It feels nice to be liked, doesn’t it? And one who is liked does enjoy to be admired too, right? So, should I go with the flow and earn all the applause from the audience of my life?
I stop writing and I hear the voice that says “Do you think that they will like this beginning? Is it a beginning with strong questions a strong enough hook to keep somebody reading your article?” Now I start thinking about the editor of the competition, what are his or her tastes? Maybe I should stalk their FB profile, see who they are, what they like and think?
And I stop. And take an honest, good look of myself. Now I don’t think about anything. I am not thinking about the quote, I am not having my ideas in front of me and my desired destination. My objective has become one of a pleaser, of an automaton. Anyone and anything can do the same. So here we go again, this will be my new article. It will start with “It feels nice to be liked, doesn’t it?”. And it will end with “At least I did not wait like them to start writing”.
When Mr Ford says that “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”, one of the first things he and I and any random corporate HR manager nowadays would agree on is about the importance of being true to yourself and to believe in yourself.
But what does that even mean in the first place? “The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums,” says G.K. Chesterton and I am not in control of an argument that can disprove such strong common-sense observation. However, I would say not that he is wrong, but that his imposition could be better. A man who truly believes in nothing BUT himself is indeed a person who is an owner of a one-way ticket to a lunatic asylum.
Mr Keating in the movie ‘Dead poets society’ illustrates this quite simply by asking a few of the students of his class to just walk together in a circle. Soon after they start, their movement synchronizes and almost instantly, their friends start clapping and cheering together. His simple experiment is an illustration of a force that works upon every member of the human race – the desire to be connected. While very good in itself, the human being is often so craving for acceptance, that is, in fact, willing to trade of its own beliefs for more acceptance.
This urge is so strong, that its force works on us even on subconscious levels. In social sciences, this is well documented and exemplified with the Asch experiment, named after Solomon Asch, who invented it in the 1950s. It consists of a small group of participants, who must compare the length of one line to a group of three other lines with varying length.
Simple, right? The contestants share their opinion out loud. The differences between the lines are easily noticeable. But out of 5 participants, only one is a real test subject – the rest are just actors. After several tests, the rest start deliberately lying about what they see, with the whole group forming one single party voice. Suddenly, the test subject starts hesitating. He is not sure if his eyes are not lying to him. In 37% of the cases, they crack and go with the flow.
This is why the passionate Mr Keating warns his young students with such haste:
“Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!
So why I consider Mr Keating’s voice, not an opposition, but a gentle clarification of the belief of Mr Chesterton? Because, after he reveals the strength of peer pressure upon his students, he does not blindly ask them to only believe in themselves, he asks them first to go find their own voice. Moreover, his words are full of caution: “Sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone”. And so follows, a person who is upon the quest of finding his voice should never become deaf and blind for the world around him – the key here is balance and moderation. As it is known in the medical fields from ancient times, sola dosis facit venenum, or in plain English, “it is the dose that makes the poison.”
Finding your true self is easier said than done. Our habits, perpetrated by shame, fear, comfort, anger, build a mask, a rigid skeleton, which separates us not just from the others, but our true selves.
Socrates, for example, reveals, that he always consults his daemon (not to be confused with a demon), a spirit inside him, “that never commands him to do anything, but forbids him certain things”. This was his explanation of the origin of his wisdom and could be a guide for his choices, including his wilful execution by drinking the cup full of hemlock. In Christian theology, conscience could be considered the same mechanism, given to the fallen man by God. Dostoevsky based his entire existentialist credo upon this idea only and his entire novel “Crime and punishment” revolves around the idea that not only does man have a true calling and path, but he can have the big choice of either following it or abandoning it.
Being true to yourself is integral to the ingenuity and real progress. But why should be ingenuity – the ability to solve problems by thinking of new ways, so dependent on being original? Isn’t it intelligence that makes the truly great ideas able to come forward?
Yes, higher G (short from general intelligence) is a power that can help a person learn and solve problems faster. However, ingenuity is about seeing completely new ways to solve a given problem.
Consider this situation. You are a battle commander in the first-century B.C. Your forces are superior when it comes to technology, but are outnumbered by the enemy. You are better disciplined, but they are well supplied. Your enemy has allies; however, they are far away and busy with their own defence.
This was the situation with Caesar against Vercingetorix in the war for Gaul. When faced with the Roman threat, Vercingetorix retreated to a well-fortified fort called Alesia, which was also situated on top of a hill and then send for reinforcements to all of his allies. This was a strong defensive position and Caesar knew it. If he responds with a siege right now, he risks facing two armies instead of one. Stop and think. Do you retreat, ask for reinforcements or wait on the side, for the two armies to meet and then face them? These are the standard options which most of the smart generals would consider.
But this is what Caesar did. He built an entire wooden fort by his army around Alesia, circumventing for 18 km. the entire city. Entire forests were clean for this task. This was quite unusual, but he carried on. He builds yet another massive wooden wall around his army this time. It was completed right on time. When the second Gallic army arrived, they couldn’t enter the city and help it. For several days Caesar fought on two fronts, sandwiched between a besieged city and an army, besieging him on his behalf!
At the lowest point, the western outer walls were breached, but in a last-ditch attempt to save his army, he gathered the last remnants of his cavalry, rushed outside the fort from the east and attacked the enemy, pouring through the hole in their rear. Panicking that a second Roman army has come to the rescue of the first, the second Gallic army dispersed. The next morning the besieged Alesia surrendered with the last major leader of Gaul being captured. This single move made Caesar a complete ruler of Gaul and cemented his power and place in history. If he had simply calculated the probabilities of winning, the odds of throwing the dices in this battle would have been against him. He invented an entirely new solution to his problem by being loyal to his own reasoning.
And this is what separates Sir Isaac Newton with his apple story, or Edward Jenner with his smallpox vaccine from a great many numbers of men who can score higher IQ than them even nowadays.
Many of them may disagree with me. But I am satisfied that I listened to Mr Keating. At least I did not wait like them to start writing.