Tranquilized by Trivia

By Paul Dunion | July 14, 2015

Tranquilized by Trivia

The above quote by the 19th century Danish Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, was a reaction to his own times, likely, unaware of how prophetic the statement was. We are all aware of the popularity of a myriad of sedative substances, including alcohol, street drugs and pharmaceuticals. We may not have realized how fashionable it is to be “tranquilized by trivia.” We can begin by asking: How does trivia sedate?

The Sedation

A preoccupation with trivia is a way to anesthetize the tension and shame that often accompany uncertainty and ambiguity. The sedation occurs as we think and talk about non-essentials such as the weather, our possessions, condition of our property, scores of athletic contests, and any non-essential that is in vogue. It is as if knowledge of popular minutiae somehow adds to the credibility of our knowing. We live in a culture that prizes certainty and denounces uncertainty. So many of us experience the weight of the culture’s condemnation of doubt that it becomes extremely difficult to shamelessly be uncertain. Our ability to wonder loses its power to open to exploration and creativity as they wither under a siege of cultural balefulness. Our choices are to either attach to trivia, or as James Hollis points out, to generate a “contrived certainty” — making believe we are certain.

The Compost

We may have moved a long distance away from the Socratic invitation to remain close to our uncertainty and our questions as the compost for wisdom. In Plato’s Apology, Socrates’ friend Chaerephon has returned from visiting the Oracle at Delphi who told him that Socrates was the wisest man in Athens. Chaerephon is excited to report to Socrates that the Oracle has identified him as the wisest. Socrates’ initial reaction is to be skeptical about the report, wondering if the man he was just speaking with might hold rank as the wisest. Socrates leaves the conversation thinking, “Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really worth knowing, I am the wiser than this fellow — for he knows nothing and thinks he knows; I neither know nor think that I know. In this one little point then, I seem to have the advantage of him.”

Not On Life’s Terms

Living life on life’s terms naturally produces tension. Life is mysterious and unpredictable. Such a journey guarantees uncertainty and ambiguity. It may be that on some level we decide we are never going to feel okay about ourselves facing the immensity of life. We believe we will never have what it takes to live life on life’s terms. We can’t imagine we will be good enough, so why not change life? Rather than live life on life’s terms, we will live life on our terms! Life is made manageable by being reduced to a laundry list of petty details: Does the lawn need cutting? Do the windows need to be cleaned? What player needs to be traded from my favorite baseball team? Who was the best-dressed actress at the Oscar ceremony? These are not inhuman considerations. However, they become dehumanizing and insulting of life when prioritized and allowed to prey upon our conversations.

The Price Paid

There is an immense price paid for refusing to live life on life’s terms. The problem is that life refuses to be put into a small box. It relentlessly presents us with loss, new challenges and trials we are never ready for. There are several distinct prices paid for attempting to reduce life to manageable trifles:

• We are ill-equipped to have significant relationships. We are unable to effectively address diverse views, resolve conflict, identify and ask for what we want, collaborate and take emotional risks that build rapport.

• We are unable to generate a meaningful life. In as much as we strive to reduce life to a favorite TV show, we know the emptiness of minutiae. We can’t escape the question: What makes life worth living?

• We are straddled with ineffective problem solving skills, leaving our ability to cope impaired and having us be prone to anxiety.

•W e advance a life of ignorance, with reliance upon clichés and platitudes, barring any possibility of the light of wisdom.

Detoxing From Trivia

Leaving the land of minutiae can be an arduous task, since we take up residency there due to an intense fear of life. There are several steps that facilitate the migration:

• A crisis that brings us to asking for help. This is a big deal since when our world-view is comprised of trivia, we are convinced we will never need help.

• Accessing a healer who can help explore our fear of life and its accompanying trauma. Learning to pay attention to internal somatic experiences that eventually will inform us by way of instinct and intuition.

• Learning to live life on life’s terms with its inevitable favorable and unfavorable experiences.

• Gradually withdrawing from the tranquilizing effect of trivia, learning to be honest about our fears, uncertainties and the need for help and support.

• Learning how to build and access genuine support.

We have explored the challenge of living on life’s terms rather than reducing life to a myriad of superficial events denoting little or nothing. Our task is to reclaim uncertainty and curiosity as honorable, holding ourselves with compassion as students and explorers.

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