See, I have a problem. I talk down. To myself and to others. I look at my own work and new ideas and tear them apart. I watch what others are doing and saying and cut them down. I machine gun myself and others with cynicism and negativity.
Not out loud. But in my mind. There’s a ever-present cynical narrator running his mouth as I journey through life. And I’m getting sick of him.
This realisation coalesced yesterday as I was taking notes from Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel. I came across this passage and saw myself immediately.
“In world literature one finds lots of preachers, lesson-givers, and censors, who moralise to others with complacency, irony, cynicism, or bitterness; but it is extremely rare to find a person training himself to live and to think like a human being.”
I don’t want to be a fraud. Someone who sees wrong and doesn’t do shit about it. Someone who is more concerned about the repercussions of an action than it’s rightness. Someone who walks through life, changing masks and switching personas depending on the audience. I don’t want to be someone who sees but doesn’t act.
But what if what I’m seeing is wrong? What if my talking down to myself and others is a mistake? Should I be talking up? Should I be finding the good and ignoring the bad? Should I acknowledge that we’re all walking bundles of contradictions? Should I keep talking myself and others down so that we may rise up?
I suppose that’s the question we must all ask about our perceptions and beliefs. How do I know that what I’m seeing is what’s really there? How can I tell if my vision is clear?
The only answer I’ve come across isn’t comforting. We don’t know. We can’t know. And maybe that’s the point. Perhaps living with that impairment is what Pierre Hadot means by living and thinking like a human being? It means learning to live with the inability to see clearly.
Perhaps Hadot and other great philosophers have realised the truth about our existence. That to be human is live amongst an immortal fog.