if your significant other’s been shot in front of you and a bystander comes to help, you don’t want to hear about how he’s a good father and husband, about how he never drinks or how he works hard. That’s all well and good, sure, but IS HE A DOCTOR? How can he help? How is he contributing to the great machine?
And that’s something you need to keep in mind, every second of every day, without bias. In our community, where most people are very spiritually-inclined (and that’s not a bad thing, I promise!), we often forget that we’re in this world for a little bit as well. It’s sure as hell your right to spend fourteen hours a day at your chosen place of worship, but then you’re in no way entitled to wonder why the world is shitting on you, why government seems to shun your needs or why people don’t respect you. The world in its entirety is composed of machine parts, who need the adjoining gear to be doing something, contributing to the whole. And on the other end of the spectrum, if your work doesn’t immediately seem to be benefitting people (looking at you, investment bankers), then side effects may also include a healthy lack of respect. And in this case, because again the world isn’t going to hand you anything, the onus is on YOU to make the beneficial aspects of your job that much more apparent.
3) Tyler Durden Says You Are Not a Snowflake
Some people will read this far and have an internal defense mechanism. It goes something like “None of this applies to me, because I know I’m a wonderful chap inside,” or “Yeah I’m struggling financially but my poetry is who I am dawg.”
We’ve all seen beggars in the street and cared. Oh, we’ve cared the shit out of assorted hot-button issues. If you’re a particularly brave soul, you may have even liked a Facebook page or watched an obscenely long video. I’m not here to tell you that’s wrong. I’m super happy that you care. The thing is…how far does that caring go? Look at this:
Thousands of people watched that video, and had the same “Aww, look at that. Things are changing for the better” reaction you did, but you are in no way entitled to that warmth because you didn’t DO jack shit. And can you imagine what a world it would have been if you had done something? Instead of “Garbagemen reading and learning”, it could have been “Garbagemen now living in golden palaces, request more concubines.”
In simpler terms, let’s imagine caring as the concrete base of a soon-to-be-built house. It’s a great start, even a necessary start, but it doesn’t mean much on its own. The “You” you imagine yourself to be, that’s the bricks and mortar and windows. “You” is the person who acts on their ideological bedrock. The ideological bedrock itself isn’t you, it’s you and millions of other people. What you think “You” is doesn’t mean anything at all if it doesn’t compel you to act.
2) There Is No Finish Line
Alright, so let’s assume you’ve done all of the above. You found that you really cared about Somali pirates so you’ve Kickstarted a campaign to give them rocket launchers. You’ve eradicated that little voice that tells you “you’re special” and have actually started being special. Now it’s time for an ice-cold beer and some popcorn chicken, right?
No. Well, not exactly. Obviously downtime is good, and you need a little time to unwind, sure. But you haven’t made it. Because there is no making it.
Fuck that self-help shit; life isn’t a sprint OR a marathon, unless the finish line is death. Hey, did you hear that Quentin Tarantino made one really good movie and then quit altogether? No? I didn’t either because that’s not what happens. And to put occupations aside for a minute, it’s not what you should be doing as a person either.
To put it bluntly, if you’re the same person at 30 and 25 and 50, then you’re failing hard. We’re all just chock-full of flaws, flaws you could be working on for the rest of your life while still not making a dent. It’s not wrong to enjoy your successes, but it’s definitely wrong to think that you’ve hit some imaginary level-up that allows you to rest on your laurels for the rest of your life.
And before you go off listing the things that you’re not (I’m not racist, I don’t beat my wife, I’m not a miser, I’m not Kanye West), then stop for a minute and think about what you’re saying. Are we really all defined by the things that we’re not? Is that what we want out of life, just to be not-terrible?
That would be like a restaurant hanging a big electric sign saying “Food not poisoned” or a hospital advertising doctors that are totally not ex-convicts. It’s just not enough. Incidentally, this also ties into the ‘nice guy’ approach that leaves so many guys girlfriendless. It’s not that girls like to date assholes. It’s that those assholes have a lot more to offer. “I’d treat her right and never yell at her,” you say? Well hold up, there’s a guy here who is more than happy to not yell at her and ALSO he volunteers at animal shelters.
You’re basically accruing resources. It’s great that you covered your ‘racist’ deficit but there also needs to be a positive balance. You need to be funny or smart or charming or creative in addition to not being bad things. Egypt has a great track record at not invading other countries and murdering innocent civilians (good job, guys), but Switzerland has that and also chocolate!
1) Question, Always
Here’s a fun thought. Most people reading this will never take anything to heart. You know why? Because despite all the shit we’re bad at, we as humans goddamn excel at inventing excuses as to why this shit don’t apply to us. Here is a list of 55 preliminary ways people try to derail arguments without addressing the actual argument.
Let me try to pick out the ones that I think you’ll be thinking the most.
“This guy wrote an article specifically to insult me! Forget everything he said, I need to insult him back so we can be even.”
Because ostensibly I know and hate you, anonymous Internet commenter.
“Does this guy think he’s perfect, telling me how to live? I’ll bet he *insert accusations here, some of which may be wholly correct*.”
Because that old adage went “DO shoot the messenger,” apparently.
“Last month, I was way worse off than I am now, therefore I’m on the right track and I don’t need to listen to this shit.”
Because going from incredibly shitty to slightly shit-smeared is the fastest and most efficient way to be a better person.
“So he’s telling me I need to go to the gym and play guitar and be a ‘shab’ to be a better person? Fuck that.”
Because that’s the only alternative, right?
“I’m living like Islam taught me to, and any other thing anyone suggests that isn’t mentioned is obviously inferior.”
Because a) of course there aren’t a million possible interpretations of an ancient text and b) because it’s not like the modern world has created new paradigms and scenarios that could not possibly have been addressed in 600 A.D.
It’s understandable, of course. 95% of our conversations revolve around the shit that’s going wrong with our lives (“ah, this girl, man. She’s just not being reasonable.”) because it’s more comfortable to revel in our collective grief, and it takes a lot of balls for one guy to stand up and say “Hey, actually I think we’re all going about this wrong. What if we try something different?”
I know I’m guilty of it myself. I read a book or go see a movie and nitpick all the stupid shit I perceive. And yeah, people create stupid shit sometimes, but we’ve got to consciously realise that maybe the reason we do that is because it’s so much harder to go out and create something better. Who knows, maybe we can’t even produce something as terrible as Scary Movie 5, and that’s why we’re so afraid to try. But ‘try, try, try until you die’ is the only way to graduate from that high-school criticism into some truly adult self-improvement.