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The stories we tell

On any given day, if you ask me what I see myself doing and what my plans are for the next thirty years, I will, in all likelihood, paint you a coherent picture with a good deal of specifics. However, if you come back after a year and ask me the same question again, I will still paint you a coherent picture with a lot of specifics, but the probability of it being exactly the same as what I had elucidated for you a year previously would be quite low.

I have observed this about myself over the past several years as I have made major shifts in my plans for the future (short and long term) every few months or so. It might seem unnatural for an observer from the outside, but the changes make perfect sense to me (who is the insider here). As new information comes out and as I discover more about myself and the world around me, I adapt my thinking and my worldview.

For example, about three weeks ago, I put my efforts directed towards writing a second novel on hold so that I could focus more on other things. I realised I had too many things on my plate. Since then, I've been writing a blog post a day (give or take) and I've been making good progress in writing jokes for standup acts. I was struggling on all three fronts before that.

This wasn't an easy decision to make. Especially because I write here for the world to see what my goals are for each of these aspects. To temporarily put on hold something I've publicly proclaimed to do isn't an easy task, but I decided to do it anyway, so that the other two aspects benefit more.

This ability to prioritize and shed old worldviews (that I could successfully do all three at the same time) and adopt a new worldview (that I can only do justice to two of them at a time) is something a lot of us can do. When it comes to objective tasks and plans. Ones that we see others around do all the time.

But we fail miserably to do the same when it comes to more abstract things like our morality (catholics having to accept homosexuality as not immoral), our ethics (it isn't fair to take on slaves) and our religious beliefs (God didn't create humans and Jesus couldn't turn water into wine).

Even when situations change, circumstances change, new evidence and new information surface, we deny it and stick to our original worldview.

This is why there is a big difference in religious beliefs and what we consider moral or ethical from one generation to another. Kids that grow up with nothing to unlearn quickly learn the current layout of the world as the truth and form their religious and moral beliefs accordingly. Which is why the percentage of people that are religious, or those that think homosexuality is a sin, or those that think hell, heaven and rebirth are real phenomenon, are the lowest among those in their twenties and increases progressively as you increase the age groups to people in their thirties, forties, fifties and so on.

The human mind looks for coherent stories to explain what it sees and makes up one if it doesn't find an explanation. Which is why, ever since humans could think for themselves, we have known how the Universe was created, how we came into being, what the purpose of our life is and what happens to us after we die. Just that these explanations, like my plans for my future, have changed over the years.

As a species, we are making progress in becoming more knowledgeable, more tolerant, more ethical. But not always as individuals.

And there needs to be a conscious effort to make progress as individuals. We need to constantly unlearn and learn as new evidence appears.

The reason this is hard is that we don't like to be wrong. In our lives so far, we have taken thousands of little decisions based on the worldview we had at the time. And these were the right decisions then. But with an updated worldview, some of these decisions start to seem wrong. And hence, we shun the new worldview and the new evidence and stick to what justifies the decisions we have made so far.

The unlearning becomes so much easier if we can tell ourselves this story. That the decisions we made were right despite our current beliefs and despite the fact that we would have chosen differently if we knew what we know now.

It is all just a story that we tell ourselves. The only skill we need in our lives is to tell it right. And everything else will fall in place.

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