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  1. "Congruence" - Jake Ryan Terry McMullen 1:10:25

I spend a lot of time thinking about suffering. As I work through all of the conversations on this show, it is what I keep coming back to. We live in a world where it is almost all a mystery. If you dig deep enough, nothing really makes sense, at least in the traditional logical sense. The only thing that seems real is pleasure and suffering. We know, logically, viscerally, emotionally, and intuitively the feelings of pleasure and suffering.

This has lead me to a conclusion that the only concrete value to consider is one that tries to reduce unnecessary suffering. There are far too many instances of it in our world and we should be actively trying to reduce it, however we can. That is why this conversation with Jake came at exactly the right time (and is a perfect way to cap off the first season of What’s the value?). Jake is writing a book called “The Art of Suffering: A Guide to Deriving Beauty from Life’s Inevitable Pain.”

Jake believes that life is a great mystery and the best thing we can do is engage that mystery in a “congruent” way. Since we live in unavoidable subjective blindness (i.e., the great mystery), the closest thing to objective truth is being congruent, or being free of internal contradictions. Said another way, Jake approaches life by diving head first into the mystery of life, with full acknowledgement that everything he thinks, feels, and believes is ultimately outside of his control. So he doesn’t try to control it, master it, or challenge it; instead he surrenders to the greater intelligence that is the universe; and just goes along for the ride trying to learn and experience as much as he can.

The natural cynic in me spent a lot of time trying to question Jake about this Buddhist like approach. I wanted to understand how you can surrender to the universe when the universe has generated so much horrific suffering? How can we surrender to something that has not given us a solid reason to trust it? Jake and I had a really good discussion about all of this, but maybe the most notable take away was how Jake kept holding the mirror up to me. How all of these thoughts about needing to minimize suffering likely say much more about me (how I was raised, my lived experiences, my genetic make up, etc.) than they do about the universe.

I spent much of my career trying to consult companies on how to better achieve their goals. I was a Finance major, a Harvard Business School graduate, and a business strategist. I've always been curious and I've always loved trying to solve problems. It was a really good fit for a while, but then life happened.

Within the span of a couple of years I had a son, my sister tragically passed away, and my wife became severely ill with Multiple Sclerosis. All of a sudden everything I thought I knew about life didn't seem to make sense anymore. I needed to raise my son and teach him how to be a good person but I realized I didn't even know what it meant to be a good person, let alone know how to teach him to be one. I also realized that I wasn't capable of being the person my wife needed me to be to help care for her. Simply put, I wasn't good enough.