My Bumper Car Philosophy of Life

I sometimes find myself complaining about a particular person or group or criticizing a type of person. It’s amusing. Everyone feels this way sometimes. In being who we are, we inevitably can’t fully understand (emotionally or cognitively) others who are very different from us. It’s perfectly normal, but most often we don’t think about how odd this is.

None of us really knows why we are the way we are or even exactly how we became that way. We all have our own stories that explain our lives, but these really are just rationalizations to explain away the uncomfortable fact that we are mostly shaped by and motivated by things of which we are unaware. The factors that go into making a human are infinite, beyond comprehension. Maybe what bothers us about not understanding others is that we ultimately don’t even understand ourselves.

In life, we are driving blind. We learn of the world by running into things. This is my bumper car philosophy of life.

4 thoughts on “My Bumper Car Philosophy of Life

  1. I wish we could inculcate this attitude more often in our lives, and appreciate the random element of life enough, even amidst all our sacred reference points, to enjoy the ride more. I’m reminded of an essay by Pema Chodron, a Zen master, who talked about happily arguing with her daughter when her daughter scolds her about forgetting to use a seat belt (“I live for this sort of thing”). There’s a certain detachment this attitude buys us about our preferences, our values, that would be really useful, especially in relationships. I notice that conservatives often have this sort of waiver they use a lot, because they tend to have a limited sense of what’s acceptable in life: it sounds hard to be so circumspect about what’s appropriate, and it can be very bad from my perspective: but then again, they get more used to things not going their way, within their constraints, and they can surprise you with the ability to shrug and move on ;when confronted with something. Their sense of negative liberty kicks in, and they avoid cognitive dissonance by simply letting it leave their awareness. I think of it as relaxing our grip on rationality, but maybe that’s not quite right. Love seeing it, hearing it. It’s a version of what I’d wish for all of us, along the lines you describe.

    • I too have the same wish. I try to live by my grandmother’s wisdom: Everyone is trying their best for where they are at in life. I aspire to such wisdom, but it is a challenge that I fail more often than succeed at.

      I may know what you mean about conservatives. I think it relates to the trait ‘conscientiousness’, a trait that both creates high expectations of behavior while also lending itself to a sort of pragmatism.

      My mom is a very typical conservative in many ways. In her career as a public school teacher, she always worked under principals. She has absolutely no problem with rules and being told what to do by authority figures. In fact, she wants things to be clear as possible. Still, if a principal acted irrationally or unfairly, my mom wouldn’t complain. She simply did what she needed to do in order to accomplish her job, like a good (i.e., dutiful and pragmatic) conservative.

      My mom is very down-to-earth. She simply does what needs to be done, and she is very accepting of life and forgiving of people. She simply ignores what she can’t practically change or influence. If it isn’t in her control, it isn’t her concern. So, she doesn’t worry about big issues such as global warming or international financial meltdowns. She is very here-and-now… in most ways, although she does have a bit of wandering monkey mind which I inherited from her.

      • Thank you- yes. Your version is closer to the heart of the deal in their daily lives- she is able to ignore things because it gets subsumed in the ‘blessing’ of authoritarianism, the ability to let go because someone important did it. Or something like that- you can explain it less coarsely through Conscientiousness, orderliness…anyway, it’s pretty cool a lot of times- makes for a batch of happiness we don’t have access to…’course, we don’t want that batch of happiness either, because then we’d be authoritarians.

        My point was more in the context of dealing with people like me, people outside the hierarchy they interact with, but it’s similar. I have an ex like that- just lets the concern go off into the ether after a lot of flurry, which I get the impression is necessary to maintain stability in a world that is not nice always about fitting in with our ideological dictates.

        • I’m quite the opposite of my mom in at least this one way. I obsess over the big issues. I’m all the time contemplating the larger world and what is going on, imagining the lives and fates of other people around me and in other places. I often feel overwhelmed by the problems and sufferings in the world. I’m so very very impractical. I obsess about the big issues and often ignore the practical problems in my own life that I should be dealing with.

          I’m a bleeding-heart liberal. It’s hard for me to plant flowers because of my worries about cutting worms in half (interestingly, my obsession with the big issues causes me to be concerned about the small things). My mom, of course, has no such concerns. Her focus is simply getting the job done. The worm victims are an acceptable side effect. Nature is simply the place where humans accomplish their own ends. Dirt is there to be planted in, and anyone else using that dirt (worm or otherwise) better get out of the way if they value their life.

          Conservatives are so focused on what they care about or what they seek to accomplish that all else is made less important. So, building a damn is an admirable accomplishment that brings great good, no matter how much of nature had to be destroyed and how many humans had to be displaced in the process. Getting oil to fuel our industrial economy is a good thing, no matter how much pollution is created and how many ecosystems are harmed by spills. The important part for a conservative is accomplishing something. Conscientiousness is all about accomplishement, getting things done.

          Liberals worry about all the side effects and all the victims of ‘progress’. This is probably why liberals are less happy than conservatives. Liberals find it difficult to ignore all the poverty and diseases, all the oppression and suffering. Liberals feel less capable of just rationalizing it away based on what is accomplished. Conservatives don’t empathetically feel the relevance of all the problems caused by the conservative worldview. The fact that economic inequality causes massive suffering is simply not a problem to the conservative because they don’t feel it on a gut-level, and if they don’t feel it then it isn’t real or important.

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