What I Believe
The author must keep his mouth shut, Freidrich Nietzsche wrote, “when his work starts to speak.” The rumble of these words echos an important truth.
People generally see themselves through their accomplishments. In doing that, they end up caring more about their image than the messy reality of who they actually are. Rather than your work doing the talking, you end up defining yourself by external, collectively validated markers of prestige that you hope will earn you respect.
The problem with this is that it encourages both yourself and other people to judge your worth based on some relatively arbitrary metric. Suddenly, my formal educational credentials overshadow what I actually learned. Status-based affiliations overshadow the silent contemplation that taught me how to think for myself. The highlights of my career overshadow the failures that defined me, the people who helped me.
A better way to know a person, I think, is to ask a different set of questions: What motivates them? What makes them ache? What do they yearn for?
It’s in this spirit that I want to publically share my values — what I believe in at my deepest core. They are the compass that guides my life, and they are the beliefs that determine what I work on, how I do it, and who I do it with.
I want to talk about just three things: compassion, freedom, and playfulness. My definitions might differ from yours, and that’s okay. These aren’t things I can fully intellectualize; they are things that I intuitively feel — things I have internalized to the core. Neither one is foundational. Instead, I see them as a network of relations. When there is a gap in one, its relationship to another can clarify that gap. Let’s briefly dig in.
I believe meaning is created in our relationships with other people, but I don’t find any major school of morality in Western philosophy satisfactory (virtue, deontology, or utilitarianism). I think the Buddha had it right in that the basic condition of life is suffering. Suffering isn’t a bad thing. It just means we all have our diverse joys and struggles in life, coming from an infinite variety of perspectives, whether we are rich or poor, whether we look this way or that way, whether we worship this God or no God.
The kindest and most sincere thing I can do is to see, recognize, and understand another person before I make judgments and before I act. This intention is the core unit of compassion. From there, I can learn to treat others appropriately, depending on the context, learning from my mistakes with time and experience. I’m not aiming for perfect morality. It’s just a reminder that life is hard for all of us, while at the same time accepting that it’s important we are all also held accountable for our actions when we act poorly.
I think it’s true that we are all deeply self-interested. This means that the world is dominated by power-dynamics, and ignoring this fact causes more harm than good. I hope to be self-aware enough to check out of power and status games where possible, channeling my self-interest into creativity. I’m not competing with anyone else for a shiny object, because I’d rather compete with myself. Freedom is mostly an inside job, and it’s about becoming so uniquely different that it would be an insult for me to measure myself against someone else.
An important source of freedom is being able to make things in the world to share with other people. The world is a canvas on which I want to express who I am, whether that be through my writing or by solving some other important problem that is creating friction and reducing the fluidity that is inherent in the patterns of nature. I believe if I do the work to be internally free from the pull of my lesser unconscious drives, then I can add genuine value to others based on my unique knowledge and experience.
I don’t have a certain answer to the big questions of why and how to live, but my best guess is that life is a playful act best guided by curiosity. Children intuitively know this, of course, but the rest of us become rigid over time. We harden ourselves to deal with change and uncertainty. We forget how to play, and we get so busy making plans that we no longer know what it takes to lose ourselves in simple moments without always being bound to a clear purpose. This is the problem of seriousness — an entirely passionless state that gets mistaken for maturity.
With playfulness, I want to retain the lightness and the wonder it takes to live in a state of flow. When you treat life like a task, or get too serious, you force the world into a closed box, which often puts you at odds with the intuitive curiosity that seeks things out for its own sake. Slowly, subtly, this makes you fragile. I’d rather learn to dance with uncertainty and adapt to change. I believe once we look beyond the clouds the world covers our eyes with over time, it becomes clear that this is the most natural thing that we can do.
This is the most intimate way in which I know how to express myself. It’s a way to share myself with the world and also to be held accountable by it.
At the end of the day, values don’t mean anything unless my daily actions and behaviors support the larger abstractions I live by. I have made many mistakes before, and I will continue to make them, and my hope is simply that people will help me correct them along the way.
If this resonates with you, I invite you to join me on this journey in understanding and relating to this complex world. It’s a wonderful mystery, and I think together we can better define it — not just personally, but also collectively.
Your support and your contribution are what keep this engine running, and I intend to reward them with whatever gifts and challenges my words have to offer.
Join 60,000+ readers for exclusive access to my newsletter:
Join the newsletter
Subscribe to get our latest content by email.