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Beyond Why

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  • Beyond Why

    It’s prudent to semi-regularly ask ourselves why we do various things, and why we do them the way we do them.

    This isn’t a complicated concept but it can be tricky to implement productively: we humans tend to be skilled ritualizers and heuristics-developers—makers of physical and mental shortcuts—because habits and shorthand-thinking tend to save us time and energy.

    As a consequence of these often-beneficial traits, we may also, even when very consciously asking ourselves “why?” about something, gloss over the answer, justify an incongruity, or accept a misalignment that we probably shouldn’t accept.

    We may, for instance, intentionally sit down, think through the rationale for the work we do, but then only superficially consider that work, how it influences our behaviors, beliefs, and biases, and how things might be different if the nature of our work, how we approach it, or how we think about it were to change.

    It’s not enough to just ask the question, and it’s not enough to quickly page through the answers—not if we want to benefit from such assessments.

    Instead, it’s typically ideal to consciously seek out the uncomfortable bits, look directly at them, and allow ourselves to think about the origins of our beliefs about a particular industry or career, what our justification for performing that work was when we started, what it is now, and how our beliefs about that work, that industry, that employer or client, has changed over time; how it might change in the future.

    Just as difficult is identifying even overt hypocrisies in our beliefs and behaviors, much less the tiny, pernicious ones.

    When contemplating why we adhere to certain ideologies or tribal affiliations, for example, it’s often tedious and tricky to hold up each totemic principle and compare it with every other accepted assumption.

    Identifying conflicts within these ideas needn’t be faith-shattering or fundamentally disruptive to our understanding of things, but becoming iteratively more aware of where our perspectives begin and end, and where they do and do not overlap with that of our tribe, is crucial to keeping tabs on our personal evolution and the philosophical and practical shifts in groups that we might otherwise cleave to out of habit, even as their precepts deviate further and further from our own.

    Finally, it’s important to go deeper than just asking “why?” because limiting ourselves to superficial answers may keep us from seeing how our current priorities differ from those of the earlier version of ourselves who implemented the habits, core beliefs, and affiliations that continue to shape our lives.

    These earlier choices may have been appropriate for the moment in which they were made, but will almost always become less relevant with time.

    Such misalignment is not uncommon, as it’s arguably impossible to keep our ideals and lifestyles perfectly aligned for any significant duration.

    If you’re always learning, experiencing new things, and parsing that knowledge and those happenings for understanding, you’re constantly growing, changing, maturing in both tiny and dramatic ways. Thus, the “you” that existed five minutes ago is not the “you” that is reading this sentence, right now.

    What you’ve learned, what you’ve experienced in the past five minutes could have changed very little, and it could have changed everything. But in either case you’re not the same you, so there will almost certainly be some misalignment between your current trajectory and the assumptions made by that earlier iteration.

    This lack of chronological consistency is disconcerting, but it also provides us permission to accept our perpetual misalignment, while also acknowledging our capacity to calibrate.

    If you found some value in this essay, consider supporting my work by buying me a coffee.
    The post Beyond Why first appeared on Exile Lifestyle.