Lessons From Stories: Unconditional Love Can Be A Bad Thing

Honore de Balzac wrote the novel Old Goriot in 1835, and he explored the social and cultural changes that were taking place in France at the time. There are several themes associated with this novel, but I’d like to focus on one in particular. The theme of parental love and family relationships, specifically the relationship between Goriot and his two daughters, Delphine and Anastasie. The lesson derived from this relationship is that there is such a thing as too much love. That, in fact, a parent’s unconditional love can have negative effects on their children.

(Obvious spoilers ahead)

To set the stage, at this time in France, one’s reputation was everything. This theme is largely explored through the lens of the character Rastignac. He is a young man with dreams of becoming rich and successful. In his story, he interacts with the elites of the Parisian society including both Delphine and Anastasie. The two daughters are married to successful men but the daughters constantly struggle with finances as they attempt to buy rich gowns and wear expensive jewelry in order to keep their high societal image.

It is in this struggle to stay relevant we see how unconditional parental love can be damaging.

But first, we must understand who Goriot is. Goriot is portrayed as the ideal father. He embodies the parenting view that it is the parent’s responsibility to sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of their children. We meet Goriot living in an old boarding house along with several other characters. Soon after that, we are given background information about how once upon a time Goriot was a rich merchant and the reason why he went from living comfortably to now having to spend his old age by himself in a small room was because he gave his wealth to his two daughters in order to maintain their image of wealthy Parisian women so they can keep getting invitations to dinner parties and get-togethers.

This idea of Keeping Up with the Joneses is as relevant today as it was in that time period. As people attain more wealth they upgrade their living situations trying to maintain a certain image that they believe is associated with their income level. Goriot’s two daughters are no different than the people we see walking around now. Both of them find themselves in this rich sphere of influence and both constantly struggle to stay in that sphere. When our self-worth and our identity comes to be tied with our reputation and image, we can fail to see what really matters. Such as the love and care of people around us.

The daughters fall into this trap as well. They care little of how their father has downgraded in his living conditions over the years and how he’s had to sell what is precious to him in order to raise enough money to keep a steady flow of income which the daughters can use for material possessions. The daughters are too self-absorbed and here is where too much love and care can be a bad thing.

The overwhelming love Goriot had for his daughters stopped him from thinking rationally. Instead of teaching his daughters about self-worth or raising them to make their own wealth, he kept on feeding their addiction. Love clouded his logic to the point he was essentially causing self-harm in order to keep his daughters happy. His love for his daughters stopped him from putting proper boundaries which would allow the daughters to take on responsibility for themselves. He wasn’t able to raise independent human beings. Instead, even as adults his daughters relied on him to help them and because his love was boundless, he kept on loving and sacrificing until his final breath. Worse of all, the tragedy of the story, the father dies without either one of his daughters there to comfort him and even at his funeral, the daughters don’t come.

Often we hear how moderation in all things is the key to a successful life. When I think of moderation my mind automatically goes to bad habits and vices that we can practice and how we must be aware of such things in order to keep ourselves from overindulging in the bad. Old Goriot opened my eyes to a new perspective. Overindulgence in the good can also be harmful. Too much love, comfort, and support can rob someone’s possibility of being their own individual. The daughters never had to stand on their own two feet because Goriot was there to support and guide them the whole time. It is easy to identify when we are imbalanced due to our bad actions but much harder to pinpoint the imbalance when we are acting out of love and care. This story is a good reminder of the latter. Even our love and care must be disciplined and moderated. Especially if we are to raise proper human beings.

Reflections On Why You Should Take The Hard Path

To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. (Steven Pressfield)

We are incomplete beings. We are a form of potential. We are unlike other animals in this sense. A lion cub grows up to be a predator. It doesn’t require will power to become what nature intended it to be. Nature didn’t intend for humans to be anything. It left that choice to the individual. Each individual has the possibility to transcend what or who they are at this given moment and realize their potential. What stands in the way is Resistance or themselves. The voice that pokes at your insecurities, tells you you’ve worked enough, it’s good enough, that pain is bad, that struggle must be avoided, that you can blame someone else for the way you are (parents, lover, children, society, gender, race, culture), the voice that gives you an out which you actively and consciously embrace. The voice that speaks when there is a decision to be made.

To be more. To do more. To become more. Or to stay what you are.

Take the easy way or the hard way?

Easy way brings pleasure right now and makes you feel good but the chains of comfort keep you from soaring, growing, moving, changing, becoming and it robs you of time. To not work and procrastinate. To skip the last set. To have that conversation later. This choice can take your possibility away, can take your potential away.

The hard way is to do the more difficult thing right this moment and do that every moment of your life. Wake up early, workout, be disciplined, routined, have those difficult conversations, sacrifice the immediate gratification, sacrifice the warmth and comfort, embrace whatever it is that stirs the thoughts of procrastination in your mind. That’s the way. That’s the path. The discomfort.

You know what the right thing to do is because you have done plenty of self-experiments throughout your life. Plenty of times when you chose the easy way which only left you with guilt and without fulfillment. Over and over the same acts are repeated and little to no growth is to be had. The change is simple as well. You’ve known the way the whole time. You’ve avoided it each time you chose the easy way and were left with regrets later on.

The path is hard. This is the way that growth happens. You become the possibility nature laid out for you. The enemy is resistance. The reality is the shortage of time. The goal is to self actualize. The path is hard.

Stoic Lesson On Growing Old

Well, we should cherish old age and enjoy it. It is full of pleasure if you know how to use it. Fruit tastes most delicious just when its season is ending.

It is quite telling that Seneca dedicated an entire letter to aging. It shows how little we, as people, have changed or evolved from our ancestors. For the most part, the same daily concerns that circulated in the minds of Romans are the same ones that trouble us now. One of these concerns being the natural aspect of life: Aging.

In our current age perhaps this concern is more prevalent than before or at least it seems that way with social media. There are so many different surgeries that attempt to give you a youthful appearance, so many companies that sell products to keep you young and beautiful, or so they claim, and so many people who actively seek remedies to aging.

However, the Stoic advice on this matter is similar to their advice on many topics: Acceptance, emotional/attitudinal control and a change of perspective.

Aging is a natural part of life so by accepting it, it can change your perspective from viewing aging as negative to view it as positive. Another Stoic principle is to control one’s attitude. We always have a choice in how we react. Our attitude is one of the few things we control in this life. Once more it is a matter of perspective. We can either see aging as something terrible and sad or we can view it is a new experience, a chance to see the world from a different manner, a chance to transition into a different phase of our life and even live differently. With this perspective change, you can then see the benefits of aging.

As Seneca says:

In my opinion, even the age that stands on the brink has pleasures of its own.

Not only is there a need to accept the natural aging process but also to accept our lack of control over it. It’s easy to see the self harm some people cause through plastic surgeries as they attempt to stop what is natural. Aging can be used to practice a virtue like grace. To age gracefully instead of fighting and manipulating yourself to cling on to what is long past.

Of course, the biggest concern associated with aging is death. The fear of death whether consciously or unconsciously is at the root of a lot of people’s attitudes and actions. However, the Stoics don’t see death as something terrible. Just as with aging, death is also natural.

If God adds the morrow we should accept it joyfully. The man who looks for the morrow without worrying over it knows a peaceful independence and a happiness beyond all others. Whoever has said ‘I have lived’ receives a windfall every day he gets up in the morning.

The Stoics almost recommend a daily reminder of death in order to lessen its impact if it does appear. The reminder is also there in order for you to live the present moment to its fullest extent. In this way, as one ages and death becomes more of a concern, the Stoics could see that as a blessing. By confronting that possibility we can then prepare our attitude and action towards it and in the meantime, enjoy the time we have left for when you truly acknowledge death, then each moment becomes more precious. We soon come to see what matters, what we truly desire, what makes us happy and fulfilled and on what things and with whom we would like to spend our time. So, aging can be viewed as a blessing to clear away all that doesn’t matter so we can focus on what does.

For the Stoics, any hardship is an opportunity to exercise our wisdom and the strength of our character. For some, aging is a hardship and so, for those people, aging can be viewed as an opportunity to practice the right attitude, practice our control over our attitude and to practice the right mindset.

Book Referenced: Letters From A Stoic By Seneca

 

 

 

Bruce Lee On The Importance Of Being A Quality Human Being

You know how I like to think of myself? As a human being.

For Bruce Lee, it was important to identify himself as a human first before any race, gender or ethnicity. By emphasizing his humanity over anything else, it helped him transcend social and cultural barriers and at the same time, it allowed him to think broadly and to have his philosophy be attainable to any individual.

However, Bruce Lee’s goal wasn’t simply to be human. Rather, it was to be a human of “quality”.

The function and duty of a human being, a “quality” human being, that is, is the sincere and honest development of potential and self-actualization.

Self-actualization means to achieve one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world. Simply put, to become the best version of yourself.

In order to fulfill one’s own potential, it is important to hone the ability to self-reflect. Self-reflection can allow us to detach momentarily. To see our own flaws and limitations so we know the areas we need to improve or strengthen.

We can ask ourselves: What habits do we need to break? What habits do we need to start? Where do we lack knowledge? Are we too passive? What part of our life requires immediate action?

For Bruce Lee, his goal was to actualize himself and he believed that should be the goal of all humans.

To promote the growth process and develop human potential:

To get through social role playing

To fill in the holes in the personality to make [one] whole and complete again.

The social role-playing part is important as well. We are social creatures and we have to do well by our community. It’s not a selfish attitude that Bruce Lee advocated but rather he believed in actualizing ourselves by performing our social duties to the best of our ability while improving upon our flaws. Both can go hand in hand. If we become the best version of ourselves then the ripple effects of that are felt by our friends, families and the community we live in. At the same time, by dedicating ourselves to being a productive member of society, it can help move us closer to our ideal state.

What the hell; you are what you are, and self-honesty occupies a definite and vital part in the ever-growing process to become a “real” human being and not a plastic one. Somehow, one day, you will hear “hey, now that’s quality; here is someone REAL.” I’d like that.

The key to being a quality human being is self-honesty. If we lie to ourselves and run away from who we currently are then there can be no improvement. Other people can point out our flaws but it’s easy to rationalize that truth and act as if other people are wrong. It’s also important to understand that who we currently are isn’t what we have to be. Bruce Lee also advocated constant change and this change has to come from within. We can only improve and grow if we wish to and in order to do this, we need to be honest with ourselves. Brutally honest about somethings. It can be uncomfortable to pick at our own flaws but there really is no other way to inch towards self-actualization. There needs to be constant ownership and accountability of our own actions. Perhaps in this manner, one day, someone can look at us and say “here is someone real,” just as Bruce Lee was.

Book referenced: Bruce Lee Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living 

Montaigne On How To Be A Well-Rounded Thinker

It seems that it is, rather, the property of Man’s wit to act readily and quickly, while the property of the judgment is to be slow and poised. But there is the same measure of oddness in the man who is struck dumb if he has no time to prepare his speech and the man who cannot take advantage and speak better when he does have time. (Montaigne)

These are the two spectrums of thinking. On one side is a person who is quick on their feet and can improvise. On the other end is a person who requires time to think and organize their thoughts before acting. There are benefits to both sides as certain circumstances require quick wit and others poised judgment. But this can only be achieved if you have the ability to act both ways. People often handicap themselves by only practicing one way of thinking. They either think themselves quick-witted or not. Or they only reap the rewards of one approach and not the other.

Montaigne urges people to be both a preacher and a barrister. Someone who is well thought out but is also able to improvise on the spot. For myself, I know I lean heavily towards the organization side of the spectrum. Ad-libbing isn’t something I’m comfortable with. Perhaps overthinking is the reason for the lack of wit.

In addition, a soul worrying about doing well, straining and tensely drawn towards its purpose, is held at bay — like water which cannot find its way through the narrow neck of an open gutter because of the violent pressure of its overflowing abundance.

The desire to perform well, to not fail, to not embarrass ourselves can lead us away from exercising our wit. It can stop us from exploring this other side of ourselves, the more unconscious, unstructured and free-flowing aspect of our personality.

The occasion, the company, the very act of using my voice, draw from my mind more than what I can find there when I exercise it and try it out all by myself.

Montaigne exercised this part of himself through speech. By just talking and letting the words come out and then following this spontaneous line of thought and seeing where it takes him. He also exercised his wit through writing. Often going with the flow of his thoughts without forcing judgment on what he’s writing.

Where I seek myself I cannot find myself: I discover myself more by accident than by inquiring into my judgment.

This did lead to writing that didn’t make sense. But it also lead to unpacking what he truly believed in, what he thought to be important and what he cared about. Because the actions committed without judgment speak volumes of your true form. In this way, embracing the flow aspect of your thoughts can shine a light on what you really want to say. Once that is out there, on paper or in a conversation, then you can add organization and structure to the argument and present it as a complete package.

You don’t want to be limited by your own perceptions. Montaigne suggests that we can be both, quick-witted and have good judgment. He also suggests that this needs to be practiced. The practice may involve sitting down and writing an essay on a topic just to exercise your judgment. It may also involve a stream of consciousness type journaling where you’re not bogged down by the desire to present a concise argument. By practicing both sides we move towards the middle of the spectrum where we can then pick and choose how to act and be ready depending on external situations.


Montaigne On The Displacement Of Anger

Montaigne on The Importance of Emotional Moderation

Montaigne On How To Judge Someone’s Actions

Bad Memory Has Its Benefits

Reflections: Get Out Of Your Head


Youtube: Learned Living

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/learned_living/

Poem: Electric Self-Help

Article: Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out

Reflection: The Importance of Internal Dialogue

I have often wondered how it is that everyone loves himself more than anyone else, but rates his own judgment of himself below that of others. Anyway, if a god or some wise tutor appeared at his side and told him to entertain no internal thought or intention which he won’t immediately broadcast outside, he would not tolerate this regime for a single day. So it is that we have more respect for what our neighbors will think of us than we have for ourselves. (Marcus Aurelius – Meditations)

The only person that can ever know you completely is yourself, your own mind. Your mind knows all that you wish to be, all that you want from life and all that you are afraid of. In doing so, it becomes both, your greatest ally and your greatest enemy. A negative mindset will keep you cemented at the start line. It will fill your head with thoughts of anxiety, fear, failure, humiliation, embarrassment and stop you from attempting anything.

But that’s not all. When you don’t have control of your mind it will reign free which often means that it’s lead by the ego. It’s concerned about how we are perceived by others. What our image is like. In this manner, our mind is free but we aren’t because we get shackled and chained by the thoughts of other people. How would so-so think of us if we act on this feeling? How would so-so react if we were to follow this thought?

If we were to broadcast our thoughts they would be conformed to the group, to the mob, to other people. All because of the mind which doesn’t want to stand out. It wants to blend in and shield itself from judgment. Or because we believe that our own thoughts aren’t important, intelligent or worthwhile.

This conformist way of living then creates a paradox like the one Marcus Aurelius mentions where we love ourself but we rate the judgment of others more highly than our own.

What requires an alignment is the mind. In order to align the love you have for yourself and to respect our own decisions/feelings/thoughts more than of our neighbors, we need to change the mindset from a negative one to a more positive one.

The reason for this is because a positive mindset can keep you going, it can help you overcome obstacles and hardships and it can make you grow into the person that you wish to be.

With positivity comes respect, patience, and forgiveness. We come to respect ourselves and show patience towards our slow progress and growth and forgive ourselves when we do make mistakes.

This requires practice. This requires reigning in the mind and setting boundaries for what kind of thoughts it’s allowed to follow and unpack. The negative ones push you down and raise the stranger up while the positive thoughts put you and the stranger on equal plains. So, the practice needs to be one of where you recognize when negativity arises in your mind and either change it or let it fuel you towards a positive direction.

In this manner, not only is your self-love expanded but also the respect you have for yourself.

Reflections: Get Out Of Your Head

If we do not keep them (our minds) busy with some particular subject which can serve as a bridle to reign them in, they charge ungovernably about, ranging to and fro over the wastelands of our thoughts. (Michel de Montaigne)

A lot of our issues are self-manifested. It’s because when we are inactive when our bodies or minds aren’t involved in a task then the mind is free to roam different possibilities and concerns, many of which lie in the uncertain future. If we don’t tame this impulse, we are wrought with stress and anxiety.

Many times self-doubt only creeps up when we are still, when the world is silent, that moment before you go to bed or right before you are about to take a risk, the plunge, that one second, that’s where doubt comes because for that moment you think about the possible failures and the mind becomes untamed.

An easier way might be to say that when we don’t concentrate on the present then our mind becomes untamed. But concentrating on the present moment seems impossible if we aren’t actively doing something so, that’s a difficult thing to practice. Be present is a nice phrase but impractical much of the time.

But as quickly as doubt, stress or anxiety arises, with equal ease, they can be erased if we simply act. Take action, get out of the head and get in your body: Go for a run, see how many burpees you can do in 30 minutes, go meet up with friends and play a sport, play an instrument, talk to someone you love, pick up a book, start writing, whatever it is, whenever we get out of the mind we also leave behind the “wasteland of our thoughts”.

Montaigne understood the side effects of an idle mind very well, he said an idle mind “gives birth to so many chimeras and fantastic monstrosities” because for some strange reason idleness loves to spend its time thinking about what isn’t going right in our life. Constantly jumping from one thing to the next and it feels so real because your heart might begin to race, thinking about these monstrosities and it’s in time like these when one almost has to smack themselves, tell ourselves “it’s going to be okay”, verbalize it, make the mind focus on the positive words, on the task of saying “everything will work out” and you see in that instance these monstrosities disappear.

When the soul is without a definite aim she gets lost, as they say, if you are everywhere you are nowhere. (Michel de Montainge)

Keep an aim in mind. I think this is why people love to journal in the morning or mid-afternoon. If you are able to write down what you want to do that day every morning then for the next few hours your mind is occupied and as the occupation wanes in the afternoon, one simply has to remind it of the aim and it’ll kick right back up and keep helping you instead of hurting you.

The biggest thing is to approach idleness with caution for you understand what comes with such comfort and at least, if those “chimeras” do come, we have a plan of action on how to fight them.