Now consider a person who conducts his mental life as wildebeest or sardines conduct their lives. He just moves with the popular opinion of the time… The thing to think now is X, the thing to get outraged about today is Y; tomorrow it might be Z that one must express outrage about. Such an individual may not conceive of himself as a copycat (we often have flattering opinions about ourselves) but as the milieu moves, so does he. There’s little if anything by the way of “my social group thinks X, but is X really true?” “Does X conflict with some other belief or ideal the group holds?” “Of all the things going on in the world, is Y the thing deserving our attention the most?” “Do the basic values taken for granted by my social group make sense?”
“Of all the things going on in the world, is Y the thing deserving our attention the most?” That’s the thought that comes to my mind whenever people talk about the news. I even think this thought when I sympathize with the agenda the talkers seek to advance. My internal monologue in such cases is, “You’re preaching to the choir, but why are you trying to make me feel upset about this low-priority topic?”
Yes, I too occasionally discuss trivial matters, but I do so to amuse myself and others. Not to spread negativity. Thus, I have been known to share celebrity gossip, but I’m not trying to make anyone angry about the misbehavior of a famous stranger. If anything, I try to make others see scandals in a humorous light, applying the test of, “Is the celebrity’s behavior worse than adultery?” If not, why should any stranger feel upset about it?
The main omission in Joshi’s book: He ignores what I consider the strongest selfish reason to speak you mind. Namely: Keeping your thoughts pent up often leads to the misery of obsessive thoughts. The best way to think about X all the time is to strive never to think about X. (“Don’t think about pink elephants.” “Never think about pink elephants.”) That’s one of the foundations of exposure therapy.
The second-best way to think about X all the time, however, is to strive never to talk about X. Joshi could have strengthened his thesis by emphasizing, “Even if talking about X causes conflict with the people around you, weigh that against your own peace of mind. Bottling up your thoughts hurts you deep inside.” Corollary: If you can’t speak freely with the people around you, you should try to make new – and more sympathetic – friends.
Another angle: The “New Age” idea that you should talk about your thoughts and feelings is deeply true. And the “hard-headed” idea that there’s no point talking about problems you can’t take action to solve is deeply false. Though nothing can change the past, simply sharing a traumatic event that continues to weigh upon you reliably makes you feel better.
That’s why I have a standing offer to listen to anyone who wants to talk about their problems, an offer I’m renewing right now. While I enjoy “solving” people’s problems, sometimes the best solution is simply letting a person speak their mind.