The axe for the frozen sea

I think we ought to read only the kind of books
that wound or stab us.
If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up
with a blow to the head, what are we reading for?
So that it will make us happy, as you write?
Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy
are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to.
But we need books that affect us like a disaster,
that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. 

Franz Kafka

If life is a journey and we don’t know exactly where we’re going, then what are the forces that push us and move us? How do we understand what’s true and false? I’ve learned that life is iterative and it’s about versioning. The only way we can evolve/develop our ideas about who we are and why we’re here is to seek difference, discomfort, something that challenges the way we see things. It’s about finding out how wrong we are along the way. It’s not reinforcing what we think is right. It’s trying to understand how to test and update our truths that guide our lives.

Taken me so long to come to this conclusion, once you adopt a dialectic mindset, take a truth you live by, let’s called it your thesis, collide it with something far from your truth, call it the antithesis. If you open your mind, you will find the synthesis—a new version of the truth.  And you have a moment of reckoning with what you used to think and that can move you into a new direction. If we do not seek the antithesis, we do not look for something to push us, and test us then we will never move forward. Confirmation bias, what we comfortably know and availability bias, what we surround ourselves with, take over. When we are too comfortable we get complacent.

I think we need to seek artistic works that push us to an edge that make us think about something different.

But John! All work and no play, makes John a dull boy.

We all need a break, a way to escape the harshness of serious stuff, right? To be distracted from the stress and anxiety? Yet escaping reality is something we do all day long. Research has shown that people are not paying attention 47% of the time during the waking hours– meaning we are daydreaming about half of the time. Add in sleep and we are distracted and escaping almost 80% of our lives! It’s okay. All the more reason to be intentional about the need to seek things that test our thinking.

Almost every day I am confronted with how shallow my education has been. Not so much the rich smorgasbord I have been offered and paid for. But the way I have only nibbled and partially digested the wonderful infinite courses of food for thought, understanding, and self- knowledge.

For a long time, I was so content to skim the surface of the trough of meaning and learning. Sought and relied upon unverified certainties. Trying to get away with the minimum. Pick up enough information to give others the appearance of intelligence, to be able to ably converse at a cocktail party (went to very few actual cocktail parties, but you know what mean) Therefore I surrounded myself with really smart and wise people. That has benefitted me and yet painfully pointing out the Grand Canyon sized gaps in my knowledge.

One of my unrelated adult “nieces” confronted me with a humorous but biting truth the other day: “Uncle John, I always knew you were funny, you always made me laugh, but I never thought you were smart.”

I thought I fooled a lot of people, but mostly I was fooling myself.

Many years ago, when I had to come to grips with this sobering reality: My self-inflicted brain diet. How each of the four academic programs I completed were brutal reminders of what I did not learn and what I still don’t know.

Without privilege I could not have advanced in so many arenas.

That privilege led me to the arrogance of entitlement and even rationalizing some earned journey of progressive career success.

These personal insights humbled me and pushed me to intentionally embark on a different approach to learning and experiences. This is the basis for my love of ass kicking quotes and ass kicking people, which also spawned this newsletter.

Seek new information. Crash my little mental motor into much stronger intellectual vehicles at the demolition of dumbness derby!

These collisions always yielded something new.
The greatest art forms transform something familiar into the unfamiliar. The process of seeing something very differently, that is the hallmark of a great book or a film. A visual piece of art. When you look at it, you see yourself, you see the world. You see something with a slight twist or a massive transformation.

What I read. Whom I talk to. What jobs I would interview for. What media I consume.

Mostly the books I would order and read. Those are of course two different groups of books!

To try and push myself further down the road of ignorance. No you heard me right. Ignorance. I realized as my smarter friends already knew: the more you learn the more you learn you don’t know.

The journey for knowledge is exhausting as much as it is invigorating.

My ignorance was something I formally tried to hide. But slowly and surely, I am letting myself be open about what I don’t know.

But internally, there has been an energizing and liberating recognition of this conflict. Trying to enjoy the process of becoming a better more honest version of myself.  

I was always open to new information, but I rarely sought it.

I try to be disciplined in what I ingest. Literally and figuratively. I question what I like. What I know.

How I order off a menu, select a podcast, tv show, and certainly books.

My hubris is constantly being reduced to humility.

How did I remain stuck in that part of the world for so long?  

I am obsessed with the dialectic.

A new idea that incorporates the opposing thought.

A new truth. Not necessarily an easy one.

I naively though the dialectic process was great for ideation, which it is. But when I applied it to my continuous education is when I realized its true value.

I love sharing my findings with others to spark conversations. It is in these conversations where I gain the most. Dialectic dialogues, if you will.
My pursuit of new truths, synergized truths, have led me to people who have deeper knowledge and different POVs.

Sometimes these lead to rabbit holes, but most often eye-opening venues that are mind shifting experiences.

I have tried to dive into these worlds with books that have challenged me. With people and sometimes mentors who held me accountable and did not let me drift on the surface of expertise.

Self-knowledge is the only real objective. Becoming a better more honest version of myself.

Learning about the self. Who I am. What I seek.

What choices and habits separate us from the unknown? From new thoughts and ideas, and tribes of people who embrace those thoughts and ideas.

It has taken me decades and I have started to understand my ignorance. I have embraced my inner capacity for ambiguity through a dialectical mindset.

The predictable and the comfortable are the greatest thieves of self-awareness.

How can we break through the glacier of ignorance with the axe of anti-thesis? To ultimately melt the frozen sea of familiarity with the warm flow of the unfamiliar.

What do you see? Can you toggle back and forth?

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