Q: How do you keep your calm when you hear other people talk about things like how unions are good for the country, how “big oil” is evil, or big anything for that matter, how we should “not be like them” and allow the brutes to build a mosque in NYC, etc.
For example, I just heard this woman saying to her other friend (after watching this other guy right across from her seat put his iPhone away and pull out a shiny new iPad) how “she doesn’t buy Apple stuff anymore because she heard that Steve Jobs doesn’t give any money to charity.”
When I hear stuff like that, I get this feeling in my stomach and get really angry and frustrated.
Dr. Hurd replies: You have to remember two things.
First, many people who say these things don’t really believe them. It’s not that they believe the opposite; it’s just that they don’t believe much of anything, of any depth, at all. And they’re saying these things because they think they’re the morally appropriate things to say. If their motivation could speak it would say, “My saying these things, and having witnesses to my saying them, makes me a morally good person.” If you want to be sick to your stomach, be sick about that. But don’t be sick because they really believe the nonsense they prattle on about, because that gives most people who say these things too much credit. You’re listening too hard and taking them too seriously. They don’t deserve the compliment of your anger, because your anger is based on the assumption that they have thought deeply and formed wrong conclusions, when most likely they haven’t thought deeply at all, not a day of their lives.
Second, other people who say these things HAVE thought somewhat deeply and DO mean what they say. But then try to imagine what it’s like to be a person like this. Imagine a day in the life of someone who thinks that a brilliant creator or business genius should be condemned. Imagined the petty little hatreds and jealousies someone like this carries around all day. Imagine what his relationships with other people are like — relations based on phoniness and insincerity, pretending to like people he does not like because they have accomplished something. Imagine a person who not only has no heroes, but is incapable of having a hero, someone or something to look up to, someone who really has something tangible to offer. Such a person is condemned to a life of “anti-hero worship” where he likes people in precise proportion to their weaknesses and failures, and dislikes people in precise proportion to their strengths and accomplishments. Is that perverse, or what? No sickness you feel in your stomach could rival the sickness of this whole person’s being.
Calmness is easy when you fully, honestly grasp the utter weakness, metaphysical insignificance and sheer torpidity of people who actually say and believe these things.
I say all this not to make you sicker or stress you further. I’m saying this to help illustrate just how unimportant and weak these people really are. They’re nothing more than dependent little saps, treading water through life and lifting their sorry spirits only by bringing down or attacking the accomplishments of others. I recognize that their views are more dominant in today’s world than any opposing views, and that can perhaps seem depressing at times. But none of it should ultimately depress you. Right ideas and true beliefs are always stronger than mistaken, evasive or irrational ones. You can fill a room with one hundred people. One person has rational beliefs, and the other 99 are willfully and stupidly wrong, as you describe. The one person is stronger than all of the 99 put together, and nothing can change that. Number does not determine strength; strength itself does.
Yes, there is sometimes a superficial strength in numbers. But even if one hundred percent of people were wrong about something, they will all fail in their endeavors to accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish dependent on their wrong idea. If one hundred people jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge at the same time on the false premise it would make them rich, every one of them would drown. Reality and truth always win over foolishness, idiocy and wrong-headedness, no matter how much the majority clings to the false. This is because truth does not reside in what other people say. Truth resides in what’s true, because of the facts of reality which support it. Things that are true are true — whether people are ignorant of it, willfully evade it, or simply don’t care about truth.
How to stay calm? Discover the cause of calmness. The root cause of calmness is certainty.
Certainty fosters acceptance. Perhaps by accepting that people choose to think what they think, you feel you’re compromising your own principles. But that’s not possible. You only betray your own knowledge by refusing to consider it. Your own evasions are a betrayal of yourself, but the evasions and errors of others are their own problem, their own responsibility. Not yours.
Focus on things as they might be, and ought to be. Whenever you find the slightest shred of this, you embrace it and treasure it like nothing else. But just knowing what to look for, and that it’s even occasionally there — is everything.