Fear gets you nowhere, and other things I wish I’d known at 17

Tim Lott in The Telegraph:

Boyhood2_3357983bIf I were to list the things I knew when I was 17, it would be a very short list and most of those things would be wrong. I ‘knew’ for instance, that my parents were idiots, that girls were both more boring and nicer than boys, that the most important thing in life was to be popular and that anyone who had a ‘straight’ job was a fake and a sellout. It was me, of course, rather than my parents who was idiotic, but then at least I shared my foolishness with most teenagers. I did however have a sense even at the early age that I knew very little indeed (and this made me defensively certain about the opinions I did have). Forty years on, and I look back on a life in which I understand that my ignorance persisted for a remarkable amount of time. In fact, most of my life – since one thing I have learned is that knowledge is remarkably hard to come by. But perhaps I have suffered different qualities of ignorance at different times in my life.

In my own life, I would not pretend to know less than I did when I was 17 – that would be difficult indeed. And there are a number of things I would tell my 17-year-old self if I happened to bump into him – not that he would listen for a moment, since I am old, and therefore by definition, stupid. The first thing I would tell him is not to be afraid. Because although teenagers are meant to be fearless, I’m not sure that they are at all – in fact I suspect they are secretly terrified. Terrified of failing, terrified of being cast out of their homes and into an uncaring world, terrified of being unattractive, unlovable, unfashionable, unpopular. But fear, which is part of all our make-ups, is a fundamentally useless emotion most of the time, simply hampering effective action. I’m not saying there’s nothing to worry about – I’m just saying that worrying doesn’t do any good.

My 17-year-old self was fundamentally confused, and I think I would tell him that this was not because there was anything wrong with him, but because the world really was confusing – incomprehensible in fact. So incomprehensible that one of the most fundamental truths about the world is that people spend their lives trying to deny uncertainty by clinging rigidly on to whatever their world beliefs/philosophies happen to be. This is why most people never change their minds, once their minds are made up, and why they do crazy things, like go to war, or become suicide bombers, in order to defend their sense of meaning. So I would say to 17-year-old Tim – it’s not you that’s crazy, it’s the world.

More here.