in: Advice, Character, Sunday Firesides

Sunday Firesides: Nihilism Is for Cowards

It’s become the height of oh-so-relatable humor to observe just how good it feels to have one’s plans unexpectedly canceled.

As tiresome as this trope has become, it does feel good, doesn’t it?

It feels good because you got back some personal time, sure. But it also feels good, because the cancellation extinguished expectations — both to how the event would go, and what role you were to play in it.

Expectations are funny things: they both animate and irritate.

Anticipation lends tang to life, but the uncertainty of outcome on which it hangs also unsettles the psyche. Being counted on can be experienced as welcomed motivation, but also as resented obligation.

That’s why it feels good not only to drop plans, but to drop people. Cutting someone out of your life can hurt . . . but also feel strangely satisfying. You no longer have to worry about who they are to you, and what they expect you to be to them.

But the pinnacle of this kind of relief lies in jettisoning the expectation of life having any meaning, values, or purpose. Such nihilism might seem like a recipe for despair, but it has its own compensating pleasure.

If there are no absolute ideals, you never have to feel bad for falling short of them. If there’s no right or wrong direction to head, you never have to feel lost. If there’s no real meaning, you never have to be disappointed in failing to find it.

If life isn’t asking anything of you, you can give up without guilt.

What can feel like a brave breaking with the comfort of too-easy answers, is really a cowardly retreat into the numbness of nothingness. It takes more courage to stand in the tension of expectation — to want and work and feel after truth — than it does to annihilate it.

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