Sunday, May 2, 2010


Say this world is not so shallow
When you can't beg steal or borrow.
Save your breath your soul is hollow,
And it's all too much to swallow.—"The Remedy", Abandoned Pools
He with nothing to say shouts loudest. Or something like that. Think of politicians, picketers, and advertisers. Some of them might have something worthwhile to sell you, but not the ones that get your attention and flood the airways. Why is that?

Extremes Get Attention
There are always radicals and moderates, but do you hear much about the moderates? Moderates are easy to ignore because they don't seem to have much to say. Even if the radicals are a small minority, they dominate and set the tone for everyone.

It's Easier to Talk than to Do
This is the real reason for some of the most insistent, shrill-voiced dogmatists. They have to make huge changes, see it as life or death, and rightly notice that it's too big for one person to tackle. Then they wrongly deduce that it's everyone else's problem. And that if they just shriek loud enough, the whole world will eventually see the error of their ways, and change.

Take hardcore environmentalists for example. They believe we're destroying the world at breakneck speed, and if we would all just reduce-reuse-recycle, we can live sustainably for the foreseeable future. But in general, they don't see eco-friendly living as an opportunity for personal improvement, they see the alternative as a plague of rampant pollution that needs to be decried and regulated away. Their sense of urgency comes from the fact that I can undo all of their efforts thrice over without even trying.

In all likelihood, though, any extinction-scale dangers would be too sudden to avert. Real life isn't like the movies. I see reason to be at least a little skeptical of anyone who has a life-or-death message to sell me on.

So, if the voices you can hear are the ones worth ignoring, where does that leave you? It seems like a non-starter, but I think there are some insights to take away.

First off: shut up! If people who give unwelcome advice aren't worth listening to, and you notice yourself giving a lot of advice, what does that say about you? One of Douglas Adams' characters in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy had a theory about humans that "if they don't keep on exercising their lips, their brains start working".

Incidentally, that's part of the reason I haven't posted here in a long time (the other part being how long it takes to write anything worth reading). I get uncomfortable when I notice myself frequently using terms like "most people", "we tend to", and "too often". But I digress...

The other big insight is one of self-empowerment: trust yourself. Most of the things being pumped into your head from the outside are probably tainted, anyway, and the fact that other "smart people" have accepted them doesn't always mean that much. If someone wants you to change, the burden of proof is on them to convince you why. It's okay to be comfortable where you are, tune people out, and change slowly.

And yes, I notice both of those are "self-undermining" messages, but I'm comfortable with that...