Friday, December 2, 2022

Amor Fati

We've all had those days where nothing goes according to plan. Perhaps you've arranged a dinner friends. It starts out well, but then you find you've left your wallet at home. So, you turn back. Then you have a flat tire. So you change it. Then you arrive at the restaurant to find that it is closed. 

Is there any point in complaining about these things? Should you curse your car or yell at the restaurant door? Doing so will change nothing, so there is little point in wasting your energy.

We prefer things to be a certain way. But the universe has no obligation to satisfy our preferences. Things happen - bad and good. Of course, we make every attempt to avoid the bad. However, we should remember that much of what happens in the world is beyond our control. We must therefore make the best of what fortune presents us. Amor Fati! Embrace life's challenges. This is how we reach our human potential.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

We are judgemental beings. Our nature drives us to form opinions about other people, and then to spread those opinions to anyone who has the time to listen. And there is certainly no shortage of ears, eager to hear the next juicy piece of information. We seem to be addicted to speaking about the affairs of others. 

But often this talk amounts to nothing more than rumor, innuendo, or gossip. This is surely not worthy of our time. So, when offered information about another person, we should first ask: Are you certain that what you want to tell me is true? We should then ask, is your statement going to be good or kind? Finally, we should ask, is it necessary that I know this piece of information?

If the information on offer is neither true, nor kind, or is unnecessary to know, we should tell the purveyor of gossip to please say nothing at all.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Rights vs Duties

One of the big changes we've seen over the last hundred years is the shift from our sense of duty to a push for our individual rights. There was a time at which we asked ourselves: What should I do to make society better? This question has, for many, been replaced with a new question: What should society do to make things better for me? This change in ideology has been particularly evident over the last few years.

Despite this, we still hear the thoughts of past generations echo through the decades. During his Inaugural Address in 1961, John F. Kennedy challenged the people of the United States to contribute to the public good. His famous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” encouraged people to work towards making society better for all. 

We might ask ourselves which approach will lead to a more just and flourishing society. If we focus on how our actions can make society better for all people, then we may see improved equity, tolerance, and kindness. If, on the other hand, we focus on our individual rights, and thus make demands on society, we may find an increase in conflict and inequality. This could come as a result of putting one's rights first, above the common good, and above other people's needs. After all, clashes often result from people's rights coming into conflict.

This is not to say that we should abandon our rights. They are, after all, the cornerstone of our sense of freedom and justice. Rather, it is to say that we need to strike a balance and ask ourselves, how can we make the world a better place for all? By focusing on the common good, or focusing on ourselves? The answer may be found in Gandhi's 1947 observation that "all rights to be deserved and preserved came from duty well done. Thus the very right to live accrues to us only when we do the duty of citizenship of the world."

Perhaps in addition to our Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we also need a Universal Declaration of Human Duties.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Loss of control

We like order in our lives. It gives us a sense of control, and thus provides a feeling of security. Unexpected problems, or mistakes, can be extremely unsettling. You may wake up late and find that your alarm clock has malfunctioned. Or perhaps your phone failed to charge overnight. Or maybe someone else is taking an early shower - at the very time you use it every morning. The frustration over such simple events can sometimes be overwhelming and lead us to curse the chaotic nature of the world.

But the world is an ordered, deterministic system. We simply have a limited sphere of control. The complex interweaving of events and interpersonal relationships can give the appearance of chaos simply because we cannot keep track of it all. We must keep in mind that unexpected events will always occur, and that our response to such events should be in proportion to their significance. Your life will not be ruined just because you overslept. You don't necessarily need a fully charged phone. Skip your shower and enjoy the benefit of a little extra time in the morning.

Feeling like we have lost control can be frustrating, but only because we expect to have complete control. Accepting that many things are beyond our control can help temper our response to unexpected events.

Friday, September 16, 2022

It's all temporary

It’s all temporary. The tasks at which we work so hard to complete. The joy and pain of raising our children. The applause we receive for our excellent performances. The heated arguments we have with co-workers. Our successes. Our failures. They're all temporary.

When we feel anxious about day-to-day matters, we should remember that this moment in time will soon be gone. All things come to an end. Humanity; Earth; the Solar System and Milky Way galaxy. These things are all temporary. Even the epoch in which the universe contains stars and planets will one day come to an end.

It is with this in mind that we may be able to perceive daily events in a different light. We have an urge to survive, and we must certainly do our best to correct injustices and live a good life. But viewing all things as temporary may help us recognize more clearly the joy that can be found in small moments that we otherwise might ignore. The smile from a passing stranger. Reading a bedtime story to a child. The warmth of the sun on an upturned face. 

It's all temporary, so take a moment to enjoy the small things. One day they will be gone.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Values opinions

Within institutions there is much talk of values. Companies publish values statements. Churches promote values directly derived from religious texts. And schools construct short definitions of acceptable behavior, which collectively sit under the heading: School Values. But what exactly are these "values"? What is the purpose of a values statement within an organization? 

All societies have laws, many of which we accept as necessary for social cohesion. Occasionally one of those laws is found to be outdated and is modified. Values, on the other hand, seem to sit at a different level. They may be used, perhaps, to generate laws. But they, themselves, are designed to be fixed and unchanging. For example, the Catholic value of the "Sancitiy of Life" will never be abandoned. And it sits at the center of some of our laws. We may not be religious, but we can still accept the value that human life ought to be preserved. Over time, laws are adjusted to suit society's better understanding of itself and what counts as "human life", while still maintaining that life is of the highest value.

Are corporate values the same type of thing? When we see company values listed as: Innovation, The Best People, Customer Commitment, or Personal Accountability, we may find ourselves questioning whether these are universal values or merely opinions about what is good in a certain context. In this way, company values seem to be more like rules that the company values, rather than being values in themselves. If this is true, it is possible that company values may be contrary to true human values - whatever these may be.

We must be careful, therefore, in accepting values statements without analysis. We should ask ourselves where the values came from; what assumptions underpin them; what outcomes they are being used to promote. We may find that some values are not as valuable as they initially sound.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Seeking approval

We crave the approval of others. This seems to be part of the human condition. Everyone wants to be liked. And what better signs of approval are there than applause, or trophies, or certificates? We finish our performance and glow as the crowd claps their hands. We adorn our shelves with our hard won trophies, and decorate our walls with certificates that prove our worthiness. All symbols of approval.

But after the crowd leaves the auditorium, their applause is nothing but a memory - an echo lost in time. Our certificates fade in the sun, slowly degrading to nothing. And our trophies tarnish as the universe inevitably moves towards maximum entropy.

What does this tell us? Should we not seek the approval of others? Not at all. We need social relationships, and approval is better than disapproval or mere disinterest. But we should put things in perspective. We should be the best person we can be regardless of awards or applause. Those things do not last, and a life pursuing them for their own sake will never bring contentedness. After all, there's always another certificate to be hung on the wall. But how many are required for fulfillment? How many will make us truly happy? Do they really matter?

Perhaps we should remind ourselves that happiness can be found in our actions rather than the pieces of paper people give us.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Buying Happiness

We spend so much time focusing on material possessions. We constantly check our bank balance. We visit the mall and online shopping stores, carefully scrutinizing products, searching for something... anything that will bring some fulfillment and help fill the void in our lives. But how often do we find that after the initial thrill of the purchase, after that dopamine hit has worn off, the product loses its luster?

Perhaps the product itself was not what we were actually looking for.

What, then, are we really searching for? Not pieces of plastic. Not pieces of fabric. Not little screens full of icons. These things, in and of themselves, seem hollow. It seems that the thing we really want can't be found in a store. But what is this thing we seek? When we ask ourselves why we buy products, our answer usually refers to "happiness". And, of course, happiness itself is not for sale, so that's why we think we should buy other things to get it.

But does happiness actually come from these things? Or does it come from somewhere else? If it doesn't come from the products we purchase, it is no surprise that we are constantly seeking more product. We're never getting what we truly want.

Of course, we do need food, drink, and shelter. These things sustain us and put us in a position to seek happiness. And they can be bought at the store. But because happiness itself can't be bought, and because it doesn't come from the products we buy, we need to find it somewhere other than the store. But where?

Take a walk in the park or sit in the sun. Maybe go out one night and gaze at the starry sky. Take time; relax; contemplate. You may accidentally find that you no longer need to search the store for this elusive thing we call "happiness".

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Bad luck

We all have bad luck. Sometimes it seems that poor fortune is constantly with us, and that all our worse-case scenarios are playing out. We may think that things couldn't get much worse.

In these situations it can be wise to pause, and remind ourselves that things can always be worse. And although it seems that things may never go our way again, there is no natural law dictating that our fortune will not change. The universe has nothing against us. It just is as it is. Indifferent.

So, we must be patient and focus on the things we can affect in our lives. We may then find that our run of poor bad luck comes to an end. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

The most important thing in life

What's the most important thing in life? Is it the completion of data analysis for your work? Is it your next business presentation? Is it your next pay increase? We may deem these things important while at the same time we have other things waiting for our attention. Our friends. Our our spouses. Our children.

Our lives are busy. We rush from task to task, trying desperately to get ahead and be successful. But in our day-to-day struggles, we seldom take the time to question what real success actually looks like.

Life is short, and therefore we need to prioritize the important things. But how do we know what is truly important? We may, perhaps, be guided by imagining how we would like to be remembered after our passing. Ask yourself, do I want to be remembered for my ability to get data analyses completed on time? Do I want to be remembered for my accurate business presentations, which lead to significant pay increases? Or would I prefer to be remembered for my dedication to my children? That I always found time to spend with them. That I was able to help them through the challenges of youth. And that they loved and cherished me as much as I did them. Answering these questions can serve as a useful guide.

As we move through life, we should therefore take time out to imagine our future eulogy. Doing so can be helpful in putting our struggles in perspective and determining what is the most important thing in life.

[Photo by Olivia Silby 2022]