It’s a painful fact that we’re so often aware of the right thing to do, and we know what we want to do, yet we do not do it!
The day before, on my run I came across a man on the side of the street, sitting in a crouched position, hands on his head which was looking down. There was roughly nobody on the street as is often the case on an early winter morning. The general feeling I got from the man in the crouched position was not very pretty. Actually it was quite dark. He was visibly very, very upset. Even though I could not see his face, I could definitely sense there being something severely wrong.
I thought about what I knew. That when sometimes you’re not in a good place, your thoughts become unreasonable and unsound. At these moments, emotional pain is so much that you may do certain things which you regret later, or worse yet: do certain things that won’t even allow you to be able to regret those choices later.
But I also knew that in these kinds of moments when logic isn’t present due to the great density of emotions at play; just one kind sentence or hug could change that depressed state. And perhaps subsequently, save a life.
So the goal became to stop running and tell this guy a good thing or two to allow him to see the beauty of living. Pretty easy, right?
But that’s when a sharp turn of events came into existence…
That’s when the fear part of my mind sparked up. The animal-like, unwitting, irrational, instinctual, insensible and unjustifiable; primitive unconscious part of the mind had arisen.
I could hear the dreadful voice.
It advised, “You’re just a kid and he’s like twice your age, don’t try and be too smart.”, “What if he’s not sad but just tired or taking a nap?”, “What if he’s a madman? Or drank too much?”, “There’s nobody on the street to save you if something happens.”
This kept going on. I never stopped running. I never talked to that man. And I’ll never know if I was potentially responsible for not saving a life when I had a chance to.
Why didn’t I stop and help him, I thought after crossing that street. I knew the answer all too well, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the voice which drove me to continue running that day.
Another shameful thing happened yesterday morning. This time I was walking to my run’s starting place. I came across an old man. He was climbing up a bridge with his heavy bicycle which consisted of 10-20 water coconuts. I recognized him because I always drink a coconut water from his stall after my daily run. But in the morning he would go to houses and deliver coconuts directly to people.
Going uphill for an 80-ish year old man with a very heavy bicycle isn’t easy. He was observably struggling. Coincidentally, I was walking downhill. I thought about helping him. It was again the right thing and something I sincerely wanted to do.
But you already know what happened, don’t you?
— Fear (all the stuff we called it above) lit up again clogging out my kind intentions.
I could hear the voice once more, “You don’t have to do that, what if he feels offended?”, “He crosses that bridge every day, so why bother?”
Then my conscious, rational self gained some control and fought back, “Help him! It doesn’t matter if he crosses the bridge everyday…” but it was too late. He had already climbed more than 3/4th the way up and I was at the bottom of the hill. Apparently I crossed him with all these thoughts in mind that I forgot to even greet the old man.
Lessons from sins
It is this primitiveness part in the mind that inhibits us from doing the right and desired thing. We take the path of least resistance. We avoid all risks. We get angry and shout at our subordinates when there’s a feeling of threat. We cast blame on others to shed off our mistakes. We over indulge. We fear to not get accepted by the “tribe”. We act irrationally.
We do things we don’t want to be doing for living a meaningful, happy life. This primitiveness, or irrationality in the mind is always present in each one of us. It’s somehow our evolutionary fate at this period of time in the Universe’s history. We’re designed (naturally selected) such that we have this form of instinctual thinking and acting on impulse, using emotion before reason, focusing on survival and reproduction at all costs.
But we’re blessed also with the rational side of the story. That’s the reason why I’m able to write this post and you read it. We’ve got the neocortex. It’s that part of the brain that allows for reason and rationality. It’s the good voice behind the mind. The ability to get into a rational state comes from it.
We have these two parts of the mind, these two methods of thinking and acting. It’s hard to listen to the rational side all the time. But it is The Way. It is the way to live a fulfilling life. It is the way to not regret choices made. It is the way to do the right thing and the thing we wish to do.
This clash between the rational and irrational parts of the mind: one wisely advising to go ahead and do the right and desired thing, while the afraid bit making a raucous out of it, telling to not do ambitious things… This struggle in the mind, I believe is one of the greatest obstacles we face.
The one who lets fear and irrationality win, regrets later on the actions performed today. (Like me, who had to write an entire blog post to confess two of my sins. Sins about not meeting my value systems and desires.)
We have to make the irrational rational. It’s not an instant change. It’s a quest with no ending. Achieving consistently stable rationality forever is extremely difficult, if not downright impossible. But, staying rational most of the time something important lies ahead can be done by coaxing and practice.
We’ll discuss ways on how to be more rational in the next post.