George Sheehan famously said “We are each an experiment of one.” This idea was a central theme in both my running books. While he may have been referring to running, the advice should be applied to life outside running. There are very few (if any) things that can be universally applied to every single person. What’s good for the goose is almost never good for the gander.
We’re different people. We have different genes and biological makeups. We have different personalities. We have different histories. We live in different geographical areas. We belong to different social groups.
I’m a huge proponent of life experimentation. Be open to new ideas and experiences. Try things out. If there’s a positive outcome, keep doing it. If there’s a negative outcome, stop. Repeat.
Bruce Lee added a slight variation:
““Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”
If we applied this principle to all elements of our lives, we’d probably be a lot healthier, happier, and more effective human beings.
Unfortunately we don’t encourage each other to find their own path. Part of the problem lies with our tendency to justify our own behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and principles. This almost always manifests itself as a “I am right; you are wrong” approach to life. We insist on imposing our world view on others instead of having the confidence to do what we do regardless of others. We want people to agree with us because it affirms that we’re right.
Politics, religion, diet, education policy, breast feeding, censorship, violence on television, and the use of vaccines are a tiny sample of topics that elicit strong contradictory opinions. My Facebook friends are all-too-familiar with my fondness for sparking “discussions” about topics such as this. Why?
It amuses me.
Why does it amuse me?
I find the nature of belief to be fascinating, which is often displayed in the discussions. Of course, it can be difficult to discern given the frequency of juvenile humor and sarcasm. If people took me as seriously as took myself, there wouldn’t be a problem.
Anyway, I digress.
Unfortunately, the “do whatever works best for you” sentiment is rarely tossed out. Instead, we take a stance and bitterly defend it. Instead of viewing others’ behaviors and beliefs as an opportunity to learn new strategies to test, we see them as an affront to our own behaviors and beliefs. This judging has an effect. We impose our world view on others, which seriously impedes the willingness of others to self-experiment.
The recent rash of parent bloggers perfectly illustrates this point. A few months ago, it was the “iPhone at the park” mom. Recently it was the “mean dad at Cosco.” In both cases, a parent was calling out another parent for their parenting style. I had the same reaction to both posts:
“What the fuck are you smoking?!?”
It was clear both bloggers did not have the experience of parenting “spirited” children. Instead of responding with a “Heh. That parenting style amuses me”, they responded with outrage, which was really a thinly-veiled “My way is better than your way” response. They weren’t willing to give others the freedom to find their own way. They felt a need to impose their parenting style on others.
So what can we do?
Be open-minded. Try new stuff. Find your own path. Don’t admonish others because their path is different.
After all, George Sheehand and Bruce Lee couldn’t both be wrong.