Being Willing to be Neutral

A couple months ago I watched the Wolf of Wall Street with some friends. As the credits began to roll, I started to consolidate my opinion on the move. Did I love it? Did I hate it? I could come up with decent rationale for either. Depending on the second my friends asked my opinion, I could have just as easily said that I liked it or disliked it.

The truth is that I had a neutral opinion on it. It had good points, it had bad points, and they mostly cancelled each other out. It wasn’t a great use of time, but it wasn’t a horrific waste, either. What was interesting, though, was that I felt compelled to have an extreme opinion of it. I figured that I must have loved it or hated it, and I tried to gauge which side of that I fell on.

If you watch TV, you’ll notice that no one is ever neutral about everything. Either something is wonderful or terrible, righteous or evil, a tragedy or a triumph. I don’t know if we’re imitating TV or TV is imitating us, but it’s not an accurate representation of how life is.

I’ve been making an effort to give myself the full spectrum when forming opinions of things, and of course I’ve noticed that I’m actually neutral on a lot of things. I don’t love lifting weights, but I don’t hate it, either. If I really pay attention to how I’m feeling, I’m basically neutral when I’m under the bar. I’ve also realized that there are some people I just don’t have a strong opinion about. I’m not avoiding hanging out with them because I hate them, just because I’m neutral about them.

So how is this useful? Well, the closer we can get our mental model to the way life actually works, the better. This is true not only of how we percieve the outside world, but also how we percieve ourselves. How can we ever make fine-tuned adjustments to our behavior or surroundings if we pressure ourselves to love or hate everything?

Allowing ourselves this full range is a form of honesty. I enjoy going to the ballet, the opera, and the symphony. Whenever good deals on tickets would come up for any of these things, I would jump at buying tickets to them because “I love” all of them. I would feel compelled to buy the tickets even if the particular show didn’t look amazing, as if to reinforce my belief that I really did love them all.

When I really thought about it, though, I realized that although I do love most orchestra concerts, I really didn’t love most ballets I went to. In fact, I was probably slightly negative on the average ballet. That realization caused me to only buy tickets for shows that seemed particularly great, instead of buying into my own hype that I loved every single one, and inevitably leaving the show unimpressed.

The raw sensory data of life is presented to us accurately, but we color it and bend it by attaching meaning to things. Some degree of that is inevitable, but it’s worthwhile to always try to question yourself and see things more accurately. Being willling to be neutral allows us to evaluate the full range of our opinions, which helps us make better decisions, and maybe even appreciate the things we do love even more.

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Photo is a bunch of reeds… pretty neutral. I have no idea how I’ve been traveling so much yet still have almost no pictures.

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