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AspirantofTruth

Applying Objectivism to personal relationships (currently struggling)

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Hey everyone. This is my first post here. I'm also quite new to Objectivism - I have read Anthem, and am half-way through The Fountainhead. I'm not at the point of calling myself an Objectivist for various reasons, but I have moved politically from a left-wing position to more pro-capitalist and libertarian over the last few years, and enjoy regularly listening to some Objectivist speakers and podcasts online.

The main issue I am struggling with at the moment is my social life. Alongside valuing self-sufficiency and individualism, I do also feel the need for a strong, if small, like-minded social community (not that these things are necessarily opposed, but I feel I'm in a process of understanding how they should properly intersect/interact). One of the greatest needs I have is being able to discuss ideas in the real world and have the other party at least listen to me openly and not label me as something nefarious.

I live in the UK, and work in the creative industry. There is a strong leftist/socialist sentiment here, and a hatred and disdain of anything seen as right-wing, of big business and corporations, even of our own company. In my office it is basically assumed that everyone is at least anti-Conservative (which effectively makes you pro-Labour). There is a general consensus that premises from feminist theory are true and that identity-politics ideology is moral, and that anything that might criticise or oppose these is immoral and bad.

This, of course, makes it almost impossible to speak my true opinions without socially ostricising myself. I feel myself with pent up frustration at wearing a mask all day every day, having to ignore comments and stay silent in group conversations because I’m the sole person who has a divergent opinion. It’s not a good way to live. I’m almost daily sitting with a group of people for 30 minutes during lunch break and don’t say a word because I haven’t agreed or related to one single thing that has been said, but they all agree with each other. Work social events are more painful to get through.

 

My dilemma is this:

Part of me desperately wants to embody Howard Roark, and not care what anybody thinks of me. I think that living authentically by speaking my true values is more important. However, when I actively engage in conflict it usually results in physical anxiety symptoms and not being able to focus on what I’m saying. The words don’t come out properly. I’ve struggled with this since childhood. So I’d rather just stay quiet and get on with my work, as it’s easier for everybody that way. But I’m starting to realise that maybe it’s not so easy for me…. And I should put my own self-interest first.

However, it appears that if I were to decide to start saying my true thoughts, I would only ever be saying something they perceive as negative or detracting from the conversation, and that doesn’t seem like it would be in my self interest, as I want to be able to get through my work day feeling that I’m on a positive footing with my colleagues. I could sit alone at lunch, but again this may result in them perceiving me as willingly avoiding them and foster resentment/awkwardness.This also wouldn’t solve the overall issue of not having anyone to express my true opinions with or discuss ideas openly with.

The problem extends beyond my work situation. Almost every other friend I have is a socialist or left-winger. This isn’t in itself an issue, but it seems like those who hold those values, also hold values of another flavour which means we have less in common in our passions and views of the world than we used to. In general, there is a very pessimistic, negative view of the world and of life. And especially of human beings. Whereas I’m in a new mindset that there are so many positive things about our world, and about life, and about the potential of human beings. I find that it’s difficult to fully express this mindset when surrounded by people who usually only respond with negativity. It is tiring and discouraging when each time I attempt to offer a counter-view or something positive, it is shot down by something negative.

 

Overall: I’m lonely, and feeling alienated. I wonder if this is a normal thing to feel when becoming interested in these sorts of radically non-mainstream ideas (ironic that Rand’s detractors think her ideas support some sort of status quo). I’m curious if others here have experienced this too. I have long-term plans to leave my job and find a better community of people, but how long that is going to take is uncertain right now, and with how strong these sentiments are in the creative industry, I could move from this company into the same thing in another. I’m really just curious about the experience of others and if people have any advice on ways to deal with this type of situation. Thanks to anyone who might have insight to share :)

 

Edited by AspirantofTruth

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If you're comfortable sharing your age here, that would help people give you advice. Some young people go through a "Howard Roark phase" upon first learning of Objectivism which can make them unpleasant to be around. (I know I did.) I don't see any specific reason to think that that's happening in your case, but I thought I should mention it.

I have a couple of pieces of generic advice. First, if you want to talk to someone about a deeply held belief like socialism that they have a personal attachment to, it's good to approach it by asking them polite questions rather than by arguing against it directly. That way they are less likely to get defensive, and they can put the pieces together on their own after the conversation is over.

Second, if you want to talk about ideas, I'd suggest seeking out a philosophy club or sitting in on a philosophy class (some professors will let you do this for free - email them and ask). People who study philosophy are sometimes more used to viewing their ideas as things that there are legitimate alternatives to, so you might get better discussions in that environment. Philosophy professors are basically paid to take ideas they disagree with seriously, particularly while teaching.

Lastly, this forum isn't as active as it used to be, but it's a good place to talk to intelligent people who are sympathetic to Objectivism. You should stick around! :)

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Hi William! Thank you very much for your response.

I'm 32, but am a bit of a late bloomer to a few things in life - I'm just beginning my career and only began studying politics and philosophy seriously in the past 5-6 years. Before that my life was a bit of a chaotic mess, and I feel only now that I'm finding a real sense of values. It's just been a bit jarring realising almost nobody in my life shares them!

Thanks for the advice too, I think you're correct about seeking out philosophy clubs. I'm bang in the centre of the country in a rural area so it's a bit awkward travel-wise, but I'm certainly going to make the effort to do it soon as I feel it will be a huge relief.

I will stick around for sure! I've been wanting to be more active on forums for a while, and do feel there will be much to discuss as I continue reading Ayn Rand.

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Hi, I think you're capable of expressing your thoughts well enough. If you have social anxiety, maybe you could get professional help with that. If you're just afraid of being ostracized, well, it seems like you're already not part of the crowd, so what do you have to lose? Do these people have power over your employment status?

I suggest listening to them first. Really listening. Which one sounds the most calm and reasonable? Which one doesn't talk over and interrupt others? There's usually one or two like that in every group. Approach that person and begin with something light, regarding a common interest that isn't political. Build a relationship before getting into something heavy like philosophy.

If you're not interested in the baby-step approach, then you could jump into the political lunch discussions by offering some rock-solid fact that looks bad for their socialist position. You don't have to come right out of the gate championing capitalism. Get them to think about how to defend their beliefs. Most people don't mind critical questions as long as you're nice about it. But I wouldn't try to change the mind of a hardcore socialist, especially the older ones. You might get some practice talking to them though. Maybe ask if there's anything they like about capitalism. 

Edited by MisterSwig

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For sure, some people will have negative opinions about you. You can't help that. All you need is to be aware of how you handle yourself. Are you combative, or is there something about the other person you would like to know? Do you always bring up a political topic, or do you sometimes talk about how to express yourself creatively, and what it means for somebody to be creative? Are you in an environment that makes you feel agitated all the time and you only want to focus on how they are wrong, or are you actually in an environment where you can express other values of yours that people relate to or find empowering? You can discover interesting people asking them about their goals, and the work they had to put in to get where they are. 

Even when everything is right, you might still be the sole divergent opinion. That's fine. People might admire that. If it happens, so what. It is not a bad way to live, because you would be the person that will have some impact on people. The trick is being open to expressing yourself. You are in a creative field, it should not be difficult to do that.

Now, it may very well be true that the people you work with are holding you back. Maybe they do insist on some hive mind, maybe they resist all efforts on your part to create a socially open environment. Maybe they aren't as hard-working as they should be, and they spend more time complaining about everything around them. At some point, you just need to cut yourself off. That would be a toxic work environment. 

Engaging with conflict that results in anxiety symptoms may be a sign of social anxiety. It might have a specific root though, sometimes Asperger's can cause high anxiety in social situations, sometimes ADHD can do the same. Getting a handle on that anxiety may be the best thing you can do right now for being able to live authentically. Saying your true thoughts might not bring as much conflict as you predict. Saying your true thoughts might include that you don't like somebody's idea for a creative project. I don't have specific advice about that, but stating the facts about something usually does better than simply saying you did or did not like something.

Which creative industry do you work in? I'm actually interested, but also I might be able to get more specific advice (anything involved with storytelling in writing especially).

Edited by Eiuol

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On 2/29/2020 at 2:37 PM, AspirantofTruth said:

Part of me desperately wants to embody Howard Roark, and not care what anybody thinks of me.

If one holds it that way, the only choice available will be to be separate from everyone, be a hermit. The key was that he knew what he wanted very clearly. Far more clearly than most of us do. He was not distracted because he was so grounded in his "knowing".

If you make it primarily about "other people", you already lost the game. Your wants, your goals have to originate from you. Sometimes it is hard to identify "was that my idea (desire) or someone else's" and we admire Roark for not being confused about his priorities.

I didn't care about how people felt about me most of my life and I regret it. Social interaction is a part of a satisfying life, just don't loose yourself (in them).

Edited by Easy Truth
grammar

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