People Don’t Want to Change

It doesn’t seem so anyway

No matter what they say, most people don’t want to change.

Or at least, if they do, they don’t want to put-in the work. Instead, they thirst for a quick potion to magically solve their dilemma. All in vain. For proof, 11 billion dollars are wasted every year by Americans on such ‘remedies,’ yet a growing number remain stuck in stagnant swamps of despair.

Askhole (n): a person who constantly asks for advice, but always does the opposite of what you tell them.

I just wanna be happy!’ they clamor, but pressed to define what they mean, they draw blanks, like dazzled deers.

I wanna be loved!’ they cry like sniveling infants, without once taking the time to define love.

I need more friends in my life!’ they lament, like so many lonely Americans, but asked what they mean by friendship, they’ll give you a flummoxed stare.

I hate my job and wish I could find my passion,’ they bemoan, but lack the courage to break free to seek it.

Twenty-four hundred years ago, Greek philosopher Socrates — infamously known as the ‘Gadfly of Athens’ — was condemned to death for urging his fellow citizens to think for themselves and arrive at clear and useful definitions — for happiness, love, friendship, work, beauty…

How the hell will you ever find anything if you don’t know what you’re looking for?

But that’s too hard… it’s just too much work, right? And who has the time? So people rather have someone else tell them what these things mean and how to find them, preferably by writing them a 3-step prescription for bliss.

I hate to tell you, but it doesn’t work that way. You must establish your own values, then stack them, from most important to least.

Once guided by your deepest values, the first step on the road to real transformation is to define the kind of life you want to live (in vivid detail), and then examine the chains which shackle you to the life you loathe.

The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. — Samuel Johnson

Fear not, they can be broken, but it requires sacrifice, a word which seems as abhorrent to Americans as a steaming turd.

Eww… you mean I have to give up something?… Yuck! Why can’t I just have it all?’

I see your point. The path to bliss is certainly not for the covetous and lily-livered. As French novelist Romain Rolland said: “He who has freed himself from the bonds and gags of an old rotting world; from its masters and gods, must show himself to be worthy of his new liberty, capable of bearing it; otherwise, let him remain in chains!

In his ‘Song of the Open Road,’ American poet Walt Whitman extended his hand and invited people to journey with him to a place of greater joy and a more meaningful, spirited life. Yet, to whomever wished to accept his invitation, he issued this warning:

He traveling with me needs the best blood, thews, endurance.

Come not here if you have spent the best of yourself.

I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes.

You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn and achieve.

Whoever you are, come forth!

You must not stay sleeping and dallying there in the house, though you built it.

Out of the dark confinement! Out from behind the screen!

Inside of dresses and ornaments, inside of those wash’d and trimm’d faces, behold a secret loathing and despair.

Smartly attired, countenance smiling, form upright, death under their breast-bones, hell under their skull-bones,

Keeping fair with the customs, speaking not a syllable of [themselves], speaking of anything else but never of [themselves].

Allons! the road is before us!

It is safe — I have tried it.

Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!

Let the tools remain in the workshop! Let the money remain unearn’d!

Comrade, I give you my hand!

I give you my love more precious than money,

I give you myself before preaching or law;

Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?

Whitman could’ve well have written this in 21st century America for the “secret loathing and despair” he saw in people more than a century ago remains alive and well in the unhappiest place on Earth.

A prison break is no easy matter; you must first know all about your prison. — Henry Miller

The key to your prison turns with a paradigm shift.

You will be happy once you realize happiness doesn’t exist.

You will find the love of your life, but not until you have properly defined what love means, and only once you begin to lead the life you love.

You will be embraced by true friends once you accept that most of the ones you have don’t measure up to the true definition of friendship.

Passionate and meaningful work will forever elude you as long as your values and priorities are ass-backward, and money remains your holy grail and banner of success.

You will never ‘find yourself’ until you stop trying to be someone else, and even then, you never will. For we are each a river with a particular abiding character but show radically different aspects of our Self according to the territory through which we travel. “Today’s identity,” says writer Sam Keen, “is tomorrow’s prison,” and only a self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living, added Virginia Woolf.

Finally, you’ll never travel the Open Road unless you welcome sacrifice and see the path for what it is —  a sacred pilgrimage reserved for the stout of heart and lavish of soul. This will require you to welcome and embrace uncertainty, give up hope and expectations, and vanquish man’s biggest fears: The Fear of Want and The Fear of Death.

Whoever you are, reading this now, I can attest to one thing Whitman was wrong about. The open road is not “safe” as he claimed. It is anything but safe and secure.

But if “safety” and “security” are the watchwords by which you want to live your life, by all means, go ahead, don’t change a thing, and forever remain wallowing in the stagnant pool with all the rest. Just don’t ask me for advice.


Related Reflections:

I Don’t Want to Be Happy

How do I find the love of my life?

I can’t find my passion and purpose in life

Shock and Fluff In The Age of Distraction

A writer’s conundrum

Tristan Harris is right. We are currently “engulfed in an arms race to the bottom of our brain stem to capture our attention.”

Think of that little timer counting down the seconds on Netflix or YouTube as you’re reaching the end of an episode. Or compare both the noise level and the speed at which scenes are switched in a modern-day documentary, with one filmed, say, before the 1990s. It’s enough to cause one vertigo and often feels like some two-bit swindler is trying to hypnotize you so he can steal your wallet.

And what about the news? now forced to shock its distracted audience with hyperbole: ‘STOCK MARKET PLUMMETS!’ ‘CARNAGE IN CAIRO!’ ‘MONSTER STORM ENGULFS GULF COAST!,’ ‘MAYHEM IN MINNEAPOLIS!’

When the news is finally delivered, it’s as anticlimactic as masturbating, even on a good day, they say.

Are people simply becoming dopamine junkies? Like porn, needing an increasingly higher dose after each hit?

This scourge has also infected the work of other writers, bloggers, and editorialists. If they wish to gain and audience they must perfect the art of screaming and stirring outrage and peddling snake oil instead of meaningful content. Moreover, they must adapt to a culture whose attention span is now shorter than a sneeze.

No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the masses. — H.L. Mencken

As an artist who approaches his craft like a Michelin Star-winning chef, I refuse to sully my work with shock or fluff. Especially fluff! I also refuse to compress complex, meaningful ideas into fast food for the brain. Not surprisingly, my work withers mostly unread.

I come from a land of siestas, meriendas, and sobremesas… lazy naps, midafternoon grazing, and endless after-meal conversations with loved ones and friends, so have always wondered why Americans are in such a rush. It doesn’t seem like they’re getting much done. Not lately, anyway. In fact, in their frenzy, they’re not only crashing against each other but toppling everything around them, like, say, the entire planet.

It’s not enough to be busy; so are ants. The question is: what are we busy about? — Henry David Thoreau

In ‘Lazy: A Manifesto,’ Tim Kreider writes that “if you live in America in the 21st century, you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy Busy.’ It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ‘That’s a good problem to have,’ or ‘Better than the opposite.’

“Even children are busy now,” laments Kreider, “scheduled down to the half hour with enrichment classes, tutorials, and extracurricular activities. At the end of the day, they come home as tired as grownups, which seems not just sad but hateful. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter. The busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness: Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Is that what it is? A sense of meaninglessness, existential dread, and emptiness? People needing distractions to avoid confronting their misery?

Wounds don’t heal in the dark and skeletons don’t simply vanish through neglect. At least not mine. In fact, they get angrier. They only way to appease them is by bringing them out of the closet and engaging them in deep, focused conversation. Which is what I try to do with my work, hoping to help others deal with the thorniest dilemmas of human existence so they can heal.

But this takes time and cannot possibly be delivered in a 5-point listicle or quick-read book. Chances are you’ve read more than one and soon forgot all the magic recipes and instant formulas. Case in point, Americans spend over 11 billion dollars per year on self-help and personal development stuff yet live in the unhappiest place in the world… wtf!?

Because it’s the land of the quick-fix and the magic pill. Where instead of wrestling with the underlying causes of despair, people numb them with drugs and distractions. It doesn’t take a genius to realize it’s not working.

One of my most read articles on Medium, for example, is ‘The Meaning of Life.’ I figured that in a country hungry for meaning, the least I could do was offer a remedy and a way forward.

Like most other forums, Medium is now compelled to post the time it will take a reader to get all the way through. God forbid it’s longer than 6 minutes because most readers will ignore it. ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy Busy.’ Who has more than 6 minutes to spare nowadays?

Mine is 7 minutes long (sorry), and although now read by over five hundred people, the average time devoted to the article by each person has been 1 min 5 sec. Really? Speed-reading through the meaning of life?

“A writer has power over distraction and fragmentation, said author Saul Bellow, “and out of distressing unrest — even from the edge of chaos — he can bring unity and carry us into a state of intransitive attention. People hunger for this.”

That may be the case in Europe, or in my country, Mr. Bellow, but in America — the land of the microwave, the 3-minute cake, the quick-pass, “quickie,” and life in the fast lane — people hunger for instant gratification.

A man’s constant escapism into busyness is the greatest source of his unhappiness, suggested Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, a sentiment echoed by Blaise Pascal who said that the sole cause of man’s anguish is that he does not know how to sit quietly in his room.

For the longest time, I’ve been trying to invite people to sit quietly and take time to work through the toughest afflictions of the modern world, and together, figure a way out of their despairing lives.

Alas, refusing to use shock and fluff, my tireless work goes mostly ignored and the despair never ends.


Congratulations! You made it all the way to the end and I only stole 5 minutes of your precious time.


Related Reflections:

Do You Have a Minute?

Time Out!

The Unhappiest Place in the World