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“Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.”
― George S. Patton

Once upon a time, around 400-600 BC, in three places around the world, three figures arose, all saying a lot of the same things, even though there was no way for them to meet. Socrates in ancient Greece, Buddha in India, and Confucius in China. There is a lot that was added and changed along the way, and you may find a history lesson in other places, but there is one incredibly crucial and practical lesson found in each of their teachings.


There is a rigidity found in religion, as well as later philosophers, as they tackle major life questions like “What does a good life look like?” or “Is it ever okay to lie?” and a slew of other theoretical questions that don’t quite help one live in the real world. For instance there is the famous trolley problem, where a trolley is heading towards five people, you can pull a lever to have it change tracks, but you’ll end up killing one person. If you do nothing, you indirectly killed five people, but if you pull it, you’ll be directly responsible for killing one person. Debates on problems like this do little to assist in living in the real world. You may enjoy armchair debates, but you cannot take your answer away and then incorporate the lessons you learned into your daily life.


That’s where the three figures I mentioned earlier differ. What they realized is that the world is actually a very capricious place. The reality is, you chose very little of your circumstances upon birth. Your race, gender, sexuality, family income, safety of neighborhood, among many other elements are outside of your direct control. There are patterns that dictate your behavior that can be led back to your genes and the sociocultural system you grew up in. Perhaps you were born with below average height and looks, in a poor household. The system you live in tells you that all these things are bad, and your behaviors will be born from that.


And so you live by these patterns. If you are short, you act distraught each time you’re picked last in school for the basketball team. If you’re average looking, you may settle for a partner that may not be the best fit for you, but hey, you’ve got to settle for what you can get, right? If your family is poor, perhaps you would feel ashamed of making a lot of money or simply feel unable to.

Here is where the greatest lesson comes from these ancient Western and Eastern philosophers. It’s possible to break these patterns and essentially “hack” your beliefs. Socrates walked the streets in unwashed robes and openly questioned everyone’s beliefs until they killed him for it, but he successfully snapped a lot of people out of their patterns and ushered in an era of philosophy. Buddha speaks often of the power of our mind and beliefs, and consciousness of our behaviors. Confucius speaks of the importance of rituals, how consciously deciding to do them allows you to step out of your daily life, or ‘autopilot’ status.


Hot Tip: So you want to break a pattern and aren’t sure where to start? Start by dropping your label, like “I am an angry person”. Your quickness to anger comes from your patterns of living thus far, and has nothing to do with your ‘real self’ or anything like that. Next time you feel yourself getting angry, take a pause and see where it’s coming from. Was someone late? Did your partner not understand you? Break it down, and choose to act differently. Each time you catch yourself in anger and act in a different way, you’re developing a new pattern, and soon enough, you’ll no longer be “an angry person”. It won’t happen overnight, but the way you developed it, is the only way to resolve it. 
When I was going through my rough times I mentioned in the intro there was a question that popped in my mind which changed everything. “Says who?”. Who determined when we should get married, the types of relationships we should have, the kind of job we should have, the way we should meet friends, and the rest. The answer was, it was simply the pattern of living in the sociocultural system I grew up in. Everyone is doing it, because everyone is doing it. Circular logic doomed to never end.

Thankfully, as the ancient philosophers teach us, we can consciously break these patterns and develop new ones. We are free to act the way Rosa Parks did when she changed history forever by sitting at the front of the bus, we are free to be the one who says ‘Hi’ to people on the street, instead of complaining that everyone is looking down and unfriendly. When we understand everyone is merely following their own patterns, it allows a space for compassion, and inspiration to be a vehicle for change.
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