Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Two Types of Foolishness

Originally posted on October 5, 2011

My point here is that worry and grumpiness are forms of folly that are remarkably seductive. They feel entirely plausible in the moment, so if you’re not alert, they’ll fool you. (A good deal of foolishness or folly comes from fooling yourself with thoughts and emotions that seem okay, but on reflection from the perspective of your wiser self, they are destructive of your long-term goals and optimal relationships.)

So, the first type of seduction is the draw of worry, negative thinking. This is the seemingly plausible illusion that if you anticipate all that might go wrong, you can do something to prevent it. It is the frontal lobes of the brain in action, and in certain circumstances, such as the planning of a military campaign or a space ship project, this kind of thinking is eminently adaptive. However, once successful, it tends to be overused and applied magically to all sorts of situations in which worry is life-depleting—i.e., most situations. Learning to notice when such thoughts pop up and noticing the context heightens discrimination and wisdom. Developing skills of turning away into positive thinking, appreciations, noticing the “now,” and the like offer a good counter-balance to this tendency.

The second, and in a way, related seduction is grumpiness.  This is a variation on worry. The mind notices things in which a measure of indignation is appropriate—many things are if not unacceptable then at least less-than-perfect. The forebrain again at work. Applied in things like watch-making, a measure of precision and higher standards can make the difference between a good and a bad job. But grumpiness is an overgeneralization of this skill and again magically serves the fantasy that making a sour face and banging the table will result in substantial political changes in Washington or the World.  It’s better to notice this temptation to seek symbolic and immediate gratification rather than either turning toward cheerfulness or taking more meaningful political action. Most often, grumpiness can become a habit of mind-body that offers little private fantasies of revenge, retribution, and triumph—all unconscious—while in actuality just annoying everyone near and dear and depleting the quality of life.

I believe that one of the challenges for this century is to become more sharply aware that the struggle in life is not against the outside enemy but rather the inner enemy who pretends to be your best friend. This complex is not so much evil in intent as childish, seeking the easy way, the magical way. Still, its power is significant, because habits of thought become allied with the amplifying unconscious (which I described last January) and together they are as seductive as whatever dynamic makes dreams in the moment (while you’re dreaming) seem quite believable.

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