Archive | June, 2013

The Tao of Barry Black

14 Jun

For the first time in a number of weeks now, I’m feeling compelled to write a new blog entry. What on earth could have shaken me from my torpor?  TED. Or to be more exact, Psychologist Barry Schwartz and his insightful speculation on why we are so conflicted by modern life.


I suppose I should really explain my thoughts of late, you know, give you-the all-important reader-some catch to read further into this provocation of shared thought. I suppose I really should. And I will, but allow me to exact somewhat on this little sentence. Re-read what I just typed. That my friends is the crux of my everyday apathy towards what is happening in life, and also the turning point to why, as Barry Schwartz put it so eloquently; we have too much choice.


I’ve probably spent almost every day, consciously and sub-consciously since I was about 6 years old thinking about what I’d like to do with my life. I’m sure when I was a little kid I wanted to be an astronaut, an explorer and all manner of interesting and fantastical ‘careers’. But I can’t honestly remember back that far into the foggy abyss of memories. My mind goes back around 15 years clearly, and even then it’s in a patchwork of Polaroid moments where the details suffer an after-image effect like I shook the camera. Head traumas from my youthful follies I blame this on you. I tried to look up some academic information to back up the length of time for memory recall, but there are so many different classifications of memories, and most are measured in percentiles; I assume because of the variable uniqueness of each human. Anyway, as I was getting at before, careers. I’m a child born of the early 80’s and the crazed advance of capitalism, material gain and technological advancement. And choice. I, and many of my contemporaries have been born into a world where there is an endless amount of choice and possibilities. Heck we even have T.V. shows devoted to showing the fictional side of multiple parallel dimensions (Sliders, I will forever miss you.) The point in all this is along with the technological march, life’s choices expanded and so did the ease with which one could obtain knowledge, skills or simply accomplish a task.


Bare with me on this, it’s all going somewhere.


So it was, armed with all these great improvements in living standards, and ever expanding expectations of what was possible that I continued to grow, indulge and expand my experience base in life. I’ve been fortunate to be born to parents of the baby boomer generation. They were both in a comfortable financial place when I blessed them with my presence and thanks to them both being in their 4th decade of life, they had some valuable experiences to share with me. My early years were spent meeting a wide range of adults and children from all walks of life, and thanks to my parents occupations at the time (mother worked doing the books and behind the bar at a popular 80’s nightclub, and my father is a plumber and general fix it man) I got to be in places most children would only dream of or never be allowed. I would often be allowed to run around the dance floor of the nightclub with my earliest friend I can remember, the daughter of the nightclub owner. I would accompany my father on his many trips to the various characters he did business with. An arcade owner, local and well-known tattoo artist, properties in various states of repair, building supply yards, movie prop showcases (an amazing, but relatively short lived exhibition called “Movie Magic”. They had on site SFX artists, and original props used in most of the famous 80’s and early 90’s horror and sci-fi films).


And everywhere I went, there were many people who would look out for me and treat me. I felt like I was special. Whenever my dad was doing work in or near the arcade, I would be asked which machine I wanted to play on. Once chosen the local arcade mechanic would open the cash slot of the machine, and reprogram it so I had infinite credits. Think for a moment what that kind of special treatment would feel like to you as a child. This was the genesis of my view on choices. I didn’t have to go without anything wherever I was. No need to worry I didn’t have the funds, or the freedom to run off and see what was round the next corner. Whatever I could want to do, it was possible. Fast-forward through the years I would experience numerous paid for trips abroad, both with my family and with friends; Europe, the middle and Far East and America. I was exposed to all these different cultures and possibilities, often not just as part of the tourist trap experience. My good fortune didn’t end with that neither. Once I was of an age when I could obtain transport and further my own exploration of freedom, my ever-generous parents got me a scooter. This started my love affair with powered two-wheeled transport, and they further funded that with my full licence and a steady step up through the displacement categories of motorcycles. By the time I was 21 I had owned double-digit numbers of motorbikes, experienced all manner of legal and illegal escapades on them and seen speeds most people only witness at race tracks.


So far I’m almost certain most of you reading this will view me as the spoilt rich kid, and wonder where Barry Schwartz’s talk on too many choices comes into it? Whilst I was experiencing all this freedom, experiences and making choices, I was drifting along through my formative years absent from almost any form of restraint or discipline. And this led me to making some random and unfocussed choices when I was required to in life. Left school with no real goal or plan; just thought I’d head to college on a graphic design course as I’d done reasonably ok at school in this subject. That course then presented other choices, as the first year of it was an amalgamation of photography, illustration, fine art and graphic design. I was paralysed by choices. Me, being the free-spirited youth with no sense of discipline or responsibility couldn’t focus hard enough to choose or study for any single one of them, and as such left the course before the end of the first year. And after that I started a small bit of part time work, but didn’t stick that for long- a job held too many restrictions for me. I was hooked into my motorbikes by this point and thought maybe studying for a motorcycle mechanics qualification would be the path for me, so I returned to college. This however proved to once again offer me some choices. Did I focus on the motorcycle mechanics? The welding and fabrication side of the course? Or even the bodywork and paint shop? Choices, choices…choices, there were so many of them. And again I was struck with paralysis. So I passed the first year, but by this time was too old to get in with a garage as an apprentice, and as such left to consider my next choice. Further work experience and life experiences, all in areas of interest, yet none of them to provide a sense of purpose. So I chose to make an attempt again at education and head to university to study art.


Barry’s talk was trying to get at the way we in the modern age of a developed society have lost sight of purpose and self-worth. We have been raised, given a choice over everything, but too much choice leads to this constant feeling of regret and self-doubt. With all this choice we can never make the right choice, and every possible thing we didn’t choose to do is cast in a bright light that casts shadows over the choices we live with. In the simpler times of the past we would often inherit purpose from the family members we were born into; the class of society we were born into; where we were born. No more, we are told every step of the way that we can become whatever we choose to be. But this freedom is so vast it simply paralyses us with fear of the unknown. A fear that failure is all that awaits us as every choice we make-no matter how good-we could have made a better choice.


I’m a victim of this paralysis of choice. It has moulded me into the eclectic and educated individual I am today. And I know the choices I’ve made have been good ones that have coloured my life. But it’s left me haunted by the possibilities of what could have been and great difficulty in living in the now, something I’m getting better at. I will always wish my father had removed that choice from me and trained me to follow in his footsteps as a plumber, yes it may not have been my choice, but I would not have this overwhelming sense of expectation from life. Ah. The final link in Barry Schwartz posing philosophising on an affliction we all share.


Look back on this snippet of my life; not just my parents, to have such towering expectations of what life would provide me that I was setting myself up for disappointment, raised me to feel that every possibility was achievable and that I had no limits. I’m now facing a void in my life that needs to be filled, and no amount of materialistic gains will plug that gap. You see I feel, as I’m sure every human does, the need for a purpose in life. Something I can do that validates my existence other than to consume and feed the cycle of daily society, and something that I’m better at than the next person. I need to shrug this paralysis of with a volt of purpose to jump-start my next stage of life.


But that will require me to make a choice…


I’ve yet to make that choice, but I’m not making the same mistake of this cycle again. I’ll be setting myself some barriers, and placing restrictions on myself to break through societies trap of freedom of choice.


I’ll leave this article with a thought I have often; “We are all sold into a slavery of freedom the day we are born. We cannot buy our freedom from this, rather we must bind ourselves with restrictions to free our inner self”


Thanks to Barry, I think I get my thoughts a little more.