Participating in Life

Colin Wright’s recent book Come Back Frayed, is the story of his experiences living in Mayoyao and Boracay in the Philippines. Mayoyao is an agrarian region of the country with a small population and many rice fields, and Boracay is a small island and a popular tourism spot. Throughout his book Wright takes a critical look at culture, comparing the lifestyles of many in the United States to those in the Philippines who live with considerably less. Beyond a simple comparison of American and Philippine citizens and lifestyles, Wright dives into his own perceptions of himself and what traveling and experiencing new cultures has meant to him.

An idea expressed by Wright is that travel forces us into situations where we are no longer in the kind of control we become comfortable with in our daily lives. He discusses the importance of flexibility and adaption in travel, and I think his metaphor can be easily adapted to life in general.

He writes, “The best you can hope for is a little deck-stacking here and there, and a carefully sharpened ability to play whatever cards you’re dealt. Sometimes that means playing another game for a while. Sometimes it means you’re handed some dice instead, or a random handful of obscure game paraphernalia with purposes you haven’t yet discovered. In such cases all you can do is plaster a confident expression across your face, watch those around you for clues, and hope to hell you figure out the rules before it’s your turn to play.”

This idea of travel and life more generally being a game in which you don’t have all the pieces is a useful idea for me. I don’t think it is helpful to look at life as a game that you either win or lose, but as an activity you participate in with those around you to build relationships and community. Being engaged in the game means that we will have new experiences and find ourselves in unfamiliar places. Flexibility will always be a central part of advancing as far as possible. The more we can adjust and the more we can look to those around us to learn, the better we will be at participating and contributing.

The game idea breaks down around thoughts of winning and losing, since that may push us to act in ways that are not helpful for building the type of experiences we actually desire in our lives. When we focus on winning the game (life) we risk placing value on goals that can be hallow or self serving. We isolate ourselves and possibly push away those who are closest to us. Instead, we should look at success in the game as full participation, achieved by constantly learning and better understanding the  connections the game builds.

Returning to Wright’s quote, learning how to take disparate pieces and tie them together to play the game is a major skill worth developing. Adjusting to the needs and demands of our environment helps us not just in traveling and in moving from physical space to physical space, but it helps us throughout life as our daily experiences, possibilities, and demands shift. I believe a major skill that is not discussed enough is learning from those around us to find new growth. Rather than criticizing people for the cards they are dealt and the hands we play, we are always much better off learning from the actions of others, so that we can better use the pieces we have available to us.

Developing a Personal Philosophy

Two key aspects of Colin Wright’s writing and philosophy are personal flexibility in our growth and seeking out multiple perspectives for how one interprets any aspect of life.  Wright has an incredible ability to see more than what is in front of him, and to adopt the perspectives of others.  He tries to live a very flexible and free life by determining his own path and searching for meaning and reason in his own way.  Many of his decisions center around the idea of how much freedom, time, and options his choices provide him.  In his book Act Accordingly the author ties this idea in with philosophy, “All else being equal, a job that would give you greater flexibility in terms of promotion would be better than the alternative, and the same goes for a philosophy.  A set of beliefs and personal rules that allow for a great deal of evolution and growth are superior to ones that do not.”

 

What I love about this quote is that Wright breaks down his definition of philosophy for us in a simple and clear way.  According to Wright, a philosophy is not something contained in a dusty book on a shelf, and philosophy is not limited to politics or religion. Instead, a philosophy is a set of ideas, rules, guidelines, beliefs, and emotions related to any area of life.  We can have personal philosophies about driving, keeping our house clean, developing a work ethic, or even a philosophy about cat videos.  What is being advocated for in Act Accordingly is the development of personal philosophies that accept multiple perspectives.  Wright spends much of his time reading, and he has come to understand that as we read we learn and see things from new perspectives. For him, it is crazy to develop personal philosophies in any area that limit our possibilities and ability to change.  As we grow and learn throughout life our ideas and positions will shift, and it is important that we have a personal philosophy that will allow those belief systems to change with us.

 

The author is also advocating that we search out as many new perspectives as possible.  In our work lives we will constantly be looking for new opportunities, promotions, and ways to expand what we do, but we don’t always think to do this with our personal philosophies.  It is difficult to encounter ideas and perspectives that seem to run against the philosophies that we have developed, but if we never explore the perspectives and ideas of others we never grow. I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who is studying at a private christian university. He and I have very different religious views, but we both value that we can have discussions regarding our views that present our ideas and backgrounds without becoming argumentative and explosive.  At one point during his discussion he said to me that he was disappointed that many of his classmates never explored ideas of people from other religious backgrounds or those who lived without a religious belief system.  In his mind, by not exploring difficult and often scary ideas that do not align with those that we already have, we miss out on a chance to understand our ideas better. This is at the heart of Colin Wright’s philosophy, and it is only by pushing ourselves to expand our thoughts and perspectives that we grow and better understand others.