Your Mind at War

I’m glad I was born when and where I was.

Had I been born into another time or place, I’d have more than likely been expected – as a male not of the ruling class – to go and “fight for my country” in some bullshit war. And not that it’s a competition, but I’m one of the least patriotic people I know.

Now, I don’t oppose war in general – it is sometimes, heartbreakingly, the only choice left. But very rarely. Far more often, a war is the brainchild of some insecure despot who has managed to amass enough power to make it happen.

Carl von Clausewitz remarked that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” My take on this is that if you have to have a war – though you might well have to – it means somebody messed up politically beforehand.

But since I have no experience of fighting in a “real” war, let me tell you about the only war I do have experience fighting.

My little war

The battle-ground is my mind, and the opposing sides are two conflicting parts of my consciousness.

One part believes that it’s a special, unique human being. The other part thinks it’s just an insignificant member of a 7-billion strong species.

One sees the world subjectively, the other objectively.

One thinks that Revolver is the best Beatles album. The other argues that, in an NME poll, Abbey Road was voted number one – therefore that’s the correct answer.

One thinks that the creepy feeling I get from someone I meet is a sign to be wary of them. The other thinks that’s ridiculous – they are brilliant, accomplished, and attractive.

Together, these two ways of looking at the world form a complete picture – a three-dimensional view of life. Their extremes come together to create balance. But torn apart, they lead to living half a life.

What is the goal of war?

We tend to think of wars as necessary bloody affairs – two rival nations take up arms against one other in a field somewhere, the one who gives up first loses, the other wins. Except that’s not really how most wars have been fought.

According to Sun-Tzu, in The Art of War, the ultimate goal of war is to win with minimal bloodshed. In his eyes, the supreme general uses every resource available to evade and avoid battle. Not because he is a coward, but because in the long-run, fighting is incredibly wasteful and inefficient, when compared to politics. It should the last resort, after all else has failed.

My minimal bloodshed

Now, I am not trying to win this war in my head – I am not one of the opposing sides. I am merely the mediator who has to listen to and live with the two opposing sides battle it out in my head.

Unconsciously, my approach has generally been to let one side win. For a few days I’ll either see the world more subjectively or more objectively. Inevitably, the other, ignored side will then pipe up, get belligerent, and try to drag me to their side.

Over time, I’ll go back and forth, back and forth. It’s okay. But it gets dizzying. Is there not another way?

Just like people, the two sides of my mind want little more than to be heard, to be seen, their existence to be acknowledged. When they do feel heard and seen, they tend to be a lot more receptive to the idea of working together for the common good. And it makes me feel calm, capable, and productive. When they feel repressed and ignored, well that’s when they double-down on their right to rule my mind, on there being only room for one opinion round here. Life becomes unnecessarily difficult.

The only way to manage this war – which neither side can ever actually win – is to simply give each side the chance to express itself. Neutralise them.

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