I know two guys. They don’t like each other. The guy we’ll call Joseph is a lawyer—a prosecutor—and the guy we’ll call Pete is a street person who makes his living collecting bottles in residential neighbourhoods. Both of them think each other’s lives are crazy and both wonder how I can be friends with someone as strange as the other guy. I find them fascinating. And you might too. Because they really help delineate the remarkable differences people can have in their sense of reality.
Joseph can’t imagine why a guy would want to live under a bridge, or why he would collect bottles when there’s high-paying labour jobs in Fort McMurray. Especially in Edmonton where it gets cold and snowy in the winter. He assumes the only reason anyone would do this is either mental illness or alcoholism or drug addictions, so let’s look closely at those reasons.
As governments cut services to keep taxes down for guys like Joseph, the politicians naturally attack the things that won’t hurt them in the voting booth, making mental illness and addiction-motivated crime rehabilitation easy targets for cuts. So in many jurisdictions around the world there are people outside that belong inside, getting care and support in a professionally staffed facility. But in addition to the addicts and the mentally ill, there’s a group Joseph can’t comprehend. They’re like Pete. They’re on the street by choice. Some of them even have sizable bank accounts. They’re like the pre-depression hobos. They’re more philosophical. They just don’t want to live the way we do. They think we live with too many rules and obligations and judgments.
To Pete, Joseph’s life looks like a straight jacket. His boss might be less intelligent and capable than him, but that won’t matter–Joseph will have to take those instructions. In court he has a Judge and a set of rules to follow like’s he’s five years old. He has to speak in a highly formalized way before he’ll even be recognized, and because we’re in Canada he’s even wearing robes. If you take away the spectre of “the law,” it looks like a silly alien play. But it’s not just Joseph’s work that seems crazy to Pete. Pete notices that Joseph also waits in a lot of line-ups to spend all of his money. At the gas station, in convenience stores, at the bank, at retailers that never seem to have staff, in tents overnight for iPhones…. Spending money has never been less pleasant. Joseph has the needs of other people guiding his actions for 95% of his waking day, whereas Pete has total control for 95% of his. To Pete, he’s the rich one, not Joseph. And if you really stop to think about it, Pete’s got a pretty good point. I know me and most of the people I know would love more peace, volition and freedom.
In the end neither of them is right or wrong. They just each have to pick their own poisons. Will it be a strange dance of formal English and appointments and obligations, or will it be waking up when you feel like it but sleeping in the cold? Either one can lead to an enjoyable life, it’s just a matter of who you are and what feels natural for you. So don’t let other people tell you how you should feel about anything. Pete and Joseph might be a long ways apart, but even people who seem close can differ in some surprisingly big ways. So what would be right for them may not be right for you so don’t bother with their judgments of you, and while you’re at it, don’t bother judging their paths either. You’re better to fully focus on your own.
Now go make the sort of choices that will lead to a truly wonderful day.
Following a childhood accident should have left him dead, Scott McPherson spent his life meditating on thought, consciousness, reality and the self. Seeing the emotional damage done by ego-based overthinking he began dedicating a part of his life to guiding students toward more peaceful and rewarding lives. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, Canada.