Category Archives: Philosophy

Can you See Yourself as Others Do?

In this post I will describe self-destructive things I have seen in other people, not to build myself up, but because I know I have these blind spots and you probably do too, and these stories may help us better understand each other. We all seem to have difficulty seeing our own weaknesses and destructive habits.

One of the most damaging weaknesses of the human species is our inability to see ourselves from another person’s subjective viewpoint, which makes it difficult to understand what is really going on.

All you can do is imagine how others see you. And as you imagine how others see you, it is easy for your imagination to develop damaging delusions. This apparent inability to see one’s self is a major contributor to a host of social ills. Let me give you some examples:

If you’ve ever dealt with a Type A alcoholic you know they have amazing powers of delusion (or denial). An alcoholic can lose his job, his money, his family, his friends, and his health, and still not be able to see that the problem is his own creation, while everyone around watches in utter horror and sadness as he destroys himself and everyone in his path. Everyone watching the alcoholic sees that he is harming himself, but the alcoholic sees others harming him. This can hold true for any addiction – gambling, sex, drugs, food, shopping – you name it. This immense power of delusion and denial is passed on in alcoholic families and manifests itself in family members that have never even had a drink.

The above is an extreme example, but I believe – to some degree – all of us suffer from the inability to see ourselves as we appear to others. We tend to dig in and defend our poor decisions, our self-imposed labels, our controversial opinions, and our nasty habits even when they are clearly causing us and others harm. Most of us feel that other people cause all the harm. But remember, other people feel the same way. Someone’s actions are causing it, right? So as long as we keep passing the buck nothing will change.

Earlier this week I was talking with an old friend who was recently fired from his job.

His story :
A co-worker challenged his authority and he had no choice but to defend himself or lose respect within the organization. Everyone took the co-workers side, conspiring against him and treating him unfairly until he was finally let go. He had no part in causing it; other people were to blame.

What I saw:
His slide started months ago when there was a conflict and he refused to back down and concede that the other person may be right. Since no one took his side, he began to believe everyone was gunning for him and he became defensive about everything. He lost all support from his co-workers and management. Eventually it was impossible to work with him and he was let go. He wasn’t fired because he was incompetent, he was the most qualified, responsible, and productive employee in the organization. He was fired because he became poisonous to the organization.

How he caused the problem…
When the conflict occurred, he drew a line – a black and white division. He then asked, are you with me or against me? Other people didn’t see it in black and white and no one joined him. Since he created an us vs. them conflict, he began to believe the people who didn’t join him, were against him, and developed a persecution complex. Based on his belief, he acted differently, becoming defensive, imagining slights, and he began to compare himself with everyone else. He noticed that people were treating him differently than they used to, which further entrenched his persecution complex. Eventually he became so defensive that he was impossible to work with and management let him go.

It isn’t just individual people that do this to themselves… families, departments, companies, and whole nations can dig themselves into a hole with black and white thinking.

I know another man whose spouse said, “I don’t understand why no one will talk to my husband anymore. He keeps losing his friends. Even his family seems to be avoiding him. I just don’t understand it.”

Both Christine and I know why. Everyone who knows this man knows why, except him and the people who are really close to him. They can’t see him the way everyone else does. He lectures everyone about controversial issues, painting them black and white, and then labels anyone who disagrees as an idiot. Who wants to listen to that for hours on end? Only an idiot.

But I know his viewpoint; I’m prone to the same behavior. I’m kinda doing it right now. He’s just trying to save us from our own stupid selves. If we understood, if he could reach us, if we’d accept his righteous indignation, then we’d see the light. He’s only trying to help.

But since he can’t see himself, he doesn’t understand that after a couple of hours of lecture, most people just want to run away and hide. No one likes to be lectured for hours about how screwed up the world is. It makes them feel depressed. Since no one wants to tell him what the problems is – his style, tone, subject matter, and opinions make people want to vomit, so people avoid him and he doesn’t understand why. He can’t see what he is doing to himself.

I used to work with a woman everyone avoided. She was always creating an “us vs. them” scenario.

Whenever someone tried to help her, she took it as an accusation of incompetence. She seemed to think that someone else’s intervention, good idea, or helpful hint threatened her, and she retaliated with accusations of persecution, unfairness, and conspiracy, so people quit helping. They began to avoid her. As she dug in deeper, she became more isolated which reinforced her fears that everyone was arrayed against her. So she tried to build allies, but no one wanted to go to war. They just wanted to get the job done. She found no allies for her ‘side’ and her area of influence withered while the rest of the company improved. Since she couldn’t see herself, she never understood that she was causing the problem. No one could tell her that she was the problem, because that would have only resulted in greater conflict and further defensiveness. Since the company leadership was unwilling to deal with her obstructionism, the rock stars left the company, and it never became the great company it could have become.

I know another person who has burned through six serious relationships, three of them marriages, and he doesn’t understand why he is so unlucky. But from the outside looking in it is obvious why he loses his relationships. He sets each one up exactly the same way and it unravels exactly the same way. I can see it and he can’t. But I certainly won’t tell him. Even if he asks, it is dangerous ground. It is dangerous to say – you’re doing this to yourself. You keep dating similar women and you have the same delusional expectations from them. The only way to change this pattern is to change yourself.

It seems so easy to see this in other people. You can watch them make foolish decision after foolish decision until they eventually crash and burn.

But how do we use our high powered perception of others and turn it inward, so we can see ourselves as we are and make substantial improvements to our lives? It seems like a much better use of our mental faculties, because I can’t change anyone of these folks I just described. I can only change myself. So how can I see myself? How am I sabotaging myself, my goals, my relationships, my family, my health, my environment? Where am I being unreasonable with others? Where have I thrown down the gauntlet and created a black and white conflict?

I’ll explore this more in upcoming posts. If you are interested please Subscribe to this feed.

Do You have the Courage to be Yourself?

Last weekend, I read Freedom, The Courage to be Yourself – Insight for a New Way of Living by Osho.*

Osho’s ideas provoked thoughts about limiting mindsets and where they come from:

Do you believe you are a belief system? Maybe more than one?

Maybe you believe you are a Poor, Democratic, Environmentalist, Buddhist, Feminist.

Maybe you believe you are a Middle Class, Republican, Capitalist, Christian, Conservative.

We carry far more labels than those, don’t we? And most of them are a ball and chain we apply to ourselves.

My eyes opened to the destructive nature of belief based labeling when I ran for the Minnesota State House of Representatives as a Republican. About 30% of the people I met despised me and another 30% loved me without knowing anything about me or what I planned to do if elected. They cared only about the R or D next to my name. It was easy to accept the unconditional praise (even though it should have scared the shit out of me), but the categorical rejection was frightening. Whenever someone instantly rejected me because of the label I had chosen, I thought… I bet this person would vote for me if he took the time to understand who I am and what I am trying to accomplish. But he couldn’t see who I was because the label invoked powerful negative emotions which prevented him from actually seeing and hearing me.

At our very core, we are not belief systems, we are distinct individuals governed by our own free will and we can choose to believe anything we wish.

You are not poor – you choose to believe you are poor.

You are not rich – you choose to believe you are rich.

You are not middle class – you choose to believe you are middle class.

You are not a Christian – you choose to believe what Christ taught.

You are not an Atheist – you choose to believe there is no God.

You are not a Democrat – you choose to agree with Democratic politicians and vote for them.

You are not a Republican – you choose to agree with Republican politicians and vote for them.

While you are not required to be consistent with labels, a lifetime of cultural programming, fear of hypocrisy, and a desire for group approval can enslave you in the name of consistency. These labels are not your identity because your identity is not a consistent set of beliefs. It is something that is constantly growing and changing, so struggling to be consistent stifles your growth.

You are not Black or White or Latino or Anglo or any other label. I defy anyone to show me where Black starts and White ends or where Anglo starts and Latino ends. You can choose to label yourself or to label others but they are only words that categorize or separate us. It is no different than if you lived on 1st Street and someone chooses to change the name to 1st Avenue. The road is still the same. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It is what it is and calling it a Street or an Avenue is a choice, but its individual essence defies all labels and its interconnectedness to all other things defies separateness.

I understand that labels can help us better understand the world at high levels of abstraction, but more often they are used to separate us, enslave us, or pit us against each other in bloody wars.

Sociologists may decide to label you this demographic or that demographic, but that decision has no bearing on what you really are, because what you really are defies all labels.

And you can choose to believe that too.

* Osho’s ideas are controversial and I do not agree with everything he’s said or done, especially some of the more radical stuff. But he has an amazing mind that challenges convention in a refreshing way. His ideas will make you think differently about the world.

Self-Delusion or Reality?

Reading The Total Perspective Vortex by Christopher S. Putnam at Damn Interesting produced some insights into life and the personal development industry as a whole.

The basic premise of the article is that people who are “Mentally Disordered” may actually be more grounded than those that are “Normal.”

Psychologists Shelly Taylor and Jonathon Brown state that the average “Normal” person is quite self-deluded in three areas.

a) viewing themselves in unrealistically positive terms; b) believing they have more control over their environment than they actually do; and c) holding views about the future that are more positive than the evidence can justify

As many of you know, I’ve been working a self improvement/personal development program for several years.

So as I look back at life, I see three distinct mindsets which produced negative consequences, and they are the polar opposites of psychologists Shelly Taylor and Jonathon Brown’s “Normal” delusions.

  1. Negative self-image: A basic belief that you are bad, unquilified, and incompetent.
  2. Belief that life happens to you, instead of believing you actively influence it: This is a basic victim mindset, which says, since you have no control over your environment, you are a victim of fate. I believed most wealthy people became wealthy by luck or exploitation. This negative belief is directly countered in personal-development circles by teaching the Law of Attraction.
  3. Pessimism: I was raised in a highly restrictive religion – Seventh Day Adventism, which based it’s teachings on the end times. Just to give you a clue – the Branch Davidians were an offshoot. As a child during the cold war, I believed the world would end in a nuclear holocaust. I also spent half my adult life believing the economy would collapse and we’d enter second great deperession. You get the picture, right?

So imagine, you are a young man going through life believing you are a worthless incompetent, have no control over your life, and everything’s going to collapse anyway. Don’t misunderstand; these mindsets aren’t conscious but subconscious, so you aren’t aware of them.

Can you see why you might have a problem with the “normal” people who view themselves in positive terms, believe they have control over their environment, and are optimistic about the future? Optimistic people used to really piss me off. I thought they were completely unrealistic.

Experience tells me that many people in the personal development niche went through some degree of what I just described. Many of the gurus were homeless, drug addicted, criminal, or destitute.

So let’s say psychologists Shelly Taylor and Jonathon Brown are right – that high self-image, in control, optimists are self-deluded.

So the personal development work I’ve done is delusional? What about my net worth, my career, my health, my relationships, and my weight. Are they delusions as well? Unless I’m dreaming, my delusions are creating positive results in reality.

Someone once told my brother, “They’re just brainwashing you with all that self-help crap.” To which he replied, “Maybe I needed to be brainwashed.”

I pray “Normal” society never becomes grounded in Shelly Taylor and Jonathon Brown’s reality. I’ve been there and it sucks. I’ll take self-deluded any day.

Are Bloggers Pushing Society Closer to a Technological Singularity?

Singularity? That’s a pretty geeky word isn’t it? If you are familiar with it at all, you’re probably an astrophysicist or an astronomy/sci-fi buff. But what does it mean to bloggers? You are creating a new era by creating global, collective, shared, intelligence.

Reason Magazine has a fantastic article with futurists regarding the possibility of a major positive upheaval in the structure of society, due to our growing interconnectedness.

From the article:

There is a national interest, and not just in America, in providing the illusion of freedom for the millions of people who need to be happy and creative to make the economy go. Those people are more diverse and distributed and resourceful and even coordinated than any government.

That’s a power we already have in free markets. Computer networks, supporting data
and social networks, give this trend an enormous boost. In the end that illusion of freedom may have to be more like the real thing than any society has ever achieved in the past, something that could satisfy a new kind of populism, a populism powered by deep knowledge, self-interest so broad as to reasonably be called tolerance, and an automatic, preternatural vigilance.

Is the Unexamined Life Worth Living?

Robert Gerzon asks, “Is the unexamined life worth living?”

This famous quote from Socrates has always intrigued me. Does it intrigue you? We are told to live in the present and set goals for the future, so isn’t examining your life living in the past? If you examine your life frequently… are you living in the past?

My posts between essays will be similar to this one… what do you think of it? Let me know?

Hardcore Zen and The Truth About Reality

Are you curious about the truth? The truth about reality? What this really is? So am I.

Are you an armchair philosopher? Are the answers your parents gave to you when you were a child… well… a little simplistic?

I have spent most of my adult life with a narrow mind that I closed to certain ideas. But now, after deciding to explore new ideas (new to me anyway), like Zen Buddhism, I understand how important it is to keep asking questions. I began to think differently about everything: me, you, education, sports, parenting, government, the earth, and the universe. This doesn’t mean I believe I’ve found some perfect answer for everything, far from it. It doesn’t mean I’m a Buddhist; I’m not. It’s just given me another way of looking at reality and I want to share it with you.

If you want a quick, straight, honest, introduction to Zen, read Hardcore Zen. Tony Clark over at Success From the Nest, told me most people either love it or hate it.

I love it, but I can see why some people hate it. Some of it isn’t about Zen at all; it’s about Brad. But that doesn’t bother me, because I want to learn about a Zen Master who plays Hardcore Punk, loves Black Sabbath, and makes “B” monster movies.

On the back of Brad Warner’s book, he writes:

Question Authority. Question Society. Question Reality. Question Yourself. Question your conclusions, your judgments, your answers. Question this. If you question everything thoroughly enough, the truth will eventually hit you upside the head and you will know. But here’s a warning: It won’t be what you imagined. It won’t be even close.

Brad Warner does not sugar coat anything and his style is fun, irreverent, but at times a bit cynical.
Brad opens with this:

Nothing is sacred. Doubt – in everything – is absolutely essential. Everything, no matter how great, how fundamental, how beautiful, or important it is, must be questioned.

It’s only when people believe that their beliefs are above questioning, that their beliefs alone are beyond all doubt, that they can be as truly horrible as we all know they can be. Belief is the force behind every evil mankind has ever done. You can’t find one truly evil act in human history that was not based on belief – and the stronger their belief, the more evil human beings can be.

Later, Brad goes on to share two of his beliefs:

Everything is sacred. Every blade of grass, every cockroach, every speck of dust, every flower, every pool of mud outside a graffiti-splattered warehouse is God.

Everything is profane. “Saving the planet” is a waste of time and preserving the environment is a waste of energy. Flowers stink and birdsong is irritating noise.

Hmmm…does that pique your curiosity?

Brad on enlightenment:

Some people think enlightenment is some kind of superspecial state without questions or doubts, some kind of absolute faith in your beliefs and the rightness of your perceptions. That’s not enlightenment. In fact, that’s the very worst kind of delusion.

On religious conflict:

Killing someone in God’s name is ridiculous. If we do that, we are killing God and killing the truth.

On the current state of the world:

The world is in deep shit right now. The only thing that can save us from our own self-induced destruction is direct knowledge of the truth. And I say that without any reservation at all. Mankind cannot survive unless the truth dawns – from within – in each and every one of us. No political solution, bellicose or peaceful, will ever save us. No law. No pact. No treaty. No war.

On happiness:

Every single human being in the world at some time thinks that “if only” this or that one of our conditions could be met then we’d be happy… Think again.

On drugs:

Drugs are extremely destructive to your physical body, and they can leave emotional psychic wounds that can form permanent scars. They do not aid you in usefully discovering the truth in the least. I’m amazed I even survived my experimentation with that poison. My advice to you: Don’t bother.

You can communicate with Brad on his blog at

If you are interested or curious about Zen, try these books:

The above blockquotes were granted by:
(c) Brad Warner, 2003. Excerpted from Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Moster Movies, and the Truth About Reality with permission from Wisdom Publications *

Can you see God? My 4-year-old can.

My 4-year-old son was sitting at the table yesterday having a snack.

Out of the blue, he asked, “Dad, where can I see God?”

Surprised, I said, “Huh? I don’t know.”

He asked again, “Is he in another state or country or something?”

I said, “I don’t know if you have to go anywhere to see him, look around, maybe you can find him.”

His eyes darted around the room, he looked at me, looked out the window at the pond, the geese, and the ducks, looked up at the oak trees and said, “Dad, I get it, I see him, God is everything.”

Today, I told this story to Christine and she asked, “Did you ever tell him that?”

I said, “I don’t think so.”

I looked at my son and asked, “Did I ever tell you that God is everything?”

He said, “No dad, I taught you that.”

Happy Easter Everyone! Thanks for reading!

The Olsons

Discovering Zen

Omnipotence is not knowing how everything is done; it’s just doing it. – Alan Watts

I woke up one morning last week with a strange idea in my head. I don’t know where it came from, but it led to one of coolest “discoveries” I have made so far and I’d like to share it with you.

What’s strange about “discovering” something is that you aren’t “discovering” anything at all. You just think you are “discovering” something because it is the first time YOU noticed it. You are just noticing what was already there and chances are someone else already knew about it. Like Columbus discovering America – he didn’t discover anything. Millions of people already lived in America. To Columbus it was amazing and new, but I’m sure his “discovery” was quite annoying to those that didn’t know they had been “discovered.”

So at the risk of annoying you, I’m going to share my latest “discovery”.

I love the movie Fight Club because I identify with the characters at an intuitive level – I understand them. I used to think the story was about some sort of twisted violent schizophrenic self-improvement program (which is analgous with my life). But Thursday morning I thought, “I should google up Fight Club and Zen.” I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I was reading Zen Habits and Copyblogger just before bed.

To me Zen was just another modern pop culture buzzword. From my Midwest American Christian upbringing, I had no concept of what Zen really meant (I still don’t, but I’m working on it).

After “discovering” this article on Violence as Yoga by Dzintars Dzilna I was hooked into an obsessive mission to understand something strange and foreign.

Then I “discovered” the English born Zen Master Alan Watts. I have never found a man’s ideas more thought provoking. His essay on The Value of Psychotic Experience is outstanding – if you like to think about consciousness and existence. It challenged my conventions so thoroughly I felt a twinge of insanity, which is really fun, you should try it sometime. Check out this series of mp3s of Watts talking about the Pursuit of Pleasure.

Links to content by Alan Watts:
Lectures and Essays

I also “discovered” author Brad Warner who wrote Hardcore Zen. Be sure to check out his list of articles at the bottom of his home page. I haven’t read his book yet, but I have it on order from Amazon and I plan to review it.

That’s what I’ve been doing since Thursday, “discovering” what many of you may have already “discovered.” But if you haven’t already “discovered” it – check it out – it will make you think.

What Death Teaches Us About Life

I went to a funeral yesterday. One of Christine’s relatives died suddenly over the weekend. The deceased was dearly loved by many, and the loss was a tragedy. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone that loses a loved one.

But as I experienced the outpouring of love for this individual, I found the ceremony uplifting and positive.

Death and loss is a conundrum – a dilemma. While the pain and loss of death is immense, without a limit to our time on earth, our time would have no value and our painful losses remind us to be grateful for what we have now.

These are a few thoughts I had yesterday while reflecting on the loss of life

  • Every moment is precious
  • Ego and materialism are insignificant in the face of death
  • Question the meaning of your life
  • As long as you have one more moment, you can make a difference
  • This isn’t about me, it’s about all the people I touch along the way
  • The faith and courage with which some people face death is a testimony to the human spirit

Aurelius Marcus, believed by many to be the wisest and most tolerant emperor of Rome wrote the following about facing death:

You have embarked, you have made the voyage, you have come to the shore: get out.

You have existed as a part. You shall disappear in that which produced you; or rather, you shall be received back into its seminal principle by transmutation.

Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end your journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.

Every part of me will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on forever.

And by consequence of such a change I too exist, and those who begot me, and so on forever in the other direction.

– Aurelius Marcus

Do you know what is real?

Do you ever think about consciousness? I mean your own consciousness? How weird it really is? What is it? What powers it? Where does it come from?

Can a simple thought or perception change reality like it can change a dream?

Did you know that the Indigenous culture of Australia teaches that the time you spend dreaming is reality and the time you spend awake is imaginary? This is the complete inverse of western beliefs. Did you know we don’t have any scientific way of proving that they are wrong and westerners are right? What we believe about reality is nothing more than a simple leap of faith. Continue reading Do you know what is real?