February 3, 2022
 min read

Mind Macros 02: Embracing imperfection, echo chambers, and the importance of humility

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Hello, friend.

Welcome to another issue of Mind Macros - I hope you find something of value.

Food for Thought

1. Chisoku: Be satisfied with what you have

“In Buddhism we say chisoku, which means ‘be satisfied’. Knowing how much is enough is about finding satisfaction in what you already have. Human desire is endless. Once we acquire one thing, we desire ten of them. And when we acquire ten things, we want a hundred. Even though we know we don’t need it, we are unable to rein in our desire. Once engulfed by these feelings, there is no way to satisfy ourselves. There will be times when we want something we do need. There is nothing wrong with this. But once we acquire the minimum necessary amount, we must learn to tell ourselves, ‘Ah, this is enough for me.’ And then we must keep in check our desire for other things.” — From Zen: The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyō Masuno

Be aware of the endless path of human desire and its insatiable nature. According to mimetic theory discussed last week, human desire is a want for what others possess. Consider if you truly need something or if it is being sold to you by these models we seek to emulate.

Indian-American entrepreneur Naval Ravikant has a striking observation about desire:

“Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.”

2. Wabi-sabi: Embracing imperfection

“Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that shows us the beauty of the fleeting, changeable, and imperfect nature of the world around us. Instead of searching for beauty in perfection, we should look for it in things that are flawed, incomplete. This is why the Japanese place such value, for example, on an irregular or cracked teacup. Only things that are imperfect, incomplete, and ephemeral can truly be beautiful, because only those things resemble the natural world.” — From Ikigai by Héctor García Puigcerver

We are prone to erecting roadblocks between ourselves and happiness. Perhaps we are enjoying a meal with friends, celebrating a recent achievement. A joke told by our friend about their workplace brings to mind a problem we are facing with our boss. This burden looms over the rest of the evening as we replay the argument, imagining all the things we should have said. The desire to edit our lives stems from the idea that they could be better, even perfect.

The promise we tell ourselves is seductive: “I’ll be happy when I get a promotion, buy a new car, or move to a different city.” We could also express that promise as: “I will not allow myself to be happy until my desires are satisfied.” But why wait? Because even if a genie granted each desire, we’d quickly return to our baseline level of happiness and still crave more. In psychology, this tendency is called the hedonic treadmill.

Desire draws us towards something just out of reach, shifting our attention to the horizon instead of our immediate surroundings. We can avoid all this unnecessary suffering by letting go of expectations and accepting the imperfection of the present moment.

Practical Advice

1. What is in your control?

“There are things that are within our power, and things that fall outside our power. Within our power are our own opinions, aims, desires, dislikes—in sum, our own thoughts and actions. Outside our power are our physical characteristics, the class into which we were born, our reputation in the eyes of others, and honors and offices that may be bestowed on us.

“Whenever distress or displeasure arises in your mind, remind yourself, ‘This is only my interpretation, not reality itself.’ Then ask whether it falls within or outside your sphere of power. And, if it is beyond your power to control, let it go.” – Epictetus’ words, translated by Sam Torde from his book The Manual

Thinking about something we cannot control is, by definition, a waste of time. Even so, we are wired to worry and cannot turn it off. But when our minds run away with trepidation, Epictetus’ words provide the logic to help rein them in.

Lamenting over things we can’t control is a cornerstone of human suffering. Stoicism, an ancient Greek philosophy, recognizes this fact and teaches that while we can influence many things in our lives, only our actions are completely within our control. Rather than worrying about everything we cannot control, we have only one role to fulfill: ensuring that our actions are the right ones.

I use this quote from Marcus Aurelius as my motto:

“Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.”

2. Echo chambers

An echo chamber refers to beliefs being amplified and confirmed inside a closed system, away from any rebuttal. Theories are reinforced inside them without any exposure to opposing viewpoints. The result of residing inside an echo chamber is confirmation bias, in which a person interprets information in a way that supports their current beliefs.

“When one is seeking to become informed on complex subjects such as politics, echo chambers are inherently distorting. By getting their news from Facebook, and other platforms, where friends share cultural and political leanings, people are more exposed to people who agree with them, and evidence that supports their views. They are less exposed to opposing perspectives.” – From Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed

C. Thi Nguyen on identifying an echo chamber:

“Does a community’s belief system actively undermine the trustworthiness of any outsiders who don’t subscribe to its central dogmas? Then it’s probably an echo chamber.”

Quotes to Ponder

1. Richard P. Feynman on the importance of humility:

“Be humble. Be teachable. The universe is bigger than your view of the universe. There’s always room for a new idea. Humility is necessary for growth.”

2. Andy Benoit on geniuses:

“Most geniuses—especially those who lead others—prosper not by deconstructing intricate complexities but by exploiting unrecognized simplicities.”

Thank you for reading,

Matthew Vere

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