Tuesday, July 17, 2012

5 Qualities to Avoid

I realize the implied negativity of making an article about qualities to avoid rather than qualities to aspire to, but I think these are important to keep in the back of your mind.  


Ignorance
"The unexamined life is not worth living." -Socrates


      Intelligence and profundity are historically linked for a reason. The more you know, the more ammo you have for fighting problems and intellectual obstacles and dealing with the world. Books and articles are great, but only make up half of the equation.  Experiential ignorance is just as bad as intellectual ignorance.  


     Read plenty and expand your understanding of the world and its great thinkers, but get out and do things.  Take long walks in the city at night, stay up late and wax philosophic with friends, take daring vacations, and act on harmless impulses like talking to strangers and singing loudly to music in your car.  Learn about everything all the time, including how to act stupid every once in a while.  


Pretentiousness
“The intelligent people are the ones so intelligent that they don't even need or want to look 'intelligent' anymore.”  ― Criss Jami

     I just started reading the massive tome Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace and simply as a result of the intensity of the reading experience I feel like sharing it with people.  I quickly realized that talking about books in that way involves walking a fine line between curiosity and pretentiousness. 


     It's good to be open to new ideas and intellectual stimulated, but we must remember not to be jerks about it.  Like I said, book smarts are only half.  People busy amassing street smarts and experiential knowledge shouldn't bother those working on their intellects, and vice-versa.  The key is finding a harmonious middle-ground between the two.


Greed
"Don't gain the world and lose your soul, for wisdom is better than silver or gold." -Bob Marley


     Some of the smartest kids I've met at college in NYC have turned out to be some of the most greedy I've ever met.  Now, arguably, their lack of acknowledgement of the vapidness of materialism and working solely for a monetary reward could prove them not as intelligent as I think.  But I've been surprised that some of the most talented and academically proficient analytical people I've met yet have been the ones who want to hop on the Wall Street bandwagon (or maybe pirate ship is the more appropriate term?).  
     
     It's valuable to be passionate about a career and about personal progress, and I'm sure there are some investment bankers who absolutely love what they do beyond reproach-- the key is to do what you love.  If what you love happens to net you a fat wallet, then power to you.  But money should not be a reward for greed; it should be a reward for having a creative, productive, fulfilling life.  That kind of life is the only one that makes having money worth it, after all.  There are plenty of unhappy billionaires.  


Certitude
"Only the madman is absolutely sure." -Robert Anton Wilson


     Another habit my college counterparts and I often happen to fall into is being really damn sure of ourselves.  It's easy to read a few books and watch a couple of documentaries and have a couple of interesting chats with professors over coffee and think you've got the world all figured out.  This is very rarely the case, and by very rarely I mean never.  


    Always be questioning.  Never give it up.  See the reverse side of every reverse side and the antithesis of every thesis.  Certitude is comforting, but it's limiting.  More fulfillment will come from exploring curiosity and learning than from settling with one ideology and creating a narrow 'reality tunnel' for yourself, as Robert Anton Wilson would say.  


Anger
"Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." -Buddhaghosa


      We're taught that what's natural is good.  All-natural granola bars and wheat bread are healthy and good for you.  Nature is benevolent and positive.  But anger is a natural human quality, and one of a few examples (among them, namely spiders, tsunamis and sleet) of nature being not-good.  We're hardwired to be angry every once in a while, which is healthy and natural, but it can easily become a habit that negatively impacts our relationships and mindfulness.  


      Acknowledge anger when it comes but don't kindle it.  Just let it pass.  Acting on anger is a quick way to reverse any meaningful contributions you've made to a given situation.  Mindfulness and self-control go hand in hand; as cliche as it is, control anger rather than letting it control you.