For hundreds of years, philosophers have used their imaginations to exercise critical thinking muscles. One tried and tested method is the thought experiment.
The thought experiment allows you to consider a set of premises as your constraints. You then explore what would happen under those conditions.
For example, try thinking of what a gender-less world would be like. There isn’t a right answer. You are free to explore the myriad possibilities. The only constraint here is that individuals are not assigned a gender.
This kind of experiment can especially help you explore constructs that you may have taken as unquestioned facts thus far.
Thought experiments exist to open up your mind. The premises don’t have to make sense in the real world.
In other words, you can unleash your creativity.
Good writing depends on the writer’s self-awareness and powers of observation. This is a skill each of us can build by thinking of hypotheticals, putting ourselves in others’ shoes, and considering questions that aren’t easy to answer.
“The House Guest” is a thought experiment I devised to help get my creative energy flowing. It also brought to light some things about my life that I should further evaluate.
Try it out. It might help you too.
Imagine a house with a special power. You can invite anyone from your past, present, or future to visit you there. This house will serve as an uninterrupted space for you and your guest. You may ask your guest up to three questions, and you will receive an honest response to each question.
This house could be one from your childhood, something you saw on a trip, or it could be entirely imaginary. The choice is yours.
Describe the house.
What color is it?
Is it large or small?
Is it secluded or part of a neighborhood?
Next, think of whom you will invite.
At what point in their lives will they enter the house?
Why did you choose this person?
How do you feel about them?
Come up with your questions.
What are they?
What do you think the answers would be?
What do you want the answers to be?
After the questions have been answered, you have a decision to make.
Either your guest will remember this visit (though they may chalk it all up to a vivid dream), or they will never know that this rendezvous occurred.
Which do you choose? Why?
Often, getting the first draft on paper is the hardest part. With a thought experiment, you have something to get you started.
As you answer each question, make sure your initial description is detailed. You can splice out what you want to get rid of later. In this way, your responses to the thought experiment serve as your first draft.
You can then mold your draft into a finished product. Your first draft can even be a jumping point for different types of writing. It’s all about getting those ideas flowing. You can edit the draft into a poem, a short story, an essay, etc.
That’s what I love about creativity. The possibilities are numerous.
When I was younger, I heard whispers that making friends gets harder with age. There was talk about how much life changes once you’ve hit thirty.
Forming strong bonds and truly connecting with someone becomes a rarity. You can’t find your people as easily.
Now that I’m on the other side of thirty, I wish I could say this was an exaggeration. But, it’s true. When your life stops being structured by institutions, like college, that metaphorically lurch you against new people, the numbers game no longer works in your favor.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? When you’re meeting more people on a regular basis, the chances are higher that a friendship might form.
Of course, not everyone is a social butterfly during college. Some people naturally prefer their own company or small groups. Others might suffer from social anxiety or depression, both of which make it harder to be sociable in highly dense settings.
But even if you do manage to make plenty of friends during the more social times in your life, why don’t those relationships last?
Why do so many friendships either fizzle out as conversation fades or become the casualty of an argument?
As time moves us forward, we are changed by our experiences. When I think back to who I was a decade ago, that person lived by different values and beliefs. That person’s life and my life are not similar.
I couldn’t live my life from ten years ago now, and I’m sure the old me was not ready to live in my present.
Many of us become more of who we are, and that makes us less flexible. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Too much willingness to bend at the whim of others leads to codependent relationships. Those shouldn’t last anyway.
As you change, so do your circumstances. You might relocate to a different city or get a new job. Maybe you go on an adventure of self-exploration. You could find yourself in a relationship. These external factors mold your personality and your life.
The new begins to take the place of the old.
As you age, you need different things from your friendships.
You might have prioritized external validation, excitement, and even escapism when you were younger. The more friends you had, the more you could hold on to the illusion of belonging.
As life hands you more responsibility and bigger obstacles, your needs change.
This is at least true for people who want to grow up. You start valuing your own internal validation. The things that held so much significance in the past don’t really matter anymore. Your focus shifts from trying to fit in everywhere to finding people who share your values and goals.
For example, if you want a more active life, it will be hard to carve out time for people who don’t enjoy physical activities. Similarly, if you’re becoming more socially conscious or focusing on your personal development, you will want friends who are on the same page.
When this happens, some relationships are bound to end. This is normal, but it’s also one of the most emotionally challenging lessons that life teaches. If you do try to hang on to expired relationships, you might feel stuck and at odds with yourself. Staying in places you have outgrown is not a good idea in the long run.
Having a few close friends can be more fulfilling than having hundreds of friends who don’t really know you. Think about it. What purpose should a friendship serve?
If you have contact lists of hundreds of people whom you call “friends” but wouldn’t actually call, what good is that?
As you get on with building your life, you probably won’t need big groups of friends anymore. Instead, you will want a higher level of communication and more emotional intimacy.
I saw this transition happen in my own life. I have cut my social life down to a handful of very close friends. I did this by using our conversations and the depth of each relationship as a measure. I both value and benefit from my few close relationships more than I ever did from my numerous superficial ones.
I cringe when I think back to how much time I wasted in my twenties. I focused on feeling externally validated. I kept investing in friendships that turned out to be a net negative.
The sooner you learn how to be discerning, the less time you will waste. You can’t get the past back, but you can protect your present and future by making better decisions.
Now, I platonically date potential friends. Seriously. It might sound peculiar, but I have found that it is critical to really get to know someone before you commit to being their friend.
So, I don’t rush into the friendship. I learn what the person stands for, what their values are, and how they want to grow. We should be able to share meaningful experiences with each other. It’s probably good to have some conflict too, so we can understand if our conflict resolution styles are healthy.
Friendship is a very special bond to me. It can be a beautiful place of belonging if it works out, but it can also be a word that gets carelessly thrown around to describe people who are little more than acquaintances. So, I treat the process of befriending someone seriously.
When I was younger, I just wanted to befriend people who seemed familiar. The connection had to be “natural”. This might seem like a better approach on the surface, but for someone with a history of toxic relationship examples, going for what feels natural can be a big mistake.
When I did this, the friends who “felt right” turned out to be very wrong for my psychological health.
Many of us struggle with finding healthy relationships, but when you decide to be selective about the people in your life, you will at minimum keep out those who are blatantly toxic for you.
Be prepared for pushback. People who don’t respect you will take offense when they meet your boundaries. While there’s usually no reason to be unkind about the process, your time belongs to you. It is your limited and unpredictable currency, and you have the right to use it in ways that add meaning to your life.
I’m still learning how to find quality friends, but the ones I already have remind me that the search is worthwhile.
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