Opinion: Live a Better Life by Being Indifferent

This isn’t esports related, but something I’ve been dwelling on over the past few days and I wanted to share my thoughts and hopefully benefit those who may come across this. Worst case, no one reads this but writing this better helps me verbalize my thoughts. Now, to the actual subject matter.

I recently came across a quote by a man from Rome over 2000 years ago.

“To live a good life: We have the potential for it. If we can learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference.” – Marcus Aurelius.

When coming across this, it made me think. The more I thought about it, the more I not only saw this quote as truth but also a principle I intend to develop in my own life. By being indifferent to what makes no difference, especially in our social media “every person needs to have an opinion on every situation, regardless of how much information, understanding or background they have in the subject” world, this couldn’t be more true.

Let’s talk about exactly what this quote means to me and provide examples of how the reverse is exceptionally toxic to one’s life.

The Meaning of the Quote

First, let’s break down what this quote means.

To live a good life: We have the potential for it.

The quote starts off by saying we have the capacity, the ability, to live a “good life”. we could dwell on how one may define a “good life”, but I don’t want to get too philosophical on the less important part of this quote. That said, my perspective in the case of this writing is when one’s days are beneficially impactful to the world, their time isn’t wasted in meaningless things and the person can self-qualify themselves at some degree of peace.

Your definition may be different, nor is my definition even something I am fully satisfied with at this point in my life, but that’s irrelevant to the topic of this post. What’s important is what comes next.

If we can learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference.

In order to fulfil the former part of this quote, we must meet the condition of the latter. The latter states that we must learn to be unconcerned by fruitless or meaningless subjects and situations.

What’s interesting and needs to be broken down further is the subjects that would “make no difference”, as it’s a very disputable topic. My take on this likely varies from yours, but hear me out on exactly why I feel this way and how that further accumulates to the truth of this quote.

What Makes no Difference?

From my understanding, this quote was intended to relate to situations in where the person may be reactive and emotional due to a consequence, where this reactive yields no fruits (or furthermore harms both the reactor and all involved). To further illustrate this, I pulled an excerpt from the Daily Stoic.

 Imagine if, when someone cut in front of you in line, you could respond with calm and a shrug of the shoulders. (It’s only an extra minute of waiting, right?) A coworker ticks you off—and you go about your day, unaffected. (It says more about them than you anyway) A cold and a sore throat—and you’re the same as you’ve always been, no complaints (Things could be worse)….

Things that make no difference, things that are outside your control, cease to affect you, and cease to bother you most of all. As a result, the circle of your attention and the problems that can disturb you becomes more limited and focused on items solely within your control.

This perspective is likely the intention of even the author, and I believe that perspective has a lot of merits. BUT, what if we took it a step further. What if we not only limited to situations, but also subjects and problems. What if we stopped thinking about and dwelling on topics that, even if we knew the correct answer, would make no meaningful impact to the world.

I may have lost you so far, besides we should know how we feel about things and do our best to understand the world. That’s the perspective I used to take as well, but really after long thought and meditation on the subject (which makes a difference to my life, haha), I made a 180 on my point of view.

My objective is to communicate that POV and hopefully help you may a turn in thought too (even if it’s not a hard 180 like I).

The Toxicity of Having Opinions

“Not having an opinion is a form of violence” is a statement I heard from a teacher in the Academy of Esports podcast in regards to an esports streamer’s decision to not make a statement in about the US Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. It’s funny how even businesses and brands need an opinion on everything in 2020.

But what value to the world does everyone having an opinion bring? Evidently, there is a lot of value in a democratic society for the general masses to have the right, or more accurate, opinion on subjects since as collectives, these opinions elect the leaders who will enact those opinions. Not to mention by someone such as a popular streamer voicing their opinion on something relevant such as BLM, their POV would have a direct impact on their viewers.

But what if their opinion was wrong? What if they thought that BLM was relatable to a terrorist group for their acts of vandalism and destruction to buildings as some conservatives would argue. Or what if they thought that BLM was pushing the world into a better direction, not fearing the requirement to act in order to accomplish enlighten values as Liberals argue. This specific topic to me doesn’t matter, and I have much better examples below, but for this case what constitutes the right answer?

We could break it down by comparing the losses and rewards, short term and long term impact. But people don’t do that. People tend to biasedly pull information that fits their pre-existing worldview, as Julia Galef, president of the Center of Applied Rationality, explained numerous times over our videos, book and lectures.

But, let’s assume humans didn’t do that (even though they do). How would one rationalize and determine what the long term and short term opinion on the matter? A rational way to approach it is by looking at the cost of damaged property, look at who’s property it is and those individual’s personal wealth, then conduct a study over the following weeks and months on how politics and laws have swayed as a result of those protests. Following that, we’d want to do look at the previous impacts of racial laws and politics prior to the protests, including the trend of growing or declining interests of the topic, to get a better understanding of the politics and law changes were inevitable or directly correlating to the protests. Following that, you now need to contrast the costs of the damages, the likely spreading of Covid-19 and the losses of life to its overall impact for the short-term and comprise projections of the long term.

Jeez, that’s a lot of work and basically impractical for most people. It’s probably not even the most complex or best way to look at it, it’s just what I could think of over 10 mins as I wrote that section without actually having any major background in economics, politics, behaviour psychology or social sciences. Let alone the fact that almost everyone wouldn’t put in that much effort even if they knew how.

But let’s say for the sake of argument you actually did go through that and actually mentally evaluated the most logical conclusion to this topic, WHO CARES. What impact on the world does exerting all that effort and energy into determining what is right actually impact on people. As we previously discussed, humans tend to biasedly pull information that fits their pre-existing worldview already. So even if you presented your evidence to your friends and family, the ones who’d oppose it would likely continue to oppose it unless you were not over compelling and charismatic, but also brought along hard numbers and facts (all while still failing to convince a large portion of your friends and family due to human’s innate biases).

All that assumes a premise that racial injustice is something still worth fighting for, the more laws and politics are focused on that the better. To some, arguing that opinion is absurd, while to others it may be perfectly rational why that isn’t the case (speaking further to how this opinion within the prior opinion also needs to be dissolved. And chances are, whatever you believed here already predicated your opinion about BLM, and this opinion was predicated on your group identity. Funny how actual reason is excluded from opinions, despite everyone being so confident they are right. Such as I am biasedly confident that I am right as I type this).

Now, with all that said, what was the return-on-investment (ROI). What did you actually accomplish and do by investing all this effort in researching, conducting evaluations and continuously presenting your findings to your limited peers? For most of us, the ROI isn’t there. You can simply determine if your ROI was worth the time by looking at how you spent your time, effort and money on this and comparing it to literally anything else in your life you could have invested that same time, effort and money into (likely think about your life’s purpose, side projects or any other priorities).

If the ROI is there, such as if you were a researcher, social scientist or politician, then it’s even more important for you to go through a logical deduction of the subjects at hand. But since 99% of us are not, we could have actually been improving the lives of ourselves, our close ones, the community and the world by doing something actually impactful, something that actually makes a difference.

An additional exception is if that opinion actually has a direct impact on your life or business, in which the ROI is greater long term as the outcome will significantly affect your life. This includes, but not limited to, religious views, an ethical view that correlates directly with something you do on a consistent basis or in relation to a skill that would benefit you or your community.

In addition to the faulty ROI, you also put yourself just at a disadvantage of determining the truth when your background is not in subjects that directly correlate to the subjects being discussed. I better elaborate on this point in example 1 below.

Hopefully that had you at least started to think about the value of being indifferent about popular topics that you have no say in. I’d be the first to admit the BLM example wasn’t the best possible example I could have used, so I included 2 more below. That said, if you follow along so far and agree with this POV, feel free to skip them and go to the conclusion of this post.

Example 1 – Employee MinimumWages

Going to keep this much shorter. Employee minimum wages is something I’ve spent wayyy too much time dwelling on, which is funny since regardless of what I conclude, I will literally change no government law or impact anyone’s thoughts on the matter.

All arguments by all sides make sense. The conservatives, neoliberals and libertarians would all make the argument that an increase of minimum wage results in fewer jobs, less ability to hire unskilled workers and companies that depend on paying employees low wages, such as restaurants, will close. When worded like that and without previous exposure to the topic, it makes logical sense.

The liberals, communists and socialists would all argue that by increasing wages for the lowest wage earners, they will have more money to spend on businesses such as restaurants, not closing restaurants but helping them flourish, all while further helping families and the lower class. Also a very logical view, yet both parties clash and neither would give in. Given both points of view, how does one determine what’s right?

With calculations, using behavioural science, creating simulations and case studies, leveraging historical evidence and I’m sure a lot more. That said, most people won’t since the ROI isn’t there. Furthermore, most people wouldn’t even be able to do much of that. Most people are extremely uninformed by many topics, including myself. Not to a fault of their own, but due to the nature of life. I’m no economist, historian, behavioural scientist or engineer (that is creating simulations) to do any of the following. Why are the masses forming their opinion based on hearsay and weightless statements over hard numbers from economists, which evidently should be our focus as increasing or decreasing wages is all a numbers game.

Economists are flip-flop on the subject, arguing for both sides, but let the economists who know what they are talking about and live finances deal with the question of finances. You don’t need me spewing what I believe when my background is not a masters in economics, but a diploma in esports business.

But again, even if I had the right answer, I WOULD NEVER DO ANYTHING IMPACTFUL about the minimum wage situation. I can voice my opinion to the limited people who can hear it, but most wouldn’t change their minds even if I did.

Example 2 – The Future of Crypto

Last example to send the point home. Everyone talks about crypto and it really annoys me (idk why honestly). There’s all this discussion about the future of crypto, but guess what, your opinions and thoughts on crypto will make no difference in the future of crypto.

The only times you should be researching this or debating this is if you are looking to leverage the future of crypto from an investment standpoint or if you are considering using Crypto in your business as currency. That was at one point, 3 years ago, all that happened, but as fads grow, even those that will never touch Crypto or who may put in $500 and waste a much of time waiting to double or triple it (which inevitably will make them almost no money), will endlessly debate of crypto and how it will change in the future.

Here’s an idea, accept reality as it is, as it will be what it is, and do something impactful with your time instead of debating the irrelevant.

Should You Simply Not Learn or Think About Anything Outside Impactful?

Quick answer: No, learn the basics of all things that indirectly or directly affect you to best understand how you should navigate through life and when you must form an opinion.

To further elaborate this, let’s say you never learned about credit because you had all the money you ever needed. Well let’s say one day you urgently needed to do something with credit and couldn’t spare time to research, you are out of luck but to work on your limited knowledge. The same could be said about all avenues of life. Learn sciences to understand if something you hear about spirituality and religion clashes against or works with scientific laws and theories. Learn behaviour science to help you deal with people in interactions, business, negotiation and conversation, even if it isn’t currently helpful or may seem overly impactful to you at this moment.

I could go on and on with things you should learn. That said, don’t get consumed by forming an opinion on everything, just accept the facts and latest research done by the professionals that breathe and sleep their subject matter.

With all I said, the biggest issue left is the matter of voting. That’s an issue with a democratic government, it not only requires the general public to have an opinion, IT SOLEY DEPENDS ON IT (which is why politicians have to rely on media coverage, propaganda, group think and virtue signalling). Do I think democracy is good or bad, well I’ll stay indifferent in what makes no difference 🙂

But to that, I say leave it to the bias masses who will waste their time and mental energy concluding what is the best based on other bias sources. I’m convinced that even if the world reads this, almost everyone whose worldview doesn’t align with these points will discard this through their own rationality with a small exceptional being open to the concept. I can say this since I do this all the time.

I’m not worried that governments don’t run properly if I or a tiny minority focus on what’s important to us, and neither should you be.

I’m hoping to be indifferent to what makes no difference, there is much work required considering my current tendency to overthink everything, but I’m of the opinion that this will positively impact my life and indirectly my community. That’s an opinion that matters.