Studying philosophy made me a better community builder

To put it mildly, I used to avoid philosophy like it was the plague.

In fact, the one and only time I willingly learned about philosophy until very recently was one class I took my senior year in college. The only reason why I took it at all was I needed one more general education credit to graduate on time. I was hoping it would be a “cupcake class” that I could you know skip a lot and still wind up with an A.  I was very wrong. The reality it was the hardest class I have ever taken. I never studied so hard and was so grateful to get a “D” on a final exam than I did for that one class in my life. This is coming from someone who prided themselves on being a “honor roll student” since Kindergarten.

Since that disastrous and incredibly humbling experience, I’ve both consciously and subconsciously kept myself from reading and learning about philosophy for years thinking I was just too “dumb” to fully process and understand any of it in a meaningful way. To my detriment.

I hate to admit this so publicly but this isn’t a new phenomenon with me. You see I’ve always been a hard worker and love learning new things, but when I am learning something new and I feel like I make absolutely no progress after several months or worse feel like I’m regressing, I’m very quick to pivot or dismiss the concept altogether. Most of the time thinking I’m just too flawed or dumb to comprehend it. In these instances, I can be a very shallow student.

Understanding philosophy at even the most basic level is fundamental to understanding the world around you, your relationships with other people and especially in developing more self awareness.

What exactly is philosophy? Philosophy literally means, “love of wisdom” in Greek.

At the fundamental core, philosophy teaches you to think more critically and solve problems. So by not leaning into philosophical thoughts, essays and books, I was convincing myself (albeit subconsciously) that it was okay to be a shallow thinker. That’s some dangerous, seriously flawed logic.

For example, I have always been very interested in studying sociology and psychology. I used to think this was an asset that gave me a leg up when it comes to growing and managing on and offline communities. That is still true to an extent. There’s so much community managers can learn and apply from psychology.

However, understanding philosophy at even the most basic level is like 10x-ing all of that knowledge. In addition to understanding the human mind and behaviors, you have the added benefit of learning the truths and principles that influenced history from thousands of years ago dating all the way back to the Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius.

Like many complex topics, I didn’t even realize how much I didn’t know. In order to even start to understand philosophy, you basically have to “unlearn everything.” If this sounds confusing, it is because it is. And, the best way I can try to sum it up is this quote from Yoda. – “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

This wasn’t a sudden epiphany but one that was spread out over several months this past summer in deeper conversations and especially while I was reading Ryan Holiday’s book – Ego is the Enemy after hearing many rave about it.

With Ego is the Enemy, I found myself having to read it very slowly (I’m naturally a very fast reader, so this was new and challenging for me). I painstakingly had to read most paragraphs multiple times trying to process it. I still think I only processed about 25% of the actual wisdom in this book.

I had a similar experience reading Ryan’s previous book, The Obstacle is the Way. Only I was quick to dismiss it as “meh” at that time. Hindsight, I don’t think I fully understood it – or was even capable of comprehending it at the time. It is a book that I’m going to go back and read again in the very near future.

I feel the same way now as I’m currently reading Sapiens. Another book that comes highly recommended. This book is a total mindfuck in the best possible way. For example, take this quote.

“Any large scale human cooperation -whether a modern state, medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.”

You have to be some level of fucked up or willing to get deeply uncomfortable if you want to start reading – let alone complete reading a book with that level of deep thought. In one sentence, he just made me question every deeply held belief and truth I’ve ever known.

Reading any book that alludes to philosophical principles makes my brain hurt in a really good way. Again, it is a total mind fuck. But, the more time I spend rereading pretty much every line and processing it, the more it makes sense.  Once you unlearn everything, it gives you a fresh perspective which leads to critical thinking and better problem solving.

It takes much more time to read a philosophical essay or book, but when you do finally understand it, the learning is 100x more powerful than for example any blog post about how every brand needs to join Snapchat and Instagram Stories this second. (News flash err rant: Snapchat may be a mainstream social media site, but there are many, many very valid reasons why a company shouldn’t be on Snapchat. If any social media “guru” approaches you and tells you otherwise, please run far, far away.)

After all, Snapchat and Instagram are just social constructs that we use to communicate with one another. They don’t actually exist in the physical sense outside of all of our collective imaginations.

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