How to Get Woke

Photo via Ineke Heesterbeek

Photo via Ineke Heesterbeek

I’m not a big one for slang. Maybe I was when I was younger. I don’t remember. But, these days, you’ll find me expressing myself at most times in standard English. It won’t be a surprise to you if you’ve followed me here or on Twitter for any length of time that I find most slang juvenile and showy. Slang is for kids obsessed with fashion and signaling their credentials for being considered cool.

Once in awhile, there’s an exception. “Woke” is one. Hang around any online community long enough and you’ll see its terminology and slang emerge. The community to which I pay most attention introduced me to “woke” and it works. The word “woke” captures important ideas in a concise and punchy way. This is, no doubt, part of its appeal and one reason for it wide adoption.

To be woke is first of all to understand there that world is full of folks who ain’t woke. The term implies the division of the world into at least two groups. The woke and the not woke. The not woke, the sleeping, are by far the larger group. The woke are but a faction, a tiny sliver of the population, a remnant.

Hidden in this innocuous seeming bit of slang is the recognition that the majority of the populace passes its days in a kind of dream. Woke people know that the goals at which most people aim, more consumer power to enable more consumption, are the goals of a man locked in unreality. His life of commuting, gathering wages, and blowing them at Wal-Mart is wrapped up in a system he has been reared to believe is normal, and that he cannot see through.

The woke don’t have all the answers. If they did, they might all agree with each other on every issue, no matter how insignificant. They don’t. That’s ok, because being woke isn’t just about having answers. Being woke is about having come to the startling realization that what you once believed was real is actually illusion, what you thought was unquestionably given and natural and solid was a mere dream.

These two groups, the woke and the unwoke, make up most out the American population. Still, there is a third group: the sort-of-woke. Just as we experience different levels of physical sleep, there are different levels of being unwoke. Not all the unwoke are equally senseless.

The sort-of-woke have a sense that something is not right. They are uncomfortable. They shift around a lot, tossing and turning, never hitting the right spot or position to let them relax. While the unwoke are convinced the dream is real, for the sort-of-woke reality is shifting, a mix of reality and illusion.

It is to these people I want to address the rest of this post. If this is you, here are a few ideas on how to get woke.

Listen to your pleasures

You can dream you are at a feast. You can dream you’re sitting at the table for hours enjoying an endless stream of sumptuous dishes. At the end, you’ll still be hungry.

That’s what it’s like to be caught up in our cultural delusion. We all have access to a flood of entertainment and distractions, but most of us are rarely truly content. Pay attention to those times when they do come.

What provides you with, not just momentary pleasure, but a deep sense of meaning and purpose? Pursue those things and you can’t help but wake up.

Listen to your pain

The crafters of our common dream do not want you to know that a lot of what hurts you comes directly from the dream you’re living.

All those break-ups, those rejections, maybe even a failed marriage, even though you’re a nice guy? Part of the dream. Maybe it was your parents’ marriage that failed and you’re blaming yourself for lugging around baggage from that. Part of the dream. Maybe you’re frustrated that you can’t make yourself do the things you really want to, and instead sit around all day staring at Xbox games or porn. All part of the dream, buddy.

If you really listen to the things that hurt you and begin seeking to change them instead of just sedating yourself, you’ll soon start to penetrate the mirage.

Listen to others

There is no shortage of guys online whose writing will serve as  a wake up call. Dig in. Find a voice that speaks to you and apply the knowledge it drops.  No one is right about everything. Everybody has blind spots. All that matters is that the voices you are listening to come from people more woke than you, and that they aren’t just soothing you back to sleep.

The payoff for getting woke is that you are more free, free to embrace the real, free to make more of the choices you want, free to earn your own respect. Waking up is never easy and the things you saw in your dreams may haunt you a long time afterward, but soon you’ll see this central truth: that even a harsh reality is a greater comfort than a beautiful dream.

And to see that is, of course, the very essence of being woke.

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