Tabula Rasa: the courage to become (and do) different

Aristotle once taught that our consciousness is born as a tabula rasa, which in Latin means a “blank slate”, in which we then write all of the things we will later assimilate as a part of us.

This metaphor gives light to a very important question: which of our attributes are we born with and which ones do we develop during our lives? And can we change or are we conditioned to be like we have always been?

It’s funny that in a world of infinite possibilities, cultures, flavors, and different ways of living we end up repeating our parents and friends’ behaviors. So we grow up believing that we are going through all the natural steps of life and make our choices believing that we are indeed considering all the possibilities, when in fact we only consider a little fraction of them, the part we can actually see.

In fact, it didn’t surprise anyone when I decided to go to Law School since both my parents are lawyers. However, this is quite shocking: if we consider that there are 7 billion different life trajectories, is surprising that we choose to repeat an experience we already know. The mathematical probability of that happening spontaneously is very low.

And that affects even our most ordinary behaviors, like the fact that we believe we have to go to school, get married, have kids, and eat breakfast in the morning.

We believe there is only one way of living and we shape ourselves so we can fit perfectly in this already existent mold. We perfect the characteristics that are considered desired by society and suppress qualities that are rejected by the majority and are not considered “normal”. And like that, life goes on, in an infinite cycle of repetitive behavior patterns.

But if we are a tabula rasa, or if there is any part of us that depends only on our creative and imaginative power, living a routine is really a waste of potential. That doesn’t mean that our everyday life doesn’t have “value”, it only means that it is not a result of a conscious choice. It is only an unconscious repetition of behaviors.

Of course, that seeing beyond this “illusion” that conditions us is way harder than it seems, and makes us question everything, including the one thing we believe knowing so well: our own identity.

So, it’s obvious that the choice to do and be different is very frightening. It involves abdicating the comfort of certainty. Infinite is empty and can also be overwhelming.

But is from the emptiness that we can see all the possibilities. Only when we understand that society’s expectations are as deceptive as the dreams they tell us are impossible we can begin to find our most raw and pure features.

Getting to know yourself can be very scary because we can find characteristics that we suppress and that are not well seen by society. Besides, the lack of parameters on top of which we can build ourselves leaves a creative space so gigantic that it seems like it can devour us. For that reason “normality” scares us way less than the madness of freedom.

Dostoyevsky, in Karamazov Brothers, illustrates this dubious relationship between men and freedom:

[…] Nothing seems more seductive in his eyes than freedom of conscience, and nothing proves more painful.

However, besides the first torment of drawing in yourself, and of the realization regarding all the infinite possibilities of the human mind and spirit, the emptiness of freedom adds in our lives a new easiness, that withdraws all the weight of the guilts we accumulate during our lives. There is no problem in being what you are, nor feeling the impulses you feel: there are no rules telling you how to live your life, it is your own mind that tricks you into thinking the opposite.

All the elements that seem to condition your happiness, are in fact just reinforcing that feeling of incompleteness and anxiety that we feel when we rush to adequate ourselves, to obtain what society tells us is happiness: money, family, and stability.

But, as Dostoyevsky also said once, “men are unhappy because they don’t know they are happy, only because of that”.

This means that all these milestones in the way of happiness (a good degree, a nice job, a solid wedding, kids, retirement…) don’t actually condition our personal realization and don’t work in our favor, but in favor of the status quo. 

When we realize that and give up on obtaining all of that they tell us is a requirement for being happy, we find out that we are already, indeed, happy.

Understanding that, the fact that there isn’t a “race to the top”, and that nothing we add exteriorly will suffice to calm the anguish we feel for not being perfect, then our lives are colored by new tones, and patience takes the place of anxiety, empathy occupies the place of envy, and our arrogance becomes humbleness.

I invite you to question yourself today: who would you be if there were no rules? Who are you underneath all the weight you are carrying?

The cost of freedom is very high, that’s true. But this is a price worth paying, and the first step has to come from within. It starts when you treat yourself better when you understand that you are already happy and that the guilt you feel is only blinding your eyes to the truth.


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