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How Studying History Boosts Your Personal Development

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why studying history is important to your personal development3

Most people know very little about history, and they think it’s boring.

They also think it’s useless:

What’s the point of knowing the names and dates of this person or that event!?

There is a point. Actually, there are several.

Studying history is surprisingly useful — and grossly underestimated.

Read on, and I’ll tell you why.

If you’re not already an avid student of history, I’m hoping you will become one after having read this article.

Because, I’m going to show you HOW and WHY studying a bit of history can help you a lot. You don’t need to become a historian or anything, but there are certain things that you should know when it comes to history.

I’ll tell you which ones soon.

Here’s a summary of what we’ll be going though:

  • Why studying history will boost learning and make you more curious
  • Why studying history will motivate you
  • Why studying history is good for practical purposes — like sales, persuasion, writing, etc.

You ready?

Cool.

Let’s start with…

Why Reading History Will Boost Learning and Make You More Curious

Have you ever had to learn something but felt a complete lack of interest?

Yes you have — and you didn’t like the feeling. That’s what school was like.

Here’s the thing, you have predispositions. These are certain things that you’re genetically inclined to be more interested in or talented at.  You cannot control this.

But, there ARE strategies that you can use to become more interested in learning things. All of these strategies I’m about to show you have to do with gaining more mental associations. The earlier in life you start building a ton of associations, the easier it becomes for you to learn new things.

Here’s what you do in 4 simple steps:

  • 1. Start by reading easy books on the topic

That will give you an overview and lots of associations.  The more associations the better. This will motivate you to read harder books.

  • 2. Read a lot of quotes from great people

Reading quotes from experts is like taking a crash course in the subject.

It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.

Wrote Winston Churchill in 1930, in his autobiographical book My Early Life. Indeed, Churchill himself, who never claimed to be  particularly educated, devoured the book Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and found that it gave him the motivation to study the works of many great historical men.

  • 3. Study history and use it as a tool for crafting more associations.

This is a BIG one.

By studying any type of history you will soon form a rich bank of associations.  Your mind effortlessly turns these associations into analogies:

The European crisis?.. Oh, that’s like what happened when (insert historic event)

For example, when I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, I came to think that the battle between the Looters and the Men of the Mind was similar to the feud in Ancient Greece between Socrates and the Sophists. If I hadn’t studied history I would not have been able to make that connection — and I probably wouldn’t remember it today.

On a neurological level, what’s happening in your brain is this: You build up a large web of neural pathways. Kind of like a net. Then when you cast that net out into the sea  you can more easily catch things  because your net now has hooks in it!

Sea = Information

Catch things = Learn and remember

Hooks = Associations

Study history

Why Reading History Will Motivate You

Adam Smith, Frederick Taylor, and to some extent David Ricardo — all economic and managerial philosophers — thought that the best way of maximizing productivity, and thus profitability, was to specialize work tasks.

They wanted to  separate work tasks and train each worker into becoming a specialist in one thing only.

This strategy of separating and specializing work was then taken to a grand scale by Frederick Taylor. This became known as Taylorism

Other philosophers, like Karl Marx, thought that it would be more productive to have the workers know a bit of everything about the factory. Because then the workers wouldn’t be as reliant on each other, and they would appreciate the work more as a result of understanding exactly how they contributed to the business.

Marx thought that the worker would become more motivated  if he understood the context of his work role and how it helped contribute to the end product.

Remember that I told you history speeds up learning and curiosity by giving you an overview and more associations?

Don’t you think Marx’s reasoning is similar to that?

It sure is. He was onto something there.

But of course, Marx couldn’t prove it because the fields of psychology and neurology were so primitive at that time. They didn’t know this stuff back then. We do now — or rather, we do — but most people do not.

Anyway, what we can learn from Marx vs Smith & Co is that the answer to achieving the greatest amount of productivity probably lies somewhere between both of their arguments:

  • To train the workers into becoming specialists

while also

  • Showing them the big picture,  their context in it, and why their work matters

So then, this means that the workers need to know as much as possible about the business and what the value chain of the company looks like. The more the worker understands, the more he can appreciate his work. The worker would then realize:

“Ah, I am part of this ecosystem that is larger than me,  and my specific role is to produce. My work matters.”

index

Alright. So what does this have to do with motivation and personal development?

A lot.

Because you are the factory worker.

Your factory is LIFE and your work is PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT.

When you study history you will better understand the context of your life. This makes you appreciate things more, and take fewer things for granted.

The factory worker is like the typical student. None of them know why they’re working or what they’re working for. They just know they’re supposed to do it.

When you’re in school, you have no idea of your context. All you know is that your teacher wants you to learn some information. And when you ask WHY you need to learn this stuff, your teacher gives you some unconvincing answer about how it’s part of the curriculum. And for all you know, the curriculum is decided by some old bearded guy who hasn’t been able to keep up with recent progress in technology, science, or business.

Why is it good for you to learn outdated and time-consuming accounting methods from 200 years back?

No one knows.

Why is it good for you to learn some history?

Because it helps you understand the context you’re in, and it makes you motivated.

If  you don’t know your context you will be confused. When you are confused, your motivation is weak. Because you don’t know what you’re working towards.

why studying history is important to your personal development3

Why Studying History is Great for Practical Purposes

If you read about successful people you’ll notice that most of them are avid students of history. And not just in their particular field of expertise.

Not only do they study the greats who came before them, but they also study history for other reasons. For example, because it helps them persuade people or to communicate a message more efficiently:

  • By creating credibility and making your arguments more convincing and believable (backed up with historical facts)
  • By making people understand easier and faster (with associations and historical analogies)
  • By creating a meaning and a context for something (by explaining how things led up to this point)

I use history for examples and building a convincing case for what I am saying.

–Nicholas Nassim Taleb

So, if you’re an aspiring writer, salesperson, politician, or just someone who needs to make a persuasive presentation, you should read up on some relevant historical trivia.

It pays off.

Studying History IS Important to Your Personal Development

It’s funny how most people think that history is boring and useless. Because, as you see,  they think it’s boring because they don’t know enough about it.

If those people built up more associations, their interest would go up, and it would also help them in other areas of life by speeding up their learning process.

And clearly, studying history is not useless. So they’re just wrong about that.

My advice:

If you’re really interested in something, if you work in a particular industry, or if you are educating yourself towards a certain profession,  you should:

  • Read quotes from the greats (Wikiquote is a good place to start)
  • Read simple and general books that give you an overview
  • Read harder books
  • Study the history of that particular field
  • Understand the context you’re in to boost motivation
  • Use historical facts to build your case and persuade people. Draw on relevant historical examples to make your arguments more credible

Over to you:

Do think studying history is useful or not?

Can you think of another reason why history is beneficial to personal development?

Have you learned any interesting historical trivia lately?

Do you know the history in your industry or the history in something else you’re deeply interested in?

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Comments

  1. I like how you incorporated some history into the article to back up your arguments haha :P

  2. Is this like understanding Tyson’s story? ; ) Thanks for sharing that!

  3. Great article Ludvig. I can relate to the things you are saying. If we didin`t know history, then we would do the same mistakes again and again. I think that when you know a lot about great men from the past it can really boost your self-esteem and your overall knowledge. So I agree with you on everything you say on this article. I`m curious, what part of world history are you most interested in?

    • Hey Lari,
      Thanks!

      ” If we didin`t know history, then we would do the same mistakes again and again.”

      — Absolutely. My next article may deal with this.

      “I`m curious, what part of world history are you most interested in?”

      –I don’t know. I don’t have any particular favorite. But the Romans are up there.

  4. Richard says:

    Is the Roman pic of the Palatine hill or the forum?

    Good work Ludvig! I think a bigger point about studying history is to examine what lead “less developed” (LOL….. whatever) people to come to particular conclusions. I believe most people today believe (somewhat insolently) that as we have more “technology”, we somehow know more than people of history.

    My interpretation is that whilst it is the case we do have better technology, we’re still seeking answers to the same questions those in history were yearning to answer too. And because of this, the greatest pearls of wisdom are the ones which have been growing for centuries; meaning the deepest questions generally have the oldest answers.

    Thanks again for the inspiring post – can’t wait to see videos ;)

    • Hey Richard!
      It’s actually NOT the forum. It’s El Djem.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Djem

      Good point about that. It’s one of those cognitive biases: Most people think newer = better. That’s probably why most people usually buy new books, instead of reading the classics within a topic.

      “the greatest pearls of wisdom are the ones which have been growing for centuries; meaning the deepest questions generally have the oldest answers”

      — I hadn’t thought about that.

      “Thanks again for the inspiring post – can’t wait to see videos ;)”

      Thanks for the comment. It will come, eventually.

  5. Abgrund says:

    “Have you ever had to learn something but felt a complete lack of interest?” Nope. Some things are more interesting than others, of course, but I have yet to find a boring subject. Boring teachers are another matter.

    I think much of the disinterest of Americans in history is due to the way it is taught in the schools. Originally, it is the school administrators, not the students, who think that history is unimportant. Middle and high school level history classes are typically taught by men who are hired to coach sports and have scant knowledge of, or interest in, history. In the lower grades (and sometimes into middle grades) history is lumped in with geography, civics, current events, etc. as “social sciences” and taught from a book by a grade specialist who may have no greater knowledge of history than the students. In any case history is just an afterthought in the curriculum. If the teacher is indifferent to the subject, most students will soon reflect that attitude.

    Government in general does not promote the widespread learning of history, and for good reason: ignorant citizens are easily deceived, but those who know history well are very difficult to deceive. To understand any part of the human world – politics, psychology, economics, art, or whatever – it is absolutely necessary to know the historical context.

    To learn about, say, world politics by watching daily news shows is like trying to grasp the meaning of a film by looking at just a single frame which has been liberally photoshopped. Without seeing the rest of the film, you have no way of knowing which parts are falsified or of correctly interpreting the parts that are genuine.

    Whether learning history has any practical value for an individual depends on one’s goals; one can get buff, make money, and get laid without any education at all. But the superior man sees the big picture, and must thus educate himself. To become educated, he must learn history.

    “I look with great commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens who, reading newspapers, live and die in the belief they have known something of what has been passing in the world around them.” – Harry Truman

    “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but the newspapers.” – Thomas Jefferson

    • Wow. VERY well said Abgrund.

      Seems like the U.S school system is a bit different from the Swedish school system in terms of the subject of history. It has a slightly more important role in Sweden. But only slightly.

      I definitely agree with you on the big picture about history though. The guys running the show want you to know as little about the big picture as possible, to make you easier to control. And while some people think that’s crazy propaganda talk, it’s just simple logic. Because the less you know about the big picture, the more you need the help of an “overseer”. That’s why kings in ancient ages would do anything they could to keep their experts from socializing with each other. Because if they did, and they learned how the system worked, then they wouldn’t need the king to connect them.

      I’ve never seen those newspaper quotes before, but I dig them.

  6. commiebasher says:

    MARX!? Are you turning into a DAMN COMMUNIST?

  7. The ability to make historical connections and notice similarities will also most likely help improve your grades if you’re still in high school/college. Made an apt comparison on an oral exam and went from D to B in one move (according to my prof.) It shows that you understand what you’re talking about and not just memorizing the right answers. Which is also why it’s so powerful in discussions. If you can make apt historical comparisons or analogies, you demonstrate that you understand the concept. Of course the key word here is apt… as terrible comparisons will only make you seem like an idiot trying to seem smart.

    I find more meaning in studying individual people throughout history, as this brings out more motivation in me than just reading about stuff that happens. For example, Meditations as a book is made much, much more powerful by knowing the historical context of the author. If you just knew that it was a book, then it would still offer valid advice, but I don’t think it would have the same, profound effect, on so many people.

    • I never gave a shit about grades. But I think you’re absolutely right, Ragnar!

      Btw: For anyone reading this, the book Ragnar mentions “Medititations”, by Marcus Aurelius, is epic.

  8. Thoreau and Emerson agreed with Marx that division of labor was wrong! While Marxism has/had some great and groundbreaking ideas, no group has been skilled or ruthless enough to carry it out. Stalin tried it with his “elite and enlightened dictators”. But he went mad.

    Maybe we will see an enlightened form of communism in our life time and we will live in a globalised and glorious country?

    • Abgrund says:

      Marx also said that specialization provided the superior efficiency which had allowed Capitalism to ascend in the first place. He was hardly above making contradictory statements.

      Concerning Stalin, I don’t think he “went mad”. He was a psychopath and an enemy of Marxism and the Revolution – consciously, I believe.
      .

      P.S. I am not holding my breath to see an enlightened version of *anything* attain global influence, as this would entail human extinction and the evolution of some other sapient species (hopefully a little /more/ sapient).

      • Stalin was an enemy of Marxism? I didn’t know that.

        Can you explain whst you mean Abgrund?

        Why don’t you hope that there will be an “enlightened anything”?

        When I said that what i meant was not as in spiritual enlightenment because due to my understanding regarding that, which I should add is extensive, the world would fall apart because no one would work or need anything from one another. So it could only work in a singularity society.

      • Merton: “Stalin was an enemy of Marxism? I didn’t know that.”

        Absolutely. If you read the writings of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin, you will find that their thinking was quite different. Of course, all “Marxist” writers /claimed/ to be in agreement with Marx, but they were rather like modern Fundamentalist Bible “scholars” – they pick a few quotations out of context, deliberately misinterpret passages, and ignore the bulk of the work while trampling on its real intent.

        Marx was nearly an Anarchist, especially in his early writings. He also stuck tenaciously to his “material dialectic”, according to which Communism was impossible in Russia for the foreseeable future (as he said explicitly). Lenin obviously had to work around the material dialectic, and also had to justify an authoritarian central government. It was Lenin who introduced the idea of an intermediate stage called “socialism” before Communism could be achieved.

        Stalin introduced absolute despotism, and also abandoned the idea of global revolution (considered essential by Marx and Lenin). Trotsky was murdered largely because he was still partly Marxist. Stalin had created a /de facto/ state of permanent totalitarian socialism in Russia. Interestingly, this is exactly what Marx predicted would happen if a proletarian revolution succeeded in Russia. Marx himself despised socialism with a passion and referred to its leading contemporary exponent as a “Jewish nigger”.

        Merton: “Why don’t you hope that there will be an “enlightened anything”?”

        I’ve read too much history and met too many people. I agree with you that general spiritual “enlightenment” might cause the end of civilization, lack of selfishness implying lack of motivation. This is certainly the case with some sects; I suppose it depends on just what you mean by “enlightenment”.

      • Abgrund,

        “This is certainly the case with some sects; I suppose it depends on just what you mean by “enlightenment”.”

        –Can you give an example of such sects?

        The reason I ask is because I am very interested in the dynamic of sects, but I can’t say I’ve studied it as much as I’d like.

        Osho, who was a philosopher/guru/mystic had one of the largest spiritual sects ever. From what I gather, his people were pretty happy. But I don’t know if it fits what you’re saying Abgrund. And I definitely do not believe they were “enlightened” (in Merton’s definition).

        You can read more about Osho here. I think he’s incredibly interesting.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajneesh

        You can read more about Osho’s sect here:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajneeshpuram

        Here’s a crazy video where you can watch how “happy” Osho’s followers were:
        http://goo.gl/PmIa6v

      • Abgrund says:

        Ludvig: I was thinking of anti-materialistic sects, which would include (in theory) Buddhism and Christianity. Your results may vary, membership in a religion is not a guarantee of enlightenment.

        P.S. Having only two levels of replies sucks.

      • Hey guys I’m writing this from my cell phone so I can’t quote the specific text I’d like. Just so you know….

        MISINTERPRETATIONS AND QUOTES OUT OF CONTEXT:

        You are probably right…
        I think this is something that almost everyone does from time to time..
        You could perhaps say its part of human nature to interpret things the way we would like it to be so that we can shape the world logically according to our view… So perhaps those people used Marx as a stepping stone just to get aurhority by using his name, but in truth their real objective was to build their own future scenario/philosophy. Do you agree?

        LENIN & SOCIALISM:
        ….
        I did NOT know that.. but i always strive to learn more.

        “Lack of selfishness implies lack of motivation”
        ….
        Yes that’s exactly what I was trying to say!! Though Im sure some would disagree and say that’s wrong and that you should be a “good member of society”..

        But I think you gotta become someone worth helping first to deserve it… Because as someone said, I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the select few. And i see this as the way we all act… We only have the interest or the willingness or the mental energy for the select few “worth helping”

        Btw lol about “Jewish Nigger”

        Ludvig I looked at your links yesterday, very fascinating guy this Osho, as you say.

      • Abgrund says:

        Merton: “So perhaps those people used Marx as a stepping stone just to get aurhority by using his name, but in truth their real objective was to build their own future scenario/philosophy. Do you agree?”

        Pretty much, yeah. Lenin /might/ have started out with the intention of creating a true Marxist society, but he had no compunctions about abandoning (or “clarifying”) Marxism in order to remain in power. Stalin and Mao were, I think, already consciously un-Marxist before they rose to prominence.

        Every Communist leader that I know of has always paid lip service to Marx, no matter how flagrantly their policies are at variance with genuine Marxian thought. An interesting thing about the writings of Engels, Lenin, and Stalin is that they always treat Marx as a kind of prophet and his writings as inerrant Scripture. They “interpret” and “clarify” but would never consider that Marx could have been wrong about anything – notwithstanding that any intelligent person reading Marx could readily find many flaws and errors. The intellectual underpinning of “Marxism” seems to be the fact that hardly anyone actually read Marx.

    • Time will tell. Thanks for the interesting comment, Merton.

  9. george costanza says:

    ” We do now – or rather, we do – but most people do not.”

    This is funny because it’s true.

    Actually it’s not particularly funny when I think on it. But it is true at least. Lol.

  10. Heathenwinds says:

    You really put out here Ludvig. This is probably the best thing you’ve written for this site thus far.

  11. Alexandre says:

    Hiya there. I think you’re wrong about how history is useful for practical matters, its not that I disagree with you, but if you take a look at most US presidents or politiciand in general, how often do they refer to historical trivia? IME, not at all. They just say “We gotta do this”, “We can change”, or “He’s unelectable and his policies are never going to work”. The last One is particularly interesting because there is an old politician called Ron Paul and no One knows him because HE used historical examples, but obviously it didn’t work.

    PS.

    “Invisible basket balls”.. Guess what I am referring to??
    :P

    • Abgrund says:

      “Look at Presidents” ? If I could not aspire to be a smarter and better person than any of our last forty Presidents, I would cut my nuts off with a blowtorch.

    • Hey Alexandre,

      I know about Ron Paul.

      What I was saying about how you should use history to make examples assumes that you’re in contact with INTELLIGENT people. Presidents are not. Presidents deal with the masses and try to reach out and influence as many as possible. They do this by trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator of intelligence, and by invoking as much emotions into their arguments and propaganda as possible.

      You don’t move the masses by means of reason or intelligence. Therefore your example is poor.

      PS: the invisible basket balls = the picture of Aristotle and Plato. I cheated, and used Google!

    • Alexandre says:

      ok Ludvig you make a good point…. Hmmm. And yes you are right with my challenge :) but it doesnt count since you cheated ;(

      But you Abgrund you are either ironic (hard for me to know over the web) or you are a complete idiot!

      I don’t know How you define Greatness. But becoming the President it not something everyone can do/be.

      Look here mr abgrund i am not trying to be mean but i dont think you can understand what it means to even run for president.

      PS: George W is an exception because he is stupid but cheated

  12. I love history. In a way I wish I had chosen to study history in school instead of Geography. Maybe even study it as a degree because in my opinion, the past shapes the future. It is that important.

  13. Great post. History is definitely a subject I’m planning to get more into. In particular for the ‘connections’ notion you make mention of. I believe having more associations is a key contributor to creativity. Quick question: do you think there are any drawbacks to gaining more knowledge of history?

  14. Hi Ludvig,

    “And when you ask WHY you need to learn this stuff, your teacher gives you some unconvincing answer about how it’s part of the curriculum”… this is very true and the reason most school kids hate history. Nobody explains the bigger picture.

    Thinking back to my own school years – I remember mainly learning about slavery, the Victorians and world war 1 & 2.

    Although I love the Victorians because of how gross and publicly violent they were – I feel robbed and cheated. I was ONLY taught the sides of history that my country wanted me to see.

    I find this is the problem with learning about real history. People write books to sway the argument there way. You always have to do intensive research to find the write authors who write factually about an event.

    Now I’m much older my interest in history is in various different wars and how they determined the future of the races/ethnicities we have today. (especially in Europe)

    BTW have you ever (or would you like to) visited any historical locations throughout the world? Please tell!

    Naomi

    • Hey Naomi!

      “this is very true and the reason most school kids hate history. Nobody explains the bigger picture.”

      –Yeah. I doubt many of the teachers have any idea themselves.

      “I find this is the problem with learning about real history. People write books to sway the argument there way. You always have to do intensive research to find the write authors who write factually about an event.”

      –True. Every country teaches its own history.

      “BTW have you ever (or would you like to) visited any historical locations throughout the world? Please tell!”

      –I’m not much of a traveler. But I’ve been to the Colloseum, other places in Rome, and some in Greece. Other than that, not very historical.

  15. Hey! Great post. It’s rare to find a personal improvement blog with some real thoughts behind it. I really like history too perhaps i could email you an article I wrote on it myself?

  16. That point you made about the influence of Marx was really good. It even extends inside the classroom. Every history class I have ever taken was based in a Marxist view of history–class struggle based in economics. Our modern education system blames every historical development on economics (or at least, my experience in the education system). And for good reason: it works. Until something better comes along.

    Something I think you could have touched on was how every other subject is tied in with history. If you study all of history in detail, going into the specifics of every discovery, development and invention, you will cover all of human knowledge. Of course, one could never catch up. It’s been suggested that close to 90% of all knowledge in the world when a person retires will have been discovered during their life time. So, in a way, history is accelerating. Which only means greater lessons and meanings and chances for those of us who stand to benefit from our study of it.

    • Hey John,
      Thanks for the great comment.

      I agree with you how most subjects are tied in with history. I also think that if you study history, you’ll learn a lot about human behavior/psychology. (Which is behind a lot of cycles that repeat themselves.)

      “It’s been suggested that close to 90% of all knowledge in the world when a person retires will have been discovered during their life time”

      –Never heard of this before. Could you explain more?

      • It is actually a pretty old statistic. I came across it in “Future Shock” by Alvin Toffler, which came out in 1970. Toffler explained that the rate of advancement in science and technology was increasing to the point where a single traditional working lifetime would allow for a complete overhaul of what it understood. Toffler tied this in with the development of a post-industrial economy in the US. Unfortunately, Toffler never really pinpoints what he means by ‘knowledge,’ but no matter the definition, it is still a shocking statistic.

      • That’s very interesting, John!

        I just did some googling and read a bit more about it. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

        “In his discussion of the components of such shock, he popularized the term “information overload.””

        –Damn. I didn’t know that! I should’ve put that in my eBook.

        I actually found it so interesting that I watched this documentary (narrated by Orson Welles) for 42 minutes:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVJrJk3q3MA

        That’s the first film I watch in long time.

        A book I believe you would enjoy, is “Average is Over” by Tyler Cowen. I will do a post related to it eventually though (Not sure when it’ll be published).

  17. The article is so full of win! On a side note: I also think that reading books by ancient philosophers helps a lot too. For some reasons it just makes your mind much more focused and gives a great perspective on what to do, or not to do.

    • Thanks Kat, I agree. :)

      I agree regarding the old philosophers too. I just read “Maxims” by François de La Rochefoucauld. Maxims are great for what you’re saying, the focused part.

  18. I’m loving the history incorporated into your articles. I’ve been reading all day — an educational Sunday in other words. :)

    Like you say, there arent too many people nowadays who are long-term oriented and understand their own context of their lives. People, me included until maybe 1-2 years ago when I started reading history and philosophy books, are too short-term and nearsighted. Bc of this they never get the momentum required to do anything epic. And it’s not like it’s a rare thing, I think it applies to most people. They expect to live like in the movies even though all the do is to watch movies.

    I have tried talking to some people, even friends, about this, but i never get any good answer. it’s like they will just pretend none of it is happening, it’s surreal. I’m being overly dramatic now, sorry, but i think you know what i mean.

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