a blog by J.M. Cottle
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Making wishes, talking to myself, and facticity

When the clock says 11:11, I make a wish. When I see a shooting star, I make a wish. Before I blow out my birthday candles, I make a wish.

What am I up to, here? I don’t believe in gods, spirits, mind readers, or a universe that listens, so who do I think is listening to me when I make these wishes? The only person who can hear my thoughts is me– aha! Exactly.

I make wishes as a reminder, because I am listening, and I am the only person who is capable of making my wishes come true. Things like shooting stars and 11:11 help me keep the things I want fresh in my mind, which helps me take the actions that are necessary to get me where I want to go.

This doesn’t just work for goals and dreams. When I want to make changes to who I am or how I feel, I focus first on my thoughts: I focus on talking to myself. When we talk to ourselves we create the reality of who we are. If I say to myself, “Why did you do that? You’re so stupid,” I not only feel terrible, I just defined myself. I just made myself stupid. That’s awful. I wouldn’t say that to anyone else. How could it possibly be okay to say it to myself?

Even when it’s something true about me, if I don’t like it, I work on erasing it from my internal dialogue. I can’t re-define myself as socially comfortable if I keep telling myself how socially awkward I am.

There are some people who apparently don’t believe that they can re-define themselves, which I think is sad. They think that they are all facticity and forget about their transcendence.

Quick lesson from Jean-Paul Sartre, existentialist extraordinaire: facticity is a person’s circumstances, like their body, culture, social situation, personality, and history, while transcendence is a person’s attitude toward that facticity. We are free to transcend our situation to a certain extent. We can’t break the laws of physics or anything, but we have a lot of control — a lot of freedom — that we often don’t use. It is our responsibility as humans to find a balance between what is and what could be, between our facticity and our transcendence.

Some people think that they are all facticity. These people often use their facticity as an excuse — “I can’t go talk to that person I really want to talk to, because I’m shy,” or “I can’t follow my dream of being in a rock band, because I can’t play an instrument,” or whatever. Other people believe that they are all transcendence, such as the 55-year-old patient in episode 3×03 of Grey’s Anatomy who kept having bone replacement surgeries because he wouldn’t accept that his body couldn’t handle triathlons anymore.

Most facticity is malleable and intangible enough that we don’t have to worry about going too far with transcendence, though. With personality, for example, we can pretty much change whatever we want. There’s this line from an article by Franklin Veaux that expresses this perfectly:

I’ve talked to a lot of people who say things like “Oh, i could never be polyamorous; I’m just a jealous person”–as if being a jealous person were some matter of genetics, something over which we all have no control, like being born with blond hair or…well, no, people actually think they have more control over their hair color than over their own conceptions about themselves, which is interesting.

Very interesting, indeed. As for the other parts of our facticity, like our bodies and our histories, we do have limitations, but most of us will never reach them because we won’t even try. Making wishes and talking to myself are a couple ways that I exercise my transcendence.  It’s better to try than to get stuck in boring facticity land.

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