In case the last 59 years had not taught me this already, I learned it again this morning: the moment you think you have someone pegged, they will surprise you.
Today’s lesson came as I overheard a conversation in Starbucks between two gentlemen who could only be described as bros. One looked to be in his early 20s and was wearing a sweatshirt from his high school. The other was probably in his mid-thirties but looked older. To give you the flavor of the conversation, here are some things that were said.
Older bro: I don’t ever want to get married.
Younger bro: I know; getting married scares me to death. The only way I’d ever marry someone is if I loved her so much that I wouldn’t care if she took everything [in a divorce].
Older bro: Women are much better than we are, dude. Men do everything half-assed. Women work hard.
Posted in Life
Only eight posts ago, I lamented that the more important our decisions are, the less thought we seem to put into them. We only invest enough thought to find what makes us feel good, I said, and I wished we would apply more rational thought to our big choices.
Maybe I was asking too much.
Philosopher L.A. Paul says that when it comes to truly life-changing decisions — ones that transform the way you think or your mode of being — there’s no way we can be entirely rational, because on the other side of those decisions we will be so profoundly changed that our present selves can have no idea what our future selves will think.
In the movie Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne (a.k.a. Batman) is acting the part of an outrageous playboy in order to maintain his cover. At the tail end of one escapade, who should appear but Rachel Dawes, a friend from years ago whose admiration he craves. He tries to explain that what she has just witnessed does not represent the real Bruce Wayne.
Rachel devastatingly replies, “Deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it’s not who you are underneath; it’s what you do that defines you.”
Is that true?
I recently read an article in The Guardian about people who have a superpower I had never heard of. They are “empaths” — people who are “capable of feeling someone else’s feeling in their own body.”
Here is a sample experience from the article:
[An empath named Noah Berman and his friend] were sharing a joint when [the friend’s] sister came in looking distressed; Berman told his friend that her sister had been sexually assaulted by a person they both knew, and that she would disclose this in three weeks’ time. His premonition was correct.
Sometimes being an empath is a burden, as when one young empath was “bullied by his classmates, who were freaked out when he intuited information about them.”
This got me thinking about unconventional superpowers. If you could be granted one superpower other than the ones you’ve seen in movies (so no flying, combat skills, invisibility, or shape-shifting), what would it be? Here are some choices to get you started.
The ability to sing or play music that would evoke any desired emotion in those who hear it. The sirens of Greek myth had this ability, but only for the purpose of luring sailors to shipwreck on their island. Imagine if they had used their power to produce love, humility, patience, magnanimity, or other virtues!
Isn’t it obvious that the more consequential an opinion is, the more careful we should be about forming it? Yet one of the mysteries of human behavior is that we often do the opposite.
At a recent gathering of the philosophically minded, a friend lamented that she has been troubled by the sense that our lives don’t matter. Some of us around the table suggested that the way we live affects the people we love, which surely matters. “But eventually,” she countered, “the impact of even the best of us dissipates to nothing.”
Our wish to matter for the long term is very strong. Our ancestors who were apathetic on that point … well, they’re not our ancestors because they lost the competition to reproduce.
We also want to be connected to something more consequential than our individual lives: a tribe, a religion, or a Great Cause. This, too, has been bred into us as members of a species whose ecological niche is “animal that is individually weak but is an apex predator by dint of cooperation and intelligence.”
So what happens when that animal becomes so intelligent that it is able to see through the whole game — when it realizes that no tribe is better than another, that its religions are man-made, and its Great Causes will become utterly moot long before a dying Sun vaporizes the planet?
Last weekend, I was running an errand in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cambridge is not an easy place to find a parking spot, so when I came across one I nabbed it.
I was in a hurry so I jogged to my destination without taking much note of what was around me. I just followed Google Maps on my phone. It turned out to be much farther than I thought — about 15 minutes at a brisk pace.
I finished my shopping and headed back to my car. There was only one problem: I was not entirely sure where it was! I headed in the general direction (at least I knew that much) and explored the unfamiliar streets of the city. They were all very quaint but as far as I was concerned one was exactly like the other.
After 20 minutes of that, I called to tell my daughter, who I was scheduled to visit that evening, that I would probably be late and might be wandering the streets of Cambridge all night.
Then I had an idea. Sammi, my Samsung Galaxy phone, had helped me out on so many occasions before. Maybe she could help now.
I pressed the button to activate voice recognition. “Where have I been today?” I asked.
Instantly, Sammi told me how to use a feature of Google Maps that I had not known about: Menu / Your Timeline. Up came a map that allowed me to retrace my drive from earlier that day. I recognized the corner where I had parked, and was at my car in two minutes.
I don’t know about you, but I plan to willingly submit to our digital overlords just as soon as they arrive.