SOMETIMES, the endless complexity of human behavior can really get on my nerves. The avoidance soaked communication, the chronic lack of backbone, the inability to be bored and the false and bullshit-ridden life choices that stem more from fear than desire.
And it gets on my nerves the most when I realize all of it applies to me.
Nobody’s special, and everyone sucks.
The downside of being a highly-evolved species is that our brains have a habit of overcomplicating everything. Where behavior should be simple, it is a maze. Where communication should be clear, it is a Jackson Pollock painting. Where life decisions should be guided by true values and happiness, they’re instead guided by insecurity, doubt, and emotional wounds.
The downside of being human is that our complexity can make our lives suck.
But beyond our intellectual superiority, sometimes it pays to remember that at our core we are just animals.
We shit, we mate, we seek food, and we seek shelter. The variety is far greater, but the drivers are all the same. And with this in mind, perhaps it pays to look at animals for some insight into how an animal, even one that appears as different as ourselves, ought to live.
ANIMALS EXPRESS THEIR NEEDS CLEARLY
When we want something strongly, it seems like the last decision we come to is to express the desire for that directly. We look for ways to avoid expressing our desires directly, and instead engineer ways for them to be met.
When I was younger, to get me to do some kind of chore, my parents would explain how there would be some kind of issue in the house, but instead of asking me to do it would go on some explanation about how they’d have to suffer getting it fixed; all so that I’d volunteer my efforts.
It was a headache.
The indirect method of expressing desires comes from a fear that the desire might be turned down, and nowhere is this more apparent when rejection is on the line. Almost every time a friend comes and talks to me about their relationship issues, one of my first questions is “have you talked to your partner about this?”
And usually, the answer is no. It was certainly the case when ‘that friend’ was me.
Instead of being upfront about what they want within their relationship, and being clear and direct, they have been approaching the problem in a roundabout way, having fights that are tangential and unrelated, but never once actually discussing their problem and being upfront about the pain of their unmet needs.
It’s a stupid way to live.
When an animal you own wants food, or comfort, or water, or for you to look at the slaughtered mouse corpse that it just brought before you, it tends to walk right up to you and make these desires known.
Typically, by screaming in your face or rubbing its ass on you. And usually, by falling victim to the big Puss N’ Boots eyes, you do exactly what it wants.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that animals actually have a more intelligent way of communicating than we do, and it might pay to use a little more of their directness in our own lives.
There’s no real trick to this, you just need to be upfront about what you want. Maybe it’s something you need from a friend or family member, or maybe it’s something bigger, like support from your partner, or a more passionate sex life.
You just know what you want, and you talk about it directly.
ANIMALS EXPRESS THEIR BOUNDARIES EVEN CLEARER
One of the things we try to avoid the most is conflict with other people. We do this because we don’t want to be socially humiliated, we don’t want to hurt the other person, or we don’t want ourselves to be hurt.
But because of the intrinsic link between establishing boundaries and conflict, our avoidance of the latter leads to a failure of the former.
And here’s the kicker: we avoid conflict because we are vain. We avoid conflict because we care more about what other people think than we do our own values and our own sense of how we’d like to be treated.
And what happens as a result? Our boundaries get walked all over, and we get treated badly.
One of the sad realities of human beings is that they tend to take advantage of someone that doesn’t make it clear what they will and won’t tolerate. And because these people are vain; their response is usually to complain about how people don’t respect them or that they’re inherently worthless or being victimized.
But the reality is usually very different. It’s not that other people don’t respect them, it’s that they don’t respect themselves, and as a result, they have unsatisfying relationships.
In the workplace, this could be the boss that micromanages the shit out of you. In your friendships, this could be that friend that always casually insults you. In your relationship, this could be the partner who always cancels plans that are important to you.
In any of these examples, the solution is simple. You let them know it’s not fucking okay.
His life looks better than mine.
Think about anytime you’ve gone near a dog’s yard, or maybe picked up a cat that wasn’t interested.
What did it do?
I’d bet that it screamed, and I’d bet that it attacked you.
When an animal is treated in a way it doesn’t enjoy, it immediately lets you know and makes it clear what is tolerated and what is not tolerated. In fact, the delineation between the two couldn’t be clearer.
Happy: Purring, or some form of affectionate noise. Unhappy: Growing, hissing, clawing, barking.
You’d have to be a colossal dumbass not to know where you stand.
But as with the case of expressing our needs, we often fall short in comparison to animals when it comes to expressing what we will and won’t tolerate; we suck at expressing our boundaries.
Now, you don’t have to growl and hiss (although I’m not gonna stop you), but you have to be clear about what it is you aren’t okay with. Just as you should be letting people know what you want, you should be upfront about letting them know what you don’t.
Often, the results are surprising. Your relationships improve and everyone’s happier. Sometimes they don’t, and you have to leave them behind.
ANIMALS KNOW THAT LIFE IS DEFINED BY SILENCE
It seems like it’s impossible to escape noise. That is the noise inside our minds. The collating and communicating, the ruminating on the information we’ve consumed throughout the day, and the endless management of emotion.
And if we’re bored, it gets even worse.
My brain has been trained by my awful habits to require a veritable salvo of stimulus in order to keep it entertained. Music blasted into my ears, the scrawl of social media or a couple of hours of time vanished into a youtube marathon.
My brain always needs something going on.
And it sucks. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In my article, The Do Nothing Paradox, I praised idleness as the font of creativity. That it is in those moments, where we let go of the need to be stimulated, and allow ourselves to just take in the world around us; allow ourselves to do nothing, and sit in silence, that we experience the most important flickers of creativity that can drive the strongest decisions in our lives.
A few years ago, at my hostel in Brazil, there was this large, ginger street-cat with mottled fur, who would climb up to the corrugated iron roof and cook himself in the midday heat. He was always completely alone, and he didn’t have a care in the world.
He would do this day in, day out, and he was always completely happy.
Watching animals like the one pancaking on that roof, it becomes immediately clear how little stimulus they require. When they want to hunt, they explore their environment; when they have nothing to do, they sit and watch, or they sleep.
Their lives, through their lack of complication, allows their way of living to be incredibly simple and as a result, their minds are extremely clear.
Schopenhauer said the mind is like a spring, too much pressure and it loses its power; to maintain it’s abilities, you have to release that pressure from time to time.
Does this not ring true today? We are surrounded by a constant stream of information flowing directly into our brains, which affects our ability to make a decision and think clearly. We’re left dulled, foggy, and underperforming.
If we take the example from the animal kingdom and embrace those moments where we can do nothing and switch off, we can allow our brains to sift through that information in silence, and come to the decision we were deafening ourselves from making.
ANIMALS FOLLOW THEIR CURIOSITY
In our lives, we often sell ourselves short in our approach to curiosity. Instead of following it, we look for some kind of certainty or guarantee that the object of our curiosity will result in what we want.
We never attempt our business idea because we don’t know if it would work. We never talk to the girl we like because we don’t know if she’s interested. We never write the book, risk the audition, sing on stage or quit our job because we just don’t know what’s going to happen, and the lack of knowledge terrifies us.
But here’s the thing. We will never know.
We just have to try.
When we have dreams and ambitions, we hold a clear image in our mind of what we want our lives to be, but we often don’t pursue them because of how we perceive that pursuit as likely to end.
By this I mean, we usually see ourselves failing. And it is that fear of failing that stops us trying.
In the animal kingdom, predatory animals (like ourselves) are designed to explore their territory, expand their boundaries and investigate any difference in what they know is the norm.
They approach curiosity openly, without any preconceived conclusion, because they are aware it could lead to an opportunity that could enhance their lives.
When we, like predatory animals, open ourselves up to our curiosity, we invite into our lives opportunities that were not already there. For predators, this might be a kill or a mate; but for us, this could be a new relationship, our own business, or our first successful creative venture.
Where we go wrong is that when we approach our dreams we look for what will guarantee the achievement of the outcome we want; but because we can never find this, we never attempt them in the first place.
The essential element isn’t some certainty of outcome, the essential element is the uncertainty, and being okay with that uncertainty and doing it anyway.
It’s in being endlessly curious, stepping into uncertainty, and allowing your life to grow in ways you could never expect.