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“’Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a girl I wasn’t planning on calling back after she revealed during the first date her penchant for being a real jerk to her apartment building’s doorman. I was trying to find the bottom of it all. Was she a bad person? When does a lack of care for another person actually become a moral choice? And doesn’t that all seem too ambiguous? While swerving back and forth on that road, I happened to sideswipe this idea that maybe we should forgive others for their petty crimes since ignorance and innocence frequently occupy the same space. Then, someone in the comments section (what up, thefratriots4!) pointed out that this was basically the central theme of a commencement speech — called “This is Water” — by a famous writer named David Foster Wallace. Now, I had never listened to this speech. But I then did, and it was very good, and all I thought about afterwards was Cecil the Lion.
Seriously, who fucking cared about Cecil the Lion? Now that the dust has settled, let’s take an objective look at this. Sure, I think that big game hunting is weird. And sure, it’s a shame that a majestic beast met its untimely end at the hands of a dentist that didn’t so much hunt it as he did trick it like Elmer Fudd. But I’m also not necessarily convinced that sawing the head off of a lion is worse than ordering a twenty-piece McNuggets. With few exceptions, the same people who cried for Cecil went down the street an hour later and ordered Korean takeout from a restaurant that gets their meat from some hell-farm in Iowa. Then on their way home, they stepped over one or two actual humans dying in the street. At least Dentist Doolittle knows what it’s like to take a life; at least he understands the real cost of his food. There’s even a passage in the fake bible I’m not going to bother looking up about how Jesus cast some stones at a glass house. Remember that, Gentiles? That applies here.
But, there’s something else at play beyond a person’s mere unwillingness to see their own complicity in the crimes of the world. I’ve written this in the past, but it bears repeating: annoyance is a bottomless pit. You cannot escape its self-obsession. There will always be something outside of our understanding because our understanding is inherently limited. That is the single unimpeachable truth of our humanity: you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s the basis of all world religions and the reason you may someday cry with joy when your child slides messily out of his or her uterine sack. Isn’t the only goal of this mortal coil – past fucking and dying – to find some sort of commonality in our existence? Then why do we spend so much time actively fighting it? To paraphrase David Foster Wallace: “because it’s easy.” It’s easy to be annoyed. It’s easy to talk and not act. It’s easy to cover yourself in the disintegrating blanket of self-satisfaction before you turn on the TV. It’s easy to die with the gnawing existential dread that you never really did anything in this life to make it better.
This is all you need to know about happiness, satisfaction, real joy. They are not occurrences; they are earned commodities. The world will only continue to aperture as we get older. Experience will slowly strangle the last wonderments of youth and the only thing left will be your ability to see the subtle beauty of the world and its inhabitants, its vast confusions and contradictions. Or, you can dig in your heels, constantly reaffirm your own beliefs, and dismissively wave at the myriad daily annoyances that consume you. It’s a choice.
So no, in the context of my greater existence, I didn’t care about Cecil the Lion. And, unless you joined PETA the next day, neither did you. Let’s move on..
Image via YouTube