Are my ideas alive?

May 22, 2024

I often find myself quoting other people. I enjoy finding the right quote for the moment. Like this one:

“Maybe our favorite quotations say more about us than about the stories and people we’re quoting.”

- John Green

Recently, I had a realization that struck me during conversation that I was essentially phoning in. I forget the context (which I guess adds to the point), but I mentioned about the existence of these Zen Gardens that I heard Alan Watts talk about in one of his lectures. These gardens are interesting in that each one has a small gate in the back that leads to another garden that is just as beautiful and serene as the last one. The idea is to open these gates, step into the garden, and appreciate its beauty. Then, if you feel like it, you walk towards the next gate and repeat the process all over until at some point you say, “Oh, I think I’ve had enough” and go back. My friend’s reaction to that was, “What if someone just ran through the whole thing?” My first instinct was to say, “Then they miss the whole point.” Yet, I didn’t say it and the longer I waited, the more palpable it became that it was the perfect needle to pop my pretentious balloon.

I believe that ideas and/or quotes have their lives of their own. They perform a much higher function than just being conversational or syntactic sugar, with my lived experience and the context having multiplying effects. Yet in some ways, they cannot be a proxy for having earned the perspective. This means that if I taped a banana to the wall, nobody is gonna give a damn about it, and rightfully so.

This brings to mind an anecdote from Naval about people coming up to him, talking about a profound insight they’ve had that they want to share with the world. Apparently, this happens quite a bit, and his usual response is something like: “Let’s get you rich first.”

However, if I take in something and feel it viscerally, would that count? Maybe that’s why the best liars, the ones that are so convincing, just really believe in their lies. Same with actors, who in service of the performance, literally morph their personality to become a character. Uncanny parallels, but all the more reason to point out.

So what can I make of all this? I think having a double standard might actually be beneficial here. Focus on my lived experience and really try to get a sense of an idea, checking its compatibility. On the flip side, when something is compatible, take the best out of the ideas and give them the time of day, even if they don’t come from the best places. Whatever that is.


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