I've been using the word 'pragmatic' a lot these days. Here's the definition that I liked:

A practical, matter-of-fact way of approaching or assessing situations or of solving problems.

In this context I understand pragmatism as something like the opposite of idealism, the idea that the way we do things is just as important as the outcomes we achieve. It's probably not something most people consider that often but I think that we all fit somewhere along this spectrum and these attitudes can have a pretty significant impact on our decision-making and behaviour.

Of the course of our lives, we all build up a lot of 'rules' governing the way we act. They tend to come from:

  • the culture/s in which you were raised
  • the people who raised you
  • the people who educated you
  • your peer group, and
  • the different types of media you consumed.

But there's more to it than this. Our own personality types dictate how we turn all of these signals and examples into rules. You'll know when something violates one of your internal rules if someone suggests doing something against your code: you might get anxious, frustrated, angry, embarrassed or defensive. If you notice that this is happening, it's a really good opportunity to reflect on why it is you have a particular rule in the first place and reconsider if it's there for the right reasons.

Historically I'd say I've been more of an idealist than a pragmatist in many aspects of my life. Creative pursuits probably contain the best examples of this. There was a time when I hated doing something I felt was 'cheating' musically: AutoTune, creating something less than completely original, using synths or samples, heaps of things. If it couldn't be recreated exactly with just the band I wasn't particularly comfortable with it. My philosophy at the time was that if you were good enough you didn't need those things; they were crutches. For all of these good intentions, I'm of the opinion now that a these things often obscure the real goal of what I want to achieve when I'm creating something: to change the way someone feels or thinks, ideally as many of them as possible. Anything that impedes or distracts from that needs to be reconsidered. Not ignored, but reconsidered with this objective in mind.

My personal life has been similar. I've always known what I thought I liked to do and what I didn't. I knew what I was most comfortable doing and what me uncomfortable. Nightclubs might be a pretty good example. Never really been my thing. I've always preferred to be talking to people than dancing. So what's the point of any night out then? To have a good time, basically. Lately I've found if I approach these situations with an open mind, that most often happens. If you had fun, you had fun. Why should it matter how it happened? It's immaterial.

We all need principles, but dumb principles can stand in the way of happiness. Often they are an expression of insecurities we might have long grown out of. With virtually every action, we have to consider what it is that we are setting out to achieve. We need to give primary consideration to the why of our behaviours, rather than the what and the how.