Get a Life

post by Stanislav Kozlovski (stanislav-kozlovski) · 2019-12-26T00:51:14.063Z · LW · GW · 5 comments

Invariably anyone, anywhere who lives a focused, dedicated life committed to something is confronted with this phrase. "All you do is play tennis? Every single day? Man, you need to GET A LIFE!"

But the question is: what kind of life exactly do I need to get? Should I get your life; practicing for a couple of meaningless hours a couple of meaningless times a week while leaving the majority of your time for chasing babes at the drug and alcohol parties at your friends' houses? Should I get your life; working nine to five at a dead-end job that tries to convince you otherwise by granting you varied perks and then spending your off-time traveling to exotic locales pretending that the change of scenery will change the emptiness you feel inside? Should I get your life; gathering academic degrees like a kid on a scavenger hunt while spending your summers journeying the globe in the name of becoming "richer" and more "cultured"? Or should I get your life; going to church every Sunday like you're supposed to, quoting scriptures like you're required to, condescending down to the heathens like you're taught to and cussing and drinking and sinning when you need to? Is this how it is? Is this how it should be?

What is the point of a life anyway? Is it how much you do? Is it how much you experience? If I should travel to the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal, the pyramids of Egypt and the White House, do I then "have a life"? If I study hard in school (leaving the requisite time for the partying, philandering and law-breaking that my parents don't know about, of course), finish near the top of my class, go on scholarship to a "good school" ("My little Susie gets straight A's. She's going to a good school!"), and then follow that up with a tasty graduate school that then allows me to get a good job that gets me out from behind the desk and lets me see the world, do I then have a life? If I do all that, will I stop waking in the middle of the night wondering what is the purpose of all of this? Will I then be able to stop trying so desperately to find the next, great, distracting event because I hate it when it's quiet and I'm by myself with nothing to do?

The problem today in society and everyday lives everywhere is that people actually believe this phrase. People really do think that if they get a little too committed, they'll lose track of the life they're supposed to be getting. People need to understand that getting a life is just the opposite of all that. Getting a life is finding a singular passion and pursuing it to the end; becoming totally immersed in what you're doing, becoming completely engulfed in everything your passion is made up of. Philosophy teaches us, "When you understand one thing, you understand everything." This is true. By committing yourself to one endeavor, you come to understand it inside and out. You don't understand just a little bit and go quickly on to something else. You know it completely and when you do, everything opens up to you. You come to understand how the whole world works. We are not unconnected to each other and the universe. We are not "in here" and the world "out there". Everything is related. We all are in the same boat and it is that realization that leads to peacefulness. We all fear being alone. Complete understanding reveals to us that we're not. We are all the same. Everything actually starts to make sense. Life is meaningful.

To illustrate, I'll give an example. Let's say that you love tennis and you want to become a teaching pro. Not a teaching pro like the ones you've heard about that brush their teeth in the car on the way to their lessons, stay out all night partying with the rich, country-club wives and are giving lessons because they don't want to get a "real job." Let's say you really want to teach the game. So you start by reading books about the greatest teachers you can find (because reading tennis books will only make you like the rest of the pros who created such a negative stereotype in the first place) and begin thinking of your own ways to make a student better. You sit around with a racquet in your hand messing with grips and swings and follow-throughs, noting which ones work "best". You then look at the pros and analyze how they play and if they play the "best" way and why. When the moment presents itself, you then try to show a student the best way for him or her and see if it works, and why. Soon you begin to find out what makes your student improve and build on that. Now, as a result of spending so much time thinking on it, usually your method will work because you aren't teaching methods from a book or a tape, you're teaching real quality. You're teaching stuff that actually works because you've thrown out everything else. Soon you realize that there are many roads to the best way and you begin to examine those roads in order to discover how every student can reach the best way in the fastest time possible. Not surprisingly, many of your students improve rapidly.

And then you come across the one that doesn't improve. But instead of writing the student off as lazy or stupid and then going and getting a beer, you sit at home and try to figure out why he's not getting better. After some time you figure out that somewhere in your student's head the learning is blocked. Somewhere in his head is a big wall that won't come down and you surmise that probably there is a distraction somewhere in this kid's life. Maybe his wall is built from the fear of his parent's scoldings. Maybe the wall comes from insecurity of failure. Maybe the wall is the apathy constructed from placing importance on other things like parties or school or religion or girlfriends. At any rate, you know the wall exists and you begin to find ways to tear the wall down. Sometimes it comes down like it's been hit by wrecking ball and sometimes it comes down a brick at a time. But unless the distraction is too great, you find that it almost always does come down.

With the wrecking of your first wall comes investigation on how to eliminate all walls. But the only way to do that is to study your students very closely. That way you can begin to easily recognize any symptoms of the wall and not allow the wall to get too big. Pretty soon you can spot the walls a mile away while at the same time you are finding more and more ways around them. Eventually you realize that the ability of a student to learn and the walls that will prevent his learning are directly correlated to who that person is. You learn that you can tell a person's personality from how his or her lesson is going and pretty much discern how fast any improvement is going to come. All of sudden you notice that in one hour lesson, you can tell exactly who this person is, how they were formed, where they are going and who they're going to be. And then you come to understand that this realization isn't confined to the tennis court. You find yourself driving down the road, peering into people's souls through the car window. You go to the supermarket and can guess the history of your paper-or-plastic bagger. You find out that what your students are learning on the tennis court is what everyone would do well to learn in life. Everything is related. The world begins to make more sense.

All of this happens when you understand ONE THING. If that same tennis pro worked a part-time job at the bank, he'd never have the time to look deep enough into what he was doing. If he spent all his time traveling to seminars, he wouldn't be on the court learning how his student's learn. If he "got a life" and went out and socialized, he wouldn't be thinking about finding the path to the best way. What this pro would have is a life filled with thousands of meaningless little events that he can't remember anyway and a modest paycheck which he utilizes for the promulgation of even more events. Tell me, is that a life?

So before all these people make you feel guilty about your commitment and make you feel like you're missing out on all the fun, think it over. Do you want events or understanding? When the parties and the sermons and the vacations and the homework are all over, ask yourself if they're right. After all is said and done, did you get a life?

Related questions:
How is it that total commitment got such a bad name? Since when did tasting it all become the modus operandi for a quality existence? At what point did society take this wrong turn? Who put these people in charge of quality living? What has so gone so wrong that people actually think this way?

This is a cross-post from http://moq.org/forum/ScottWelsh/getalife.html. Original author notes:

By Swelsh

Having been stimulated by Pirsig's works, I decided to write some of the results of that stimulation in the form of some small essays. They are very rough drafts with many holes I'm sure, but they are my fledgling attempts at putting some of elements of the metaphysics of quality in to "every day" use. Please give feedback as to whether this essay is interesting, banal, having some sort of potential or whatever. It would be much appreciated and very helpful. My e-mail address is: swelmal@aol.com.


5 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2019-12-26T03:03:17.505Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Now, as a result of spending so much time thinking on it, usually your method will work because you aren’t teaching methods from a book or a tape, you’re teaching real quality. You’re teaching stuff that actually works because you’ve thrown out everything else.

You find yourself driving down the road, peering into people’s souls through the car window. You go to the supermarket and can guess the history of your paper-or-plastic bagger.

Do you take seriously this idea that you can set out to teach people tennis (or do whatever ordinary thing), and then become really really good at that thing (because you’ve spent a lot of time… thinking about it? because you’ve come up with your own methods? not clear), and then, as a result of being really really good at this more-or-less ordinary thing, you come to understand, like, everything, and can determine people’s life history and personality and ‘souls’ etc. just by looking at them? Is this a thing you’re proposing in all seriousness? Or is this some sort of… very flowery metaphor?

Philosophy teaches us, “When you understand one thing, you understand everything.”

What philosophy, exactly, teaches us this? I would recommend not listening to such a philosophy, because it is manifest nonsense. (The remainder of that paragraph is likewise woo.)

How is it that total commitment got such a bad name?

Because many (probably most) things aren’t worth totally committing to. (For example: tennis.) People who totally commit to those things are making a mistake, and wasting their lives.

If he “got a life” and went out and socialized, he wouldn’t be thinking about finding the path to the best way. What this pro would have is a life filled with thousands of meaningless little events that he can’t remember anyway and a modest paycheck which he utilizes for the promulgation of even more events. Tell me, is that a life?

Yeah. (Though the thing where you travel the world and get more cultured and so forth sounds pretty cool, too.)

P.S.: Re: the author’s note: This reinforces my view that Pirsig’s “metaphysics of quality” is nonsense.

comment by Viliam · 2019-12-26T08:26:57.582Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suppose that "Get a Life" advice, like many general sayings, is useful in some situations and harmful in others.

It can mean "stop doing the thing I consider low-status, and do more of what I like/approve instead". This can be said to make one's supposed low status a common knowledge. i.e. as an attack. It can also be a relatively well-meant advice to someone who seems to have a blind spot regarding how their actions impact their status. It can both at the same time.

It can also mean "your focus is so narrow that you are missing a lot of experience/data that would actually help you achieve your goal", i.e. that you optimize prematurely in a way that creates an epistemic vicious cycle. Something you say to people trying to draw a map of the city from first principles, who are so busy with drawing that they have no time to actually look out of the window, or walk the streets of the city, which would make them immediately realize how utterly wrong their map is.

comment by Alexei · 2019-12-26T02:08:25.889Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you can lead a healthy and happy life playing tennis most of your time, while avoiding the (incorrect and unhealthy, in my opinion) belief that “getting a life is finding a singular passion and pursuing it to the end”. It seems to me like a motivated reasoning used to defend what the person is doing. However the rest of the post is closer to the real truth: “I enjoy playing and teaching tennis and I find meaning in it.”

Also I think the singular/plural purpose divide is pretty smooth with plenty of people on both sides. I’ve met lots of people who say that to live your life you basically need to specialize like crazy.

My invitation to the author would be to write a similar essay to steel man the other side.

Replies from: Pattern
comment by Pattern · 2019-12-29T23:52:50.950Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It reads to me like a praise (or parody) of rationality.

comment by Pattern · 2019-12-29T23:49:57.267Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Errata:

This is a cross-post from http://moq.org/forum/ScottWelsh/getalife.html.

When clicked the link goes to that address, which doesn't work because internet addresses don't end in ".html."