Sometimes I worry that I am too impressionable. A friend criticized me when I was 20 that I would read a book and without questioning, immediately espouse the beliefs in it.
I've come a long way. I try to read multiple sources on topics. And after reading HPMOR I've been making a big effort to be more skeptical in general.
But I am still quick to consult and believe expert opinion. I've talked to my therapist about this: I have this subtle lack of trust in my own thoughts. So I don't feel comfortable until I get external validation on what to think on a subject. I need another person to tell me, hey, you're doing things right.
This does not help with indecision 😢
the generalized other
Perhaps even more pernicious is what I realized recently. The voices of people in your life and people whose content you consume live in your head for years.
This might seem trite, but it's actually shocking.
Let me try to explain.
So you have a set of beliefs in your head about how to live your life. Pick any of those beliefs that come in mind.
- Is this true?
- Who else believes this?
- Who might be subtly influencing me to believe this?
Ask yourself this for a lot of beliefs and you might realize how little truly original thought you have in your head.
This gets at what psychologists call "the generalized other":
Our social nature makes us long to fit in with a larger group, but it's difficult to hold the tastes and opinions of more than five or six individuals in your mind. So the resourceful social self creates a kind of shorthand: it picks up a few people's attitudes, emblazons them on your brain, and extrapolates this image until it covers the entire known universe. The vague compilation of folks you call Everybody is what psychologists term "the generalized other."
- Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star
Your generalized other is made up of opinions from:
- Media culture
- Ideological camps
It's so crazy to me how many of my own beliefs (and value judgments) come from this generalized other in my head. And I was surprised how much of the generalized other was people I didn't even know personally - content creators.
there's this idea from René Girard that none of us have our own desires, we just mirror the desires of the people around us.
that might just be true for me 🤔
how to think for myself
Consider a challenge to consume no content for a month:
- No TV
- No movies
- No books
- No videos
- No articles
- No social media
This is alluring, but eliminating or reducing content consumption is only half the picture.
Ultimately what we need is more time and space for self inquiry.
Time and space to ask what's really true and what's really true for you.
IMO that means more journaling and taking long walks.
All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
- Blaise Pascal