On Relationships

Relationships are portrayed in our culture as indicative of our self worth; we have become conditioned to desire relationships even when we are not truly sure that they are the best for us.

The desire for romance is evolutionary. It is due to the human need to procreate and pass on our genes. Raising a human child requires not only sex but also much effort on the part of both parents. Evolutionarily, we form attachment bonds with our parents and with our partners because of the effort needed to raise children.

Because we live in a much more complex society than that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the concept of a relationship has become relatively more convoluted, namely, the association between being in a relationship and having a higher self worth. I find that media is one of the most powerful influences on everything we believe, and we’ve been fed media creating this connection from Disney films in our childhood to the angsty Netflix comedies or badass James Bond movies that we partake in now. And because most believe in this idea, we are further conditioned to buy into this conception by the influence of our peers.

However, this conditioning is maladaptive and wrong.

It is better to be single than to enter any relationship that is not serious because there is no point in being with someone for the sake of being with someone. Why? Well, think about this. Does being with someone truly mean that you are loved by them? Not necessarily. The word relationship in and of itself is just a label. The meaning is created by the people who enter it. And if the people who enter are not serious, and they are trying to use the relationship as a means for companionship to fulfill some deep loneliness or insecurity, then their relationship is meaningless. Entering it will harm both parties and almost certainly result in a break up because they both entered the relationship not out of caring for each other.

When it comes to understanding people and evaluating their true intentions and their heart, do not look at the words they say but rather the way they say it. Plenty of people are too generous with their words. They say things they do not mean. They give compliments out because compliments are free, inconsequential. If someone tells you that you are hot, attractive, or whatever plethora of words people use to compliment another’s looks, it means nothing because those words do not offer a window into the heart of the person saying them. And they are free for words do not require much cost for anyone to say. If people had to pay a substantial amount of money for every compliment they gave or receive some other type of punishment, then people would be a lot more conservative with the words they say.

Therefore to evaluate what someone is actually feeling, it is best to look at their nonverbal cues and to look at their cognitive patterns and their actions. Cognitive patterns are vital because everyone has different personalities and different meanings behind their actions. Therefore, much misunderstanding will ensue if one evaluates their partner or friend based on the societal norm for a person fulfilling that role. Instead, one must evaluate through that individual’s own patterns. Nonverbal cues are vital as they betray the person’s true intentions; it is significantly harder to hide who you are through those. This applies not only to evaluating a potential partner’s intentions, but also a friend’s.

One could have many friends, but if a large portion of those friends do not truly care and are simply there under the label of “friend” then there is no point to the friendship either. Both individuals would again be using each other to try to fulfill some other insecurity that cannot be truly fulfilled through having this fake friendship. That is why the only criteria for friendship should be realness.

Our society tells us that extraversion is the ideal, that knowing many people will allow us to be happy. However, this is not truly the case. Quality over quantity.

To live a truly satisfying life, we should understand ourselves, evaluate our choices and the reasons behind them. If we are entering relationships–be they romantic or friendly–for the wrong reasons, we should evaluate why and find the proper solution to our problems. Oftentimes societal conventions are made to make our lives easier, but not all of them are beneficial to us. Therefore, we must be careful in choosing which to follow in order to live a life that is truly satisfying. These insecurities related to self-worth must be resolved through introspection rather than companionship.

Because lives all have an end date, the only way to make meaning in life is to be always cognizant of what truly makes us happy, something that we can only become aware of through understanding ourselves. We should complete ourselves before finding someone else to be with because relationships are healthiest when both parties are complete.

A Meristocracy

Recently, I’ve been pondering about the concepts of meritocracy and aristocracy. Some people passionately tell me that the world is a meritocracy, whereas others fervently argue that the world is an aristocracy.

When people talk about a meritocracy, they mean a society in which those who have the highest “merit,” a combination of inborn talents and self-cultivated motivation to work, succeed, or, in other words, attain the highest levels of some combination of fame, money, and power. An aristocracy, on the other hand, is defined, in the modern day, as a society in which the elite, those born with the most money and belong to a family that has the longest history of power, succeed.

But, in reality, what exactly are we?

What we think we are and when

From my observations, I’ve noticed that, in general, what we think our society is–that is whether or not we buy into the idea of a meritocracy or view the world as an aristocracy– relies heavily on our levels of success, as exemplified by the following story of two men–Jim and Joe. 

Jim grew up in a middle class family with loving but strict parents and had access to good public education. After graduating high school, he is admitted to a good university and completes it with the help of financial aid and student loans.

Joe grew up in a rich family with very relaxed parents and had access to the best private schools, starting from pre-school. After graduating high school, he matriculates into the same university as Jim did, with his tuition fully covered by his parents.

When Joe and Jim graduate, they enter the work force in search of jobs. Both men start off feeling enthusiastic about their job prospects. However, Jim slowly becomes disillusioned when he sees that he is consistently getting significantly fewer job offers than his equally qualified classmate, Joe. Jim complains about the obviously unjust favoritism of the elite and the aristocratic nature of our society. On the other hand, Joe, who gets into nearly every job he applies to, thinks it is because of his hard work on perfecting his resumes and his high intelligence– in short: his merit.

Fast forward thirty years.

Jim has a high-paying managerial position at a well-known technology firm and considers himself successful. He has lots of money, a bit of power, and a pinch of fame. Consequentially, Jim’s perception of the world has shifted significantly. Jim more readily believes that success is a consequence of merit than he used to.

Incidentally, he now buys into the idea that our world is a meritocracy. Sure, Jim thinks he credits his success due to other factors, but on a deeper level he doesn’t really believe that these other factors made nearly as much of a difference as did his hard work and inherent talents. Although Jim was once middle class, he is now part of the upper-middle class and argues against giving away so much of his tax money to help the needy because he thinks that he was once ‘only middle class’ and was able to make it out.

Like Jim, the vast majority of us have heard the argument against the existence of the “good ole American Dream” of going from rags to riches through hard work and have observed situations in which there is blatant abuse of power by the country’s richest. However, we only actively believe that there are fallacies in the equation- success is equal to hard work times innate talent when we don’t perform well.

In other words, many of us perceive the world as a meritocracy when we succeed, but as an aristocracy when we fail.

Why is this so?

I think an explanation for this phenomenon lies in the culture in which the majority of us were raised. Children are often praised by both authority figures: parents, teachers, and coaches, and by peers: friends, classmates, and siblings when they excel in academics and win awards. And on the reverse side, children are reprimanded when they fail, either by explicit expressions of disapproval by others or by feeling left out when the successful children are given more attention and praise than them.

Thus, we grow up believing that our self worth is tied to our intelligence, performance, and work ethic. Furthermore, because humans are group animals and care about attention from and opinions of others, this reward-punishment system conditions children to associate doing well with positive emotions and doing poorly with negative emotions.

As a result, when things don’t go well, we elect to blame something outside of our control for dashing our chances at success; in doing so, we can evade dips in self-confidence and overwhelmingly undesirable emotions of sorrow and worthlessness that go hand-in-hand with them. However, when we fail too often, we eventually do doubt our senses of self-worth and descend into depression. Although we react differently in those times and look down on ourselves, our perception of the world as tipped against our favor still holds true.

On the other hand, due to the same reason, when things do go well, we often attribute it to our “merits” because we yearn to feel a sense of pride in ourselves and relish in the glory of being the object of others’ envies.

A meristocracy

If I had to use the meritocracy and aristocracy terms to describe our world, I’d say it is a meristocracy, a mixture of both.

However, a better way to think about it is to think of our world as a combination of a traditional aristocracy and an aristocracy of genes and psychological wellbeing, for a meritocracy of the traditional sense is not really as fair as it is commonly perceived to be.

Many factors of one’s ability to have high success are either genetically determined or determined by the environment’s impact on personality and psychological wellbeing. Also, these environmental factors are inseparable from the idea of traditional aristocracy because the role models that one is exposed to in real life and in the media, the education that one is presented with, etc. are largely based on the socioeconomic class in which one is born and affect people in not only a commonly-known-about, quantifiable sense but also in a psychological manner.

For instance, it is a well-known fact that people’s aspirations in life are swayed by their role models. As such, someone who grows up in a poor place, regardless of race, will see success as much more unattainable than someone from a richer place because he/she don’t know anyone in real life who made it out and also feels discouraged by the culture of the region that is centered around hand-to-mouth existence. This phenomenon is, of course, true to different degrees depending on the particular region’s levels of crimes, strength in education, etc. and the parental upbringing that is afforded to the child. Generally, if the parents convince the child that getting out is truly possible and push the child to strive for education than maybe the child will have a larger chance to succeed than one that doesn’t have that structure and support. Also, if the child is fortunate enough not to have friends or family members in drug dealing or in gangs, they will also have, in general, a larger chance to not be sucked into a cycle of failure and poverty.

Troubles with a meristocracy

A meristocracy generates feelings of inadequacy in lots of people and gives some an unfair advantage over others. It also is very self-sufficient as it conditions the next generation to believe in it and perpetuate the cycle.

Currently, I know of no good solution to this way our world works, but I feel that one way to lessen the negative feelings and people’s propensity to get depression is through revolutionizing the education system to get rid of rankings and grades and the like, and to instead have students focus on discovery and experimentation. I really like some of Einstein’s ideas on this point–cultivate fascination rather than a necessity to work just for traditional ideals of success.