Free Solo: Live Beyond Fear

I was recently in Chicago and went up to the Skydeck with a friend. Had she not helped me with those first steps onto The Ledge, I’m not sure I could have done it. Now I’d like to do it again. I like confronting what makes me uncomfortable, but sometimes I need a little help on that first step.

Even if I didn’t tell you I was scared, you’d know it — because we instinctively know the difference between the characteristics displayed below. The clinching of my fist is a dead giveaway.

If you just followed your instincts, you’d find there’s a ton of dead giveaways all around you.

What do you do with a culture that won’t even budge in the face of the uncomfortable? Inconvenient information is shunned as if someone were asking you to step onto a real ledge.

No one thinks of their obstinate refusal as fear, but what do you think the diving board below is about?

Fear comes in all kinds of forms — from lashing out at those who challenge you, to politely dismissing them with a smile. Nowhere to be found is the courage to take that first step to simply consider a question.

If you’ve got the goods to back up your beliefs, shouldn’t they be able to withstand scrutiny?

Instead of developing a habit of discovery, it’s become a duty to blindly defend and attack anyone who dares to question what you believe.

Social media made y’all way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it.

— Mike Tyson

That quote that captures the onslaught of asinine behavior and belligerence that’s come about from the internet (a.k.a. Safe-Space Central).

For telling undeniable truth for 20 years (on the biggest and most costly lie in modern history), I’ve been practically spit on for it:

On irrefutable evidence of mathematical certainty, no less.

But over the last year and a half, I’ve seen savagery on a level I’d never seen before. Automatons devoid of rational thought & manners — behavior without an atom of integrity, courtesy, curiosity, courage, decency:

Or any virtue of any kind

All in the glorious defense of a liar and a hypocrite hailed as a “national treasure” (which ties into everything that follows).

I was listening to Free Solo’s Alex Honnold TED Talks and was especially taken by the following:

But that night in my climbing journal, I duly noted my free solo of Half Dome, but I included a frowny face and a comment, “Do better?” I’d succeeded in the solo and it was celebrated as a big first in climbing. Some friends later made a film about it. But I was unsatisfied. I was disappointed in my performance, because I knew that I had gotten away with something.

I didn’t want to be a lucky climber. I wanted to be a great climber. I actually took the next year or so off from free soloing, because I knew that I shouldn’t make a habit of relying on luck. But even though I wasn’t soloing very much, I’d already started to think about El Cap. It was always in the back of my mind as the obvious crown jewel of solos. It’s the most striking wall in the world. Each year, for the next seven years, I’d think, “This is the year that I’m going to solo El Cap.” And then I would drive into Yosemite, look up at the wall, and think, “No frickin’ way.” It’s too big and too scary.

But eventually I came to accept that I wanted to test myself against El Cap. It represented true mastery, but I needed it to feel different. I didn’t want to get away with anything or barely squeak by. This time I wanted to do it right.

Alex meticulously maps his route to reduce risk but makes moves with no margin for error.

Our culture behaves as if there is no error in the pursuit of your interests, so you take no risk to discover that you’re dead wrong. How can you learn and grow without accountability and consequence? Completely satisfied in your ways — no need for an “El Cap” (or any standard of any kind) to guide you.

No test. No measure of where you stand to authenticate your claims. No desire to strive for mastery or any improvement at all. No thirst to see the vast horizon of truth that allows for limitless possibility.

As a culture — what do we care if we barely squeak by and get away with it? Why bother doing it right when we can just entertain ourselves in the belief that we do?

In a discussion on fear, Alex talks with psychology researcher Armita Golkar. I like what she had to say here:

In the human mind, this flexibility is basically the key to how we can adapt to so many different environments with so many challenges in it. So yes, we have a choice. We can choose, but we need experience. . . . Mostly by trial and error and obviously by learning from others — and the accumulated knowledge from generations passed on to us are formed from experience. That’s basically what we do. We adapt to the world by learning about it.  

And for that to happen, we need to make mistakes and we need to take risks and also enter uncertainty all the time. Otherwise, we wouldn’t find out something new. A new experience that could inform us — inform us in a new way.

Where is that discussion being had?

Instead of recognizing how these talks are tools to broaden discussion, right on cue comes the over-the-top praise (calling Alex a genius). This guy challenged that assertion:

He is a rock climber. Genius is generally reserved for those that express their genius in more mentally challenging areas. Rock climbing like most all sports are relatively simple endeavors compared to the majority of challenges most people face in real life.

Rather than seeing this is an opportunity apply what they just listened to, they dug in their heels, and I wrote the following in response:

The objections to your post embody the way our culture endlessly loosens language to the point where nothing has meaning anymore. “Hero,” “genius,” and “national treasure” are given out like candy.

But far more disturbing is how this habitual praise is not met with action that reflects the very principles upon which the praise is based.

“Genius is generally reserved . . .” is precisely to the point of what Alex is talking about, as he bases his superhuman feats on the highest of standards.

Lol, bro. If we can have genius violinists we can have genius rock climbers.

No, it doesn’t work that way. But in a culture where even actors are hailed as geniuses — Anything Goes. As I wrote in Keep the Door Open, this culture of exaggeration has gotten totally out of hand:

My first mistake was carrying my distaste for Star Wars Syndrome into this exchange about Top Gun: Maverick. SWS is the plague of allowing nostalgia to create the illusion that a movie is far better than what it actually is. In and of itself, wildly exaggerating the quality of movies is harmless.

But when it becomes habit in how you see everything: Either gushing with over-the-top praise or seething with over-the-top scorn — that’s a plague.

Echo chambers across social media worship channel hosts as “National Treasures” — treating them like they’re some of the greatest minds to ever live. They’re not solving problems, they’re serving a market.

Ratings, popularity, money:

We’ve created a culture that assigns quality and truth from factors that often have no bearing on either (especially in the era of the internet and the cable clans). Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has made about billion worldwide. I thought it was unwatchable.

And Top Gun: Maverick was okay but completely forgettable: Well on its way to banking a billion to boot.

If you loved it, great — I don’t care.

But I do question the fashionable fixation around it — as I question all-things obsessively exaggerated in America.

Our culture has become a chorus of self-congratulations and praise. It’s not enough to simply enjoy and admire, we must elevate all we honor to proportions that have no bearing on reality.

This bullshit below about John Wayne is a perfect example. That I say this as a huge fan is all the more to the point: That you don’t have to buy into everything to show your support.

John Wayne was 34 years old when the attack on Pearl Harbor shocked the nation. And when the U.S. declared war, Wayne rushed to sign up for active duty. The patriot John Wayne was overwhelmed with despair when informed that he was both too old to fight, and under contractual obligations to the studio — which would keep him out of combat.

[R]ushed to sign up for active duty . . . overwhelmed with despair . . . too old to fight . . . under contractual obligations

Utterly ridiculous

They’re either lying or incredibly sloppy in their research. Pick one.

Either way — if they’re willing to produce such shoddy work on something as uneventful as The John Wayne Story, what do you think passes for accuracy on matters of importance?

And this is precisely how the media molds your perception — by wildly oversimplifying issues and leaving out anything that doesn’t fit. Take note that I didn’t tilt “media” in any particular direction. While the bit above references a right-wing station, it’s just an example on that particular point.

I offer plenty of examples that show the Left pulling the same stunt.

I don’t take sides — I call a spade a spade, period. There’s nothing on my site that looks or sounds like any other. In a world of conformity and formulaic thinking, I’d find that refreshing.

Someone wrote the following in response to this post:

I found myself threading through your piece being led by a very precise needle

By late summer of 1756 Adams had made up his mind about the future. . . . Beholding the night sky, “the amazing concave of Heaven sprinkled and glittering with stars,” he was “thrown into a kind of transport” and knew such wonders to be the gifts of God, expressions of God’s love. But greatest of all, he wrote, was the gift of an inquiring mind.

“But all the provisions that He has [made] for the gratification of our senses . . . are much inferior to the provision, the wonderful provision that He has made for the gratification of our nobler powers of intelligence and reason. He has given us reason to find out the truth, and the real design and true end of our existence.”

To a friend Adams wrote, “It will be hard work, but the more difficult and dangerous the enterprise, a higher crown of laurel is bestowed on the conqueror. . . . But the point is now determined, and I shall have the liberty to think for myself.”

— John Adams

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