I’ve been thinking a lot about belief and identity over the past few days.
What happened is this:
A very nice person at BMW offered me an (almost) free electric car. They decided I’d make a good ambassador for their new i3 — one of the benefits of being sort of well known, I guess.
And before you ask: no, there isn’t the option to give the car to charity or anything like that. They just want to get me in an EV for a couple years.
The only problem is that I like my current car, a little white (gas burning) M235i. It's a little too loud (I swapped the exhaust) and small and mean, and I drive it too fast on Vermont's endless dirt roads. I love it.
I have a lifetime commitment to not own more than I need, so if I take the i3, I'll have to sell my beloved little car. So there's a debate.
Much of my life has been a struggle to create a coherent story about myself — a narrative that I use to govern the choices I make. The happiest people I know have a deep confidence that that every decision they make comes from an understanding of who they are. For them, a choice like this is obvious — one way or the other.
"Take the EV!"
"Drive what you love."
"Electric cars will save the world!"
Not so for me. I habitually come at things from the opposite angle — as the Buddhist master Bruce Tift said to me, I’ve a tendency to fuck myself up by getting stuck in the all-things-are-the-same-anyway-non-dual experience of reality. This is the experience that all things are connected, impermanent, and without independent substance, a complicated way of saying that if you step back far enough, it doesn’t fucking matter which car I drive (or if I keep both), whether or not an EV is better for the world, whether there are people who need a free car more than I do, etc. From the perspective of someone living on Pluto (or in the scope of a while lifetime, in a world where so many people suffer so much) it's all the same what I choose.
And from another perspective, it’s not the same at all. Details matter. What I choose and do changes everything for me, and for the people around me.
So it’s a question of how an electric car fits into the very important story of who I am — even as I know I'm making it up, and that it doesn’t really matter. The trick is to hold both perspectives at once, even though in our minds they aren't compatible.
The conclusion I’m coming to is that I’m holding on to my opinions too loosely. There’s an old saying, “strong beliefs lightly held”, an ideal I believe in. Support for lots of nasty things — war, genocide, religious, racial & sexual hatred, Wal-Mart — usually come out of people holding very tight to what they believe in. When reality doesn't match up, they go to war against reality.
But the opposite path can be depressing, too. If we hold tight to the perspective all things are equal, we end up believing in nothing, and no choice seems worth fighting for. And then we live an empty life, and past decisions haunt us.
Not sure what I'm going to do about the car, but I've realized I'm going to have to start believing in a new thing again.
If I hold too loosely, I lie to myself that I’m nobody at all.