Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Musings of a Philosophical Bear: On Realism

In a prior article that I pinned for this blog, I discussed the idea of realism referring to it as cynicism which unfortunately continued an onslaught of heated debates regarding faith that started long before the article was ever published. We prefer an optimistic viewpoint over the truth and I'd like to make a positive argument for realism. I don't like to sugarcoat my words, but I don't want to be an asshole either. I care about others' feelings and even when telling the truth, I like to find ways to do that without antagonizing my audience. I don't like pretending something is true when it isn't and I deeply care enough about the truth to admit when I'm wrong. This doesn't mean I have to make you think the way that I do, but I find a good debate with someone who disagrees with me clarifies and refines my arguments. I try to keep away from getting personal, but many of the issues surrounding realism touches are very personal. But my opinions here are not meant to be offensive, but rather illustrative.

There have been many times in which realistic views of the world were not helpful to me, but in the end, they have made me a better person. I can deal much better with the hardships of life because I've faced both cynical and optimistic views head on and come to a healthy place in the middle. I don't feel as disappointed as much as I used to when things inevitably go wrong because now I see that things go wrong all the time. A more optimistic view would have overlooked the likelihood of failure and made it a more personal failing rather than the typical shit that just happens throughout life. We more than often pull through tough times, but I don't want to pretend like they don't happen and that positive thinking will solve problems. Fighting our cynical impulses to do nothing is important, but why should we feel sad for the realistic among us? We are the lucky ones. We see the world as it is, or at least closer to the way it probably is.

Dealing with the rawness of reality means having to become comfortable with uncertainty. Deep within a realistic view is a deeper knowledge of probability. This is something that many studies have shown we get intuitively wrong. Critical thinking is necessary to tame our wild imagination. In our minds, we can create a perfect world and think that it is the way things should be. A realistic view accepts the world as it is, even while still striving to make it better. A realistic view of the world isn't seeing the glass as half empty or full, it's being grateful that there's a glass with any water at all and then trying to find ways to fill it. Being realistic doesn't mean losing hope for something better, it means paying attention to what is already there and being grateful. To be realistic means you have to be willing to be wrong and allow your beliefs about the world be subject to the observations and evidence the world presents to you.

I've often been asked by friends to "Not kill Santa Claus". They say it's unkind because we all need our delusions, but who would want a grown ass man believing in imaginary friends? It's not even an age thing, it's a question of maturity. Our imagination is powerful in the creative process, but there comes a time when we have to narrow down the ideas that are useful in the endeavor of solving problems. There is a time and place for play and fantasy and it should be encouraged, but taken to its extreme, we accept far too many ideas that are ridiculous, or at least implausible, because we don't use or require substantial evidence to formulate our beliefs. This doesn't mean you should stop dreaming, by all means dream away. But when you come back down to earth, take some time to think about how your ideas fit into the world around you. Don't give way to magical thinking because the problem is too hard. Regroup, dream, and try again.

I used to believe in things that I'm now almost too ashamed to admit. I'm so glad I've grown out of those ways of thinking. But I also realize that growing out of it wasn't inevitable. I think this might be why realism as a topic is so dear to me. I used to be so jealous of friends who were in happy relationships. I thought there might be something wrong with me that made me unloveable. I didn't understand why I couldn't get someone of my own. Though it is embarrassing to admit to, I never treated my friends badly because of this envy (despite the fact that I'm sure it poisoned more than a few of my friendships). This is something that I didn't have to grow out of. There are plenty of immature men in their 50's who feel the way I did in my 20's. So what changed for me? My envy turned into curiosity about relationships and human behavior. The more I learned the less angry I got. Evidence from the outside world shaped my preconceptions about the way the world should be. It made all the difference for me.

Par for course, I didn't know a lot when I was immature and I most certainly was not aware of the sheer magnitude of things that I did not know. Even though I went through the motions of being happy, deep inside the resentment ate at me. I had to learn from experience and observation... but I suppose that I could have used some guidance as well. I question whether my immature self would have listened to my current voice with my current mindset. No one likes to be lectured to unless they sign up for the class. I didn't know what I was missing when I was younger and so I wouldn't have been looking for answers I thought I already had.

Still, I have to admit there is something beautiful about naivety. We cherish it in others, yet we loath it in ourselves, at least after we recognize it. The reason I write about maturity so much is because I want the process to go as smoothly as possible for those who are going through it. I hope it doesn't have to be as painful for them as it was for me. I don't want it to be something that has to be feared. What made it scary for me is that no one I knew talked about it in a way that I could hear. Being young and gay is hard enough, but having to go through it alone or with other immature gays is even more difficult. So I hope this doesn't come off as condescending or belittling, it comes from a place of love.

I meet a lot of young gays who ask why "all men" are X, Y or Z. These type of statements are a key sign of immaturity. It seems like they've taken their limited experience and extrapolated about the entire dating scene. The more common among these type of statements is "all men are bottoms" and "men are dogs" and "all real men are married". I get the feeling that when these men get older and have had more life experiences they will change their minds, but maybe not. Our views about the world can grow impervious to refutation if they become an important part of our identity. It's a lot easier to blame everyone else for our problems when clearly we are the common denominator in each of our relationships. Being realistic is using your imagination to get outside of your own experiences. Try to imagine the world the way it is but from another perspective.

I struggled in my 20's to make sense of a world that wasn't familiar to me. I wouldn't give up that hard won knowledge for anything. The struggle is how we come to appreciate what we have. Unfortunately there's nothing that tells you while you're struggling that there is some reward on the other end. When I see a child rapt in play and lost in his imagination, I can't help but feel joy. Our curiosity about the world brings about the greatest advancements and yet it is beat out of most people as we get older. Our creativity and imagination gives way to conformity. While being creative and imaginative denotes that you don't think like anyone else, how about limiting yourself to the rules of reality? While those rules will be tested from time to time, after awhile you will not see them as the bars of a constrictive prison, but rather a sandbox with borders and endless possibilities within them.

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