Day 14 is the last day of this project that has spanned nearly 3/4 of a year. These are generally the underlying principles that I use to govern everything I do; everything else until this point has been trying to figure this one out.
So… the last blog post was a doozy, but this one is going to be even harder. Still, I want to try and get this right, even though done is better than perfect.
Everything I’ve written until this point has been to figure this one out. I want to understand how I view the world, what my biases are, what my core beliefs are, and what I can do to move forward. To avoid cognitive dissonance, I want a framework with which to judge my actions and keep myself accountable, and to be able to compare my actions and beliefs with my world view, and ensure they’re consistent. If they’re not, I want to be able to decide whether my action, my beliefs or world view needs to change.
This would be easier to write to my little sister or my future children, because for them, I’d want to be better than I am. However, at 20, when my little sister is half my age and children are not even conceived (and won’t be for a while), I’d be missing so much more of life before I wrote them one of these letters; I just don’t feel knowledgeable enough to write it and not feel like a fraud. I hope if they do ever read it, though, they think about it and maybe take some uncut gem of wisdom from it. Instead, I’ll write it to my younger self, when I was just starting high school. While I may not know life well enough to give my future children or my little sister advice, I certainly know myself well enough to know that I really could’ve used it. So without any more ado…
Dear younger me,
This is your older self, writing with all the wisdom that hindsight gives (which might admittedly not be very much, but it’s more than you have now).
Congratulations! You just finished middle school, and those were two hard years. High school will be a lot easier, but University will be much harder, especially if you continue the way you’re headed now. I’m proud of you, for fighting depression and ridicule and never forgetting how to laugh. I’m proud for truly enjoying what you were learning, and stretching your own pedagogical wings. I’m proud of you for everything you’ve done until this point in your life.
Now put it away.
Why? Because you’re arrogant. At 14, you think you understand the world, and you think you have it all figured out. Your world view is as solid as the Berlin Wall on August 13th, 1961, and as arbitrary as if you’d posted all of the newspapers of the world on that wall and blown paint at them, then chosen whichever opinions were the most colourful. You believe that you’re naturally brilliant, that you work hard, that you’re naturally adept at math. You believe in feminism, but you’re uncomfortable with LGBT rights, you’re vaguely uncomfortable with lack of real female role models in the books you read and the media you see, and you never blink at subtle sexism and patriarchal condescension, even though that’s what affects you more; you’re too blinded by the red you see when people tell you you can’t do math because you’re a girl that you’re not offended when everyone expresses their surprise that a girl has received top honours in a math contest (but you’re Asian, so that explains it). You’re racist, not in the you dislike any race kind of way, but you’ve just spent your whole life with smart Asian kids, and so you assume that even though there are exceptions, smart Asian kids are normal, and everyone else is… well, normal (Heads up: The smartest guy you will ever meet is white, and it will take him to knock you on your ass about your racial prejudices. But that doesn’t come for a long time). I could keep going.
You’re not a bad person, you’re just ignorant. And it will take you a while and years of cognitive dissonance and growth to move past these biases, and maybe in the end they still crawl like bugs in your subconscious at times. So, in the interests of speeding that up and saving myself years of confusion, here’s a new world view for you. Accept your opinions as just that, opinions, and not a solid paradigm to which you should build your world view.
First of all, nothing is certain. That scares you, because you like certain (I still do like probabilistically certain). You have to just do the best you can with the information you have, and then adjust accordingly when you have new information. I understand, you want to be a corporate lawyer when you grow up. You’re so convinced you will become one. You have the grades for it (as much as you can have good grades in middle school), all of your friends say you’d be good at it, and wonder of wonders, your parents also approve. But understanding more about law, who you are, and what you like doing, you’ll come to understand that it isn’t law that draws you, it’s the ability to wield power, tackle real challenges and make real solutions. Law’s still on the table, but, now, so is Finance, Actuarial Science, and Tech Development, and whatever else you might prove suited to down the road.
The corollary to this is garbage in, garbage out. You need to constantly learn so you can always reevaluate what you’ve done and thought and adjust accordingly. You can’t just ignore facts; they’re still there, even if you hide under your blanket, bring a flashlight, and enough batteries, water, food, and books to survive the apocalypse. You would’ve never considered the deeper nuances of paternalism until you explored your ideas further, nor would you have accepted that women are not always the injured party (just a large percentage of the time), that taking advantage of gendered stereotypes are wrong unless you had them thrust in your face. You can’t just accept information that proves you right, either; you have to accept the good, the bad, and the ugly. There’s no point in ignoring the fact that you love math and sometimes abhor boring research where you don’t understand some words; it might mean you’d be a terrible lawyer, even if you believe otherwise. Yes, your opinions will become long and complex and unwieldy, but life is long and complex and unwieldy, so deal with it.
You also need to accept that sometimes you will screw up despite you doing your best, because you don’t have all the information. Don’t be paralysed by this; instead, take it as a license to make mistakes and learn from them. Done is better than perfect. I wish you’d taken more time to properly practice your piano, instead of dodging the practice time because you sounded like a sugar high chinchilla scuttering across the keyboard of chopstick stilts. There aren’t a whole lot of things you don’t believe you can fail, but I wish you’d done some other things, if only you weren’t too afraid to fail.
Your ability comes from hard work, not because you’re naturally gifted. I have bad news; four years after you get perfect in a math contest, you’ll go on to do terribly on the last, most important one. Why? Because you haven’t studied, you’ve done the bare minimum in Math class, and while you’re still not doing poorly, you haven’t put the hours and hours and hours of practice that you did in grade 8. You attributed to natural ability what is actually the result of reams of finished math sheets, millions of pages written, read, and thrown away, and hours of thinking. Don’t also forget that you also come from privilege. your parents can afford to pay for you to learn what you want and do what you want. You were born in a relatively advantageous society and you grew up in one of the richest, fairest countries in the world. You are beneficiary of millenia of collective learning and discovery. Nothing you can do is natural except your ability to make it seem so.
I think by accident, you do get one thing right about Politics: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a good thing. And yet you still miss the mark on it. You least like section 1: the reasonable limitations clause. You used to complain that the charter said it could restrict your rights and freedoms before it told you what it’s rights and freedoms are. It’s actually the best part of the whole thing, because it allows people with conflicting rights and freedoms to coexist. Reasonable Limitations are a good thing, and whether or not their reasonable needs to be examined on a case to case basis (Look, the law even did the thinking for you on how to judge reasonableness). For example, everyone is free to have their own opinions, beliefs, desires, dislikes, and thoughts. Their freedom to act and express and impose their opinions on others is a whole other matter.
Finally, everyone has a different paradigm. You’re naive and sheltered, and fourteen when it comes down to it. You think everyone thinks like you, and you think everyone does good your way, has the same standards and mores, and if they don’t, they’re stupid or wrong. But differences of opinions is the price we pay for not being a hive mind, and by understanding that, you’ll have a huge advantage. Better yet, learn to understand other people’s paradigm, and the world will make a lot more sense. Learn what other people consider good and bad, what their biases are, what their motives are, how to earn their respect, and what they value. Better yet, learn your own paradigm first. Paradigms are the key to ruling the world (I know you want to, I still do).
I already know what your story looks like many years down the road. It’s not bad, and I don’t know that these lessons would’ve helped you much; you had to learn these the hard way; I’m still not done learning and relearning these lessons. Still, I wish I could somehow take the different in experience and thinking between you and me that’s fermented over the years, and remove the bitter tears and acrid pain and sour disappointments to distill it into a liqueur of knowledge and experience. I don’t know what it’d taste like though; probably still bitter and acrid and sour, and you’re too young to drink anyway.
So, in writing to myself, I think my world view has clarified itself. It wasn’t easy; it reminds me of a chapter in Thee Writing Life by Annie Dillard, where she talks about vision and how the writer is a different person by the end. I feel old writing this, but I’m really too young; I guess the advantage of youth is plenty of time to refine and understand, whereas the advantage of age is a great store of experience already.
In a few succinct heuristics:
- Nothing is certain
- Garbage in, garbage out
- Done is better than perfect
- Nothing you can do is natural
- Reasonable Limitations are a good thing
- Paradigms are the keys of the world
Fourteen days of writing and a life time of thinking, reduced to six points. Maybe it’s too simple. Then again, maybe it’s not.
Project 14 is how I’m going to start my journey of self discovery, to memorialize who I am when I start chronicling my life. Each day, I’ll approach who I am through a different paradigm people use to define themselves. Read more about it at my About page.