If we’re being real with ourselves (which we are, by the way), forgoing the free will/determinism argument, we can agree that most of our lives are ruled by randomness. You are a great example, dear reader — you love Santa Barbara, you made the best friends, you’ve had the greatest experience ever, you would’ve hated going anywhere else.
Well, no — you wouldn’t have. If you had gone to a different school, you would have made friends who were just as awesome and you would’ve probably loved the quirks of your school as much as you love the quirks of this one. And even if you hated it here, it might have been the same in a different place.
Our lives ultimately end up the way they are by a couple of big decisions followed by whatever happens because of them. And because we can’t know, really, what will happen following those choices, we can understand where we end up by looking at the randomness of our lives. I am here to talk about the one decision that haunts us, mostly ignored, every second of every day we live — the most important decision we can ever make — one that we tend to forget is even a choice. Wherever the randomness of life takes you, whether you’re the most fortunate, successful person or the least, the one ultimate thing we have control over is our attitude.
You see, it’s very easy to live your life on autopilot — it’s the default setting our brains are wired to. As an automatic setting of the brain, it turns out to be terribly hard to switch off. Metacognition is vital — knowing about knowing, or thinking about thinking. It involves being conscious of the thoughts that are going on in our heads at every moment. Oftentimes, we don’t use metacognition; we are limited in what we choose to pay attention to. You weren’t thinking about thinking before I told you about it, just like you weren’t aware of what exactly each of your fingers is doing, or how the seat you’re sitting in feels on your backside or the ground on your feet until I remind you to notice.
Because of this, it’s extremely easy to go through life on autopilot, especially when we’re unaware that we can choose what frame of mind to be in. The self-help industry is a multibillion dollar one, unique in that it can be summed up in one sentence: It is not the events, but your reaction to those events, that can upset you. Solidifying this fact in your mind and being aware that you can choose to look at things are very important for people whose parents are going through a divorce, or who just lost a loved one, or who are depressed, but can be equally important for those people who are, well, fine.
You just got cut off on the bike path by someone who neglected to read my first article on bike path etiquette. You silently curse them. Fucking hipsters on their fucking fixies with their fucking mustachioed faces and messenger bags, you think. And whether or not they did it on purpose, or were too busy listening to Broken Social Scene, that immediate response you made was automatic and happened without thought.
If we choose to think about these things from a different perspective, we can avoid anger, frustration and other daily happiness hindrances. Perhaps they had to get to class early to meet with their professor about trying to do research and were late. Maybe they really had to go to the bathroom (can’t be too cool for pooping). The point is that there is the possibility that their simple action of cutting you off was justified. And even if you disagree, they probably felt justified in doing it for their reasons, or maybe they were just being thoughtless.
In either case, wouldn’t you be just as thoughtless if you didn’t just stop to think about it?
Is Daily Nexus columnist Kevin Ferguson just a hipster on a bike trying to justify being a chronic asshole?
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