This is a republishing of Shoulders of Giants. Twice a month readers use the timeless insights on passion, productivity, philosophy, and happiness from this newsletter to build towards the life they want.
👨🏫 Topic: The world only cares about what it can get from you
🔍 Quote: Isabelle Lafleche on what you’re missing
📜 Passage: H.P. Lovecraft on how terrifying it is to understand our reality
This newsletter is based on “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person”.
The world doesn’t care about you—it only cares about what it can get from you.
Let me preface that with a story:
“The person you love the most has just been shot. They’re lying in the street, bleeding and screaming. A guy rushes up and says, “Step aside.” He looks over your loved one’s wound and pulls out a pocket knife—he’s going to operate right there in the street.
You ask, “Are you a doctor?” The guy says, “No.” You say, “But you know what you’re doing, right? You’re an old Army medic, or …” At this point, the guy becomes annoyed. He tells you that he is a nice guy, he is honest, he is always on time. He tells you that he is a great son to his mother and has a rich life full of fulfilling hobbies, and he boasts that he never uses foul language.
Confused, you say, “How does any of that matter when my loved one is lying here bleeding! I need somebody who knows how to operate on bullet wounds! Can you do that or not?!” Now the man becomes agitated—why are you being shallow and selfish? Do you not care about any of his other good qualities? Didn’t you just hear him say that he always remembers his girlfriend’s birthday? In light of all of the good things he does, does it really matter if he knows how to perform surgery?
In that panicked moment, you take your bloody hands and shake him by the shoulders, screaming, “Yes, I’m saying that none of that other shit matters, because in this specific situation, I just need somebody who can stop the bleeding, you crazy asshole.””
A harsh trust about the world is that you live in this situation every day. Except you are the confused guy with a pocket knife, and society is the bleeding victim.
Society is full of people who need things. People need houses, food to eat, entertainment, and fulfilling relationships. If you can’t meet those needs, you will be shunned, rejected, and disrespected in the world.
You can either be someone society needs or be left out in the cold—poor and alone. It doesn’t matter how nice you are.
This is how famous figures can be “cancelled” and still bounce back and remain successful. They’re valuable enough to society that it doesn’t matter who they are as a person, as long as they keep satisfying others’ needs in a way they can’t get elsewhere.
It’s the same way Chick-fil-A continued to sell millions of sandwiches every day despite coming out against gay marriage. It has nothing to do with society agreeing with them and everything to do with being great at making chicken sandwiches.
People have needs and thus assign value to the people who meet them. To society, you are the sum of your useful skills.
If your knee-jerk reaction is to reject this harsh truth, name five impressive things about yourself. However, you’re not allowed to list anything you are (i.e. I’m a nice person, I’m honest, etc.), only the things that you do (i.e. I sell art online, I just won a national chess tournament etc.).
If you found this task difficult (side note: I know I personally did), then this newsletter is for you.
On the other hand, if you’re thrilled with life, your career is going great, and you’re happy with your relationships, you don’t need to read on.
What you bring to the world doesn’t have to generate money; it just has to benefit people.
The same concept applies to relationships. What do you bring to the table? Because the girl in the bookstore you’ve been daydreaming about is in school to be a surgeon, exercises an hour a day to stay fit, and goes to dance competitions every month. All those attributes make her more attractive and make you like her more.
What do you offer? Are you smart? Funny? Interesting? Talented? Ambitious? Creative? Now, what do you do to demonstrate those attributes to the world?
The bare minimum is saying you’re a nice guy who’s not sexist, racist, greedy, shallow, or abusive. If that’s all you bring to the table, then you need to step away from the patient because you can’t operate.
All of the above may make it sound like who you are on the inside doesn’t matter, but that’s not true. Who you are on the inside is everything because it’s why you do the things you do.
You do open mics because you are funny. You paint because you are creative. You have an illustrious career because you are driven. You volunteer at a homeless shelter because you are caring. Everything you do is because of who you are. But who you are doesn’t mean anything if it never shows in the real world.
Pretend who you are is the dirt and what you do is the fruit. You are nothing but your fruit. Your dirt is meaningless aside from what it produces for other people—the fruit.
So the question to ask yourself is, “How does all of who I am manifest itself into the world?”
As harsh as all this sounds, we’re living in a very forgiving time right now. If times were tougher (think great depression or 2008 recession), the people without skill or drive would be even more ostracized. The talented and charismatic will always reap the majority of benefits in life.
An important indicator to watch is how much of your time you spend consuming things other people make (i.e. TV shows, movies, video games, social media) versus making things of your own. Only one of those adds to your value as a human being.
Most people endure life. They sit, suffer, and pass through it rather than live it.
Your passion is waiting for your courage to catch up - Isabelle Lafleche
The dreams you want to pursue need your courage to come to fruition.
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.