How I don't get frustrated at anything

Some moderately bad things happened, and I ended up dropping the English Composition class that I was taking. (I'm still considering what to replace it with – maybe another English Comp from a different professor, maybe another class entirely.) I'm not going to go into the details, but it was bad. So you might assume that I'd still be frustrated about it. But, I'm totally not! This post is about how I manage to not stay frustrated about things.

Now, you might be thinking “Aha! Eli probably has some sort of magical brain difference where ze just doesn't get frustrated in the first place!”, which would be a good guess because my brain has lots of awesome powers, but no. A long time ago, I did have a tendency to get really frustrated by stuff, and now I don't, because I learned some new strategies. These strategies wouldn't work for everyone, but they work for me.

Let's take an example!

Case 1: Suppose there's a class that I have to take (probably a grade-school class, not a college class). And in the classroom, there is a buzzing insect. “BUZZ. BUZZ. I WILL ANNOY YOU AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE,” says the insect. It makes me frustrated as all hell. I just wanted to take the class without an insect, but I'm stuck with the insect, which is horrible.

Case 2: Suppose there's a class that I can take if I want to, but don't have to take (probably a summer class that doesn't offer credit I need for anything). And I know there's an insect that hangs around in the room (pretend we can't get rid of it for some reason). But if I go to the class knowing there's an insect there, I'll be thinking “Okay, I know that thing is there, so I can deal with it.”

See the difference here? In Case 1, I'm comparing “class without insect” to “class with insect”, so I'm annoyed because I got the worse option. In Case 2, I'm comparing “no class” to “class with insect”. If I go to class, I must have decided that “class with insect” was the better option. Since I decided that I was okay with not taking the class, I must logically be okay with taking the class with the insect, since it's better than something I already knew I was okay with.

I stopped being frustrated with things when I decided that I'm never in Case 1 and always in Case 2. I can always choose to leave the class.

What if I need the class to graduate? I can always choose not to graduate.

What if the law says I have to take the class? I can always choose to break the law. It has downsides, but it's still an option on the table. Because...

What if I need to do the frustrating thing in order to survive? I can always choose not to survive.

So I ask myself, “Which would I prefer: To die, or to live?” And then I think “Given the ways of living available to me, I think I'd rather live. So let's figure out the best way to handle it.”1 And dying is basically just nothing, and nothingness is a neutral thing, not a negative thing. Which implies that, since I choose to live, my life must be good. Not just “okay”, but good!

I'm glad my life is good, and I wish more people had good lives!2

Oh, another thing!

I have this concept that I call “freedom through obligation”.

Sounds like a contradiction, right?

Think about the idea of “freedom of speech”. Literally, it means that you're free to express whatever opinion you want. But, well, most people literally are physically capable of saying whatever they want, so what does it really mean? Or, to put it another way – freedom from what?

I suppose it means freedom from negative consequences of speech.

But that's ridiculously impossible. The point of stating an opinion is to affect other people in some way, and affecting people will always have consequences. If there weren't consequences, there'd be no reason to do it. And along with the good consequences, there can be bad consequences. Even if you won't get arrested for saying the wrong thing, you might still end up annoying someone who might otherwise have hired you for a job. Or you might convince someone to follow their dreams, when they were planning to give you lots of money instead. Or whatever.

So, as long as you're paying attention to the consequences, you never have complete, free-wheeling freedom of speech.

But here comes the “obligation” part of freedom through obligation. Suppose you were forced to ignore the consequences, using mind control or something. Then you'd have complete freedom: you would never even think about the consequences, and so you'd end up deciding to say what you innately want to say. That's ironic, of course, because normally having an extra obligation restricts your freedom. But in this case, one freedom interferes with another.

Here's a simpler example: I had a bad habit once – something like cracking my knuckles. Then I decided not to do it anymore, and I stopped. By taking away my freedom to pursue short-term comfort (by continuing the habit), I gained the freedom to choose which long-term habits I keep and which ones I discard. Once again – freedom through obligation.

This blog is similar to the first example. It's public and has my name attached, so people can discriminate against me in real life for the things I say here. But I'm sworn to ignore their discrimination, so I can say whatever I want to say. It's similar to my moral principles, actually. I will not do something I know to be evil, even if I benefit a lot from doing so – and I will not compromise my voice, even if I benefit a lot from doing so.

Wait, what does that have to do with the first thing?

They're both about the idea of leaving undesirable options on the table, and the idea of how you choose between two undesirable options.

Let's say you have a moral principle. Like, “I will not kick dogs; kicking dogs is completely evil and depraved”. And then you go to university for four years, and you're about to graduate, and then the president of your university decides to establish a policy that every student, as part of zir graduation ceremony, must kick a dog, or else ze won't receive a diploma. If you took “drop out” off the table, then you're now stuck with kicking the dog and living with the guilt for the rest of your life. And you (well, some people) can be sucked into doing that even if you think “don't kick dogs” is your highest principle. At that moment, you aren't thinking about your principles – you're thinking “I need to finish this ceremony”. But if you're ever-conscious of your ability to drop out, even in the middle of your graduation, then you have the power to uphold your principles, because it's just a matter of taking the option that's better than the other option. Not kicking the dog was what you were obligated to do, while graduating was something you merely would have liked to do.

And, um, that might have been this blog's most ridiculous analogy yet!

On a less ridiculous note, I should probably tell you how this stuff affected my interactions with the abusive adults from my grade schools (in this case, ages 10-14). But this post has gone on long enough, and telling you about them probably deserves its own post.

– Eli

  1. Unfortunately, this might not work for you if some bits of your brain are yelling “No! I'd rather die!”. Works for me, though; I've had suicidal thoughts in the past, but even then, most of the bits of my brain were good at cooperating with each other, so they could think clearly despite that. back
  2. Note that this does not imply that my life as a whole has been good, just that my life at the current moment is good. The fact that my life is good now does not make it okay that my former selves suffered a lot. back
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