Friday, March 23, 2007

Useless emotion

Any person with a conscience will inevitably feel guilt for the people they have hurt as a result of their anger. Even if they feel the anger is justified, guilt will arise. Guilt leads to depression. Depression is basically anger turned inwards. Nothing good can come of it.

But why are people like me prone "losing it" more often than not? Why can't we look the other way, ignore what makes us unhappy and move on. I am no psychologist so I am not going to attempt to rationalize or answer that. But I certainly need to change before I strain more relationships in my life.

"Anyone can become angry - that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way - this is not easy."

Aristotle said that in his book, The Nichomachean Ethics.

Anger really is a useless emotion. It solves nothing, it doesn't make you feel better, and it causes you to lose control of your behavior. And it's worse than useless, it's dangerous. When in the grip of anger, people make poor decisions, hurt themselves and others.

It has been said that better communication and the use of humour helps. Thinking before you speak and listening before you respond defensively will certainly go a long way. But how often will I remember that when I need to?

Buddhist mindfulness is another thing that I read about. It is a technique that advocates non-attachment to angry thoughts that arise. Basically, one is asked to simply observe one’s anger with disinterest and focus on breathing. In a best case scenario, the anger will dissipate.

Thoughts only acquire force, say Buddhist teachers, when we attach ourselves to these thoughts. Since our inflated egos are our own worst enemies, it pays to think of ourselves as ego-less Buddhas full of infinite compassion, even for the people we attribute our anger to.

Modern psychology borrows heavily from Buddhist mindfulness. Though we may lack the capacity to mindfully dissolve our worst thoughts, we can buy ourselves a few precious seconds before we do something irretrievably stupid. In essence, we can recognize our destructive thoughts as they occur, and then work with them.

I really need to keep a journal of what makes me angry- that would be a very long book I'm sure- perhaps a few dozen volumes. After that I need to find a way to distract myself based on mindfulness. That is my new resolution.

Anger can never be used to get your way. In fact most of the time nobody gives a shit if you are angry or not. At the end of the day you just end up hurting yourself and feeling depressed, or worse perhaps the other way around.

Control the inner beast. If you are thinking of mowing down your boss with a machine gun, for instance, it might be better to take a couple of deep breaths and resolve to take up your grievance at a later time.

If only I can heed my own advice...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

You are not your job

Isn't it funny that one of the first things we ask a person when we meet them is, "What do you do?", as if knowing that will allow you to know the person better.

Are we really defined by what we do for a living? Is that who we are and nothing else?

In ancient Greece a person's profession wasn't as important as who he was in addition to that. No one was lucky enough to be able to do what they love for a living. There was no choice involved. You were born into a trade or initiated into it out of necessity. The first thing people asked was what family you belonged to or who your father was. "Who you were" was where you came from, not what work you did.

Socrates would say that work is only a means to an end and should not interfere with more rewarding philosophical pursuits. According to him the best situation was to be self-employed and not a slave to someone else's trade. It's no wonder that Socrates was known to have lived in relative poverty due to his lack of profession. He can't be accused of being practical because wandering around barefoot and annoying people with philosophical questions isn't going to put food in your stomach and a roof over your head. But he was happy and whatever he did made more of a difference than if he was clocking in from nine to five. Thousands of years later people are still discussing his philosophical ideas.

Personally, I am inclined to take the middle road. In today's world we need to have a skill or some valuable commodity that people are willing to pay good money for. If not you will just collect minimum wage for your time and labour at the check-out counter at the supermarket or loading goods behind the warehouse. That would be a sad waste of whatever talent you may have.

At the other end of the extreme there are people who have so much money that they don't know what to do with it. That is another worry in itself. Having a lot of money means that you have to keep an eye on it. However, is chasing the capitalist ideal with bulging stock portfolios and a hundred and one projects going on all at once really going to make you any happier? The stress of it all may take years off your life and the irony of it is that you may not live long enough to enjoy all the money you have made anyway.

I have to agree with what the character Tyler Durden said in the movie "Fight Club".

You are not your job.
You are not how much money you have in the bank.
You are not the car you drive.
You are not the contents of your wallet.
You are not your fucking khakis.
You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Love and the Will-to-Life

In his work "The Symposium" Plato declared that a man without love is like a creature with only half its limbs. If you folow Plato's reasoning you could say that I am a creature with all my limbs attached and working. As fortunate as I am, like every creature on earth I take what I have for granted. I am no romantic although I can be very silly and affectionate with the ones I love. My wife may lament my lack of romaticism but she will agree that I am not lacking in love and affection for her.

The greatest romantics are usually those who are pursuing love and have yet to find it or are in the process of wooing. During my days as a loner or rather a loser, I was able to grasp the nature and necessity of love although I didn't have it at the time. Loneliness really makes you see things in a different light.

Philosophers have not traditionally been impressed by the trivial tribulations of love but Schopenhauer, one of my favourite philosophers, had a different take on things. He believed that love is important and never accidental. He had a theory, the "will-to-life", that states that there is an inherent drive in human beings to stay alive and reproduce.

Even the most cynical career-minded individuals will be driven to be in the position to reproduce if only because of attraction to the opposite sex. The continuation of the species is seldom on our minds when we ask for a phone number because we are split into conscious and unconscious selves. The intellect and human-will are two different things. The "human-will" always wins over the intellect which explains why even the most intellectual people are capable of the stupidest things when in love.

I am sure you have wondered at one time or another why you ended up with the person that you're with. "Why him?" or "Why her?". Why weren't you attracted to someone else who may have been more attractive and perhaps more convenient to live with?

Schopenhauer's answer is that our will-to-life drives us towards people who are our opposites. The will-to-life pushes us towards people who can, on account of their imperfections, cancel out our own. For example a flat or large nosed person reproducing with a smaller sharper nosed person promises an offspring with a more attractive nose. Short women will fall in love with tall men but rarely tall men with tall women. It is the neutralisation of the two individualities so that the one-sidedness of each cancels out the other.

Unfortunately, Schopenhauer's theory of attraction also argues that a person who is highly suitable for our future child is almost never very suitable for us. Happiness and the production of healthy children are two radically contrasting projects. Love blinds us for as long as it can. The will of the species is so much more powerful than that of the individual.

Who says we are in control of the choices we make in life?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Beliefs

Dostoyevsky warned us that those who reject religion "will end by drenching the earth in blood." But hasn't history shown that blood letting has occurred mostly as a result of religions or other belief-systems, not from the people who reject them.

Beliefs create more social problems than they solve. The most dangerous beliefs are those that are elevated to faith. Faith is belief without evidence and this can lead to mysticism and so-called divine intervention. People have slaughtered each other in wars and conflicts over thousands of centuries and still kill each other over faith in their religions. Political ideologies, and philosophies are just as dangerous because they are also part of a belief system. Hitler had his own belief system and didn't need faith in anything other than his own 'will to power" in order to slaughter millions of Jews

Most scientists, politicians, philosophers, and even atheists support the notion that some forms of belief provide a valuable means to establish "truth" as long as it contains the backing of data and facts. But isn't belief a 'belief' because it cannot be backed up by pure facts and empirical data. If we know something for a fact, it will just become common knowledge instead of something you need to believe in or not.

Does rational thinking require us to adhere to beliefs at all? Do we require any attachment to a belief of any kind to have a satisfied life? Can't we just act on data, theories, and facts without resorting to the ownership of belief?

The truth is that all we have is the empirical knowledge we gain through our senses. We can only believe what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Anything other than that is likely to be bullshit and one that you can't even smell.