Modern society fascinates me. Specifically, the methods we use to interact with each other fascinate me. In the name of political correctness, we've managed to sterilize our social communication. We're riddled with anxiety over potentially offending each other to the point where we can no longer effectively communicate emotion.
From a young age, we're taught to be respectful. Don't offend. Be humble. Polite. Timid, even.
While this is nice and diplomatic and leads to a civilized society, it has one striking problem: It forces us to hide our dark side in a vault.
All of us have multiple facets to our personality. These facets can be thought of as a spectrum moving from light to dark. The "light" side is kind, gentle, and respectful. It strives to help people; to do good in the world. It is democratic. It is cooperative and strives to please. Power is shared in an egalitarian fashion. This is the part of our personality that acts as a beacon of light to all those around us.
This light side of our personality isn't entirely positive. It can also be whiny and easy to offend. It likes to complain and grovel. It's overly sensitive and cowers in the face of aggressiveness. It is weak, nervous, and passive. It passes moral judgment. It demands conformity. It is incapacitated with insecurity. It doesn't take unnecessary risks and often fails to take the initiative.
This is the element of our personality that is heavily reinforced by society. Over time, we're moving more and more toward this ideal.
The darker side of our personality is the polar opposite. It is bold, hedonistic, narcissistic, and sadistic. It craves power and influence. It doesn't care about offending and loves to take charge. It is assertive, thoughtless, and aggressive. It likes to inflict pain. This side of our personality preys on the weak and selfishly gets what it wants. This side of our personality loves pleasure.
This element of our personality is often punished in our present society. It's not politically correct. We're taught that it's bad. Indeed, we can't have a society if everyone let their dark side run free.
So What's the Problem?
A single-minded focus on the lighter side is boring. A single-minded focus on the dark side is chaos and anarchy. Our existence requires both elements. If one is unnecessarily subdued, there is no opportunity for variety. If there is no opportunity for variety, we become desensitized to the one we're exposed to repeatedly. Pleasure itself is great... until we get it all the time. Pleasure interspersed with pain gives us contrast, which keeps each sensation novel. The pain makes the pleasure better.
Since we systematically scrub our society of the dark side of our personalities, we only experience pleasure. We live in our comfy suburban houses, surround ourselves with material goods that help us with our chores, always have food on the table, have no physical struggles, are polite and civil to all those around us, and have gentle, loving sex with our partner we always respect.
And it sucks.
It leads to neuroses. We secretly crave the darkness. We want struggle. We want to feel helpless. We want to feel pain.
We're led to believe that the removal of struggle will result in lasting happiness. That idea is a sham. Happiness doesn't come from the absence of struggle and pain. Happiness comes from the contrast between pleasure and pain.
Why did "50 Shades of Grey" become such a popular book? The writing sucked, the character development was weak at best, and the lame descriptions of sex sounded like they were written by a high school freshman. It was popular because it gave the public exactly what it craves- darkness. James tapped into a primal need that is sorely lacking in today's society.
I used to dabble in magic and hypnosis, which fit in with my psychology background. Hypnosis in particular was fascinating. Everyone wanted to be hypnotized. Why? Hypnosis supposedly opens the door to the cage that traps our dark side within us. It gives people free reign to let that dark side come out.
Of course, hypnosis isn't some mystical concept that actually lowers inhibitions or exerts "mind control" over the subjects. It's just a state of consciousness we fall into every time we fall asleep. It doesn't have special powers other than increasing your ability to focus on one thing. However, people believe hypnosis has special powers. As such, the lowered inhibitions are self-generated. We want to let our dark side out, and hypnosis gives us a convenient excuse.
[Sidebar- I'm available for parties No kids, please. :-) ]
How to Use This Idea to Enhance Your Life
Using this idea to your advantage is easy... don't bury the dark side to your personality. Let it out occasionally. Don't be afraid of allowing others to see it. Yes, it is scary. The fear of social rejection is instilled in us from an early age, and we've learned to hide our dark side.
Paradoxically, the opposite will happen. The contrast will draw people in. It will enhance the relationships with those around you.
You can use this for your personal relationships. If you have a mate:
- Initiate something unusual or interesting.
- Play the role of a dominatrix.
- Spend a day alternating between cold and standoffish and warm and inviting every 60 minutes.
Take the idea farther. Don't shy away from struggle. Occasionally do hard physical work. Hell, that's one of the reasons I run ultras... I like the experience of the struggle and pain. Here are a few ideas for occasional lifestyle experimentation:
- Go camping with nothing.
- Shut off your electricity for a day or two.
- Fast for 24or 48 hours.
- Spend an entire day barefoot (subtle cross-marketing persuasion, huh?)
- Wear a blindfold for a day.
If you're really brave:
- Move to a smaller house.
- Quit your high-paying job.
- Donate half of your possessions to charity.
- Run an ultramarathon within six months.
These are just a few harebrained ideas... but the picture should be clear. Don't hide your dark side. Not only will it enhance your own life, you will enhance other people's lives, too. Everyone around us craves people that are free enough to allow their dark side to emerge on occasion. Become that person.
Couple this idea with the idea of seeking excitement and you have a recipe for a truly awesome life. Don't bother trying to find the right job, move up the corporate ladder, buying a new house or car, or traveling to the right destination. Seek occasional excitement and let your dark side roam free and your life will magically transform. I guarantee it. ;-)