No this post is not on the pandemic. Not even on the economic crisis. It’s not on government policy either. All of those are subsets of the bigger theme of 2020: CHAOS.
I want to take up a subject that I find severely under-discussed: living in chaos. As a civilization we have never been taught, trained or even wired for dealing with the quantum of chaos that currently exists. We don’t know how to live in the middle of a storm - or several ones.
2020 has been chaos. We started the year close to a WW3. Then we came close to it again a few weeks ago. To say nothing of the pandemic, riots, Black Lives Matter, job losses, ‘should we be wearing masks?’, lockdowns, the dwindling Amazon forests, the Epstein-Maxwell mystery getting unravelled and making us giddy with disbelief, the constant neuroticism around the US elections, hate speech, cancel culture, oil futures hitting negative, stock markets going topsy turvy (Bitcoin is still climbing), Hong Kong getting quashed, Beirut blown up, and the list goes on…. It almost sounds like a Billy Joel “We Didn’t Start the Fire” set in 2020.
So how do we live in this non stop chaos?
Well, some people baked sour dough bread. Some others decided to chuck make up and start bare face selfie challenges. Some vented their angst on social media (or friends and family members ), but mostly, we remain clueless.
The biggest thing in all of this chaos that wears us down is decisions. How do you decide anything? How many things do you need to decide?
The truth is that chaos is the very nature of life itself. Nothing is fixed. Nothing is set in stone (not even stone. It keeps changing, though not discernible to a casual observer). But somehow we have boxed ourselves in such automated lifestyles, that we can live for weeks without batting an eyelid to think about what the heck are we doing and where the heck are we really headed? What do we really want in life? What are the things that really matter, and the ones that don’t? We have reduced the “variables” in our lives so much that we needed to add variables to make life “fun”: vacations and weekend partying. Now that is all gone. Pouf. The superficial “fixed-ness” and comfort of a mind numbing routine is dismantled.
People are getting weary, stressed, depressed, anxious, disoriented, disillusioned…all because we don’t know how to live a life where every new day adds to the confusion and uncertainty, and does nothing to reduce the existing uncertainty. Nothing is certain.
The other reason this chaos is making our brains hang upside down is the cognitive dissonance over sparring viewpoints on everything.
So far, the story was almost scripted. Some people lean to the right, some other lean to the left. It was very clear. And it did not matter much, because it wasn’t every day that we had to decide who is right about what on matters that directly affect our lives right away.
2020 has been a meltdown on the political and ideological spectrum as well.
Some people dislike masks. Some people dislike lockdowns. Some people dislike people. All our preferences are making it really difficult to take everyday decisions. This gets exacerbated when the “scientific community” keeps presenting conflicting information every few weeks. So, what should all of us be doing?
Cognitive dissonance was a once-in-a-few-months phenomenon till 2019. We sometimes disagreed with others. Other times we just ignored what people said and got on with our lives. Now it is in our faces every damn day. We need to keep changing our minds and be flexible about what we label as the solemn truth. That is not so easy. It drives people crazy. That, precisely, is cognitive dissonance.
The frustration people are experiencing right now is not just with the situations, the uncertainty and the chaos, but with the internal cognitive dissonance about it all. They don’t know where they are going. They don’t know what to do. They don’t even know how to decide what to do. What is the yardstick?
Less Was Never More More
“Less is more” was the motto of the minimalist architect Mies Van Der Rohe. If less was more about a 100 years ago, it has never been more more than today.
Minimalism in design is beauty. Minimalism of brain clutter is calm.
Decision fatigue is a side effect of thinking without doing. It leads to overthinking and not doing, and eventually doing things without thinking.
“Less is more” is the most apt way of expressing the importance of less thought, more contributing, productive action. This does not mean we need to stop asking questions about our own existence. It just means that we evaluate things on a deeper level. We don’t sweat the small stuff. We don’t give disproportionate importance to insignificant things. We decide what is the most important part of our lives and focus on that, rather than bickering over every little difference of opinion with people around us. This holds in life in general, but it holds a lot more now, when the world is officially going berserk. Most of the battles we fight are not worth the time, effort or abrasion. We need less battles. Less arguments. Less petty stuff. More fundamental questions on life, our place in the world, and what we want to do about it.
Less thought about material things, more questions about what we want in life, what really matters to us in the big picture.
Allowing our own selves the freedom to reshape our lives and rethink our plans can only happen by getting back to basics. By delineating the big picture. Overthinking the smaller stuff only makes the world a madder place. Nobody wants that.
If we had been taught the science and art of less thinking, more useful thinking, we may not have been in this chaos in the first place, pandemic or no pandemic. But we are. 2020 may not have been “ideal” but it will not be entirely useless in the long term if we can turn around our lives for the better, aligning with what we choose as our purpose.