On the Notion That Your Phone Sucks

In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane.
Oscar Wilde

Yesterday, Apple announced an onslaught of new laptops, software updates, and general awesomeness at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference.

Like all WWDC keynotes in recent years, it was a great day to be an Apple fan. When the company releases new products, its not only a chance to drool with excitement and start contemplating selling your organs. It’s also a reminder of why we in the Apple community stand so firmly behind the company.

Apple perpetuates what we believe in: simplicity, elegance, and sophistication.

But it’s not for everybody. Nothing is.

Try as I might, I couldn’t help but encounter the usual Internet skepticism and criticism about Apple’s announcements — people who scoffed and rolled their eyes while promoting their own obviously superior brands and devices.

There was a time when I would have taken their criticism personally. Apple is doing what I believe in, and therefore, when you insult Apple, and you insult me. We could have a lengthy discussion about how and why a company engenders such emotional attachment, but that’s not the point of this post.

The point is that I’ve learned not to waste my energy trying to disprove someone’s opinion.

As long as they believe blue is red, you can’t have a rational conversation about the color of the sky.
Patrick Rhone

If you believe your phone is better than mine, that’s OK.

If I believe my computer is better than yours, that’s OK.

But trying to convince the other person that their opinion is wrong is futile.

And why bother?

What do you have to gain from telling me that my phone is stupid? What do I have to gain from letting you know your computer sucks?

Nothing.

When we feel strongly about a thing or idea, we attach ourselves to it. It becomes a part of our identity. To have someone bash your thing is to have them bash you as a person.

But it’s not worth preserving that attachment. Someone will always disagree with you, and so the more attached you are to your idea, the more likely you are to have your inner peace disturbed by a willful dissenter.

Instead, be content to let the other person think whatever it is they think. Chances are their way of thinking makes them happy. Why rob them of that happiness?

Let go.

It’s pointless to defend a personal preference. It’s like trying to make an intelligent case for your favorite color.
Merlin Mann

If you don’t like my phone, don’t buy it. I won’t buy your computer.

And we’ll all be OK. Trust me.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

The Beauty of Being Wrong

The fact that I’m doing yoga at 7 AM every morning still blows my mind.

It’s been two weeks since I became an early riser, and I love it just as much as I did on day one. The quiet solitude of the morning, the sense of having so much more time, the increased exposure to sunlight… All so wonderful.

But, for all its awesomeness, this change has created something of a splinter in the back of my mind.

The Stubborn Night Owl

You see, for years I was convinced of my own superiority as a night owl. It appealed to my introverted nature, and I liked the rebelliousness of staying up and sleeping late. I associated early rising with convention. Getting up at 8 AM, driving to a cubicle, sitting there all day, and then driving home exhausted and horrified at having to do it all over again tomorrow — it seemed like no way I’d ever want to live. If it works for you great, but I knew it wasn’t for me.

It still isn’t, at least when it comes to the sitting-in-a-cubicle-all day part. But fortunately, I’ve avoided — by both choice and design — that sort of existence.

Instead, I get up with the sun, practice yoga, make tea, read, and then write and make things. It’s a routine with which I’ve quickly become obsessed.

What’s given me pause, though, is the fact that I was so wrong about night owlism. Actually, no; I wasn’t wrong about night owlism so much as I was wrong about being an early riser.

I still think being a night owl is great, and people who prefer that lifestyle should continue to live it as long as it helps them grow and do what they want to do.

Unfortunately, staying up late and sleeping in every morning was paralyzing me. My creativity and productivity stagnated. I was stuck in an incredibly depressing rut, and the only way out was to make a drastic life change: to start getting up early.

I see now just how wonderful being an early riser can be. It’s not painful at all — provided you’re getting your required amount of sleep — and it opens up a whole new world you may have forgotten existed. I certainly did. It truly is life-changing.

Of course, one could easily reverse my story and get the same benefits. Someone who is forced to rise early every morning and go to a job they hate and come home exhausted could, in theory, quit, start their own business, and sleep until mid-morning before doing the work they love all day and late into the night.

It works both ways, and I make no claims that one is better than the other. The best one is the one that works for you.

But, back to my splinter.

What Do I Know?

The feeling I’m experiencing now is that I was wrong.

Wrong in the sense of thinking one way was better than the other, and wrong in thinking I could never become an early riser. Ever. I never wanted to, never thought it would be good for me, never even entertained the idea.

I was a proud night owl. Stubbornly proud.

And yet, here I am.

And so I find myself thinking, “If I was wrong about that, I might be wrong about other things too. Maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Maybe minimalism isn’t healthy?

Maybe politics are important?

Maybe sports do have value?

Maybe being an introvert isn’t better?

These are scary thoughts, because my identity is ingrained in these possibly incorrect notions. If I’m wrong about them, then part of my identity is lost and/or needs to be rebuilt.

Being wrong is scary.

But, like anything, the solution lies in perspective.

First off, people grow and change. This is for the better. I might be telling my kids someday, when they’re groaning and hiding under the covers at 10 o’clock in the morning, how I used to love to sleep in when I was younger, until it stopped working for me. And that’s the thing:

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. If it’s not, change it.

Minimalism works for me. Being apathetic about sports works for me. These things, at the very least, do me no harm.

I thought being a night owl was working for me, and for a long time, it was. But, then it stopped. When my life changed — when theses and job hunts and apartments and writing and responsibilities became the focus — I needed to change too. Staying up late was not helping me write my thesis or become any more of an adult. I was stuck. I wasn’t growing.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of staying up late. But, I was wrong to think I could keep doing it and still get to where I wanted to be. I couldn’t. So, I had to reevaluate and change my habits.

Not a Thing

There’s a deeper aspect to being wrong as well, one that I wrote about long ago. It’s the know-nothing principle.

The know-nothing principle is a solution to the fear of being wrong. The fear of being wrong grows out of being so attached to your ideas that you become unreceptive to new information, which might contradict or disprove your ideas.

“I am a night owl, and it works for me” was my idea. I knew night owlism was better. I shunned the notion of early rising out of fear that it might in fact be superior to my idea. I did not assume the know-nothing principle when it came to sleep schedules. As such, I was unable to see the benefits of an idea different from my own, and in turn it took me a long time to realize that my stubborn adherence to my own idea was causing me to stagnate.

It was only when I stopped being closed off, when I became open to the idea of early rising that I was able to adopt it and change for the better.

By being open to alternative ideas, by thinking of them not as wrong, but merely as different, and by being willing to try them, we free ourselves from being prisoners of our own ways of thinking.

And so, this experience of being “wrong” does not fill me with the fear that I might be wrong about everything. Rather, being wrong is humbling. It’s a reminder that I know nothing. I had forgotten that, and so I had become attached to my ideas. And of course, I was hurt when life reminded me that my idea wasn’t the only way.

The past two weeks have reminded me of the importance of an open mind. An open mind frees you from the fear of being wrong. You don’t have to cling to one idea or another, and you don’t have to jump to defend it from anyone who thinks differently than you.

As Socrates said:

As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.

I thought I knew something about sleep schedules. But, it turns out I don’t know the first thing about them. And that makes me smile.

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Also, you should follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Why I Don't Have Comments

The Internet has been in a tizzy today about comments, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to explain why they don’t exist here.

Comments have long been a topic of debate on the web, and there are valid arguments for and against. Yesterday, Matt Gemmell wrote that his month without them was the right decision. M.G. Siegler expressed his agreement and later expanded his position. M.G. also shared this old post from Daring Fireball in which John Gruber defends his site’s no comments policy. Shortly thereafter, Cody Fink announced that MacStories is also turning off comments.

Do read those pieces; I agree with their collective position and reasoning.

I made the deliberate decision not to have comments on my site because, as Merlin Mann quoted John Gruber at their SxSW talk, “I want to own every single pixel on my site.” To do that, I can’t give everyone on the Internet the ability to anonymously post whatever they want on it.

I want to write. I don’t want to spend time moderating comments and deleting spam. The more writing I get to do, the more reading you get to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t love you and your feedback, dear reader, because I madly and passionately do. But what would be better for all involved is if you responded via Twitter, email, or writing a response on your own site.

QLE, however, is my site. It’s the online equivalent of my living room, and I am responsible for every word that appears here. By eschewing public comments in favor of the above methods, you and I can enjoy a more civil and personal interaction. In addition, you will be directly responsible for your comments, as I will be for the site’s content.

Read to Discover

Devir Kahan has a nice post on reading outside your bubble, wherein he shares a conversation with a teacher who feels curating what we read is problematic:

He said that reading things solely online - and curating what you read through things like RSS - is an even bigger problem. If we are only reading things that interest us, we'll never find anything new. We'll never try something a little bit outside of our comfort zone, and we'll never grow as humans.

I definitely see his point, but like Devir, it makes me feel a little self-conscious because I enjoy reading things online. In fact, browsing my RSS reader is one of my favorite things to do on my iPhone or iPad.

I also agree with Devir in that I feel I've grown a lot via the articles I read online. If I had never gotten hooked on reading the web, I might never have discovered minimalism, the Apple community, the Paleo lifestyle, or any of the other things I'm passionate about today.

That's why I feel it's important to differentiate between merely "reading the news" and "reading online". For me, "reading the news" refers to the headlines and events of the day. Whether that comes from CNN or Engadget, it's primarily informational and (hopefully) fact-based. You could say it's the who, what, when, and where: the essence of reporting.

This basic reporting is different from opinion pieces and editorials about the news. John Gruber discussed this distinction with Josh Topolsky on On The Verge last week:

The thing I always wanted to do is, in newspaper parlance or magazine parlance, is I don't want to be a reporter, I wanted to be the columnist. I wanted to be the guy on the back page. I wanted to be the guy on the ed-op page who just gets to say what he thinks.

What distinguishes Gruber — and what makes me prefer Daring Fireball to a news aggregate like Engadget — is that he tells me what happened, but he also tells me what it means and what he thinks about it. It's the "how" and "why", which I feel is more valuable and more interesting. This is not to say I prefer to be told what to think, but rather that I enjoy hearing others' opinions on topics that interest me. It humanizes what would otherwise be a list of facts.

(Coincidentally, there's been quite a bit of fervor over opinions in the news lately. See: MG Siegler and Ben Brooks.)

This distinction comes down to reading headlines versus reading writers. That is, I prefer to read Gruber rather than Engadget, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, et al. because I feel he offers more depth than a typical reporter. Most of the online reading that I do, therefore, is not "reading the news", but reading my favorite writers. I don't follow CNN, I follow Merlin Mann, Shawn Blanc, and Michael Lopp because these are the writers that offer valuable articles on topics I enjoy. Rather than an endless regurgitation of headlines, these writers expose me to new ways of thinking: their own. That's why I choose to follow human beings.

That brings us to this quote by Tim Van Damme, which Devir cites:

Living inside a comfort zone is dangerous, and turns you into an uninteresting human being fed by other people’s opinions. Broaden the topics of things you read and learn how to have your own opinion.

This is true, and it's good advice, but I don't think you should force yourself to read things you don't care about either. How many topics do we need to read about to avoid becoming "uninteresting"? I think a better strategy would be to seek out as many different opinions about our chosen topics as possible. I'd rather be knowledgeable and passionate about A, B, and C than knowledgeable and indifferent about A-Z. We do, however, need to be mindful and avoid the trap of accepting opinion as fact, which I've discussed several times before. It is the responsibility of the reader to evaluate an opinion before accepting it.

Devir concludes that there are three different types of reading, all of which are vital to our growth as human beings:

  1. "Technical writing". To me, this is reporting. While I wouldn't necessarily label this kind of reading as "dangerous", it can be dry, unimaginative, and do little to expand our horizons. That doesn't make it useless, however.
  2. "Books". I agree with Devir here. Books are timeless, fun, and have the potential to inspire. I use books as a means of escape. Reading a book is also different from reading online, which is why I own both an iPad and a Kindle.
  3. "Inspirational and insightful articles". For me, these are original pieces written by the authors mentioned above. Very different from just "covering the news" — and far more fulfilling.

The only tweak I would offer is that any piece of writing — not just articles — can be inspirational and insightful. An aspiring journalist might find a piece of technical writing very impressive, just as a budding author might be in awe of Dostoyevsky. We must also not discount verse, newspapers, magazines, or other ways to read. So, while there are innumerable mediums, any and all of them may be deemed inspirational and insightful by a particular individual. As I've said in defense of e-readers, it's the content that matters, not the medium in which it is presented.

I can see why some would argue that reading only technical writing is cause for concern, and it's certainly possible. In the end though, my conclusion is a cliché: variety is the spice of life. For those of us who live to read and learn, the solution should be wonderfully obvious. We shouldn't force ourselves to read stuff we don't care about, but by exposing ourselves to a greater variety of media, we increase our chances of discovering something new and delightful.

On Self-Improvement

Leo Babauta has a big post on quashing the self-improvement urge.

I don’t love it.

So what’s the problem? You could say it’s great that people are constantly trying to improve themselves, but where does it end? When is anyone ever content with who they are? We are taught that we are not good enough yet, that we must improve, and so … we always feel a little inadequate.

I do say it’s great that people are constantly trying to improve themselves. It’s what I’m doing, and I think it’s what most self-aware people are doing. But, while I do strive to get better, I also feel proud of who I am at the same time. That varies from day to day, but overall I’m a self-confident person. I wasn’t always, but luckily my parents dragged me to a karate class when I was nine, and I was able to develop a sense of self-worth. I found a drive within myself to get better, but it didn’t come from being told “You suck!” all the time; it came from a desire to be awesome. So while I suppose I did feel “inadequate”, it inspired me to grow into a better, stronger person. Why would I want to be content with being a shy little dork? (Part of me remains a shy little dork, of course.)

We are never adequate, never perfect, never self-confident, never good enough, never comfortable with ourselves, never satisfied, never there, never content.

While I’m sure some people feel that way, I think it’s a sweeping generalization. There’s a big difference between wanting to get better and thinking you’re a worthless human being with nothing to offer anyone. I hope the latter are a minority.

And it becomes the reason we buy self-help products, fitness products, gadgets to make us cooler, nicer clothes, nicer cars and homes, nicer bags and boots, plastic surgery and drugs, courses and classes and coaches and retreats. It will never stop, because we will never be good enough.

I agree that much consumerism is driven by a feeling of lack, and that many people attach their self-worth to their possessions. It’s a tenet of eastern philosophy, and that line of thinking is obviously incorrect.

I think there are two levels to this “self-improvement is bad” argument:

  1. Self-improvement is bad because it convinces people to buy things they don’t need, like self-help books.
  2. Self-improvement is bad because it never allows people to be happy.

I agree with number one. Advertising that suggests, “You need to eat this! You need to wear this! You need to buy this!” scares people into spending money. It’s like when the news tells us to stock up on bottled water, canned food, and generators because there’s snow in the forecast. “Self-help” as an industry is in fact probably unhealthy. Everyone has issues, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs to buy XYZ product. That’s just about the money.

I disagree with number two. If self-improvement consumes your existence, then yeah, that’s bad. But it’s not difficult to see how people can aspire to be better without becoming debilitated in the process.

We must improve. We must read every self-improvement book. When we read a blog, we must try that method, because it will make us better. When we read someone else’s account of his achievements, his goal system, his entrepreneurial lifestyle, her yoga routine, her journaling method, her reading list, we must try it. We will always read what others are doing, in case it will help us get better. We will always try what others are doing, try every diet and every system, because it helped them get better, so maybe it will help us too.

I suppose that would be the case for an individual incapable of thinking for themselves — and perhaps that’s the majority of the population — but not everyone looking for self-improvement lives that way. The way to self-improvement lies in introspection. But that’s not to say we can’t or shouldn’t learn from others.

New information must be considered before being implemented. We must evaluate new information before deciding if it’s applicable to us.

Would that be horrible, if we were just content and didn’t need to better ourselves every minute of every week? Would we be lazy slobs, or would we instead be happy, and in being happy do things that make us happy rather than make us better?

But doesn’t getting better make people happy? Again, there’s a difference between wanting to get better and being obsessed with your own inadequacy. Too much of any thing isn’t good for you. If the quest for self-improvement causes you to neglect other aspects of your life, then yes, it’s probably time to reevaluate. But self-improvement is not inherently bad, so long as it’s done in moderation, like anything else.

Think of how [being content] might simplify your life. Think of how many self-improvement books you read, or listen to in the car. Think of how many products you buy to make yourself better. Think of how many things you read online, in the hopes of being better. Think of how many things you do because you feel inadequate. Think of how much time this would free up, how much mental energy.

Yes, it would help many people who are consumed by their feelings of inadequacy. While books and audio tapes may contain valuable information, looking for magic bullets in them is futile.

Realize that you are already perfect. You are there. You can breathe a sigh of relief.

Striving to get better is not the same as striving for perfection. If you were perfect, you’d never make a mistake, and that’s unhealthy.

You are not perfect. But you’re probably awesome anyway.

Quash the urge to improve, to be better. It only makes you feel inadequate.

But a feeling of inadequacy often inspires us to get better, to learn new things, and to grow. You can’t grow if you think you’ve nothing left to learn. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get better as long as it’s not hurting you or someone else.

Ultimately, I see what Leo is saying, but to suggest that all self-improvement is bad doesn’t make sense. Striving for contentment is itself a form of self-improvement. Growing is what life is about.

I can think of nothing more valuable than having an unconditional love for yourself. That love should be for your strengths and your weaknesses. You should be happy with who you are while recognizing your flaws, and yes, striving to improve them. These flaws do not render you a broken or worthless human being. On the contrary, they are as much a part of who you are as your best qualities.

I agree that people shouldn’t beat themselves up over their inadequacies. Don’t feel bad about not being perfect; no one is, and you’re awesome. But still try to be the best person you can be. Why wouldn’t you?

I say love yourself right now, and get better all the time; it’ll only give you more reasons to love yourself.

And then explore the world of contentment. It’s a place of wonderment.

Well, that’s true.

"Think."

Randy Murray:

A strong opinion, well tested and examined frequently, is worth defending. But listen carefully as you mount your defense. Welcome the opportunity to be proven wrong, to discover that “this turns out to not be correct.” Celebrate new discoveries. And boldly change your mind. Reorder your understanding of the universe.

Dogmatic Moderates

Speaking of being wrong, James Shelley asks, “Are You Dumbfounded?”:

I contend that the world does not need more dogmatists, either on the left or the right of the religious, political or economic continuum. Rather, we need an entourage of extremely self-critical individuals across the spectrum of these polarized debates. If you’d like to join the revolution, I think we can call ourselves the Dogmatic Moderates.

And, from James’ Creed of the Dogmatic Moderate:

Thus, the creed of the dogmatic moderate: I commit to understanding others, and influencing as many people as I can to do likewise. Every person, of any creed, philosophy or religion can be a dogmatic moderate, for every person has the option of choosing to learn from those who believe and think differently.

Brilliant.

The Fear of Being Wrong

Randy Murray thinks you’re probably wrong about that:

I judge people, but not on the current state of their knowledge. I judge them on their willingness to learn, to think, and to change what they believe to be true. I think that is the fundamental philosophic difference between the scientist and the believer. The scientist should always be willing to say, “based upon new information I am willing to re-evaluate.” The believer often shuns information that contradicts what they “know.”

It’s a thoughtful piece, and it makes a good companion to my article, The Man Who Knows Nothing. In that post, I explained how adopting the know-nothing principle is not a matter of playing dumb. Rather, it’s a way to avoid being so attached to your ideas that you fear being proven wrong and subsequently become unreceptive to new information. As Randy puts it, you become a believer rather a scientist.

If you can eliminate that fear, whether it’s by being willing to change your opinion or by adopting the know-nothing principle, you’ll actually learn and grow much more quickly. In both cases, you become more receptive to opinions different from your own. This open-mindedness is inherently beneficial because, even if you don’t know for certain which answer is the right one, simply being aware of different viewpoints will enable you to both be more knowledgeable about the topic and to better formulate your own opinion.

When your mind is open, you become less afraid of being wrong. You become less defensive about your ideas, and thus you become more calm and relaxed. By being open-minded, you free yourself from the risk of having your inner peace disrupted by someone who thinks differently than you.

All There Is To Know

A little while ago, I wrote about the Know Nothing Principle as a way to circumvent the emotional tension stemming from differences of opinion. But that’s just one altered perspective, which may or may not work for you.

Colin Wright, of Exile Lifestyle:

Other people’s stupid opinions have just as much merit as your own, in that they are opinions backed by individual experience and a closed body of knowledge. Perhaps they – or you – simply haven’t lived long enough yet to see their error of their – or your – ways.

Colin’s idea is equally effective, particularly if you can’t imagine ever freeing yourself from your opinions. As he says in his post, people’s opinions develop as a result of their own experience and a closed body of knowledge. If you’re going to have an opinion, personal experience is a good thing to go by. After all, you can’t just blindly accept as fact something from another source; you have to investigate that thing on your own, and then decide whether to agree or disagree.

But the second clause is even more crucial. If we take “a closed body of knowledge” to mean knowledge limited to one’s own experience, then people’s opinions become much easier to accept. If everyone had the same experience as you, — the same upbringing, values, exposure, etc. — then they would probably have no trouble seeing, if not agreeing with, your point of view. Someone who disagrees with you probably hasn’t seen what you’ve seen, read what you’ve read, or felt what you’ve felt. Of course they disagree.

But at the same time, as Colin says, you likely haven’t shared their personal experience either, which is what lead them to their opinion. Colin suggests that living long enough might give you the time needed to experience or understand their point of view. Eventually, you may actually change your own opinion.

But what if the topic is incredibly complex? What if it’s so multi-faceted that it’s impossible to gain a truly open body of knowledge? That is, a scenario where you’ve read all there is to read, heard all there is to hear, and felt all there is to feel about a given topic, to the point where you are 100% knowledgeable and thus 100% equipped to establish your own opinion.

In my view, such a scenario is impossible, which is why I find it easier to accept that I know nothing. Remember, we’re not talking about literally believing you know nothing; it’s about understanding the very real possibility that your opinion is wrong and subsequently freeing yourself from that fear.

I don’t feel comfortable fighting for an opinion unless I’m completely confident I know all there is to know about the topic, and in my mind, such a state seems unattainable.

You could just accept this impossibility and formulate your opinions based on the portion of total knowledge you’ve absorbed. I think this is what most people do, but without realizing it. By accepting their personal experience as all there is, they become attached to their opinion and closed to anything that challenges it. But if you become aware that you can’t possibly know everything there is to know about something, that your experience is but a fraction of the entire body of knowledge, and thus understand that your opinion is just as susceptible as anyone else’s, you’ll be less afraid of being wrong and less compelled to fearfully defend your idea. This is a way of keeping our opinions in perspective, which in turn allows us to be content with others’ points of view and avoid the negative energy so often associated with differences of opinion.

The Man Who Knows Nothing

As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.
-Socrates

I have mixed feelings about Everett Bogue. I admired him when he was writing Far Beyond the Stars, a wonderful resource about minimalism and business, and I still admire the success he’s achieved as an independent presence on the internet. But when he self-righteously abandoned his label as a minimalist and started pontificating about augmented humanity and mental cybernetics, I grew weary. He took down Far Beyond the Stars, the blog that made him a role model for the minimalist community, and decided he was moving on to other things. (Fortunately, Far Beyond the Stars has been archived here, and I still recommend it to folks interested in learning more about minimalism.) I appreciate Everett’s courage and quest for personal growth, but his talk of cyborgs and cybernetic yogis was a bit much, so I too moved on to other things.

After declaring he would disconnect from Twitter and most other forms of social media, Everett recently decided to end his digital sabbatical — his resolutely-titled “foreversabbatical.com” is now forwarded to his personal website — and has since decided to grace the internet with his presence once more. He’s been writing daily posts on his website, and I’m genuinely glad, because he still has plenty to offer us humans.

Part of Everett’s new approach to existence is explained in his post, Unlearning What the Internet Wants. He writes:

This is a new section on my site. Let’s call it: unlearning. Every week, until I decide to un-post schedule myself, I’ll be writing an intention to unlearn something for that week.

It is, characteristically, a bit melodramatic, but the notion of “unlearning” is intriguing, and in my opinion, it can have very valuable real-world applications. Let me explain.

The quote at the top of this post was introduced to me by my undergraduate philosophy professor, and it remains one of my favorites. The idea of knowing nothing seems paradoxical, but it can actually be a highly effective way to look at the world.

To put it simply, when you declare yourself to be an expert on something, whether explicitly or implicitly, you bring upon yourself a great deal of responsibility. People will demand answers of you, and you must deal with their reactions. You may have to deal with people who vehemently disagree with you and attempt to persuade them to see or acknowledge your point of view. Some people might love such a challenge, but I can’t say I do.

Everybody likes to be right, and most people believe their opinion is the right one, or at least the best one. But being right all the time takes a great deal of energy. This is especially true of larger issues, like politics, religion, and so on. In these areas, people are increasingly unlikely to change their point of view, regardless of how strong an argument you might present to them. This stubbornness can be frustrating when you’re passionate about your ideas.

That frustration is almost inevitable. When you claim to be an expert — that is, when you claim to know something — you become an authority, either in your eyes or the eyes of others. The more you claim to know something, the greater your attachment to your ideas and, most likely, the more determined you’ll be to make others agree with you.

For example, this evening I witnessed a lively political discourse about the state of the country between two people. Fortunately, the participants were on the same side and subsequently were able to enjoy repeatedly agreeing with one another. They both validated each other’s ideas.

If you were present for such a conversation and held strong convictions contrary to what was being discussed, it would likely be frustrating to hear your point of view being disparaged. As a result, you might feel compelled to interject your opinion and defend your ideas, especially if you’re convinced your ideas are the right ones. But initiating an argument, friendly or otherwise, probably wouldn’t result in either party changing their point of view. Acknowledging the opposing side, perhaps, but that would be an optimistic outcome. To put it bluntly, a conservative is not going to become a liberal over a conversation at the dinner table, nor is the converse any more realistic. This is true of any great social debate: atheist versus theologian, pro-choice versus pro-life, many guns versus no guns.

People who claim to know things — i.e. people who believe they have the right answers — are so attached to their ideas and so afraid of being wrong that they will go to great lengths to defend themselves, verbally or otherwise.

But the man who knows nothing will never experience this problem. He will never be angered by another’s opinion, and he will never feel compelled to force his ideas on other people.

You cannot be wrong if you know nothing.

To go back to the political example, I personally would never feel fully confident having a debate unless I was sure I had obtained my information from a neutral source (which in itself is a tremendous challenge) and read every article on the subject. And even then, I would have to sift through and evaluate hundreds of essays and reports, each potentially full of opinion or baseless claims. So, even if I could complete this infinite investigation, how could I ever be 100% certain my position is the correct one?

It’s an impossible task, and I simply don’t want to dedicate my life to reaching a point where I can confidently prove people wrong. It’s a waste of time and energy.

Everett gets it right here:

Whenever I think I’ve mastered something, chances are I’ve just achieved a false sense of entitlement. People with a false sense of entitlement I generally want to smack, unfollow, and put on my zombie wall.

The process of unlearning is an exercise in letting go. Letting go of preconceived notions. Letting go of the concept of correct and incorrect, of “you’re wrong” and “I’m right”. Knowing nothing is not about playing dumb; it’s about recognizing the absurdity of being attached to your ideas. When you know nothing, you can float above the din of people competing for the supremacy of their knowledge.

The man who claims to know something chooses to spend his life defending that idea. The man who knows nothing has no such obligation, and thus, he is free.

Update: A follow-up to this post can be found here.