If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands Part II

Read Part I. If you are lazy, here’s a recap: It is essential to appreciate different forms of intelligence. Each one may be of value to you more than someone else but each one undoubtedly deserves respect. Self-smart people are intelligent at being aware and understanding of their selves (and not just themselves). They are highly aware of their own thoughts and in important situations, self-smart people are readily more able to suspend their own bias and thus are able to make decisive and objective decisions. Self-smart people also acknowledge the fact that they may not make the right decisions all the time as they understand variables may change and luck can always be a factor. They make an effort to take responsibility and the accept the consequences of their thoughts and actions.

Is being self-smart all you need to be generally successful in life?

There is always a downfall with being too much of anything. As self-smart people are in fine tune with their thoughts, there will always come a time where they go too far meta into their own thoughts. What I mean by this is that along with analysing their thoughts, it can be really easy for them to take it a notch further and analyse their own analysation.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing to do, but sooner or later you have to stop at some point and quickly make up your mind. Moreover, thinking too much may actually not be a good thing especially when you do it at a time when you shouldn’t. Schooler identifies two types of problems self-smart people can run into when they are lost in their own meta-awareness – Temporal Dissociations and Translation Dissociations. I am not going to getting into the details of Schooler’s studies but I will attempt to pick out bits that are interesting and are relevant in everyday life.

Temporal Dissociations can be defined as when your consciousness is occupied by your meta-thoughts causing you to not be aware of your current-thoughts and actions. This can potentially lead to phenomena such as mind wandering. Now, this is a problem particularly when your current-thoughts require your immediate and full attention such as reading. In line with what I mentioned in the previous paragraph, self-smart people can be guilty of not being decisive quickly and taking thinking a bit too far. I am sure this is what happens to a lot of people who find it hard to sit down and read a book. I am guilty of this from time to time as well as I have had to reread the same opening line of a chapter 10 times before I either close the book and admit defeat or make another 10 attempts at reading the second line.

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Pretty much like this.

When you are reading, a few things happen within your consciousness: the act of reading itself to experience the external stimuli (verbally pronouncing the words either out loud or in your head); the automatic and unconscious processing of what you are reading (such as distinguishing different phonemes and accessing relevant schema); and third but not last is the process of active thinking – producing any form of deliberate thought. In this case, the process of active thinking during reading may involve anything from recognising a word in the book you find funny to more complex thoughts such as identifying poetic themes and forming opinions.

Mind wandering generally occurs when you spend too much time actively thinking. Mind wandering also occurs when your active thinking involves producing thoughts that have gone too far off irrelevant from what you were currently reading. This wouldn’t be a problem if the average human is capable of producing any two independent thoughts simultaneously (that’s another form of intelligence in itself, one I am incredibly inept of having). I guess it would be important to note that mind wandering is different from the typical procrastination. Procrastination stems mostly from a combination of misprioritisation of immediate interests, lack of sustainable motivation and will power (and a lot of other things). People who mind wander can be interested, motivated and have the will to read but are just not as good at redirecting attention. Oh, and you probably would not want to drive and mind wander too.

When you get lost in your own meta-thoughts, actively trying to reproduce these thoughts into words may lead to frustration. Have you ever had a really good and deep thought that you simply could not express verbally? Or how about simply when you just watched a really good movie and all you can say is “that was just fucking good I am lost for words”. Translation Dissociation occurs when you are unable to correctly reproduce your thoughts in a tangible manner. Probably not as potentially dangerous as steering your car into an accident, translation dissociations may actually lead to disastrous situations such as when you are trying to have a meaningful conversation. I know a lot of us find it hard to express our love to our significant other for example.

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Luckily we have emoticons right? … Right?

Part III soon.

-D

 

If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands Part I

In my last few entries, I have gradually shared with you my growing appreciation with many different things in recent years which I have found to be of value to me and I wish to keep this theme going a little bit further. In my expanding list of things that I have learnt to appreciate is the opportunity to have met a lot of intelligent individuals. Now, intelligence, for the sake of clarity, is a tremendously huge term comprising of different definitions and is an umbrella term itself for many different forms of intelligences. Although Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences holds very little ground in terms of how much research has been invested into it, fact remains that you can arguably be smart in different dimensions of life and this has given me a new found perspective for what I should constitute as ‘smart’. Growing up, being smart simply meant getting the grades and nothing more.

The intelligent people that I have met, come from different walks of life and of course, fit into their own little niche of what it is they consider smart. One type that I have always had respect for are those who satisfy the stereotypical definition of ‘smart’; being able to assimilate, process and regurgitate vasts amounts of knowledge and facts. That person who just simply knows a lot of shit. When I say stereotypical however, I do not intend to undermine them. In fact, I don’t know where the slight negative undertone that surrounds being book smart comes from. It’s very subtle and slight too, almost as if being book smart is not cool. The immense amount of knowledge they possess equally resonates the commendable amount of effort, time, and motivation that they have had put in to get to where they are.

The other form of intelligence that I wish to focus on is what Gardner considers the ‘Intra-Personal Intelligence’ or for short, Self-Smart. Gardner defines this type of intelligence as the ability to understand and be aware of the self (you understanding yourself, for example) and its thoughts and feelings. Additionally, these people are able to make use of the knowledge of their self to their advantage in many ways such as in making rational decisions or simply to evaluate one’s own behaviour.

A term I would like to throw in that is related to intra-personal intelligence is meta-cognition. The video that I have attached here gives a brief over view of what meta-cognition can entail in the field of education particularly amongst students. In short, meta-cognition is the act of thinking about thinking. At first glance, it may take quite a bit of processing (pun not intended) to fully grasp what is meant by ‘thinking about thinking’ and the possibility of such a thing. It sounds wizardry the more you think about it. Meta is often used as a prefix to words and is used to conceptualize the abstraction of another concept – such as thinking about thinking.

I will use an example of a person called R to illustrate the many meta-cognitive abilities self-smart people possess. In this example, R has had a recent falling out in her relationship and has had to reevaluate a lot of things going in her life. One way self-smart people are good at is observing and analysing their own behaviour and thoughts from an almost third person perspective. R, someone who is self-smart, will be able to question the decisions she’s made and the decisions she has to make on the basis of which decisions are the right ones and which are the wrong ones based on context, timing, feasibility and other factors. In this case, R realises that she has fucked up, her actions have, in hind-sight, been poor. The decisions she has made have also not been the best ones due to unfortunate timing. She has also realised her demands from her significant other have been greatly unreasonable and virtually unfeasible. With all of this known to her now, she can quickly adapt and list up possible solutions whatever it is they may be.

Now, self-smart people never always get it right, that is not what they are good at. The beauty in their intelligence is that they will always be the first to know when they are in the wrong and therefore are ready to make quick changes to their decisions for the benefit of finding solutions. Self-smart people are typically more objective than the average person and therefore are better planners. ‘Making good decisions’ and being ‘a good planner’ doesn’t seem at all impressive at first sight but how often do you find yourself regretting the rash decisions you’ve made in the heat of the moment?

Are self-smart people doubters? In a way, they are as they constantly question their own actions and thoughts. However, the main difference between doubting and what they do is that they doubt with an element of confidence and intelligence – a careful process of reaffirmation. It takes a respectable amount of effort to doubt your own beliefs in order to seek validity. What self-smart people have taught me is that I don’t have to fight my beliefs to the death and that it is OK to be wrong once in a while. In a lot of ways, it is extremely liberating when you have successfully proven yourself wrong and change your ways of thinking for the better. Unfortunately, we are good at trying to prove everyone else wrong before we do to ourselves.

Edit: saving this space for a summary if I feel like I need it.

Part II.

-D

Bullshit Until Proven Otherwise

Yada yada disclaimer about me not being a professional or well read. 

This one has been one I’ve been meaning to write for a while but I am carefully unsure whether the terms I’ll be using are the right ones. Two things to bear in mind, this field of thought is huge in terms of complexity and historical significance and I will probably be incredibly reducing it to almost meaningless levels. So in case you have a deeper understanding of the things I am about to write about than I can manage to express, you are probably right. In the case that you have no idea, I suggest you take my interpretation of them with a pinch of salt. I have great respect for knowledge as much as I want to express my interpretations of them. Therefore I will be the first to call my bullshit when I am able to. Secondly, don’t completely lose hope in me as I have not just taken anything out of context (i.e., a 5minute read off of wikipedia) as this has been extremely relevant in my field of education in the past 5 years. Additionally and most importantly, what I am about to write has been incredibly influential and shaped most of how I carry myself every day in how I think, behave and instinctively react in certain situations. It is not one I consciously wanted to adopt but I can’t help but have had to given the circumstances of my educational background. What the hell is he talking about?

A bit of history: This all started 5 years ago in one of my Psychology classes. The teacher split the class into two groups with the intention of having us have a structured and formal debate on the topic of “Is Psychology a science: yes or no?“. The activity was a total shitshow as no one took it seriously (I think I was the oldest at the age of 18). I was on the ‘yes’ group and had to defend Psychology as a science. I tried to play my part in the activity to the best of my ability and managed to read up on a few things on the internet and in textbooks before my turn came. In summary, in order for me to prove Psychology is a science, I needed to define what constituted as scientific. Amongst other things, ones that stuck to me the most were: empiricism, objectivity and falsifiability. Back then, shit made no sense and I’m not going to pretend it did and thus is why these three were the most memorable for me until today – curiosity can get incredibly frustrating.

Now, I am not going to give you a lecture on what these are. But I will provide you with my nutshell interpretation of what they are in the context of how they have influenced me. 

Empiricism is the idea that for something to have any essence of truth, evidence must be presented in an observable manner. Empirical evidence is essential in scientific experiments and it what gives science that great of a value in today’s society in the field of politics, socioeconomics, education, medicine, technology … I could really keep going. Empirical evidence in nature is testable, unbiased and almost irrefutable. Settling a dispute or simply proving a point will always require some form of evidence for your stand point to hold legitimacy. One good example of a popular empirical form of evidence is the use of statistics and numbers – so good that some fall into the naive trap of believing things too quickly just because numbers are used:

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Shit like this needs to stop

Being unbiased is a point that I wish to highlight next as it segues nicely into the second definition of science – objectivity. Bias, in most cases, is seen as an undesirable aspect to possess in truths. Not all the time though, bias can be valuable so long as one is aware of it and its contextual value. I like cats – I may be biased because I have cats as pets but its okay, the knowledge of the fact that I have a bias towards cats holds some value in itself.

cat.pngI may understand cats more than the average person giving what I have to say about cats more value than others. Credits to fizzi’s cat.

However, my opinion towards cats is unique and can only be applicable and generalised to me and to me only. With only my opinion, I cannot reliably predict what other people’s attitudes towards cats are. Truths and facts that can only be generalised to one person are not useful. Therefore objectivity is crucial for a fact to be useful, generalisable and able to make reliable predictions. 2+2 will always be 4 (well … a lot of the times, at least). If you have two apples and I have two of mine, we both can reliable predict we will have four apples when we put all of them side by side – a fair and an objective four. Simple arithmetic such as the example above is a known fact that a lot of people can comprehend and almost do not even consciously think about.

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Sorry I used a photo of two apples and a half.

Falsifiability is the one out of the three that I value the most as I personally find the complex process of trying to comprehend it beautiful. Falsifiability is the idea that for something to be true it must exist with the capacity and the ability to be proven false. Example:

‘There is no key in the house’ – This sentence is a falsifiable claim as finding any key in the house will refute it. It’s testable!

‘My dream was real’ – This … is a headache to grasp but this claim is, to a reduced extent, unfalsifiable due to the fact that there is just no reliable way to test dreams. And I can go around making this claim but it will hold no value to other people for as long as I can’t prove it.

Falsifiability is one of the foundations that give value to hypothesis testing. Hypothesis testing in research is a systematic way to prove and disprove claims and for something to be able to be testable it needs to exist in a form where it can be proven to be false. This is the reason why scientifically proven facts are so valueable: their predictive power does not only come from what it can prove but what it can disprove. 2+2 does not just equal to 4, but also allows you to predict that it cannot equal to 1 or 2 or 3 or 5 or 6 and so on.

So what?

Studying scientifically has not only given me the knowledge and content of the world around me but has also molded my beliefs and principles into one that can accommodate and accept science. With the three ideas in mind, I am now a little bit more wary than I used to be of truths and facts that I take in let alone accept. It is not simply enough to not be naive. Caution can only keep you from falling into a trap but to survive you need more than that – you need to able to figure out a way around the mental traps that exist. You eventually have to investigate truths and not just avoid them.

I don’t even want to call it being skeptical either. Being skeptical  gives the idea that you don’t want to accept new information. I value learning and any formation is good information. No. It is far different from being skeptical. Thinking scientifically is to be the opposite of what skepticism is – curiousity!

Learning scientifically however is a smart way of being curious. It teaches you to not just be content with one piece of the puzzle. It teaches you to seek for every single correct piece of the puzzle and missing even one or placing an incorrect one dismantles the puzzle’s entire value and existence. Just like how you require unbiased and untainted evidence to give value to facts and truths.

The three principles of science mentioned above has not only taught me how to learn but has also taught me how to make my own claims. As nerdy as it sounds, there is beauty in having to question your own claims and beliefs – be it overt or covert ones. You must always allow yourself to suspend preconceived beliefs and thoughts in order to accept new ones. More than that, in order to make new ones you almost have to go against your beliefs and seek to disprove them. Only when you have made the effort to prove yourself wrong and only then will what you claim have true value. True, empirical, objective and falsifiable value.

Edit:

In summary:

Knowledge, facts and truths allow us to make predictions.

You can only make reliable predictions with knowledge that is objective, with evidence and has been tested to be true.

Your opinion is as valueable as everyone else’s. However, you have to understand that your opinion is valueable and true to you and to you only. Just like the above, your opinion only holds value to anyone else when it has gone through the necessary processes of unbiased testing.

The next time you make a claim, ask yourself: Am I biased? Do I have proof? Have I tested or experienced what I claim?

-D

D-5

Disclaimer: Will probably not be writing in the regular formal format with citations for this one. I have both not been able to and not been wanting to write for a while due to several reasons; I have been physically, mentally and emotionally occupied with a lot of different things.  Nothing depressing really, mostly neutral epiphanies that I have experienced within the last few months. I have not stayed home for this long a period of time in the last 5 years (max 3 months for summer breaks). I was an oblivious idiot 5 years ago and shit has changed. Probably still am an idiot from time to time – but not an oblivious one! It’s 1 am and I just felt like writing somewhere for a bit. Here’s one personal epiphany I have had recently that hit me like a brick and I’ll let you in as to what implications it has had on me a little bit later.

I drive a lot. I, however, do not take long showers. Therefore I barely have these existential shower thoughts a lot of people have. I do however have driving thoughts. A lot of the times my driving routes are the same daily and I often times get into an autopilot mode – you know that mode where when you arrive back home you have no idea what happened in the last 10 minutes? So here’s the problem with my driving thoughts – I forget them the moment I step out of my car – fuck. Today I finally made a conscious effort to remember.

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Above is a small sketch I made immediately after my drive back home. Before I get to that, I just want to set the scene with a little bit of context. There’s a very good reason why I brought up myself of 5 years ago a couple of paragraphs above. Let’s call me 5 years ago “D-5”. Now, D-5 is very different from me today – i’m sure everyone would admit they were at least a little bit different 5 years ago.

Now bear with me trying to make a completely objective comparison of myself without sounding narcissistic because however I word this, I will eventually do sound narcissistic as fuck anyway haha.

D-5 was a horrendous show off (probably still am but let the D of 5 years in the future from now be the judge of that). One thing that D-5 was a horrible show off at was having obnoxious and heavily biased opinions. And no I am not just talking about social media outbursts. I mean, I’ll apologise to whomever felt like they deserved one for any of my outbursts but let’s be honest here … you should not give a rat’s ass for whatever a teenager has to say. No. I’m talking about genuinely having these horrid opinions and thoughts – believing in them and embodying them. There are three things that D-5 could have done better: 1. have better opinions, 2. being aware of process of having an opinion, and 3. reflect on my own opinions.

And that’s the epiphany I had. D-5 not only had horrible opinions and beliefs but was also extremely oblivious to the process and the implications of them. And the reason why this epiphany hit me like a brick was how only now that I realise that I should really take better care of my psychological well-being. I have had mild-depressing episodes (you can probably relate) which I really prefer to admit to be ‘moments of mental exhaustion’ because I do not believe I deserve to be in the same category as people who deal with real depression (their problems are more real than mine and I am just being a little bitch). Albeit, often times my moments of mental exhaustion have really only been induced by my own doing.

This sketch in the past few years has helped me to not only tone the fuck down on how much I have to say and what I say but most importantly, have helped me keep a cooler head and an even more stable demeanor in general. I keep telling my self I have a problem being a bit too apathetic some times hehe. Oh and less exhausted mentally, for sure.

I have had this sketch in my head for a while, refined it from time to time when I remember to, and now have I finally gotten down to sit and write about it. In the last maybe 5 years (?) social media has really taken off and to get straight to the point: everyone has a voice now. Every fucking one. And let’s just say, there should honestly be a class in school for “HOW TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA AND NOT SOUND LIKE A JACK ASS”. Oh and no, I’m not exempted. You are not either. We’ve all been a jack ass online at least once. Don’t kid yourself. Point is, having an opinion is fucking cool for god knows why. And as you know, a lot of the times people have ones that you do not agree with. And with a little bit of math magic – more people are online leads to more opinions which leads to more opinions you disagree with which leads to having a harder time to not be angry. Oh btw, “just don’t read” is not really a bullet-proof option either. Humans are curious beings. Too curious for our own good sometimes …

Now let’s get to it:

There’s an issue that triggers you: a facebook article, a tweet, a conversation you couldn’t help but overhear, an opinion a peer has in a lecture, a newspaper headline …. Whatever the fuck it is that bothers you daily.

What do you do?

Is it related to you? – No? Don’t bother.

YesYou think you want to express your own clever little counter argument – then …

 

Is your opinion informed? – No? Don’t bother.

Yes? So you’re confident you’ve done your research and it’s probably a field your degree is on too – then …

 

Is your opinion unbiased? – No? Don’t bother.

Yes? So you’re smart and you’re objective. Great. You’re almost there. – but then …

 

Will whatever you say hurt others? – Yes? Don’t bother.

No? Great so far you have a harmless, an unbiased and an informed opinion on a subject matter. – but …

 

Is it really worth it? 

Not really? Don’t fucking bother.

 

This a message to you, keep your mind healthy. Stay away from whatever makes you even a little bit sad when you can. Enjoy the little things and ignore the rest that really aren’t worth bothering. Bother less, you’ll be fine.

-D

 

 

 

 

The Fine Lines Within Gratitude

Not claiming to be a professional in any field. What you read may not be politically or scientifically correct. Best to assume my writing is not well researched and you may agree, disagree or do nothing with it. 

Be syukur saja …” (Just be grateful …)

I have been hearing this phrase for as long as I can remember and only recently have I given it proper thought. I have recently been going around talking to friends, browsing through social media (especially comments) and casually skimming through academic material to find whatever I can to help me dissect this phrase and really have it put under a microscope. I’ve had a fair share of curiosities before, but this one really got to my frustration as the more I tried to explain it to myself, the less it made sense. Apart from wanting to know what it should mean in an applicable manner and also in the religious context (as the phrase does have a great deal of religious background behind it), I wanted to also know what each and every different type of person meant when they do say this. In other words, I honestly, and sadly, do not believe not everyone means what they think they want to mean when they ask of another person to be grateful. This can lead to what I like to call the ‘grateful trap’ and to not give away too much of what it is, this trap is what I have observed to be a lot of people’s easy and lazy solution to not wanting to do what needs to be done.

Apart from it being the common-sense thing to do, being grateful in itself holds its own merits in improving our whole being. The act of gratitude not only increases self-esteem and confidence but it also strengthens your inter-personal relationships and gives opportunity for new ones to be created. Being grateful is also practically important as acknowledging what you have, be it materialistic possessions, life achievements, or even as basic as the existence of your current self, serves as a cognitive organization. Think of being grateful as just like an important monthly progress-report meeting you have at work: you discuss your previous agendas and objectives, the processes in which you needed to do to obtain them, and what worked and what didn’t. Just like that, being grateful allows you to analyse your past self in order for you to either not make the same mistakes or to make improvements in the future. Ultimately, being grateful allows you to recalibrate your motives to make sure they are still in sync with the goals you initially set.

All that said gratitude is still quite a mystery. Practically, there are other million better things that we could be doing with our time and energy that would yield actual tangible results, right? In addition to that, being grateful, in a lot of ways, goes against a lot of the basic and natural tendencies of a living organism such as to be selfish and greedy. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have gratitude nor am I saying it is not useful at all but am more questioning the reason as to why you’d choose to be grateful over being greedy, for example.

For example, say you are going to walk into a building and through the glass doors you can see another person wanting to go through too. The person reaches for the door first and he holds the door open for you to enter before he does. Now, you have two options, you walk through and do nothing or you acknowledge his act of kindness with either a smile or a thank you. Practically, you gain nothing palpable from doing either. And if we really wanted to be pedantic about this, walking through and doing nothing would probably make more sense as the latter option would take up energy (some people just don’t have the natural ability to smile effortlessly :l ).

Higher-order thinking traits such as gratitude almost exclusively exist within us humans (I say almost because some primates do portray some form of gratitude, although not to a high degree). With that being said, there must be a practical and completely non-moral (and non-religious, if you may) reason why our almighty brain truly believes that being grateful is necessary. One possible reason, which I personally would like to believe is the true reason, is that our brain possesses the power to assess risk, rewards and outcome probabilities at such immense difficulty and it is what drives a lot of our decision making. It is almost as if our brains are playing a beautiful game of black jack (21) and knows what cards are going to be drawn next. Going back to the example, our brains are able to list out the probabilities of each of the risks and rewards for when you choose to either ignore or acknowledge the person holding the door. Yeah, ignoring the person would virtually have no risks and the reward is tangible (you don’t expend any time or energy by doing nothing, obviously) – it’s what any other living organism would do as it is the simpler and easier choice. However, acknowledging the other person, effectively being grateful, is when our brain plays its game of black jack. See, the other neat thing about showing gratitude is that it doesn’t just stop there – humans are very susceptible to want to reciprocate any forms of positive attitude or behaviour including gratitude. Your brain is able to decide that maybe investing in a bit of energy to say thank you or maybe just a smile will probably yield a better outcome in the future when the other person decides to return the good act – and that’s when your brain hits 21 on blackjack.

In a lot of religions as well, being grateful is a very admirable virtue to have. Some believe as much as it is admirable it is also necessary and core to their beliefs. As with the previous example on reciprocating good deeds, for a lot of religious people it helps to always have a constant and central figure, God, to hope for a reciprocation from. Whether the reciprocation happens or not, it doesn’t really matter in the greater scheme of things as what is important is that you believe God will reciprocate and this forces you to establish yourself with positive virtues such as gratitude – effectively bringing in all the other psychological benefits mentioned previously. On the other hand, others believe achieving and fulfilling gratitude at its full essence takes more than just a little acknowledgement and this is where being grateful gets a bit ambiguous and can work against you – even in a non-religious context.

The ‘grateful trap’ is what I’d like to imagine being what happens when we muddle up the intentions and everything that is what defines being grateful. There’s a significant difference in expecting and hoping for gratitude to be reciprocated. The former falls into the grateful trap, and is not in line with what being grateful should be. Expecting gratitude to be returned will greatly discourage you from making any effort. Similarly, either you expect or hope gratitude to reciprocated; a lot of times, if not all the times, you need to open doors, not just literally, for yourself.

For example, you were recently employed by a company and you’ve been working there for a good few weeks. Your employer approaches you with bad news and tells you your first month’s wages will be delayed by maybe a few weeks to a month. This is obviously concerning as you have bills to pay and you know it is your right as an employee to be receiving wages on time – not a privilege (Please, for your own sake, know the difference between right and privilege). On the other hand you do feel grateful that you are given the opportunity to work in the company in the first place as the economy’s been tough and you wouldn’t have it any other way. Therefore, in order to not get on the bad side of your employee you decide to keep your concerns to yourself. You are expressing your gratitude, as being recently employed, towards your employer by not voicing your concerns. You believe that some good will come out of not being on your employer’s bad side. This is definitely a tough situation to be in and one I genuinely wouldn’t want to tell you what to do. But the important question to ask here – how far are you willing to keep showing gratitude towards your employer and expect something good to come out of it? How many more months are you willing to have your wages delayed before you are convinced the employer is not reciprocating your act of gratitude?

The point I’m trying to make here is that, you always have to take the initiative to make things work in your favour and not bank on reciprocation of good deeds such as being thankful for example. However, I do would like to emphasise that I am not telling you what to do – I am only wishing for you to realize that by taking the easier and, arguably, the lazier route, you should be well prepared to receive zero.

After having a brief discussion with a few of my friends about gratitude/syukur, a lot of them believe that, in the context of Islam, it can indeed be misconstrued. Now, I am no religion expert but even with a quick google search you’ll find that Islam, and pretty much every other religion out there, underlines the importance of effort. And it is often easy to think your religion is some magical and uncontrollable force and you forget that at the end of the day, you can and need to still function as a rational human being independent of your religion (I’m not saying your religion is not important to you, am merely saying you are not a robot and your actions are still yours to decide). I’d like to tell myself that religion serves an intention-reminder. The term Tawakkul is a very interesting and beautiful term in the context of effort and religion. Despite its simplicity, some still struggle:

One day Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it and he asked the Bedouin, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet then said, “Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah” (At-Tirmidhi).

In summary:

Being grateful is very virtuous and and an admirable trait to have and brings in a lot of practical, moral and religious benefits.

People tend to want to reciprocate good deeds such as gratitude.

Privilege does not equal to right.

One shouldn’t be expecting good deeds to be reciprocated. Hoping is okay but any more than that is borderline dangerous.

Take the initiative, open your own doors, and make the effort. You only have yourself to blame when shit doesn’t go your way because you didn’t do anything.

-D

Note: Posts will be slow from now on as I’m back in school. Don’t have any intentions of abandoning this at all however. I appreciate the freedom and space it serves for me to vent my thoughts. And I owe it you readers who have given me feedback and now I gratefully feel obligated to continue to give you more content.

Selfish by Being Unselfish Part II

Not claiming to be a professional in any field. What you read may not be politically or scientifically correct. Best to assume my writing is not well researched and you may agree, disagree or do nothing with it. 

This is Part II to a multi-part series of Selfish by Being Unselfish. Reading Part I is highly recommended to have a better grasp of the flow of the content. 

Part II: Motivation

noun
  1.  
    a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.
    desire or willingness to do something; enthusiasm.

Every deliberate action we perform is driven by a form of motivation. The term motivation used here is a bit more technical than its everyday use as it refers to actual concrete conscious and unconscious reasons to our behavior. For example, I want to sit down because I’m tired – easy example. Second example, I want to hold that door open for the lady because I think she’s cute – very straight forward reason but contains a deeper and complex explanation. In the context of selfishness, it is good to keep in mind that if the reasons to our behavior are not imperative, or beneficial at all, to our survival, is it possible that the same reasons are not selfish? In other words, are you still selfish for doing something that does not benefit you?

Motivation is a very vast field studied in Psychology and they range from theories of instincts and to theories of self-actualisation. I’ll be highlighting one that I find interesting and very relatable in the context of selfishness. Before we move on, keep in mind this is only a theory as the human mind is too far complex to grasp fully at this moment in time.

Self determination theory

Developed by Deci and Ryan, self-determination theory (SDT) is a very well researched theory into motivation to this day. Previous theories into motivation prior to SDT have heavily debated the involvement of intrinsic motivation (internal rewards – such as praise for doing well at work) versus extrinsic motivation (external rewards – such as money). SDT involves the cooperation of both forms of motivation and believes that the combinations of both have equally important roles in motivating behavior. More importantly, SDT revolves around the idea that we are driven by three psychological needs – competence, relatedness and autonomy – and these three needs regulate the value of different forms of motivation at any given time. As indeed it is in the case for when you study for exams, some forms of motivation work more than others at different times.

Competence – Needing to be in more control and be good at tasks to be able to predict outcomes better. For example, scoring well at a test consistently yields good scores and praise from peers. You will continue to attempt to score well in future tests as the outcome is predictable and positive.

Relatedness – Needing to be more connected and to interact with more people. Humans require stable, caring and long lasting relationships. It is the lack of relationships that gives to the rise of negative effects such as depression.

Autonomy – Needing to have a sense of free will and to know you are in charge of your own actions. In a study by Deci and Ryan, they found that when you introduce an extrinsic reward to a behavior that was initially intrinsically rewarded, the extrinsic reward assumes more control over the behavior than before. For example, if you initially wanted to solve a puzzle because you enjoyed it, introducing a money reward to complete it will increase your overall motivation to complete the puzzle at first. However, when you take away the money reward away after, you become less motivated overall than you ever were at the start. In essence, money controlled your want to solve the puzzle.

SDT is able to explain why various intrinsic and extrinsic rewards are important to us for every possible situation we are in. Similarly, SDT also explains why it is difficult for us to do something that we are not motivated to. All sorts of issues rise when we force ourselves to do thing we don’t want to such as stress, decrease in self-esteem and decrease in overall human functioning.

In the case for selfishness, it seems fair to say that every reason to our behavior is important to our survival in some way. If it isn’t then we just simply won’t do it and try our best to avoid to.

Things to take away:

Our actions are always motivated.

Self-determination theory explains that we have psychological needs (competence, autonomy and relatedness) and these needs organize your intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Problems arise when we ignore these psychological needs such as stress by doing things we don’t need to.

It’s essential for us to avoid doing things we don’t really want to.

I will be discussing the issue of selfishness in altruism and the importance of being aware of your selfishness in Part III. Stay tuned.

-D

Selfish by Being Unselfish Part I

Not claiming to be a professional in any field. What you read may not be politically or scientifically correct. Best to assume my writing is not well researched and you may agree, disagree or do nothing with it. Just your average joe with average thoughts.

This will be a multi-part series covering the understanding of selfishness, how it got to have a negative connotation and its inevitable existence within us, explaining some secondary reasons to be selfish and the implications of being aware of your selfish motives including being selfish in the context of religion.

Part I: Origin and Inevitable Existence

The term selfish is defined widely as a concern for one’s self interest. Some define the concern being exclusive to one’s self, and many include being selfish is the lack of concern for other’s. Selfish is also generally interchangeable with the words egotistical, narcissistic, self-centered and greedy. It’s a no brainer that the term selfish has an indistinguishable negative connotation. Historically, it is understandable why being selfish paints a bad image. From Genghis Khan, to Mao and Hitler, they were the epitome of selfishness – evident in their savage ways. If you are religious, the earliest notion of selfishness appeared in the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit. In many different religions, the root of sin is known to be selfishness.

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It was probably not organic.

With all that said, has selfishness been unfairly put in a bad light? If being selfish is so bad, why do we still have it? Why hasn’t evolution filtered out selfishness a long time ago?

The real issue with selfishness is that we as humans need it. If anything, selfishness is what makes us, us. It has kept us alive since the birth of man. One of Darwin’s laws embodies selfishness. Those who survived in a generation had to be the strongest and the fittest, had to be able to adapt the fastest and notably, had to be selfish in some shape or form at some point in their life – natural selection. We have always wanted to prioritise our own survival first, and also secondly, to give us a greater chance of successfully reproducing and pass on our genes. Back then, who hunted better had more food for themselves and their young. No different than it is today where those who are able to have more money are more likely to survive (the modern term for survival: which is to afford modern necessities such as education and health care).

Additionally, there is also a case to be made in the idea that selfishness has an inevitable existence, or at least the potential to exist, at the center of every deliberate action we make. Bear with me for a second, this may get a little confusing. Following with the theory that we are all naturally selfish in the context of surviving, it can be argued that every conscious action we make, be it having an immediate affect towards survival or not, potentially has a selfish reason behind it. The problem is, these selfish reasons may or may not be conscious to you immediately or ever or can arguably be bull shit altogether. For the sake of organisation, I will be addressing non-immediate reasons for survival as secondary reasons (such as obtaining money).

Let’s take an easy example, one reason why you would choose to dress well is to impress. A reason to impress is to be more attractive than others. Being more attractive makes you more sexually appealing. Eventually, you increase your chances of being able to successfully reproduce and pass on your genes. In addition, more attractive people are indeed more likely to be successful in life.

Somewhere along that chain of secondary reasoning, or any chain of reasoning for that matter, will always have room for selfishness.

Now how about an even more audacious and complex example. There are many reasons to donate to charity. Being charitable is a very attractive trait as it embodies empathy and compassion. Donating also symbolises wealth, another attractive trait. I’m willing to guess a lot of my readers here would say being charitable is a good religious deed and brings you closer to God. I don’t want to sound too simplistic and pedantic, but donating for the sake of wanting to be closer to God is, technically, still a selfish reason in itself. (Will address the implications of selfishness on religion in a later part of this series)

Now, dressing well to increase the survival of your genes or donating to want to be in heaven may not be a conscious idea to you at the time nor am I claiming it is the only and definite reason. What is important to understand is that being selfish exists in a lot of what we do, if not everything we do. As long as the action we take has a positive affect to our survival in some way or another, it will always, by definition, embody selfishness.

With that being said, it is difficult to argue that being selfish can either only be good or bad. Context and moral and practical implications matter a lot. Are all secondary reasons to our actions necessary for survival?  Does it really matter why I’m donating to charity?

Summary:

Historically and religiously, being selfish has not been seen in good light.

Being selfish allowed us to survive as a species and is part of natural selection.

Selfishness is inevitably in every action we take.

At the end of the day, it is impossible to determine whether being selfish is good or bad. It really depends.

I will be discussing more about selfishness in the following parts. In part II, I will be addressing secondary reasons to selfishness by getting into a bit more detail into a few of my favourite theories in Psychology. Stay tuned.

-D