Occasionally I’ll have someone tell me that they don’t want to learn more about a topic because that would kill the joy that topic brings them.

They don’t want to know anything about biology, for instance, because doing so might reduce the wonder they experience when perusing fields of flowers. They just want to look at the colors and shapes, and smell the wonderful fragrances.

They don’t want to understand sociology because it may make them cynical about their interactions with others, and they don’t want that to burden their good times with friends.

This is an understandable sentiment because the more you learn about something, the more you bypass the outward-facing façade and see a starker, more detailed truth.

No longer are the vast variations found in flowers ‘magical,’ now they’re logical variations brought about by genetic mutation and environmental influences. No longer are social movements inexplicable, instead they’re understandable, or at least comprehendible, and governed by a set of principles.

The desire to not understand is a desire born of conservative thinking, which means safe and secure thinking. I take pleasure in this feeling and pulling back the veil may ruin that pleasure for me. Why would I risk it?

It’s true that ignorance about a topic can fuzz the edges in a comforting way, like applying a blurring, softening light to a family photo. A lot of the pimples and stray hairs disappear when you look at the world through a lens that doesn’t include the details.

This is a fear without legs, however. If you allow yourself to look for beauty at scale, whether the larger context or at a higher magnification showing all the tiny details, you’ll find that there’s plenty to enjoy.

An excellent example of this is attraction in human beings. The ‘blurry photo’ way of looking at this is that it’s somehow magical and meant to be, while the more informed version takes into account biological and social conditions. It looks at the human microbiome and how one person’s physical ecosystem interacts with another’s.

Is it different? Yes.

The former approach is finding beauty in an idealized storyline, which fails to take into account data but aligns with popular folklore. It’s not something you have to work to appreciate; it’s pre-packaged attraction.

The latter approach requires some mind-bending. It involves conceiving of oneself as a collection of human cells, fungi, viruses, bacteria, chemical impulses and mental plasticity, combined with the social structures in which we live: invisible sets of rules that we understand and accept which guide our actions and activities.

That this collection of minuscule and complex variables conspired to make us interested in someone romantically, with all those little pieces falling into place and interacting with their biological and social equivalents, is a dance that’s as beautiful as it is complex. It’s an elaborate orchestral performance compared to the easy-to-understand tapping of a finger on a table.

So long as we allow ourselves to appreciate it, the world is an infinitely complicated, infinitely gigantic, infinitely beautiful place. So long as we don’t romanticize ignorance over understanding, we can explore and enjoy, and never run out of things in which to take pleasure. We can look at the fuzzy picture and enjoy flowers because they’re flowers, and we can put things into finer focus when we want to fixate on the minutiae and geek out about the fact that flowers have an electrical field that attract bees.

Composers don’t limit themselves when learning about music. They love music, and a deeper understanding allows them to enjoy and make use of the craft at a denser, more fundamental level. Their appreciation of music doesn’t disappear because of that knowledge, it increases. Because now they see the underlying structure and can enjoy the architecture of that which they’re passion about, rather than just admiring the paint job.

Allow yourself to appreciate the world at scale. The more you know and understand, the more you’re capable of enjoying.

Update: April 21, 2017

I’m told some variation of the argument I mentioned above with unfortunate frequency by people who, in all other senses, are very intelligent, educated human beings. But this desire to not de-blur the world is rampant, and that fiction that we’ll lose the romance of whatever it is we enjoy by learning more about it is pervasive. Very often this is tethered to some kind of magical or mystical thinking, as well, which is a way of seeing the world that’s resurgent and, although in many ways not harmful, sometimes limiting in how it encourages its adherents to dismiss any data that doesn’t support their preexisting views on how the universe operates.


It’s Easy

It’s easy to be snarky and dismissive of ideas that don’t align with your own.

It’s easy to preach to the choir, to rally the troops, to shout into an audience of people who already agree with you. To say all the things you know will reinforce their existing beliefs.

It’s easy and it’s often rewarded, with clicks and applause and shares. Because by being dismissive of ideas foreign to our own we’re reinforcing biases: we’re telling someone they’re right and there’s nothing we like better than being right.

Far more difficult is opening ourselves up to ideas that evolved outside familiar ecosystems. Ideas grown within different societies and different cultures. Ideas that are the result of foreign life experiences.

Far more difficult is building bridges between disparate ideas and the people who have them, rather than blasting new chasms and building walls. It’s easy to declare someone wrong. It’s difficult to explain your ideas in such a way that they might listen. Harder still is opening yourself up so that you’re willing to listen to their ideas with an open mind.

It’s easier to find success by doubling down on what you know works: hardening your belief structure and turning up the contrast on your world-view so that the planet is perceived in crisp black-and-white.

It’s more rewarding, though, to embrace the grays and to allow for subtlety. To reach across intellectual barriers and interact with whomever takes your hand.

Because although the shortest route is defined by popular bias, society’s biases are changed over time by those who have the resolve to stand up and say, “Let’s look at the world in this new way, instead.”

It’s easy to wield ideas like permanent markers, frantically thickening the line we draw between ‘us’ and ‘them.’

It’s difficult to find the value in ‘them’ and their ideas, and to present our own ideas so that these ‘others’ feel comfortable thoughtfully considering them.

Update: April 21, 2017

I’ve written about this topic a lot and in a lot of different ways. It’s tough to break out of our own bubbles, though, even if we’re actively trying to do so. There are just so many things we take for granted that bias our thoughts before we even realize we’re having them.

As a result, it’s difficult to get into the right mindspace to actually consider out points of view, and to make your arguments, to state your case, in a way that encourages others to do the same.

It’s valuable, but not easy.


The One

The following essay is an excerpt from my book, Some Thoughts About Relationships.

From a very young age, many of us are told stories about The One: a mystical person who is placed on this planet for us and us alone. It’s our “hero’s journey” to find this individual, wherever they may be. If pop culture is to be believed, there will be a series of comedic situations and dramatic adventures that lead up to our finding them.

In real life, however, The One is a concept that isn’t just irrational, it’s potentially harmful. The idea that there’s someone out there who is customized to make you whole implies that you’re not capable of being complete on your own. It also implies that everyone other than The One is just a stepping-stone toward grand fulfillment, which is a horrible way to approach relationships.

It’s understandable why this is such a popular storyline. Who doesn’t want to be the hero of the story? Who doesn’t want to believe that the imperfections we see in ourselves, and the bad hair days we experience, are just the buildup toward relationship bliss?

The concept of The One actually shares the same history as the concept of a “soul mate,” which comes from a tale written by Aristophanes, a comic playwright and contemporary of Plato. In this particular story, two-headed giants — some with both male and female genitalia, some with two sets of male equipment, and some with pairs of female parts — were sliced down the middle by a jealous Zeus and scattered to the wind. They were doomed forever after to explore the planet, seeking their “other half.”

As a metaphor, I get it. And the “soul mate” feeling is one I think most of us are familiar with. That vibe you get from someone who resonates with you is a connection that can be difficult to explain. It’s the sum of a huge collection of variables, mental and physical attraction key among them, which add up to something that feels almost metaphysical. It’s wonderful and memorable and often more than a little distracting.

To me, reducing something so remarkable to something as kitschy as “magic” or “fate” is borderline offensive. Those feelings are valuable; experiencing them can catalyze some of the most wonderful moments of our lives, and we’re supposed to just say, “yeah, it was bound to happen sooner or later”? Why not just celebrate the wonderful coincidences and randomness that brought such a person into your life, instead?

No, it’s not magic. And it’s not something that can only happen once. Recognizing the shallowness of The One complex allows us to see that we’re capable of loving more than a single person in our lifetime.

This is the crux of The One Policy. Why should we limit ourselves when we could be happier more of the time? Why should we be fated to endlessly pursue a fairy tale, when potential sources of actual emotional interaction and enjoyment are all around us? Why do we romanticize an idea that couldn’t be further from actual romance? An idea that keeps us from experiencing fulfillment, and which forces us to wonder about the legitimacy of our connections with other people when we’re fortunate enough to find them?

You are The One. You are the only person in the world who can complete and fulfill you, and ensure your happiness. Everyone else is a potential, hopefully wonderful, addition to that fated situation. You are born complete, you die complete, and you decide whom you spend your time with in between.

Update: April 21, 2017

I was so nervous about writing this book. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about people, and about how we interact, but I didn’t want to seem like I was trying to set myself up as some kind of online relationship guru. I know some things, but no set of relationship standards are right for everyone.

I cam to grips with the idea after a collection of friends whose opinions I respect mentioned that I should definitely put some of these ideas into published form, and I thought up the title, which allowed me to share some thoughts rather than making prescriptions.