THE INFLUENCE RAP MUSIC HAS (OR DOESN’T HAVE) ON VIOLENT CRIMES

I feel the need to preface this by pointing out that I enjoy rap music, even the kind that I will be making a critical analysis of in this article, and although I will be exploring some of the negative and positive impacts of rap music, this is my subjective opinion.

When talking about violence within rap music, I am often going to be referring to “drill” specifically. You will also notice me mention “grime”. According to Wikipedia “Drill is a style of trap music that originated in the South Side of Chicago in early 2010. It is defined by its dark, violent, nihilistic lyrical content and ominous trap-influenced beats.” Whereas “Grime is a genre of electronic music that emerged in London in the early 2000s. … The style is typified by rapid, syncopated breakbeats, generally around 140 beats per minute, and often features an aggressive or jagged electronic sound.” And rap is just a general term that is an acronym for “Rhythm And Poetry.”

Within drill songs, you’ll find certain phrases and ideologies that get reused by all different rappers, many of these are pertinent to violent crimes. You’ll often see variations of the word “cheffing” in relationship to being on an “opp block” whilst “doing road”. I’m not here to act as an urban dictionary, but these words and phrases all insinuate either impending violence or an expectation that violent activity could arise at any moment.

There are subtle ways of doing this, but then there’s also very overt ways of including criminal activity within rap lyrics. You only have to type in “drill music” on YouTube and you’ll see an abundance of young men with balaclavas and masks on basically citing a prosecution lawyers opening statement for them over a bass-heavy beat.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love drill music, there’s some artists whose music can portray some very vivid imagery of crime and violence that I really do enjoy listening to. Out of the 4.2 million views on Jordan McCann’s ‘Fire in The Booth’, I probably account for a good 50 of them. The same applies to ‘Italian shoes’ by Silky, ‘Shots’ by Morrisson, the list goes on, Rap, predominantly Grime and Drill, accounts for 95% of my playlist. And I’m not writing this article to condemn drill music, nor am I writing it as a defence of the abstraction of incentivised violence across any media platform. I am writing this to explore the systemic issues that cause this music to resonate so closely with thousands of young people and why I believe that it is as a result of these issues. We are seeing an increase in violence amongst young people and in turn, more people rapping about and promoting their violent lifestyles even if it is a result of necessity and not as a leisure activity.

One other thing that it may be worth bringing to attention is that you may be drawing some minor similarities from this article and the debate over whether videogames cause violence; I would like to be on the record to say that I think it is completely untrue that videogames are even remotely responsible for causing violence in young people. The problem is, I believe that music is intrinsically different to other forms of media in that when you play a video game, as much as you can get attached to characters, you know that they are just characters, lines of code written by somebody in order for you to live out a virtual existence in the shoes of somebody else.

Grand Theft Auto being the classic example, the game where you can beat a stripper to death in the alley behind a strip club, steal a car, ram raid a jewellers and open fire with an automatic weapon into crowds of innocent civilians, the list of possible crimes is endless.

A team of researchers at New Zealand’s Masset University did a re-examination of 28 previous studies that looked at the link between aggressive behaviour and videogames. The team, lead by Aaron Drummond, reported that the miniscule positive correlation between the violent games and real life violent acts was even below the threshold to be classed as a “small effect”.

I believe this to be the same for films as well, I think even when films are based on true events, there’s always that deep knowledge that what you’re seeing is just an actress or an actor portraying an event. Although I am very aware that this can spark emotion,  and pieces of cinematic media like ‘Blue story’ and shows like ‘Top boy’ that do portray themes that you will find in rap music time and time again, they do still impact people on an emotional level, but this just isn’t as visceral as rap music, and let me explain why I think this.

The reason that rap music is so different is that it’s often real people recounting events that they have personally experienced. There’s a lot of powerful imagery in rap that comes from first-hand accounts of witnessing and performing, murders, taxation, kidnapping, armed robbery, drug deals, section 18 assaults, possession of firearms, carrying blades / machetes… the list goes on.

We’re seeing people talk about these activities, they’ve got a catchy flow, they’re incredibly poetic lyricists, and then you see them driving fancy cars that you could never afford from a 9 to 5 job, brandishing stacks upon stacks of cash, they’re in big houses with their mates drinking and taking recreational drugs and for all intents and purposes they’re enjoying life in a way that only rich people can.

But then here’s the key part, a lot of these rappers started off in impoverished communities, Potter Payper being a prime example, he isn’t often seen without some Gucci accessories, gold chains, and expensive grillz, he grew up in poverty, and often raps about his experiences. That criminal life was something that he was destined to undertake. We see this I the following lyrics of his song ‘When I was little’:

“when I was little I was never scared of the bogeyman, I was scared of Scumbag police in the bully van”.

Fredo is another example, in his Daily Duppy he raps about “hitting licks” and “selling white” at 15 years of age and stating that those activities were what all the people that he looked up to were doing. It was making him money, paying his bills and it was the future that he was assumingly going to have and other than rap, didn’t have any inclination to do anything else.

The issue with such visceral storytelling is that the people telling these stories are iconic. They’re aspirations for kids growing up 2 streets away from these rappers’ old houses, they hear about what the rappers did and they see what they do now and the women and the cars and the jewellery and they automatically assume that they need to follow that exact path in order to get there.

I’m not naive enough to say that drill music is the cause of all violent crime however I certainly thinkthat there are crimes committed as a direct result of the topics that people have heard discussed in music (and like all media-inspired crimes, from the fact that being a good criminal is something that you learn from years of being in that life and not something you can get a 3 minute 42 second audio-guide on and all of a sudden become the Pablo Escobar of East London).

Ultimately, the issue is that this music does resonate with people.

Let’s take a look at some statistics, here’s an extract from the BBC news article found at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46984559 :

“Violent crime recorded by police in England and Wales has risen by 19% in a year, latest Home Office figures show.

The number of homicides – including murder and manslaughter – rose from 649 to 739, an increase of 14%, in the 12 months to the end of September 2018.

It is the the highest total for such crimes since 2007.

Robbery went up by 17%, as did recorded sexual offences, according to the data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Overall crimes recorded by police went up by 7% with a total of 5,723,182 offences recorded.”

Now I don’t think it is up for debate that we have seen an increase in drill music and new drill artists over that same period of time, and although correlation doesn’t imply causation, when two things are so entwined, one tends to have a knock on effect to the other. People even try and force a lifestyle that they aren’t involved in just for the sake of having something to rap about or to gain quick respect on the streets. Is lying about being involved in crime better than actual being involved? I feel that really depends, at face value, fictional crime isn’t going to affect crime statistics, however the repercussions of rapping about a life that you don’t live is that you make yourself a target.

If people think you have “trap houses” and “bandos” (property where recreational drugs are grown, kept and/or made) a percentage of those people are going to be inclined to try and rob those, and gain the information on where they are located by any means necessary. “Rap cap” is just another way to victimise yourself and put a price on your head.

And we’ve all seen a lot of big media companies attach rap music as a whole and often specific rappers for certain actions, but I personally hate seeing such biased arguments. Like rapper Abra Cadabra said “Our art is imitating our life, not the other way round”. I believe that this is an important statement, as one of the bigger names in drill, Abracadabra understands his influence over the people that listen to his music and pointing out that performing at Wireless festival gives his younger fans something to aspire to. However, how can you make songs about violence and a criminal lifestyle without getting called out for “rap cap” (lying in a rap song or clout) if you don’t first come from that background?

On the other hand, let’s explore the reasons that rap music isn’t, at it’s core, negative. Take this lyric from the recent Daily Duppy that Chip released for his 30th birthday: “Me, I get money off lines, not money off a line so of course I be touchin’ the beat, you’ll get touched, how you mean?” Chip is an undeniable titan in the UK rap scene and he often raps about how he’s never resorted to drugs or violence as a means of income and still wears £1,300 Moncler puffer jackets.

The next Chip lyric I’d like to analyse is:

 “And I ain’t got no rap songs ’bout who my knife went in

So sorry darg, you might not relate when I’m pennin’, but

Follow my trail, I’ll teach you how to not go to jail

But get it from sales, just start when you’re younger, it helps”

Here Chip is rapping about how he’s never bragged about ‘cheffing’ or owning ‘skengs’ (a broad term used to describe a weapon of some kind – can also be used as a general, contextual term of positivity). But he’s made all of his money off of music sales, but not only that, he’s inviting the younger generation to follow in his footsteps and do it the right way.

Amazingly, in recent years, especially within the realms of grime rappers, we have seen an increase of political rap being publicised by mainstream media channels. An example of this is Stormzy performing on the Glastonbury main stage getting the entire crowd to quote the line “F**k the government and f**k Boris” from his Vossi Bop song, whilst under a conservative government lead by Boris Johnson, and the amazing thing is, this was nationally broadcast by the BBC.

Then there was another mainstream rapper, Santan Dave, performing at Glastonbury, and he’s known for tackling sensitive subjects in his rap music, from “Question time” raising issues around Grenfell, Theresa May’s shambolic time in 10 Downing Street, and David Cameron abandoning the country after kicking Brexit into action. You might even recognise Dave from his number 1 single with Fredo “Funky Friday”, which held the top spot in UK charts for five consecutive weeks.

There are two rappers in particular who I personally am a huge fan of, that I don’t think get enough credit for not only being incredible lyricists, but for being able to spread a positive message through their raps, and use their flows to enlighten the word regarding current crises. These are Lowkey and Akala. You might recognise Akala from being on numerous news shows and debate panels as an advocate of lowering knife crime and participating in anti-racism campaigns.

Lowkey is known for being the rapper that took a hiatus from rap to conduct PhD research on the role of political leadership in identity politics at the University of Sheffield. And I’ll leave it to you to listen to his song (which caused some outraged when YouTube flagged it) “terrorist” or any of his “Fire in the booths”, or read Akala’s graphic novel “The ruins of empires” and see how they’ve managed to incorporate political activism into rap. However, I digress from my original point.

As discussed previously, the storytelling in rap music is second to none, and a man who was an absolute genius when it came to storytelling in rap music was Blaine “Cadet” Johnson. The self-professed “underrated legend” really knew how to convey powerful emotions just through his lyrics, making songs that really echoed within the hearts of many, including his famous “Closure” song and his “Letter to Krept”. These are an incredible insight into what his family life was like and the ups and downs that come with fame and the hard road to get there. As Cadet (and indeed his cousin Krept) has shown, the storytelling and powerful imagery in rap music can be an amazingly powerful tool, and used in a positive way, it can still be relatable and even come from a dark place emotionally, but it doesn’t have to be used solely to market a positive view on criminality.

There are a lot of positives to rap music, it is an aspiration for plenty of young people, myself included, I find myself listening to rappers, watching rap videos and being envious of the lives that they live. But the appeal to me of those videos is being “young, rich and famous” as Fredo and Not3s would put it, rap music doesn’t give me any desire to go and sell drugs, However I do find it incomparably motivating though, and who can blame me when I’m picturing popping bottles on yachts with models and carrying around somebody’s monthly wage in my jean pockets?

Herein lies the problem, here’s why you can’t pin rising crime rates solely, or even remotely, on rap music, because if you get a sudden and extreme bout of motivation to make money and be successful, and the only way you know how to do that is by selling recreational pharmaceuticals, then that’s what you’re going to do, and if you’re being motivated to be the best, most successful person you know, and all you associates are out stabbing people and stealing cars, then what do you have to do to be successful in comparison?

There’s very few people that wish a criminal lifestyle upon themselves, and often, those that do wish it upon themselves don’t actual have any involvement in a criminal lifestyle. In his first ever interview, Morrisson sits opposite Reece Parkinson of BBC Radio 1 Xtra and he mentions that it’s a completely alien environment to him, being sat in a room with microphones, studio lights and cameras. Reece follows up by asking “Do you reckon you’d want to get used to it” to which Morrisson replies “Yeah, it’s a lot easier than what I do elsewhere…” and then says “It’s not hard bro, it’s an easy decision to make. Who wants to be out there doing all that madness? No one does, and if someone says they do, they’re lying” and that’s coming from somebody with a lot of respect on the streets and in the rap game.

There’s nothing wrong with being successful. Really, the only definitions of what’s a right way to be successful and what’s a wrong way to get there are just societal standards, and success to one person doesn’t look the same as success to another.

The issue with the rising crime rates is a societal issue, it’s systemic issue, it’s an issue where young people are being told to be successful, but due to a whole range of socio-political issues, their idea of success is being able to sell the most drugs without getting caught. Alternatively, they want to make a clean living, but the only way they know how to make money is through illicit activities, and some money is better than no money if it means the difference between you having a roof over your head and being able to provide for your loved ones.

Of course, there are veterans of the game who are so deeply involved in criminal activity that they can’t just walk away and they don’t know any other life, but that’s a separate issue right now. In order to lower the violent crime rates, this doesn’t just apply to music-fuelled criminal activities, we have to take a step back and look at the reason this lifestyle is so available to young people in the first place.

This lifestyle is so available because there’s a failing education system, this is backed by 2019 report done by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the UK is only ranked 27th in the world for maths and 15th for science. An astonishing 40% of British secondary school students are not achieving the baseline standards and 44% leave with less than 5 GCSEs graded A* to C.

You can read more about the aforementioned article below:

That report could be indicative that kids who don’t do well at school are destined to only have jobs where they can’t afford the necessities to stay alive. Gentrification means that even people with decent jobs that just manage to get by are driven out of their homes due to an increase of living costs. Single mums that raise kids have to make a choice on sacrificing the invaluable time they get to spend with their kids or being able to afford to provide them with food and clothes.

Then there’s the taboo issue of racial profiling in rap music and crime in general. That’s a topic that in the interest of keeping this article from becoming a novel, I will delve into in a follow-up post.

CONCLUSION

When collating all of this information, it isn’t conclusive proof, but it is very much indicative that there’s an underlying problem here that isn’t caused by vulgar language and obscene imagery in rap music. There’s an issue of young people living in poverty in the UK who see no way of getting out without getting into a life of crime as ordinary jobs don’t pay enough to support basic human necessities without relying on benefits from the government. Before fame, these young people are often just seen as a statistic to back up pre-existing prejudices about certain cultures and further drive a wedge between the different social and often racial groups within society. Because of them being on mainstream media so often, these rappers who talk about these lifestyles are just acting as a microcosm for those minority of people in the UK. What’s your opinion on the influence of rap music on youth culture today?

What does physics still have left to answer?

This question is intentionally broad, but why aren’t we done with physics, why is it when we live in a world where we have enough knowledge of physics to get us through day to day life, we still push to learn more?

Elon Musk famously only employs engineers and not physicists because he thinks that physics is advanced enough to do everything he wants to do, the engineers now must find a way to apply that. That’s what engineering is, taking abstract things such as maths and physics and finding a way to put them to use.

We advance our knowledge of chemistry and biology for obvious reasons, they’re useful in everyday life, small scale, human scale. Why do we still push to know more about stars millions of lightyears away? Why do we want to know what happens when particles, that we don’t even have the technology to see, interact? Other than medical physics, what real use does physics have now we’ve advanced this far?

I know these questions sound narrow-minded and even almost a little idiotic, but they lead onto bigger questions… Why do we pursue knowledge? Why do we want to know things just because we want to know them? To an even more vague extent, what makes us curious?

These are the kind of questions where even if you ask 100 physicists, you will get 100 different answers. Everybody has a slightly different reason for wanting to know the secrets of the universe, and before I explore my reasons behind enjoying the pursuit of knowledge and some alternative reasons, I think it would make sense to first answer the question “What does physics still have left to answer?”. And it’s important to note now that this isn’t a lecture, I’m not going to break down the maths and the fundamental laws behind all of this (I can see you’re upset about that… maybe next time), this is more just a way to present some ideas and maybe spark an interest within you to go and look into some of these questions more.

Let’s start with the obvious, the so-called ‘Theory of everything’ – famously sought after by the esteemed cosmologist Stephen Hawking. With modern physics, we can write equations and make predictions on basically everything the issue arises when we compare the everyday world, our realm, to the world of very, very small things, the quantum realm. When you break everything down to fundamental particles, things get weird. Photons colliding with other photons, and electrons slamming into neurons don’t behave under the normal confines of an elastic collision.

This difference was brilliantly described by a physicist who’s name escapes me and I can’t seem to find, possibly one of the people working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) James Beacham, he described collisions of quantum particles like being a head-on car crash, whereupon impact, the cars disappear, turn into two bikes, then disappear again two skateboards shoot off in opposite directions perpendicular to the line of the impact.

So, what the theory of everything is, is a theory that allows us to connect these two realms by some sort of equation, a numerically quantitative way to view the entire universe from beginning to end.

Another well-known, almost infamous theory is the multiverse theory; the theory that there exists an infinite number of universes. To any sci-fi fans, the idea of infinite parallel universes where every situation and possibility has occurred and will occur should not be alien. However, this isn’t the only way a multiverse could occur, there could be an infinite number of universes identical to ours, it isn’t likely, but if you placed a bet 13.8 billion years that you would be sat here reading this today, that would have infinitesimally small odds too, so when you get to infinity, most rules of bookmaking go out the window (and out of an infinite number of windows).

The most fascinating part about this, to me, is that there is no guarantee that any other universe out there will even have any mathematical similarities to ours whatsoever. You could visit another universe and gravity wouldn’t be a thing there – or oxygen. Just because something is so fundamental in our universe, doesn’t mean it transcends across to all the others.

I think there is one more thing that I would like to point out about the parallel universe theory, and it’s a misconception that you see almost everyone make. Just because something is infinitely repeating, does not mean that every possible arrangement of its constituent parts is a given fact. As I mentioned previously, there could be an infinite number of universes all identical to ours.

Another way to express this in more familiar terms to most people is to look at the transcendental number pi. Most people know that Pi is irrational (it cannot be written as a fraction p/q ) and infinitely repeating. Every pattern that we have looked for in pi, we have found, for example, at position 768, we reach the “Feynman point” where we find six “9”s in succession, and at positions 60 you find the number 0-9 in an arbitrary order (then you find them again in the correct order at position 17,387,594,880). But just because we have found every pattern that we have looked for, does not mean that we will find every future pattern we look for. 

I saw it speculated on the internet a few years ago that if pi was infinite then at some point, if you take all the numbers in order and group them correctly, you will be able to use them to create the “RGB” values for a snapshot of time, for any given moment, which is an incredible thought… but it just isn’t true. We know pi to 31 trillion digits (nowhere near enough to create that aforementioned animation of the progression of spacetime) but as far as we know, we could get to digit number 32 trillion, and pi could just repeat itself 141592643… etc. So, you cannot assume that an infinite number of repetitions will guarantee every infinite number of possibilities will be covered. 

What’s the matter? Well, the truth is nobody really knows for sure… We define matter as anything that has volume and mass, so a quark has volume, but why? What makes up the volume of a quark? It’s a fundamental particle, but is it? There’s the theory of point particles called “Preons”, these make up the quarks and leptons that we deem fundamental, now the reason this is so controversial is because, by definition, a point doesn’t have a volume or a mass, but in the case of the preon it makes up something that does, so how can something with a mass and area, a volume, a width, a height and a length, make up something with a quantifiable mass and volume?

And finally, we move onto turbulence, now by its very nature, turbulence is unpredictable, it’s governed by chaos, turbulent flow is the polar opposite of laminar flow, and personally, I don’t know which I prefer. We are probably all familiar with the experience of turbulence from being on aeroplanes, turbulence is just the flow of a fluid when impacted by chaotic changes in pressure and flow velocity. The more viscous a fluid is, the more velocity and pressure it can have before the predictability becomes nullified. So, for something like not viscous at all, like air, it’s pretty easy for turbulence to occur in a way that would disrupt the smooth flight of a Boeing 747.

Now the thing is, we can give ourselves some inclination into when turbulent flow will occur by using the Reynolds number (named after Osborne Reynolds – although he wasn’t the one to discover it, he was the one to popularise its use, it was actually introduced by George Stokes in 1851). The Reynolds number is denoted “Re”, and is found using the equation below:

Reynolds number

Where:

ρ = fluid density 

u = flow speed

L = linear dimension

μ = dynamic viscosity of fluid

v = kinematic viscosity of fluid.

The higher the Reynolds number the more the flow tends to be dominated by turbulence. You can look more into this if you want to know about turbulence in pipes, turbulence in stirred fluids and more complex systems, but at its core, turbulence is unpredictable, and as we don’t have an equation to predict the movement of a particle within a turbulent fluid, over a given time. Turbulence is just one more question that physics has yet to answer.

But I suppose this doesn’t really answer the question of why we want to know these things even though they don’t all have obvious uses in our day to day lives. Which is quite funny, actually, because that is a question that psychology can answer, and it’s quite simple at its core, we’re asking why we are curious? 

Curiosity isn’t just a human virtue, it spans across all sentient life, but most mammals lose their sense of curiosity as they leave their adolescent years. Curiosity is the thing that we use to teach us basic skills. Curiosity is what drives a baby lion how to hunt before it understands the harsh reality of starvation, curiosity and practice is how cats learn to catch birds. Animals do still keep their curiosity as they get older, but ultimately it is an innate behaviour in mammal children, but we can thank a particular trait called neoteny for the fact we keep our curiosity well into our adult years. 

As defined by the BBC, neoteny is a term that means the “retention of juvenile characteristics” – and it is what makes us, as a species, more child-like than some of the other creatures in our class of Mammalia.

However, I don’t like to mix physics and psychology so I will draw this one to a close here.

Ryan

SHOULD YOU BE YOUR OWN BIGGEST CRITIC?

Are you stuck in a constant cycle of self-criticism, overthinking, and generally feeling a little bit crap about yourself? You have got to be your own motivation, but it’s easy to take that to the unhealthy extreme.

I know I do it all the time, I finish at the gym, I look in the mirror, and all I see are the body parts that I hate looking at, I don’t see the arms I want, I don’t see the defined chest, I see the flabby stomach, the lack of real delts, the uneven traps, the fact the V-shape I want is looking more rectangular. But it doesn’t just stop at the gym.

I score 80% on a test, maybe even 95%, and all I can dwell on is the questions I get wrong. It’s difficult to strive for perfection when your idea of what’s perfect is constantly evolving. 5 years ago when I was at school, I’d have loved to look in the mirror and see what I see now, know what I know now, have the life that I have now, but now I’m living in this moment, the thought of staying like this forever is sickening to me.

And I’m not saying that all of the time this is necessarily a bad thing. If you looked in the mirror and every time you saw yourself you just went “Yeah, I’m okay with this”, you’d never have any incentive to change, or be a functioning human. You must have a minimum level that you’re willing to accept before you think “Yeah I’m alright” – and some people can leave it at that.

Some people are happy with where they are at, and where they are in life, how they look, their family life, their income, and that’s great, I am genuinely happy for any person that can look at their life now and just know that they’re content with where they are.

However, I’m sure even for the seemingly happy people, there’s often something in the back of their mind that they wish they could improve on.

How far do you take that though? That’s the question that I’m trying to answer, everybody has a minimum level of acceptance that constantly evolves, but at what point does it become an obsession, where you’re picking out every single issue? At what point does “being a bit of a perfectionist” become a genuine problem where you’re always in search of that unicorn of a goal. 

If it wasn’t for this feeling, we wouldn’t have the concept of eudemonia, that feeling of happiness that comes from the comparison of the hardships it took you to get to that point. I have talked about this concept before, so I won’t go into too much detail, but anybody can tell you that after you finish a workout, you feel amazing, the problem is that most people want instant gratification, most people can’t deal with the concept of delayed gratification, most people can’t cope with putting work in for something they won’t reap the benefits of until 6 weeks, 6 months, maybe even a year down the line. And that’s why most people aren’t great leaders, that’s why most people aren’t great entrepreneurs, and that’s why most people don’t follow their deepest, wildest dreams. That, and fear.

Essentially, people do stuff with the intention of feeling good, but, it’s too easy to feel good now, and sometimes the things that are good short term carry some pretty long-term negative effects. Let’s take the obvious examples, alcohol, people work all week just to go out on a Friday/Saturday night for that little feeling of freedom, do you feel good doing it? Yeah probably. Do you feel good the next day? Fuck no. Do you still think about something embarrassing you did when you were drunk 6 months after it happened? I’m willing to bet most people have at least one or two memories like that.

Another example, eating chocolates and ice cream – do you feel good when you do it? Do you feel satisfied? Yeah! And this isn’t an attack at anybody, I drink and I eat chocolate and ice cream, I’m not trying to be hypocritical, I’m trying to outline the problems I need to fix in hopes that even one person will relate and maybe just even consider making one positive change. But I do it all the time, I sit at work, bored, I open a pack of biscuits and next thing I know I reach in to grab one but there’s none left, and I don’t do this because I’m hungry, I do this because I’m bored, and I feel good while I’m eating them, I don’t feel good afterwards, I don’t feel good when I look in the mirror and I count a stomach roll for every chocolate digestive I’ve ever eaten, but I do it because it feels good at the time.

Then there’s the opposite of this, going to the gym even when you aren’t seeing results, just because you know in 6 months, you’ll look better and feel better, saying “no” to going out on a Friday night because you’re at homing working on your own little project. There aren’t many people on this planet that bought a private jet by partying every weekend, they just see that as celebrating when you’ve not really got anything to celebrate for. Again, I don’t fly around in a private jet either, I can’t tell you how to get to that point, but I can tell you a few reasons why I know I’m not at that point yet.

There isn’t really a lesson to be learned here I think because everyone has different thresholds for what they deem successful and what they’re aiming for in life, but I suppose the one thing to take away is don’t always put the instant gratification first, don’t cut it off entirely, but also, don’t be too hard on yourself, from time to time, we all look in the mirror and see something staring back at us that we don’t like; that doesn’t mean that you won’t get rid of that one day if you keep working towards it.

Which does bring me on to one last point, make your goals attainable, if you’ve never ran before, don’t aim to run a marathon in 8 weeks’ time. Aim to run your first half mile without stopping, then your first full mile. Then try and take 10 – 20 seconds off your time, set yourself some little goals that when you achieve them, you’ll have that eudemonia to drive you forward. It’s important to feel good about yourself, and it’s important to make sure you do that in the right way.

Ryan

WHY DO WE KNOW MORE ABOUT SPACE THAN WE DO ABOUT OUR OWN OCEANS?

Pressure.

Thanks for reading. 

But in all seriousness, our planet Earth has a diameter of about 12,500 kilometres (12,742km to be exact), which gives it a radius of approximately 6,250 kilometres, we know it’s roughly spherical (if you believe otherwise then that argument can wait for another post) and anybody who studied maths in school can tell you the volume of a sphere is (where r is the radius). This simple maths puts the volume of the earth at a little over 1 quadrillion cubic kilometres (about 259 trillion cubic miles for anybody using the metric system. For reference 1,000,000,000,000 is one quadrillion. 

The observable universe has a diameter of 93 billion light years or 8.8 x 1026 meters, so the volume of the observable universe (I won’t bore you with the maths) is 3.57 x 1021 cubic kilometres. That puts Earth at what is basically an infinitesimally small volume of the whole universe. And so why do we know more about a seemingly infinite space beyond our imagination, than we do about our very finite mass of rock and water? Well first of all, you have to actually ask yourself, can we quantify what we know about space versus what we know about what lies underneath our oceans? 

The colonisation of the planet Mars, in my opinion, was one of the biggest events that’s started this debate, why are we looking to settle on other planets, when we haven’t fully explored this one? Which at first seems like a stupid question, it’s completely different areas of science. That’s like wondering why the scientists working on string theory haven’t come up with the cure for cancer yet, because it isn’t what they’re trying to do. However, with the field of space travel making huge leaps and bounds in comparison to sub-aquatic research, it does beg a different question. Why is it easier to explore space than to explore our planet?

Well, in short, space is a vast, empty void of nothingness, it’s very easy to navigate because there are unimaginably large open spaces. And also, there’s the simple fact that it’s a lot easier to design vehicles that can cope in conditions of 0 atmospheric pressure than to cope in conditions where the pressure exceeds 1,071 times that of the pressure at sea level. For every 10 metres you go under water, you experience an extra 14.5 psi of hydrostatic pressure (the fancy way of saying the pressure from the water). 

Fun fact: at the bottom of the ocean, the pressure is so great that it would rupture your air drums, your lungs would fill with blood before collapsing, but the good news for you in that situation is that death by suffocation would be pretty much instantaneous, so at least you wouldn’t have chance to think about the pain you’re in. But to add to the good news, it’s very unlikely you’ll find yourself there. In 1960, Jacques Picard and Don Walsh did in fact venture to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench (“Challenger Deep” which is just under 11km below sea level and is thought to be the deepest part of the ocean). In perspective, that’s still only about 1/9 of the way to the Earth’s core.

To give you a way to make sense of those numbers, the deepest part of the ocean we’ve explored is about as far below sea level as an aeroplane flies above sea level. It’s theorised that we’ve explored about 5% of the ocean, and that number hasn’t changed much since the turn of the century. 

By definition, when we talk about observing what’s in the ocean, the human eye can only observe objects that are reflecting light, and in the ocean, once you reach a depth of 200 metres, the sunlight levels are so low, that photosynthesis cannot occur, and once you get into the midnight zone, a kilometre deep, sunlight is a thing that only exists in your memory. Now compare that to space, where the waves of visible light can travel, without obstruction, for distances far beyond our imaginations, , and then take into account the satellites that can pick up radio waves, infrared, and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation that aren’t visible light, and it’s no wonder we can get a clear picture of the cosmos.

The thing is, what we know about “space” can’t be quantitively analysed, because if we’re counting celestial bodies, like planets, then what we know about Earth, is a part of what we know about space, and if we aren’t, then most of what’s out there is just empty nothingness (unless you’re getting into dark matter, anti-matter, string theory, and all those fields still mostly built on theoretical foundations). Stars are just ball of gas (and we can do fairly simple spectroscopy to figure out what those gases are, galaxies, basically, are just collections of solar systems that span across unimaginable distances, and that may be a slight over simplification, astronomy, astrobiology, cosmology, they’re all interesting, in depth fields. But so is marine biology, ecology, zoology, they are all interesting, highly researched fields, but they just aren’t comparable, and each of them poses their own difficulties.

There are a lot of things that can be recreated in a lab when it comes to physics and chemistry, but we can’t use a lab to discover a new species of fish, biology is a result of evolution, and evolution, by definition, takes hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s far to unstable to accurately predict with computer simulations. 

So really, there isn’t an answer to the question of “why do we know more about space than we do about our own planet?” because the question itself is flawed.  The real question I’d urge you to ask yourself is “How do we know what we do about our planet, and the space it’s in?”.

Thank you,

Ryan.

Social Anxiety and Me

I went through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) over the course of five months to treat social anxiety disorder. And although I’m not a therapist, or a qualified mental health professional, I do think there’s always some value in sharing an experience, and so that’s why I’m writing this.

For a bit of backstory, I was an awkward child, didn’t have many friends throughout primary and secondary, I couldn’t start conversations, and if anybody started a conversation with me I tried my best to end it as quickly as possible, and I displayed all the anxiety symptoms during social interactions, perspiration / sweaty palms, a feeling of sickness, trembling (especially in my legs) and a few more. I was bad to the point where, often to my mum’s annoyance, I couldn’t even go up to the counter in McDonalds and ask for a barbecue dip until I was about fourteen years old. In college I was a little bit better, I could make friends with the people that spoke to me first and were willing to put a bit of effort into trying to be friends with me, and once I turned 18, I started to rely on using alcohol as a social lubricant. An issue that I have since resolved. 

But I was bad, I have a vivid recollection of being fifteen years of age and having to do a presentation in a school assembly with one other student. It ended with me standing at the front awkwardly, not saying a single word, while I started to get more and more of a cloudy head and clammy hands until the assembly finished and I genuinely felt like crying, it was an awful experience to say the least. 

I finally went to get help at the age of nineteen, while I was working on a construction site, I got put on medication, but it made me ill, I was lightheaded and dizzy and couldn’t complete my work, so I went back and was offered therapy. I was hesitant at first, but I went along with it, and it ended up being undoubtedly, one of the best decisions I had ever made, I went once a week, for an hour, I had to take Tuesday’s off work (I was working about an hour’s drive away and I didn’t have a car) and I’m pretty certain that my absence was the main reason I ended up losing that job – although I didn’t enjoy it so I think it was really a blessing in disguise anyway.

But anyway, this article is really about what happened after therapy, and how it’s impacted my life. For how hesitant I was about going, the day I got discharged from therapy was actually quite scary, I didn’t have that safe haven to retreat to once a week to work through all my issues, but I was confident in the fact that my therapist, for whom I am extremely grateful, had equipped me with the tools and strategies to cope on my own at this point. 

I really started pushing myself after therapy to improve my social skills, I’d always wanted to be a more social person, I like people, I like talking to people, I was just always too scared to do it. I started off doing small things, like commenting on reddit posts of strangers. Then I worked up to starting conversations with people at work I hadn’t spoken to before. They weren’t anything interesting, they probably even thought I was a bit weird, awkwardly asking them questions and forcing conversations, but the point was that I started to care less and less what they thought, and once I started to evolve the skill of not caring what people thought, that’s when my confidence came in. 

My biggest fear was contributing to a group, if I was out with more than two other people, my behaviour was comparable to that of Raj from the early series’ of The Big Bang Theory, and if I was going to meet a group of people in town, I’d arrive early, and go somewhere else first so I could have a couple of drinks to calm myself down. But even that became easier and easier over time as my confidence grew and I was applying the techniques and thought processes that my therapist taught me. It wasn’t constant improvements, some days the thought of social interactions still made me feel physically sick, but I was seeing progress, and actually, that’s where this whole website and blog came from, I’d always liked writing and this started just as a way for me to put my work in the public eye. I didn’t expect it to get any views, and then some short stories I’d written actually did, then I got a like on one and it was such an amazing feeling, I remember uploading something and waking up and it got something like ten likes and I was absolutely over the moon for about a week. 

Even to this day, my last two posts have got something like nine likes between them at the time I’m writing this, but the fact that they’re up, and people can see them gives me a feeling of confidence and empowerment, and the fact that people are getting an insight into my mind and they’re actually liking the stuff they’re reading, that does give me a sense of pride that I never could’ve imagined feeling even six months ago. 

I’m still trying to improve my social skills, but I’m at a point now where I can talk to a complete stranger like I’ve known them my whole life, I can address a group, and  if I had to go back and redo that assembly, or if I was asked to address a crowd of people for any other reason, I’m confident that I’d be able to do it, and that’s what really matters to me.

I’ve had some pretty big aspirations in my life, and throughout the years little fads have come and gone, but there has been some core values that I’ve always tried my best to stay true to, they’re what the Strength Camp owner Elliott Hulse would probably describe as “Soul goals”, and for me my main “soul goals” have always revolved around other people. I always wanted to help people, in any way I can, whether it was by teaching them something, helping them in some way, or even just as simple as trying to be that smiling face that can make them laugh in a tough time (that’s why I think positivity is such a big thing to me, and of course I can’t keep it up consistently, that’s inhuman, but I always try my best to be positive, and not let negativity overwhelm me). 

That’s another reason this whole thing started, not only because it was a challenge for me, but also because having social anxiety was very inhibiting considering the stuff that really matters to me in life involves human interaction. It’s impossible to help somebody or teach somebody something if you have no way of interacting with them. 

A lot of my posts are about Stoic philosophy because that is something I find interesting, and it’s something applicable, it’s something I’ve deemed worth sharing, and I am going to diversify and talk about other subjects, and just offer my insight into different matters, and I would encourage anybody reading this to do the same. Just because you might not be an expert at something, doesn’t mean you can’t offer a valuable input, or a different way of looking at a problem, Joe Rogan isn’t an expert at a lot of things, but he still offers his opinion and listens to his guests opinions and that’s one of the things that I think a lot of people like about him, he’s not intimidating to listen to when he talks to the likes of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Elon Musk, because he’s offering his perspective knowing full well he isn’t an astrophysicist or an engineer. 

And that’s really what I’d like to do , I’m interested in a lot of things ranging from poetry, to psychology, to sports, to mathematics and engineering, and in researching them I can learn more about them for myself, and then in sharing the information on this platform, I can hopefully educate or even spark an interest in somebody else about the subject, but also I can use that as a testament to myself not being anxious to put my thoughts and ideas forward to the world and open myself up to criticism. 

And I hope that this bit of backstory provided an at least somewhat useful insight into myself and this website, and feel free to leave any questions in the comments or contact me via Instagram @crxl_online or via email at contactcrxl@gmail.com

Thanks for reading,

Ryan

RESILIENCE

The inspiration for this post comes from a very powerful, and very moving, TED talk I was watching from Lucy Hone, she is a very influential lady who is a lot more qualified than I am to call herself an expert on resilience, she’s gained the right to that title by not only dedicated years of research to the topic, but also through personal events from her life, most notably, the tragic passing of her young daughter and two very close family friends, and for anybody that hasn’t seen that TED talk, I’d highly recommend you watch it, I’ll leave a link to it at the bottom of this post.

Another person more qualified to talk about resilience than me is Ross Edgley, who’s book “The art of resilience” is coming out very shortly (depending on when you’re reading this of course). The man that swam around Great Britain, pulled a car the length of a marathon, and climbed a rope until he had climbed a height the equivalent to the height of mount Everest, is definitely a self-taught resilience expert. And the stories of these two very different people, who have shown resilience in completely different ways, have really made me think a lot about the subject, and I wanted to provide me input into what resiliency is, and why it matters so much across such a vast spectrum of activities.

So, what actually is resilience? https://www.lexico.com/defines resilience as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Or “the act of rebounding” is another definition. First used in the 1620s the word is a derivation of the Latin term “resilire” which means “to recoil or rebound”. There are generally regarded to be four types of resilience: psychological; physical; emotional; and community. Personally, I believe that psychological resilience is one of the biggest factors in determining your physical and emotional resilience. The way you programme your mind to perceive the world around you, the way you choose to react to certain events, and even just the thoughts that you let occupy space and time in your head all determine what your body is capable of.

You may have heard of the “40% rule” and it’d told as being a navy seal rule that basically tells you that when your mind is telling you that you’re done, and you have nothing left to give, you’re actually only about 40% done. And that does have a lot of  truth in it, I’m not sure about the exact statistic of 40%, but generally when your mind first tells you that you’re done, you actually aren’t, you still have more to give, and the test of resilience is whether you let that negative thought of “I’m done” stay in your mind, or whether you can overpower it and tell yourself “I have more to give”. 

It’s not secret that the mind and the body are connected in ways that aren’t always obviously apparent, bioenergetics, the area of biochemistry concerning energy flowing through living systems, is a testament to this. If you look at the big advocates of bioenergetics and how understanding it can lead to increased athletic performance ability, such as Elliott Hulse, he has built his whole career on strength camp (a strongman competitor himself) but also teaching men to be “alpha” to “ground” themselves and to do this he adopts an almost spiritualistic view on how to get control of your body. And the bioenergetic exercises, like certain stretches, and even just animalistic movements and loud vocal roaring, have proven to help him, and an army of men and women. And I personally have tried some of these exercises, and they do make you feel more powerful, and they put you in a really fired up, primitive state. And to hand I don’t know the full biochemistry that’s going on, but all this stuff originates in the mind, controlling your energy and your hormones, and it does seemingly give you energy from nowhere. 

And there is definitely evidence to show that tapping into your primitive side aids in testosterone production, which does in turn increase your energy levels (like a pre workout supplement aims to do). But as far as the stretches, I can’t speak from a biochemical standpoint, but whether or not this has truth in it, or it’s just a big placebo doesn’t actually matter. There is sufficient evidence to prove that placebos do really work, and in turn that is just another way to prove the underlying connection that convincing your mind of something has on your body.

There has been a lot of research into how your mindset can affect your physical performance, and every study I could find concluded that negative thought patterns were detrimental to your ability to perform, the old saying “grin and bear it” really does hold true.

Not only there though, but when you look at men having issues with sexual performance (which before I continue I would like to say is very normal and very common affecting around one in three men), premature ejaculation especially is thought largely to be a psychological issue more than it is a biological one. The drug Priligy that aims to combat the issue actually works by controlling your serotonin levels, which is why depression and anxiety are often causes of men’s sexual performance issues and often times therapy is a better treatment than pharmaceuticals.

So how does all this tie into resilience? Well your brain is the cause of most of the good and bad things that happens in your body (seeing as it is the main control centre), and the way you think has an effect in a lot more areas than you might at first realise. And if you can retrain your brain to think positively, and to try and find solutions rather than problems, then that could prove to be one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal, and whether your goal is to run thirty marathons in thirty days, or to cope with the bereavement after losing a loved one, resilience really is key. 

Link to Lucy Hone’s TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/lucy_hone_the_three_secrets_of_resilient_people

Ryan

THE DICHOTOMY OF CONTROL

The dichotomy of control is a term used by the Greco-Roman Stoic philosophers, and it means ‘to understand the difference between what you can, and what you can’t control.’ Which at first might seem obvious, but there are actually a lot more things that are outside of your control than you might first thing, and in understanding that, you can develop a certain confidence and charisma that comes from being able to 100% back your decisions and your choices and knowing that external factors will more often than not play a very large factor, and this is the reason that being a ‘control-freak’ very seldom pays off.

The only real thing you have control over is your internal self, you can control your behaviour, you can control how you react to certain stimuli, you can’t control how other people will interpret that reaction, and as much as you can try to sway a decision in your favour, ultimately there are far more deciding factors to most problems. I think the best way to express this is to give 2 examples, and explain the specific circumstances, but then call back to those analogies to explain the broader definition.

Say you’re up for a promotion at work, you’ve been there for 8 years, you’ve put your heart and soul into the company, and you’ll find out tomorrow if you’ve gotten it or not. Are you feeling anxious for “the big day”? Are you struggling to sleep because of that little sickness feeling you’ve noticed in your stomach? Why is that? What reason do you have to feel sick for tomorrow? You’ve already put in the work, you already showed up for the last 8 years and did the groundwork that lead up to this moment. Tomorrow is just the day you find out. Plus, and most importantly, tomorrow is outside of your control, no matter how much work you put in, maybe somebody in your department would be a better fit because of how they naturally are, maybe your boss just likes somebody more than the other candidates because their kids play football together. The intra-office politics, the laws of attraction, the way other people act and behave at work, are all things that are outside of your control, and they’re all major contributing factors to whether or not you get the promotion.

And the hardest part for most people is accepting how little control they have over the outside world, the problem is, people are unpredictable, but your choice isn’t actually whether you get the promotion, your choice is how you react upon hearing the news, regardless of the outcome. And your sense of pride should come from the fact that you know you spent the last 8 years working as hard as you could, and no amount of politics can take that away from you.

Another situation this applies to is having kids, if you’ve got a son or a daughter, when they get somewhere between the ages of 13 – 16, they might start acting up, rebelling against you, maybe even coming across like they hate you or resent you, and that can lead a lot of parents to question themselves, even knowing full well that they provided everything could and were the best parent they could be. However if you apply the principles of the dichotomy of control to this situation, then split everything into factors you can control and factors you can’t, you can’t control the way your offspring is behaving, you can’t control the things they do or say (you can argue with them about it, and you might be able to influence them, but you can’t control them), whereas you can control how you let it affect you. Therefore, the right perspective to take is that you should take comfort in the fact that you did your best, and that you are continuing to do your best in supporting them.

Those, however, are both very microcosmic examples of the principle. So, to put it into a broader scope, Epictetus tells us that regret is a waste of our emotional energy, as we cannot control the past. We can, and indeed should learn from it, but the only situations we have control over are the ones happening in the present, and so those are the ones we should focus our attentions on.

To understand the foundations of this philosophy, you first need to understand that the times of its origin were very different to our modern world. Which isn’t an issue, but it does mean that the theories must be adapted to a modern standpoint and a lot of what the philosophers said can’t be taken at face value. These axioms of the time were written when exile and capital punishment were common forms of punishment in empires ruled by often questionable morals and orders given by people with an even more questionable soundness of mind.

But when Epictetus said we should practice non-attachment to things and people, he phrased it “… when you are attached to a thing, not a thing which cannot be taken away, but anything like a water jug, or a crystal cup, you should bear in mind what it is, that you may not be disturbed when it is broke. So should it be with persons; if you kiss your child, or brother, or friend… you must remind yourself that you love a mortal, and that nothing you love is your very own; it is given you for the moment, not forever, nor inseparably, but like a fig or a bunch of grapes at the appointed season of the year, and if you long for it in winter you are a fool.”

The first part is easy to understand, in modern times that just translates to “Don’t get too attached to your new phone, it’ll break and be replaced at some point anyway.” But you might question “Well is my own son or my own brother really comparable to a phone, or ‘crystal cup’?” Well yes, and no, the attachments we form with humans are more meaningful, Epictetus himself even took in a friend’s son and raised him, and if bonds didn’t matter than he wouldn’t have performed such an act of compassion and humanity.  But like I said, back then, people could be exiled from their homeland just because the emperor had nothing better to do that day, and they didn’t have facetime back then, so you had to be ready to accept that even the people close to you could be taken away from you with a moment’s notice.

In modern life that still applies, somebody close to you might move to the other side of the world for economic reasons, like cheaper living or better access to work. Or even just because of  a wanderlust, and there’s no reason that decision should affect you, but the lesson to be learned is not to not care when people are gone, it’s to care when they are there, and to not take the time you spend together for granted whilst you’re living through it. In the same way that you might enjoy eating fresh strawberries or fresh grapes in the summer when they’re in season, but when it gets to winter, don’t waste your energy wallowing in self-pity over the fact that you can’t eat that same fresh fruit. Human’s are also objects from a purely logical standpoint, and they are mortal objects, by definition they don’t last forever, and by nature they can move, so you shouldn’t get attached to the point where their absence causes so much trauma to you that you can never get past it.

So as a final note, the DOC is an important principle that has stood the test of time through stoicism, and Buddhism and a multitude of other philosophical and religious traditions, and it is something that, through adaptation and tailoring, you can definitely apply to your life to make a positive difference.

(Massimo Pigliucci was a huge inspiration behind writing this article, the book “HOW TO BE A STOIC” is an absolute masterpiece and this was an attempt to really get the key points that I could find from chapter 3 of that book.)

Ryan

Make Yourself Memorable

What do you want to be remembered for? In 10, 20, 30, 100 years’ time, what are people going to think about when they hear your name? Have you built yourself a legacy? In my opinion, if you have a goal, or a passion, or even just an idea you’re unsure about, you owe it to yourself to wholeheartedly make sure you manifest that to the world. Even if, and in actual fact, especially if other people are telling you it won’t work. In general, people are good at shooting down concepts and ideas, and listing all the negatives, and saying why it won’t work, but your goal has to be so clear, and so ingrained into you, that what other people say, doesn’t affect you. Because in years to come, other people aren’t going to be the ones that regret never trying, you’re going to be the one that spends their whole life wondering “what if…”. Nobody owes you anything, the only person that owes you anything is yourself.

I talked in my last post ‘the modern stoic’ about the idea of self-actualisation, and if you can be happy and content living your normal, average life, then that’s great, but if not, then you need to make the changes, you need to hold yourself accountable, and make sure you’re accomplishing all of your goals.

I have goals, I have passions, I have dreams, and I know for a fact I’m going to work relentlessly until I get to the point where I can look myself in the eye, and honestly say to myself, “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.” And I’m not here to preach to you what my goals are try and convince you that you should have the same goals as me, because we’re all different, and the fact that we all have different goals and different dreams in life is the very nature of what makes us all human, our individuality, and what makes us all unique, I believe is the biggest thing that connects us all.

I’m a big fan of nature, and biology, and psychology, and philosophy, and within philosophy, especially epistemology, the theory of knowledge. Arguably one of the most famous philosophers, René Descartes once said “it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” And recently, I’ve been doing that a lot, and quite honestly, doubting the world around me has inspired me in a weird way, to not doubt myself, because my passions and my dreams all revolve around nature, I don’t really care too much about money, I don’t care about many material things, as nice as new cars and big houses are, I care about life, mine, other people’s, animals, anything with sentience, and consciousness, that’s what I enjoy, and when I look at certain things happening in the world right now, I think doubting myself, and my ability to accomplish what I want, would be doing a disservice to not only me, but the world around me as well.

And I’m not putting down anybody who’s goal in life is to make a load of money, if that’s what’s important to you, and that’s your passion, what you want to dedicate yourself to, then I’m in full support of that, but to me, money has no intrinsic value, and I’m a realist, so I know that money does have value, and to accomplish my dreams, money is a necessity, but to me it’s nothing more than a tool that can be used to fulfil my passions. It’s not money I’m interested in, it’s freedom, my biggest personal goal, is the freedom to travel the world, and see everything that’s out there, but also to have a positive impact on the places I visit. I firmly believe that life has no inherent meaning, it only has the meaning that you choose to give it, and so to me, living a life where I can make as much positive change to not only myself, but everybody and everything else, is my value, that’s the meaning I’ve assigned to my life, because personally I’ll never be self-actualised with a ‘normal’ life, I won’t be able to get to 50 years old, and look myself in the mirror and be genuinely, completely happy, if I know I still get up every morning and have to put on my hard hat and high-vis vest.

And again, this isn’t an attack on people that can be happy with that, I know a lot of people who work in my current job that are very happy, and do enjoy their life, and I’m happy for them, but it  isn’t for me, until the day I can look around and see the positive changes I’ve made to the world around me, I won’t let myself stop trying. I was watching a video recently, and Eddie Hall (world’s strongest man 2017) said something along the lines of “Not everybody wants to go out and swim all the way around great Britain, not everybody wants to deadlift 500 kilos, some people just want to go to work every day, and come home afterwards, and that’s what they’re happy with.” And that’s true, your passion might just be having a family, a wife, a couple of kids, a dog, I don’t know, but if you’re at that point, then that’s great. But on the other hand, I want to open wildlife sanctuaries, and help educate people in less developed countries, learn new skills, travel, see the world, I want to inspire people to achieve their personal dreams whilst I’m achieving my own. I just want to see more happiness in the world. I want to help fight against poaching and deforestation, I want to help to fight climate change and global warming, and this website and this blog and what I’m basically hoping to do with this is create a community of people that want to better themselves, that’s my passion, and if, by doing this, I can inspire even just one or two people to go out and accomplish something they’ve always wanted to do, then that’s when I’ll be able to start looking myself in the mirror and feeling a sense of pride.

And I know it’s common advice, but you can’t let other people’s opinions stop you from chasing dreams, and I suffered with pretty bad social anxiety for a long time, and I know for a fact there’s people out there that will judge the things I say, and they might make fun of the fact I have a blog, but on the path to doing what you want to do, you just have to accept that people will form their own opinion of you, and that’s okay, because you don’t have to care what other people thing, not everybody is going to like you, those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

And I had to go through therapy to realise that, and there’s still times where I feel anxious, or nervous around people, and the fact it scares me to have my voice heard, and out there, is part of the reason I decided to do it, I’m not going to advocate going out and doing things that scare you, if it’s not something I’d do myself, but this was step one on my way to accomplishing all of my dreams and all of my passions, and in the end, the thought of getting older and looking back on my life and knowing I never even tried to achieve my maximum potential, was a lot scarier to me than having such an insight into my mind out there for the world to see will ever be.

So, I hope that from this you take away that if you’ve been on the fence about starting something new, or trying something you’ve always wanted to try, then just go for it, because the worse case scenario will never be as bad as never trying in the first place.

Ryan

The Modern Stoic

Modern life is stressful, there’s an abundance of information and opportunity available, and it can often times be difficult to trowel through all of the distraction and focus on the things we should; sometimes there’s even that much of an overload of possibility, it’s overwhelming trying to make a decision about what matters to you and what to prioritise. There’s so many menial, pointless events that we dwell on, and we could better spend our time focusing that energy into other things. 

I can’t cover every detail of Stoicism in this post, but it is an interesting topic, and it does bear discussion, there are a lot of reasons why, along my personal journey, I started to embrace the ideals of the old Stoics. One of those reasons was how simple the philosophies of it were, and how adaptable it is to modern culture. The Stoics embrace the idea of the Logos, which is how the universe is structured, it isn’t necessarily a God, but Stoicism is inclusive. The Logos is a respect for all things human and natural, there’s no place in Stoicism for transcendental beings, it’s merely a quest for a happy and meaningful life by embracing all things natural.

The origins of Stoicism date most famously back to, Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor, and Epictitus (which translates to “acquired” – nobody actually knows his real name) who was a slave that educated himself highly enough to be set free by his master. But you don’t have to read the meditations of Marcus Aurelius in order to be a stoic, you aren’t committed to going to a sacred building at arbitrary intervals in order to prove your faith. And although it has its ancient foundations, the Stoics openly embrace that scientific advancements can dismiss old beliefs, and this philosophy actually embraces the advancement of science, they embraced being proved wrong on a quest to better their own knowledge and understanding of the world around them. The original stoic philosophy actually included specific approaches to logic and epistemology (the theory of knowledge).

Being a stoic sounds like some secret club or society, but due to its inclusivity, there are a number of famous people that have taken on some of its philosophies: Bruce Lee; Theodore Roosevelt; Tim Ferris; Ross Edgley. And there’s more that display this way of life, maybe without even realising it. 

Another thing that enticed me was its approach to the unknown, death. Growing up it was something I always had a great fear of, but the Ancient Roman philosopher Seneca said “A man cannot live well if he knows not how to die well” and, amongst a few other things, I looked into this, and I like the interpretation of it that life is an ongoing project, and death is just a natural and logical end point, there’s nothing special about the event itself, and it is nothing that we should particularly fear. This was the understanding of Massimo Pigliucci in the book “How to be a Stoic”, which I would highly recommend. But I quite like the outlook of seeing death, something we often fear or shy away from, as something that doesn’t even have enough significance to bear thinking about, possibly even something that should be embraced just as much as any other part of our lives. 

Along the seemingly morbid train of thought, Marcus Aurelius said “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” To me, what he’s saying here is that you don’t have control over the outside world, but you do have control over your inside world, which is even more powerful, you cant always be in control of what’s going to happen, but you can be in control of how you react to it (and it might be worth noting that this, and a lot of other stoic beliefs are similar to a lot of the Buddhist beliefs as well). 

And this leads me quite nicely onto my next point, as said by the renowned psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck “The philosophical origins of cognitive therapy can be traced back to the stoic philosophers.” And this is something I found really interestingdue to the fact I have actually had cognitive behaviour therapy, relatively recently, and I found it really helpful. So, to hear that its origins lie with the stoics was a surprise. Although it did catch my attention when during the therapy we discussed how my thoughts inside my own head are the only things I have complete control over, and the reactions of the outside world don’t matter, the only thing that matters is how I choose to deal with what other people think. 

Of course stoicism, like all philosophies, ideas and religions, won’t appeal to everybody, for some people it just isn’t practical for them, it can be quite demanding in the sense that it teaches moral character is the only thing worthy of constant growth and cultivation and things such as education, health, money, marriage, family, all fall under the category of “preferred indifferents”, and as much as stoics don’t practice ascetism, and giving up all earthly goods the way monks do (and in actual fact, a lot of the ancient stoics enjoyed the effluent lifestyles they lived) those things don’t define who we are as a person, and therefore don’t actually matter. But for the same reason it has its pitfalls, by nature this increases its diversity across all races, social statuses and walks of life opening the door for anybody.

The only real true goal of stoicism is ataraxia, achieving tranquillity of mind, and for anybody with an interest in psychology, it’s noticeable that this, essentially is interchangeable with “Self-actualisation”, the top tier on the pyramid of “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”. Self-actualisation, or ataraxia, was best described by Ross Edgley as the ability to look yourself in the mirror and to just be content, to be content with who you are, where you’ve come from, where you’re going. To just be able to look in the mirror and appreciate yourself for who you are and what you’ve achieved. Ataraxy is defined as “a state of serene calmness”, it’s to just simply be, as the Buddhists might put it “enlightened”. And that is the beauty of stoicism, you don’t have to fully commit your life to something in which the end goal is based on the probability of an afterlife, defined by a two thousand year old book, laced with inconsistency and pure science fiction. But instead, for a stoic, the end goal is just to be the best version of yourself imaginable, to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be content with what’s looking back at you. 

And that is why I embrace this ancient philosophy.

Ryan

Motivation

It’s hard to get motivated to provide for a society that gives us the bare minimum in return, your motivation should be selfish, even if your motivation is to help others, do it because that’s what you want to do, not because that’s what you’ve been told to do. It’s okay to put yourself first, as long as it’s not detrimental to anybody else.