Arthur Smid

What's your story?

We interpret reality through stories received from our family, our community, our nation. Your understanding of the world changes when you have new experiences and better information.

A story is between reality and what you believe.

Reality is reduced to a story so it can be understood, even if only primitively. There are limits to stories: the perspective of the narrator, the method of delivery, what can be understood by the listener. We have only a story. But the story is important—it informs our behavior.

Beliefs inform our behavior.

At all times, everywhere I go, a story about life informs my decisions. Ultimately, our stories are about relationships, the rules and expectations of a social being. Your idea of your relationship to the world determines how you act within it.

Values are conscious and unconscious beliefs about life.

Your job, your community, your nation: all inform your values. It’s not easy to find a value that everyone shares. People have different values depending on how they source their power.

Where do you get your power?

To ensure survival, people adapt to their surroundings. How one chooses to survive in society is an expression of their values. Conditions that empower an individual will influence their values—it could happen within their community, school, profession, or even a relationship.

What do you believe in when you believe in yourself?

The family, the tribe, the community have all contributed to your beliefs. What is the source of confidence? What is the nature of insecurity? When you face the end of yourself, you can find answers to your questions. It can be an elaborate story, even science needs a story to be understood.

We recognize our connection to a meaningful existence through storytelling.

For history to have definition beyond an outline, we have to process information over many years. How do we interpret the past? Is history an agreement? Is history an argument? What is the victor’s history?

For every possible belief there is someone to believe it.

People can believe anything and believe it is true. Belief can be willed. You can believe something to be true because you want it to be true, or because someone told you it was true. If people can believe anything they want and believe they are right, how can you tell when you’re deceiving yourself or when your perception of reality is being manipulated by others?

We ask questions to learn the truth.

Convincing arguments and presentations of select pieces of information can create a desired perception of reality. There is a difference between the desire to learn and the desire to be right. Actively questioning your beliefs leads to greater awareness.

To arrive at a shared understanding, look at the problem together.

No one has perfect information. Simply ask questions about what can be perceived by everyone without needing people to acknowledge your beliefs. Rather than stating your beliefs, restate the problem.

To learn how to communicate with other people we relate to them.

Though we may not even understand our own feelings, we can find them expressed in music, books, and movies. Other people have had similar life experiences and through their stories we can better understand ourselves. Culture creates the context to relate more intimately with other people.

To fulfill yourself, it helps to articulate your desires.

Being able to state your goals makes them more attainable, and people are often willing to help. If you say what you’d like to contribute and what you need, it’s more likely you can get it.

Self-expression is the key to personal growth.

By giving yourself permission to fully express yourself, you can learn from whatever happens. It’s okay to be imperfect because you’re always learning.

Dialogue is an art.

The structure of your speech matters as much as the content. You are responsible. By changing your tone of voice and body language, you could say the same thing and express something different. The desire to be understood improves the clarity of expression.

The message depends upon its delivery.

Two people could say exactly the same thing but one could be believed and the other disbelieved depending on their social status. Who’s saying it, the method of delivery, and institutional supports all determine how we value what we hear from others. It is not the message that matters, but the people that give it value.

Correct speech and behavior exist as ideals.

We may do the right thing, or say the right thing, but these are ideals created by society. What would be accepted by one group could be inappropriate with a different group of people.

Ideal behavior is expressed by individuals.

We learn from examples set by others. Action is the model. By acting on the ideal, you can embody the ideal.

Your choice of heroes can be telling.

You may not be able to articulate your values, but the image of your hero symbolizes them and you grasp the symbol. The symbol can be held throughout the culture, or it can be personal. It can be a loved one. Your cultural heroes represent what you value.

Your role model represents values.

People have role models to adapt whatever advantageous behavior they display. We can imitate our peers or look to heroes. Ideally, the people in your daily life can provide guidance.

We test ourselves by accepting others.

It’s disconcerting to accommodate people who negate your reality. If they actively challenge your beliefs, this can feel like a physical threat. We believe for a reason; we believe to survive.

Accepting other people is easier when you see beyond socially constructed identity.

We have ideas about reality, but it’s not possible to know everything. We use symbols, stories, and ideas to understand the world. It’s valuable to pay attention when the story becomes strange, uncomfortable, and new. Accepting reality is transformative.

We communicate who we are before saying a word.

Your appearance communicates a social class. When people speak they use more than words.

Love is vulnerable.

If I express my thoughts and feelings honestly, I make myself vulnerable. Being honest allows more genuine interaction with others. We define our relationships by how much truth they can tolerate.

We are social creatures.

You are born into a class, race, and culture. Being alone isn’t a favorable condition for survival. You need other people to survive. Your family. Your community. Your friends can help you realize your full potential. You see your higher self in another person and your love nurtures the emergence of the higher self.

Strong attachments are a survival instinct.

We form bonds with other people to make it in the world. When a relationship becomes an economic partnership, we value an individual by what they can contribute.

In every human encounter, we negotiate status.

Even unconsciously, you assess whether another person can potentially help you, harm you, or neither—they are just another person. The measure of a potential helper tends to be wealth and social status, but the way we value each other is different for every individual. Status isn’t universally recognized. It depends on values created and recognized by a group.

Morality requires imagination.

What is considered to be moral results from social conditions. Our social structure affords privileges but these benefits can come at the expense of other people and our ecosystem. Abuse of human rights and the environment can be legalized by a court of law. Ethical behavior begins when you imagine yourself as the other.

Enter the possibility to recognize yourself in another individual.

Your relationship with each person illuminates a different part of yourself. Who are you?

Education adapts individuals to the social structure.

Individuals learn to protect and propagate their social structure. Business, religion, and government institutions all have explicit and implicit rules. An institution scripts human behavior through incentives and penalties. Beginning with the family we learn to survive in society by adapting to the social structure.

The interpretation of the world is a human agreement.

Our social group defines acceptable and unacceptable beliefs. People who have different beliefs may be friendly but they’ll disagree. Most of us like to be reassured of our beliefs. We seek the company of people who believe the same story. Because ultimately, it is not a story, it’s our reality.

Because we desire meaning in our lives, we assign value to the things that give us meaning.

We are active participants in creating meaning. A relationship, a job, a book gives you fulfillment when you find meaning in it. It’s also possible to invest meaning in something that is meaningless. Cultural value can be created but some things are inherently valuable.

How does an ordinary person respond to problems that affect civilization?

When people feel a problem is too big for them to solve, they may ignore the problem. People are more willing to act if they can join a group. Our shared problems inspire new behavior, new values, a new culture.

Society encourages certain types of human behavior.

Our economic institutions are founded upon the assumption of endless resources and infinite growth. Even conscientious capitalism requires continuous growth. We have a systemic imbalance between human society and the natural world. Only a change in the structure of our economic institutions can stop the destruction of our ecosystem.

The separate self is a habit of thought.

What’s happening to other people, to other biological creatures, and to the environment does affect you. In reality we are interrelated with all life on Earth.

What if having great wealth means having more responsibility to other people?

The pursuit of wealth contains the idea that money separates you from the problems of humanity. It’s possible to deny reality if you are insulated by the work of others who must confront it.

In social groups, the abuse of power is kept in check by social norms.

The necessary condition to abuse power is isolation. The empowered entity is separate from the group. It can entertain a storyline that justifies an abuse of power. Belief and code of conduct can separate someone from billions of other human beings. And if you have no compassion for other people, you can easily overlook the harm your actions cause.

People can commit atrocities while believing themselves to be good.

It is possible to believe the nation is just when it must destroy an enemy. We tend to caricature the enemy. We project all our own negative qualities upon the enemy and deny any responsibility in creating the problems we share. The primary conflict in politics is between perceptions of reality. To win, the story doesn’t have to be true. Groups of people are not moved by facts, they are moved by emotion. People create authority by securing support for their definition of reality. Even the denial of reality can become a worldview.

The state is a prolific source of narrative.

The nation coheres around a collective identity. The shared story bolsters the nation. Especially in troubled times, the national story prevails. We need other people most when we perceive threats to survival.

Culture shapes our response to suffering.

Facing death, an individual intensifies their feeling for being alive. A common question for each culture is, “What is a good death?” Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists all have different answers that define death and influence how they live. Your response to death is embodied in your life.

What is enlightenment?

The conceit of religion is absolute knowledge. To know what God is, to say with certainty, yes this is how things are. That’s the guru’s gambit, professing to know the truth. Everyone is filled with doubt, and the guru knows. The quest for knowledge can find you enlightened one day, endarkened the next. There is no resolution. The quest is infinite.

What is reality?

Reality is what exists when you stop believing in it.

Do we will our belief to protect ourselves and our loved ones?

A belief may be chosen because it’s convenient. We may profess to believe something only because it is useful, or even necessary to survive. Justice is the ideal, but our society isn’t. Hopefully, we can recognize a way to live in harmony with other people and our environment.

We become conscious of consciousness.

Reason assumes form. It can be expressed in words. Awareness is soft by comparison with reason. It can be a feeling, an intuition. Humans are unique in being aware of awareness, but what is aware? Who are you, really?

When is it dangerous to say the truth?

Being in public and addressing any topic, notice when your voice is blocked. You can refuse to talk about it, that’s okay. It’s blocked. The release happens through becoming conscious of the block. Your mind will explore the resistance. But the isolated mind is not important here, it’s observing the block between yourself and others that really matters.

The conflict you feel within yourself is embodied in the world.

To heal yourself you help to heal the world. Effort to solve shared problems can unite us.

A scientific statement is subject to peer review and can be proven wrong.

It’s a challenge to talk about the atomic structure of matter because our language evolved from a sensual experience of the physical world. Looking at atomic models and saying they’re spherical, there is a tendency to think of a solid. But rather, it’s an energetic polarity that bounds the shape of things. When we talk about the quantum world we use mathematics, statistics, and probability to describe how the particles of the atom behave. For physicists, “particle” refers to elements with behavior much different than we expect from particles in the physical world.

When we recognize the natural course of energy, there is only process and transformation.

The foundation of matter is energetic. Though a wooden table appears static, one hundred years from now, exposed to the elements the table will be different. We don’t know how it will change but it can be predicted. A wooden table can release its stored energy in fire.

You are everything.

An organism can be maintained until the energy that feeds its growth is exhausted. But this simplifies the matter. Living organisms require an ecosystem.

From great complexity comes greater organization.

Overpopulation is to blame for environmental problems, but now, maybe that’s misanthropic. People working together can create wonderful things. It’s not people that are the problem but how we behave. And this isn’t to place the burden of guilt upon individuals, because the way institutions organize and drive human behavior largely determines how we interact with the environment.

Earth is the center of the universe until humanity creates a telescope.

People tell stories about nature. Stories can transfer information from place to place and from generation to generation. Through culture, we have the ability to develop our knowledge. New instruments, new data, and new means of communication result in new interpretations of reality.

The universe is very flat.

We don’t know what happened before the Big Bang. We have no idea what exists outside the universe. Expanding in all directions, the universe has no center because there is no edge. At best we can say, our universe is infinite, or spacetime curvature closes back in on itself. It’s possible the universe is part of an infinity of universes.

To measure information we reduce it to its smallest part.

The binary state. It’s on or off. The need to quantize information arose through electronic communication, accurately transmitting a signal from one location to a distant place. Everything is connected. Being connected, it doesn’t follow that things aren’t differentiated. Discernment is the operating factor of awareness, intelligence, and information.

You need discernment to tell the truth.

There is a difference between personal truth and universal truth. People disagree. Seeking the truth isn’t about getting people to agree with you. Listen for any information that is true in what people say. Acknowledge what they said that is true and refrain from negating their point of view. Arguing isn’t as important as modeling a better idea.

With the desire to learn rather than the desire to be right, we can understand different perspectives.

The more you share your knowledge, the more you learn. Individuals can transform themselves through effort and love.

Intuition is developed through self-trust.

A young girl could assume she always does the wrong thing, but why would she think that? Why doesn’t she think: she does the right thing?

Environment and circumstance shape our behavior.

Each individual is unique and at the same time modular. Different people can drink from the same cup. Our hands grip the tool as well as another’s. We can sit in a chair and walk through the door. The human design allows us to share our culture.

We are form builders.

Humans create form. Some build with wood. Others with steel. We all create form with language. When you speak, you’re building a shared idea.

Public opinion is what can be voiced in public without fear of reprisal.

Fear can move public opinion away from the truth. One assumption is that everyone has a fear of isolation and fear mediates between opinions and one’s willingness to speak them.

Trust, science, and values play significant roles in understanding the world.

Given the great diversity of nature and of human cultures, there is only one thing that truly unites us: our dependence upon the natural world. We must assert the value of future generations, human health, and the planet over the financial goals of a few industries. It is hard to deny that a healthy ecosystem is necessary for our well being.

Eating is a sensual experience of our interdependence with nature.

We are interdependent with plants, animals, even soil micro-organisms. Our food comes from the earth. Our energy comes from the sun. Our life depends on the environment.

Nature is all that remains of being there.

The individual is not as important as the ecosystem that gives it life. Through greater awareness, it may be possible to live in harmony with nature. In an infinity of time, even improbable events can occur.

Life is without an end.

The individual is temporary.

The success of the pattern is the replication of the pattern.

Genetic information can outlive the individual. In the egg, a billion characters code the development from embryo to adult. Within the body, each cell contains information to recreate the entire organism. By creating endless copies of itself, the gene ensures its survival. The replication of the pattern is the success of the pattern.

Building the archetype.

Our genetic information could be viewed as our archetypal form, but it doesn’t lend itself to myth and symbolic representation as the human figure does. Each culture creates archetypal forms. They are in churches, museums, books, advertisements. Endless replication of the archetype is its best protection.

Great stories live within people.

An accurate representation of belief is human drama. Misunderstanding creates drama. The drama of life creates understanding. What happens when you drop the storyline? What happens when there’s no point of view to defend? Who is the observer?

Of all the stories ever told, the most important are the ones you believe.

Books will fade in memory but stories remain. Within an architecture of sustained belief we inhabit the world.