Everything we do affects other people. If we hole up in our room and either read a book or watch TV or listen to a lecture or exercise or meditate, that choice we make is going to affect us and in turn affect other people. There’s no decision we make, no act we perform, that does not affect us and in turn others.
The person who chose to specialize in classical music is going to be a different person than if he chose instead to specialize in rap music. The person who spends his spare time reading books as opposed to watching TV is going to be shaped by that choice.
I’ve found that when I get up at 5:50 a.m., shower and go to shul to study Talmud and say the morning prayers that takes my life on a different course from my default option of sleeping in until about 7 a.m.. I make new friends. I do fewer things at night because I have to get up early. And because I’m at shul every morning, I hear about more things going on in the community, so I become more active in Orthodox life, more observant of Jewish law, and knowledgeable about Torah. As I study more Jewish text, that affects my thinking and my actions. As I become more active in Orthodox life, I tone down my blogging and other behavior to fit in with my new affiliations.
When I go to therapy every week, I’m accountable in a way I’m not without therapy. Knowing I’m going to be talking about my life with the same person every week affects the choices I make during the week. As I go through my day, I hear my therapist’s voice. I do some of the things she suggests, such as reaching out to people and joining in with community and reducing the things I do that interfere with me connecting to the people I love.
When you have a private addiction to gambling or food or cigarettes or exercise, etc, that masks and distracts you from yourself. You might get so wrapped up in working out that it distances you from others. You might find yourself obsessing about it so that you are less present in daily life. You might drive yourself into serious injury. You might seek to lose yourself in exercise so you don’t have to face your pressing problems such as lack of connection with others, failures at work or in love, etc.
I didn’t grow up attaching to other people normally, so I sought to attach to food, but the candy I wanted wasn’t always available. It was against the rules of my home. So I sort out reading and fantasizing instead as distractions. When I came to America in 1977 at age 11, I became fascinated by sports, and so I developed this life-long habit. I could’ve easily stayed fixated on history instead and devoted myself to scholarship. Instead I got hooked on the easy high of identifying myself with my favorite sports teams and numbing out. Later, I began numbing out to pornography, which had more negative effects on me than numbing out to sports.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to see myself as having various emotional addictions such as to love, fantasy, codependent relationships and the like. I’ve been fortunate that none of my addictions have caused me to break appointments, miss work or school, or drain my bank account. They’ve mainly been obsessions of the mind that limited my romantic relationships, and numbed me out in daily life so that I wasn’t fully present, that I wasn’t tackling my problems, that I was distracting myself from the challenges before me.
Every time we make a choice, even in private, we’re heading towards closer or more distant connection with the ones we love, with God, and with our best selves. I feel like a different person after I watch Brideshead Revisited as opposed to Breaking Bad or The Sopranos. Our entertainment choices affect us. I feel differently after listening to the BeeGees as opposed to Mozart. My state is different and one’s emotional state is going to shape one’s behavior.
I’m libertarian-conservative in my political views, but because I believe that everything we do affects other people, I believe that some choices libertarians endorse should be officially forbidden by society, such as illegal drugs, incest, drinking alcohol in public, driving while using a phone, etc.
The origins of my belief are religious. I was taught growing up as a Seventh-Day Adventist preacher’s kid that God sees all and judges all, even our most private thoughts and deeds. When I converted to Judaism in 1993 at age 27, I took on the belief that God’s primary concern is with our behavior, not our thoughts. In Orthodox Judaism in particular I got a sense of what it was like to live in deep community with others where your privacy is diminished and members of your community are routinely coming in and out of your home, restricting your freedom and getting up in your affairs. This conflicted with my libertarian outlook of the time that what we do privately is nobody’s else’s business.
In 1995, at age 28, I began writing on the pornography industry. As I interviewed members of that business, I saw how their choice of profession affected them. After a few years of this, I became convinced to my core that even our private entertainment choices affect us. Some time between 1998 and 2001, I published online my now famous quote, “Everything we do affects other people.”