I trained myself to respect and revere objective, logical, and dispassionate analysis.
I idealised an approach that takes all the personal meaning and enjoyment out of a subject, holding it carefully in check until the facts are verified and any risk of falsehood or misinterpretation is eliminated.
I made personal satisfaction subordinate to external validation.
Philosophy demands the most severe internal criticism of our own beliefs. We are supposed to be our own harshest critics, because that is the path to real knowledge and understanding.
But I ventured into philosophy not because I loved what I found there, but because I saw it as the best place to continue my search.
I couldn’t relate to philosophers who specialised in the works of some entirely mundane and spiritually dry thinker, because I didn’t understand differences in individual temperament.
I didn’t realise that most philosophers were intellectuals building careers out of their areas of interest and priding themselves on the quality of their thinking.
There’s a big difference between “I love being right!” and “I’m terrified of being wrong”, yet the latter is how I related to the more choleric philosophers I met, those who were most keen to be at the forefront of contemporary thought.
My motivation was more of a search for answers arising from a deeply spiritual orientation driven by the burdens of a dysfunctional formative life coupled with my melancholic temperament.
I had little actual interest in philosophy unless it fed into my search directly or indirectly via the intellectual skills that were supposed to lead to truth.
But this isn’t really about philosophy. It’s about my deeper sense that all my beliefs, thoughts and actions are open to scrutiny and I must find external validation for them if I expect to avoid censure, criticism, or mockery. Philosophy merely presented a pathway to validation.
So how am I to authentically express myself when I’ve internalised the need for external validation?
It is frustrating beyond belief to feel as if every thought and every word must pass through a filter and be denatured before I can communicate it.
I’m afraid that if I don’t filter, my own words will be used against me. So the onus is on me to ensure that everything I say and do can be defended against.
Which means I’m expecting someone – maybe everyone – to turn against me at any time, if I give them the ammunition.
I used to find satisfaction in ensuring that my articles were watertight. Using my philosophical training I was careful to couch everything in appropriately modest terms, never over-reaching.
It’s a worthwhile discipline in the right context, learning to replace empty assertions with “if you accept this premise, then you must at least agree that my conclusions are reasonable”.
But the process itself is wearisome and grounded in anxiety and fear of humiliation. The satisfaction is merely in being unassailable, not in having truly expressed myself.
What does authentic self-expression look like for me?
I think it must be devoid of fear, the kind of fear that leads to self-censorship and the deadening compulsion to research, double-check, qualify and hedge.
I think it must also be driven by some kind of inner need for exploration and development of my own thoughts and ideas – a genuinely pressing desire to work something out.
After all, that’s what is most satisfying in my own life. Working out the answers that are most meaningful to me.
99% of the writing I do each day is my own, for my own personal meaning and with myself as the audience.