Choosing for Yourself
Posted by Thomas Barnes
There’s a special freedom in the act of discovery. So often we’re told what to read, what to believe, what to think. Information is a commodity and it’s pushed and promoted like any other. Someone scrolling through a website or browsing shelves of books though can exercise their independence and make a conscious choice over what kind of content they’re going to absorb and to what extent they’ll intellectually engage with it. In a world where people are constantly bombarded with advertisements and other forms of commercial noise, these moments, these instances of self-aware decision making, are an important component of how we develop our identities in a self-actualized way and not merely as a kind of passive instrument for others. When and how we choose to read a book for example is more than a consumption of the book itself; it’s a process of self-realization and self-creation. Or at least it can be.
Finding your direction
Fashion is as pervasive as it is inscrutable. Styles become popular and fade back into obscurity for reasons that largely go undiscussed in the forums of the media. Things change too fast to analyze everything in minute detail and, while that may comfort us on a practical level, it doesn’t change the fact that the ways our lives evolve are greatly influenced by realities, which often remain unperceived. Meaning we’re susceptible to going adrift simply through a lack of understanding since understanding is the basic effort that ultimately powers our own movement. Our progress. We can only go forward when knowing the way.
It can be quite an uncomfortable realization the first time it hits home but, once you’re aware of a personal lack in direction, you’ve acquired the first degree of knowledge needed to change this. The next question then is what to do about it. Well, something the individual needs to make clear for themselves is that being directionless is the result of habitual passivity, of not making choices for oneself, and instead being led around by whatever belief or authority they’re subscribing to. So the first step is to opt out. Stop just doing what you’re told. Stop accepting the beliefs and values being handed to you. And then what? Think. Think for yourself. Be critical in your judgements. This is where making the effort comes in. It’s easy to fall into worn contours made by the paths of others but that’s how you surrender to artificial limitations. Instead, pause and reflect in your passage. Look around you. And then, maybe, explore a wholly new path. Because there’s nothing preventing you from doing so. You are in control.
Who we are and what we become is most defined by the beginnings of the changes that take place in us. The earliest part of any transformation is the origin of the transformation itself; just as a seed contains the entire tree, so too within the initiation of any act is the full dimension of all its possible conclusions. Each choice then is a pivotal one. Each choice, no matter how small, is a step in becoming further empowered. Because it’s like exercise and the more you do it the more you build up your strength. And the smallest bit of effort on our part is literally the first necessary element of whatever profound changes we can imagine for ourselves. Like reading something you never would have thought to read before. Because changing the tendency to repeat yourself has to start somewhere and it can’t just begin with a massive amount of momentum; that takes time to build.
Never before in the history of the world have so many people had access to free books. But because this superb cornucopia of knowledge arose simultaneously with all the other inventions of our digital civilization, never before have so many people squandered so much opportunity to educate and enrich themselves either. Both non-fiction and fiction have the potential to enhance us as human beings. We can learn lessons from any kind of story, historical or otherwise, and the manners in which these are written can change the very way in which we think about the world. The works of the poet E.E. Cummings for example provide us with a kind of deprogramming; through the tinkers’ lens of his delightfully experimental work, the arbitrary conventions that have calcified in our various modes of communication are exposed and overcome. But of course if you don’t read poetry you’ll never encounter this. And the same is true of the transformative insights that pervade other areas of literature. By reading widely a person acquires more than mere information to fill up the empty categories of their mind; they add new categories to their understanding and alter many of their perceptions regarding the existing knowledge they already possess. Every new light illuminates everything else.
The Delight of Discovery
So if there’s one thing that everyone should be persuaded to do, it’s to go exploring. Discovering something for yourself out of your own personal pleasure is not only one of the most satisfying feelings a person can experience, it’s also the basis for the deepest levels of appreciation. Because if you’re only doing things because you think you ought to do them or because someone is compelling you to, and unfortunately a lot of our reading consists of this, you’re not going to have the enthusiasm needed to really extract any significant value here. In all likelihood, you’re going to toss aside whatever it is your mind is being forced to slog through at the earliest available opportunity. And life should be joyful and exciting. The fact that we have to compromise in our daily lives to make ends meet only means that we should strive that much more consciously to compensate for this. Which brings us back to books. The thrills that come from encountering new ideas and pondering the artistry of other’s storytelling is as meaningful as any physical challenge. Because ultimately it’s all just sensation filtered through our nervous system and digested into information. Whether we learn something by action or by media, it’s always going to become data stored by our neurons. Plus no one can live a life that encompasses the diversity of the world’s experiences. At best, that is to say, in order to maximize the value we get out of life, we must reach for the perspectives of others. Something great writing has always been unsurpassed in providing.
We have a lot we can take advantage of which costs us absolutely nothing. The wealth of thousands of years of human history is literally at our fingertips and, as we speak, millions of people are churning out an endless supply of original creations. Of course it’s far too much for any one person to cover in even the most superficial sense of the word but that’s beside the point. The important thing is that we have an ever-growing library where every whim of interest that could befall us can easily find an abundant literature to satisfy it. No matter what you want, there’s something out there waiting for you. Just go out and look. Ask yourself what you’re truly passionate about and start your journey. Because it’s there.
About the Author:
Thomas Barnes is a freelance writer who has worked in many different industries; everything from video games to cosmetics. He's currently balancing his time between personal projects and producing online content for others.
Photo credits: 1. Cottonbro at Pexels. 2. Oladimeji Ajegbile at Pexels. 3. Lisa Fotios at Pexels. 4. Limuel Gonzales at Pexels