I had not seen Jorge for more than a month because his driving route had been temporarily changed to make up for a coworker’s vacation schedule. So it was really good to visit him again.
My friend said he has been spending too much of his time on the road listening to talk radio. Jorge noticed a change in his personality developing after listening to so much propaganda. Even his fellow truck drivers began commenting on his changing attitudes. That’s when he switched off the radio and returned to his practice of driving in silence or with instrumental music playing on the truck stereo.
He replied that not only have his coworkers and his husband noticed that Jorge’s “old self” has returned, he feels happier and more aware again. He said his life has turned around for the better now that he has distanced himself from the chatter of propaganda.
I asked my friend to elaborate about his definition of propaganda.
Jorge said that his view of propaganda coincides with the accepted definition that it is the spreading of information that promotes or degrades certain ideas, ideals, or people. Propaganda sneaks up on us and affects how we see life and the world around us.
What did he mean by that statement?
Jorge said we could look at social media like Facebook and Twitter. We encounter an alternate universe where gossip is called news; flattery is love; pity is mistakenly called compassion; lack of war is falsely called peace. In effect propaganda is called “being informed”.
I agreed and mentioned that we are awash in propaganda all day, every day. My comment triggered a philosophical thought from my friend.
“We are slaves when we give the job of defining reality to someone or something else. It might be our workplace or occupational norms or a political party or ideology. Some of us allow religion, philosophy, or an economic theory to define who we are.”
I mentioned that we had had that discussion a few years ago. I was glad he brought up the subject again.
Jorge remarked about the first years of his adult life. “I spent my 20s and 30s worrying about paying the rent, the utilities, groceries, car payments. Would I ever find somebody to love? These are things a lot of people worry about. When you’re caught up in the everyday stuff of life, you don’t have much time to really know yourself. The struggle pollutes your self-image.”
This scenario was my reality, too. I added that my profession required that I put on a “socially acceptable public face”. I spent many years trying to please others by toning down my opinions, and conforming to what I thought my audience wanted from me.
I reminded Jorge that both of us have gone down the self-help rabbit hole trying to find and define ourselves that way.
Jorge smiled while mentioning that we dived into religion, read the right books, volunteered for the right charities, ate the right foods, performed the right workouts. Doing so, we became too self-centered. While trying to find ourselves, we missed out on becoming part of society.
I added that on those occasions when we tried to be part of society, we did so in superficial ways. Trying to fit in, was also not a wise thing to do.
Jorge said that whatever we did, we did so without the benefit of really knowing ourselves. We thought we were actively engaged in life, but we were really just passive lifestyle consumers.
I remembered something important that my high school English teacher told the class. It went something like this: When you die, your family, friends and others who think they knew the true you will concoct stories about you. They will gloss over some stuff, and over-emphasize other stuff. If you want other people to know who you are, write it down first. If you, yourself, want to know who you are, write it down first.
Jorge gave an example as to how this is true. He remembers the eulogy given at his paternal grandfather’s funeral.
Jorge noticed that the most important parts of his grandpa’s life were not mentioned. The man depicted in the eulogy was not the beloved grandpa Jorge knew. We can go through the motions of trying to know ourselves. We can listen to the most hip motivational speakers, read the latest self-help books, practice the newest techniques and yet not really know ourselves. We end up like a cat chasing his own tail.
Knowing oneself is not something we can acquire. It is not attained by comparing oneself with others. It doesn’t happen when we condemn or praise others. We don’t know ourselves when weighing various aspects of certain ideologies and belief systems. We don’t know ourselves when we become attached to certain points of view. We are full to the brim with data, opinions, beliefs, knowledge, and stubborness. We do our best to find ways to validate all of them.
To know ourselves, we must observe ourselves. Pay attention to what we say, do, and believe. Take actual notes with pen and paper. Be honest. Don’t believe your own propaganda, be forthright yet not cruel. Pay attention to the talk inside your head. Be aware of it then let go of it. Get into the moments of mental silence, but make no mental commentary because that obliterates the silence.
For however short may be the time your mind is quiet, simply experience it. Don’t force it. Just be with it. Then you will know yourself.