More Options Than We Recognize

Some Thoughts About Relationships is Colin Wright’s examination and exploration of the way we live our lives with other people. He dives into romantic relationships and looks at other relationships such as social and business relationships to help us have a full picture of how we interact with other people. Throughout the book he puts forth the idea that relationships can be anything we want, and that we can be more aware, intentional, and rational in our relationships than we often realize. In regards to romantic relationships, but applicable beyond, he describes what he calls The All Options Policy by writing, “The key to understanding this policy is accepting that there’s no single moral, upstanding, golden model when it comes to relationships.” His quote focuses on the diversity of human life and experience, and opens up our relationships to be more flexible than we sometimes allow.

 

What is powerful for me in Wright’s quote is the idea that our relationships can be as broad and diverse as humanity. Within romantic relationships, it is very tempting to use the model laid out by ones parents to create a template for ones own relationship. This is a good strategy on an individual level, particularly if your parent’s have a healthy and successful relationship, but it also is in some sense limiting. The key is taking the model laid out by parents, grandparents, and those close to you, and expanding on that model to fit your preferences, the preferences of the partner you find, and the demands and drives of society and your place within it. The alternative as Wright describes is taking the models you see around you, and limiting yourself by constraining the extent of possibilities in your own life and relationships.

 

Creating limitations in our model is especially dangerous when we take what has worked and is understandable for us and begin forcing it on other people. Highlighting humanities diversity can be trite, but for some reason we seem to think that our diversity should not translate into our relationships. It seems to be common for people to take their template for romantic relationships, developed through personal experience and familial models, and begin to use it as a filter for not just understanding but in some sense judging the relationships of others. When we begin forcing other people to fit in with our comprehension of romantic relationships we limit the possibilities for others and ignore the fact that other people think, feel, and respond to the world differently than we do. Thinking only of our model and forcing it onto others only acts to make us feel more superior than others while ignoring the experiences and backstories of other people.

 

What we can take away from Wright’s quote is the idea that humanity is more expansive than we often realize and there are no true rules for how we should develop our relationships within the diverse scope of humanity. There are certainly guidelines and commonalities, social structures and norms, and shared feelings and expectations that we understand and that exist because they tend to form stable and successful partnerships, but forcing ourselves or others to fit into pre-filled relationship models can be limiting and ignores the diverse reality of humanity. Allowing ourselves to be rational actors and developing systems where less pressure is exerted to maintain prior assumptions of how relationships best operate will let find a healthy place with our partner and establish a relationship that truly fits our needs and experiences.
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Horizons You Didn’t Know Existed

In his recent interview with Ezra Klein on the Ezra Klein Show, Tyler Cowen continually referred back to what he called “the status quo bias” which he defined as the preference to continue and default to do what we are already doing and comfortable with. Making changes in our routines, starting new businesses, introducing public policy, and even our every day thoughts fall into the trap of the status quo bias where we prefer what is familiar over what is new and different. Over the course of the interview, Cowen referred to an idea he suggested is the best possible way to overcome status quo bias, and it aligns with a quote I read from Colin Wright last year:

 

“Travel provides the chance to think, to work, to learn, to experience, to process, to spread one’s wings, to relax, to be pushed up against one’s limitations, to work every muscle in one’s body and mind, to feel uncomfortable and grow accustomed to the feeling. It’s the chance to see horizons you didn’t know existed, and to crest those horizons.”

 

Cowen discussed the importance of travel, at one point saying that he did not know a better way to gain new perspective and to push back against the status quo bias. In Wright’s book Come Back Frayed the same ideas are presented. The title of the book represents the stresses, fractures, and strains of travel, as your normally well woven world is shifted and pulled apart to be viewed from new perspectives.  Wright explains that travel makes you think and consider new possibilities and ways of life, and in his interview with Ezra Klein, Cowen expressed the same ideas. Seeing new cultures lets you see what is common among humanity, but more importantly, what is different and what could be applied in your own life to find new growth.

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.

Seeing Opportunity

In The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday explains the ways in which we can take our thoughts and ideas and build new paths from the challenges we face. By using the obstacles we face to grow and learn we build our own paths to become the best people we can be.  Holiday uses Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor in the second century, as an example of growing and becoming a more well rounded individual by facing the obstacles in our lives. Speaking of Aurelius he discussed the many challenges he faced as emperor from a major plague, betrayal from his allies, and working alongside his step-brother-co-emperor who was greedy and incompetent. Amidst all these challenges Aurelius sought reason, clarity, and self-improvement, and Holiday writes, “From what we know, he truly saw each and every one of these obstacles as an opportunity to practice some virtue: patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, reason, justice, and creativity.”

 

Faced with challenges Aurelius did not blame others or complain about his luck. He never wondered why he faced such obstacles when others did not, and through self-reflection and practices of awareness, he was able to see the commonality of struggle in the lives of all people.

 

Aurelius was an ardent stoic, believing that he held the ultimate power over the faculties of his mind, allowing his thoughts to be strong, his intentions to be unwavering, and his reason to be sound in all situations.  The recognition that no one controls our thoughts, and that we can control our opinions and reactions to the world gives us the strength that we need to face our challenges. When we lament over the difficulties we face and decide that the obstacles are too great, we limit our future and prevent ourselves from growing. Looking at that which blocks our path and learning to shoulder our burdens opens new possibilities for us. Facing our challenges and learning to adapt to them makes us more capable of succeeding in the world.

Life on Our Own Terms

Author Colin Wright discusses competition and the ways in which we compare ourselves to others in his book Considerations. Throughout his book, he focuses extensively on shifting our perspective and awareness inwards to better understand ourselves, and when it comes to goal setting, he advocates that we do this to ensure our goals are aligning with our inner self. If we don’t turn our reflection inward, we are not leading our life on our own terms and Wright writes, “do you want to measure yourself by the standards of others? Do you want to live your life by a metric determined by those you’re competing against?”

 

The quote above speaks to the ways we compare ourselves to those around us, and how limiting that can be. When we determine whether or not we are successful based on our performance relative to those around us we end up driving in a direction that does not lead us to true growth or the types of growth which would serve us best.  We end up pushing towards some end because it is what others in our group have determined to be desirable. That end may be positive and where we want to go, or it may fall in an area that is not aligned with what truly motivates us.  If we are working towards our goals simply to be more impressive than others or because we want to fit in with those around us, we will not be happy with the results we achieve.

 

Furthermore, when we are driving and competing with those around us we fail to see the larger picture.  Wright continues his explanation in Considerations by using the analogy of a footrace.  If you run a race and win, then you are now regarded as the fastest of that group who happened to be running on that day in that race.  You may achieve a goal in winning a race, but you may also be a big fish in a small pond, and relative to other runners in  the community you may  not be performing at a high level. Competing and winning in small groups may boost the ego, but it can also be a false feeling of success.

 

What Wright is establishing in his quote and his running analogy is the idea that success is not determined by the groups we are associated with and our performance in those groups. Driving towards success as defined by others does not help us reach places where we will find happiness and comfort. The way we reach a real level of success is by focusing on growth and learning how we can move ourselves forward in a positive direction that aligns with the inner motivations which we understand through deep self-reflection.

Valuable Possessions

Author Colin Wright tends to focus on the idea of perspective in much of his writing, often highlighting the importance of viewing the world from multiple perspectives. He discusses stepping outside your own expectations for the world and trying to understand the viewpoints of people in less fortunate situations than your own. He examines the ideas of people in other cultures and the thoughts of people in the past to help him better understand himself and the pressures he faces on a daily basis.  By adopting so many points of view and being able to see the world from multiple perspectives, Wright believes that we become more connected with the world, better able to connect with people around us, and more well rounded individuals.

In his book Considerations he writes, “I would argue that a well-curated collection of perspectives is one of the most valuable assets a person can possess. Not only does such a collection add richness to everyday life and present solutions to problems we didn’t know existed, it also provides the tools required to solve the big, heady, philosophical-and-hard-to-lock-down problems that all encounter at some point in our lives.”

I love this idea of perspective because it shows the importance of continual growth and learning. By living and accepting our single limited perspective, we allow ourselves to be isolated and unable to adapt as we move through the world with our lives constantly changing.  The adoption of a single view point shuts others out and does not allow us the ability to gain a greater understanding of our lives and the lives of those around us.

What Wright encourages is searching for new perspectives and constantly pushing ourselves by seeking ideas or experiencing cultures that challenge our viewpoint.  Seeking out information that reinforces our beliefs will not give us the same growth as finding information that challenges our perspectives and forces us to think more deeply about our perspectives.  Understanding that other people live with less, have different ideas of success, and face more challenges than we do can be a humbling experience. New perspectives may open us up to a world where we can make a difference in the lives of others, and it can help us have a greater appreciation and joy for our lives.  Living in a world with a singular perspective allows us to lose track of what is important in life, and can lead us in a direction guided by manufactured  ideas of success and happiness.

Becoming Less Wrong

Continuing his focus on confidence in the book Act Accordingly, Colin Wright states, “A Confident person doesn’t fear having been wrong: she’s just happy to be more right now than she was before.” This quote shows one of Wright’s core principles expressed in his books Act Accordingly and Considerations. He is continually focusing on adopting as many new perspectives as possible, and learning from new situations and discussions.  What his quote here is saying is that those who can be adaptive become more confident because they are not forced into belief systems at the expense of learning and growing.

 

I really enjoy focusing on perspectives because we each have a unique view of the world around us based on the information we take in, our backgrounds, ambitions, expectations, and other often hidden factors.  With so many forces impacting us and changing who we are, it is not surprising that we can all interpret an event, idea, or feeling differently.  What Wright argues is that we should seek out as many varying perspectives as possible so that we can understand others and begin to see things from multiple perspectives.  When we focus on finding various perspectives we avoid believing that there is one correct answer and we become less judgmental of others.

 

Wright’s quote above speaks to me about the discussions we may have on a daily basis related to heafty topics such as politics or religion.  In these two areas in particular people tend to become very entrenched and unchanging in their ideas. This limits them to a single perspective for which they seek out confirmation and agreement rather than differing perspectives and challenges.  A person without confidence will hide behind their idea and find excuses for why other perspectives are wrong.  More confident people will allow their idea to change because they understand that as they learn more and take in more information, their perspective will shift, and they will begin to see things with a better clarity.  Adopting a single mindset and ideology and not allowing it to change means that you are shutting out other perspectives and limiting your growth.  Opening up your ideology will allow you to connect with others and see the world in a better light.