Avoiding Extremes

Colin Wright is an author, podcast host, and in to some degree full time traveler writing about his experiences and the ways in which he has come to see the world through stoic principles of self-awareness and mindful consideration. In his recent book, Come Back Frayed, Wright details his experiences living in the Philippines and explains ways in which his lifestyle contribute to his being able to not just survive, but thrive in very different environments and places. One of Wright’s traits lending to a successful lifestyle of travel is his ability to avoid extremes in terms of thought, behavior, and desires. Regarding extremes he writes,

 

“Extremes are insidious because they’re incredibly valuable until they’re not. At some point on the usefulness curve, they transition, hyde-like, to harmful. Even water is deadly if you drink too much of it.
Avoiding extremes has become an integral part of my lifestyle, because I find that walking up to that line, toeing it, and then stepping back to stand on healthier, more stable ground is what allows me to work and live and enjoy the world around me without suffering the consequences of burnout, sleep-deprivation, ill-health, and fanaticism.”

 

I enjoy this passage because Wright explains the importance of remaining even and level in our actions. It is easy, tempting, and often encouraged to push toward an extreme in whatever we are doing with our lives, but in the long run the consequences of living on the extremes can be disastrous. Pursuing diets without flexibility, driving toward completing incredible amounts of work, and even participating in non-stop leisure can lead to worse outcomes than if we had been more balanced in our approach. Focusing so highly on one area may help us find incredible success, but as we push further toward the extremes, we must out of necessity, and limitations on our time and energy, give up attention for other areas of our life. Without stopping to take notice of our focus, we will find that suddenly, our laser detail on one extreme, has allowed other areas to become problematic.

 

This is the sudden change that Wright discusses in his quote above. Extremes push us to places where the supports that allow for our behavior become weakened and unable to further support our specific efforts. Because our focus is so set in one area, it also means we are oblivious to areas we have chosen to neglect, and when problems arise, we might not know where to look to find solutions.

 

Greatness and deliberate action are things to strive for, but we should recognize what we are sacrificing to reach those goals. As we drive further toward extremes in pursuit of excellence, we will notice that we must take our focus away from other areas. Being conscious of our decisions and recognizing when we are approaching extreme points will help us find a place where we can continue to seek greatness on more stable footing.

The Reality Around Us

In a letter of advice written to James Harmon to be published in the book Take My Advice, a compilation of letters that Harmon received from creative writers, actors, designers, and artists, Murray Bookchin writes about how difficult it can be to fully think through something in today’s television filled world.  Harmon’s book was published in 2007, and many of the letters he received were written many years before that, but the knowledge shared with him is just as useful today, and Bookchin’s advice is a perfect example.  The author and political theologist who died in 2006 before his letter was published wrote, “I have also learned that it is important not only to adhere to ones ideals but to fully and consistently think out one’s ideas.  In a time when television gives us one dimensional images of human experience and mere shadows of the vibrant reality around us, it is easy to leave one’s ideas incomplete and be satisfied with half-finished thoughts.” With the increase of technology around us and the intrusion of smart phones and devices into almost every part of our lives, Bookchin’s insight is more accurate today than it was when he wrote his letter.
When I first read this section I had only highlighted the part about television providing us with one-dimensional images of human experience.  I had focused in on this part because I was working on reducing the amount of television  I watched. I was not happy with spending lots of time inactive in front of the television, and I wanted to gain a more full experience of life.  In addition, I have really come to dislike television because it limits our focus and perspective.  Everything in a show is perfectly manicured and tailored to create a world that does not exist.  The conversations people have and the ways in which people act in television shows does not reflect the true experience that most people have. The worst part about television is that it projects a false reality and way of living. I wanted to get away from watching television because I did not want advertising companies to project images of what I should want directly at me, and I did not want to pick up indirect ideas of what my life should be like based on the experiences of the characters in the shows.
When I came back to this quote to write about it, I was stuck by the idea of television, and really all technology, limiting the time we spend thinking deeply about any one thing.  Bookchin’s advice to fully think through our ideas requires that we spend time on reflective processes. Writing, meditation, and reading are ways that we can spend time refocusing and dialing in on our values or ideals so that we truly commit them to our sense of self.  Without this time we can become lost in a sea of noise generated from television, email, and social media notifications.