How change actually takes place
Question: Dear James Pierce — so, how do you actually become a better person? (Using the examples of Chinese characters to make the question clear)
I’ve now been studying Chinese for almost two years — and I've found there are many ways to learn Chinese characters. You can read sentences, recite words, write characters, or write the radicals and components. You need to remember the meaning, the Pinyin (how the pronunciation written in alphabet letters), the tone, the pronunciation.
And when you start learning characters, your mind takes steps: You see the character, recall the Pinyin, then the meaning. A slow conscious process that takes effort and makes you tired. But once you get more familiar the meaning springs into your mind naturally, effortlessly.
Now, you like many others write here about that it's good to focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have. That it's good to stay calm, patient, not give into short-term temptation, not complain, blame, envy, etcetera.
But how do you actually do that? I'm sure a lot of readers will think 'easier said than done'. Or worse: they think just reading these posts makes them more calm and understanding and wise.
Yet sometimes it's no use for me. Sometimes I try to make myself sleep, and I can't even do that because my thoughts run wild. Sometimes I know I shouldn't envy someone else, and yet I do. I know I shouldn't lose my temper, and yet I do. These things are more visceral than rational.
And I know there’s this difference between knowledge (easily learned and taught) and wisdom (everybody needs to obtain this on her or his own). But how does one actually obtain wisdom? How do you actually become a better person?
The thing is: I know how to learn Chinese characters, but how does the life knowledge you tweet become life wisdom? How does it become a natural, effortless part of me?
Is it a matter of taking long walks and contemplating? Is it, like Confucianism prescribes, based on rituals — that you first fake it or force yourself, until it becomes natural? Is it a matter of simply reminding yourself a thousand times? Should I write it down on paper?
Is it a muscle you train? Tattoo Ohm on your wrist? Is it putting Post-it's all over your house? Is it deleting my Instagram account? Stop eating pints of ice cream?
Probably it's all of these. But to learn Chinese characters isn't actually that hard, it just takes time. The 'how' is obvious. But I feel 'how' is more difficult here, to not just know, but to actually become all that you teach. Anyway, that is my question
Answer: There are many things I could say about this, and many that I will probably say in the future, but I think the most relevant for you is to get rid of the ideas of “should” and “good”. In your question, you mentioned that you know you shouldn’t lose your temper, and that it is good to be stay calm, patient, etc. This is much more of an obstacle than you may think.
Rather than comparing this to the learning of Chinese, let us compare it to the way you learned your first language. There may have been a method on the part of those who taught it to you, but there was certainly no method to your learning it. In the same vain, I think it’s a great illusion that effort is needed for something to become effortless. Effort is nothing more than self conflict, and all that does is slow any progress you might make.
When you learned your first language, you didn’t do it because it was good, and you didn’t do it because you should. You did it because it was practical, and because you genuinely wanted to. The problem with the topics I write about is that everything is interpreted as something people ought to aspire to, and that isn’t it at all. Being calm is no more noble than being pissed off. The only thing that matters is how you want to live.
The moment you think of these things as problems to be solved, you begin to look for a solution. By looking for a solution, you shift your focus away from the situation in front of you. You can see for yourself that this simply doesn’t work.
The secret to achieving these things isn’t to figure out how to get There, but to figure out why you’re Here. You become calm by learning why you get angry. You become patient by understanding your impatience. Get rid of your notions of should and should not, and begin by discovering why you are the way you are.