Waitbutwhy

Ritika Agarwal

agarwalr@grinnell.edu

Ritika - JaeEun Oh

A while ago I read an article on a blog called “Waitbutwhy” (probably one of my favorite things to read ever—definitely check it out when you have time) about religion. The post was fascinating and eye-opening and all that good stuff, so I decided to write a sort of response piece.

First of all, a bit of background on the post. It’s called “Religion for the Non-religious,” and it attempts to provide a framework for self-improvement that has nothing to do with God or organized religion as we know it. The author talks about something called the “the fog,” which is basically all our primitive, petty, animalistic instincts that cloud our perspective and prevent the “higher being,” AKA our powers of reason, from doing its job. The fog prevents us from seeing things in context. It makes us shortsighted and stupid. In this piece, I plan to summarize some of the ways the fog has made me unnecessarily unhappy so you can learn from my misery and see through your own fog.

The fog makes you think your current state is the state you will be in forever when in fact life is a series of ups and downs and no one can ever predict what will happen next. For example, when I was eight years old and I peed my pants while sitting in my third grade classroom and everyone made fun of me for a week, I thought it was the end of the world, things couldn’t possible get any worse and my life was clearly ruined. A week later no one even remembered my little accident and I moved on with my life, no less of a person because of it. Or, when I was ten years old and I moved to India, I thought I would never fit in or achieve my true potential because the Indian education system didn’t suit my style of learning. I thought my life was over again, but just a few years later I moved to a new school where things were a thousand times better for me. Or, when I had depression and I thought I would never be happy again (I like a little drama sometimes, sorry), I started seeing a counselor and taking medication and things started looking up. Or, when things started looking up and I stopped taking my medication because I thought if things were good then they would ALWAYS be good, but things inevitably started spiraling downhill. The point is, the fog keeps you from seeing the big picture, from putting things into context, and lets you get carried away with extreme emotions. There’s a line from a poem I like called “If” by Rudyard Kipling that summarizes this nicely—“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two imposters just the same … Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.”

Also, the fog makes you value instant gratification over long-term happiness. Why else would I put off writing this column until the middle of hell week when I knew hell week was coming up and I really wouldn’t have time to do it then? Why would I choose to drink Hawkeye on a Saturday night when I knew that it would give me a terrible hangover and I had a ton of work to do on Sunday? The fog prevents you from seeing that actions have long-term consequences, or causes you to ignore those consequences. It can make someone in a healthy relationship cheat, it can make someone in an unhealthy relationship stay. It makes educated people with bright futures throw away their lives for a tiny bit of temporary happiness. In hindsight, it seems absolutely ridiculous. Why would someone do these things when they know what the consequences will be? But that’s the thing about the fog—it makes us do totally irrational things for seemingly worthless gratification.

So the question becomes, how do you deal with the fog? The answer is deceptively simple. “Waitbutwhy” tells us to simply be aware that the fog exists and learn to recognize when it’s clouding our perception. Being cognizant of the fog can save us a lot of unnecessary unhappiness. If I could have told myself that things will undoubtedly get better when I was down, I wouldn’t have spent so long wallowing in self-pity and wasting everyone’s time. If I could have sacrificed some of present me’s temporary happiness, I could have saved future me a lot of stress, panic, and in some cases, a splitting headache.

Be aware of your fog and actively work to see through it. You’ll be a much happier person if you do.