Reflections: Need To Hold Oneself To A Higher Standard

Recently I have thought a lot about where I aim. What I mean by this is in order for me to become the individual I wish to be, I need to have some kind of target which I aim at otherwise I would be lost. Without a target, I would lack a sense of direction. So, having established a need of a target, the natural question arises is simply, what kind of target is this? What is my aim? Who do I wish to be?

The simple answer is, I wish to be great. To be all that I can be. My aim is high and not low for a low aim seems to be a waste of life’s opportunities and experience. A small aim seems petty, it seems concerned with petty pleasures and desires and with it, the accomplishment of small aims seems to lack a true feeling of fulfillment for I know that this accomplishment is cheapened by my lack of effort that is required.

This is an easy notion to understand because there is a clear difference in accomplishment when you finish something that you found difficult in comparison to finishing something that was easy.

Attempting to do something great is accompanied by a sense of fear or stress because there is a chance of failure. When you aim low that chance of failure lessens and with it, the fear and stress also go down. But when the aim is high, then not only is there the notion of failure but also of effort. Reason being, a high target cannot be reached through minimal effort. It requires the sacrifice of comfortable things and a comfortable attitude and this in itself is a deterrent to a higher aim.

However, if the aim is high and one is able to reach it and accomplish something that is truly difficult for that individual, the reward is equally as high. What I mean by reward is not necessarily material or external but rather it is the internal reward that I aim for. The knowledge that I can accomplish a difficult task. That may seem like a simple understanding but what comes with this accomplishment is a molding of one’s character that becomes more disciplined and seeks to work rather than shying away from such a thing. The reason being, higher aims require one to develop and change their character to meet that aim.

These aims then become a higher standard by which you live your life by. The standard which is kept simple and straightforward and easy to understand. This standard is one that involves sacrificing the pleasures of the present in order for the development of a good future. In order to stay firm on this path of sacrificing petty pleasures, one has to be disciplined and equally important, one has to control the thoughts that enter and leave their mind. For negative and pessimistic thoughts lower ones aim. Hence, the standard now involves discipline of action and thought and additionally, an optimistic view that one’s effort will result in a better future and a sense of trust that the sacrifices in the present are worth making. Another standard that is required is a constant attempt to seek the uncomfortable. The reason for this that by staying comfortable, you only change minimally, if you change at all. The comfortable approach is one that is aimed at the low. When you become uncomfortable and attempt something new and difficult, you challenge your mind, which will be coming up with a million different reasons as why you should abandon this cause and stay comfortable, and when you can overcome this, you are able to tame or at the very least, resist the mind, then you come to a realization that this things that you were avoiding, that made you uncomfortable, were not all that bad, this realization opens up the world to you and with it more experiences that result in a fulfiller experience of this finite life.

So, the way I see it is that if you keep your standards low, you will adapt to meet them. If you keep your standards high, you will adapt to meet them as well with effort. However, it is the internal growth that differentiates one adaptation from the other. The internal growth is what is accomplished when that target is high and the aim is constantly readjusted towards this higher target.

Reflections: On Human Nature

Recently I have been studying the First World War and along with this, I have also spent time reading about the atrocities committed in the Second World War, specifically the Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust. These conscious human actions have made me think about good or evil and whether or not humans are good. I’ve come to lean away from believing that most humans are fundamentally good and neither do I think they are evil. Rather, they have the capacity to do both, which is in some ways a sad truth but in another, it is a gift because when you do meet a genuinely good human being, it means that person has molded and made themselves good.

We all can commit horrible evil and to do wonderful good. Believing this is unsettling as well because to me this means that a person foundation can be determined by others. It can be swayed to one side or other by how the group is feeling because many people never create their own good or evil, their own limits and restrictions, instead they borrow that from the group they belong too.

What I mean by this is that it was ordinary men, truck drivers, waiters, business owners who participated in the Holocaust. The Japanese soldiers in Nanjing were regular working civilians as well but they still committed those acts. They knowingly committed these acts.  These people were not born like this. I am sure they told jokes and laughed, shared food, acted selflessly towards one another, told each other about their loved ones and about their hopes and dreams and then they committed rape and mass murder and then, those who survived the war, went back to their civilian lives.

It’s almost like this moment of madness in the otherwise neutral way of life. This plain existence on a chart that is disrupted by a sudden uptick and then back to the horizontal line as if the madness that is in us is able to breathe life for a moment. But this moment of madness existed and has always existed in humans. Almost everyone would have been a Nazi and they would have done those acts and the same goes with Japan and Nanjing.

This is no excuse but rather something that is evident of humans. Humans are adaptive. At the end of the day, humans will do whatever it takes to survive and to keep going and if this means to allow the madness inside of them to come out and rage, then so be it and if it means to keep the madness caged and lead a civilian life, then it shall remain caged, for the most part. You see it, madness, peak its head out in civilian life as well but not as much because there are laws to stop that and there is a certain way of life that everyone has agreed upon to live that stops this madness from raging.

But at war, when there is disorder, when it is not reason that leads but rather your appetite, your emotions and feelings that lead you and control you, it is difficult to keep the madness caged and it comes out and when it is unfiltered, you see the evil in man and the evil that has always been in man be unleashed and the consequences of this evil are hard to comprehend. This is compounded when the leader of the group allows the madness to go and even encourages it. Perhaps this is why it is easier for most people to cage off the group and say that something was wrong with that group. Something was wrong with the Nazi’s or the Japanese men at Nanjing but I don’t think they were any different from most people on the planet.

The reason for this is that there is only a small minority of individuals who lead their lives based on their own principles and rules. Most people live life according to the principles and rules set by group so, when those rules change, the individual follows and lives by the new rules but if one sets his or her own rules or principles then the outside does not affect it and by doing so, that individual can be the one to not only say no to killing an innocent child but try to save that child and even give his or her own life to do so.

However, most people don’t have to come to terms with such a thing. Most people live quiet lives where there is no need for the madness that is inside of them and whatever little madness does leak out every so often, it is easy to cage again. Most people then believe themselves to be good or at least lean closer to good rather than evil. They put up these false thoughts that they could never commit horrible evil.

But how do you know this to be true? If you have never faced a circumstance that tests your goodness and presents evilness as a viable choice and a choice that is being made by those around you, how do you know how you will act?

I doubt very much that the ordinary German or Japanese citizen ever thought that in a year or two they would be killing innocent women and children. Yet they did.

So, I think of the good and evil question and I cannot say the human being is either. It is good when it needs to be and it is evil when it needs to be.

Such are we.

Reflections: On “It Never Is As Good As It Can Be Done”

Action involves a level of acceptance that what you are doing is not as good as it can be done. The act of action takes away from the ideal thing that was in your mind and leaves you with something that is an inferior form of that thing. This truth can be unsettling for you still know what it could have been and yet, you have to make peace with what it ended up being.

I struggle with this in my writing all the time. Those perfect sentences or scenes in my head can’t be replicated by the pen. With each word and each sentence, the ideal form of the story changes and by the end of it, the act is in some ways a failure. Failure to create the perfection that only seems to exist in the mind.

Yet, you have to keep acting. The writing still must be done. Next time, you hope to step closer to that ideal vision or the ideal form of the story and you fail again and the time after that take another step closer.

I feel like this is in many ways what my life has been about. Acting on the vision of perfection which becomes more imperfect with each action. However, the opposite of this is not ideal either. Inaction and just dreaming. That will lead you nowhere but where you are right now and I must move forward.

As Rudyard Kipling said in his poem If, “If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim”, avoid these complacent acts and you may step closer to becoming a man.

So, there must be action. With that comes the acceptance of imperfection. With imperfection comes the knowledge that you can do better. With this knowledge comes the second act, an action that sets to improve on the previous attempt.

As Kurt Vonnegut puts it, “So it goes”.

Endless attempts to create the forms that don’t exist in this world. You reach into this other world where these forms exist in the hopes of pulling these forms to our world but all you get is torn piece of cloth or fading memory of the form at best and usually, it’s even less. Yet you have a simple understanding something greater exists and you have to make do with this and attempt to create your own perfection.

The quote “it never is as good as it can be done” is not a pessimistic one. It’s optimistic. It says you can get better, to do better, you have improvements to make and it’s a lifelong truth, a companion that stays with you and at the end of it, it gives meaning to life for it makes you live, create and take action.

Reflections: Nietzsche’s “God Is Dead”

Nietzsche first said this in Thus Spoke Zarathustrawhere the character, Zarathustra, descends from the mountains to impart his knowledge on the people that live in the town below. During his descends, he encounters an old man who lives by a faith-based understanding. After his talk with the man, Zarathustra says:

Could it be possible? This old saint in the forest has not yet heard anything of this, that God is dead!

What does this statement mean?

In order to understand it, one has to first understand the context of the times Nietzsche wrote his book. At the time, scientific knowledge was blossoming. What was unknown was now beginning to be known. What was once attributed to beyond human understanding was being reeled back in and was known through the powers of man’s mind. Along with this, what was still unknown was not readily attached to some higher power but rather, it was starting to be accepted that what is still unknown could be or will be known sometime in the future. That the things that are not known by us are not beyond us but rather, we are capable of knowing them too.

Alongside this, also came the dethronement of man’s special position. The sun did not revolve around us. We revolved around it. Earth was just one of many planets, our galaxy one of many galaxies. Nothing special. Evolution showed us a map of how we came to be the dominant species. We were not chosen. It just how the chips fell.

So, we were not special then why would there be a special God to take care of us after death? If we are just another animal on this planet then why would we have a special God?

This meant that the human foundation upon which man had made his life was beginning to crack. Namely, a faith-based existence that is living for the future.

It is through this, the statement “God is dead” comes to be understood.

Now, what does this mean to me?

God is hope. God is fairness. God is a future. God is the answer to the suffering of life. God is a path.

People come to bear the trials and tribulations of their lives in the hopes that if they lived the proper life, they will then get neverending bliss.

Take this away, what is left?

The individual. You come to understand that there is no future. Only the present. In the book, Nietzsche through Zarathustra speaks a lot of the earth and how man needs to come back to earth and not be shepherded towards some future that does not exist. This means that we, as an individual, need to create his or her own meaning in life.

A meaning that allows for hope. A meaning that is worth the suffering. A meaning that shows you the path through the maze that is life.

There is a freedom in this statement. There is also anxiety because now you have to make a decision. Take responsibility. Cannot defer your life. Cannot lead yourself blindly. Open your eyes and see that life is what you make out of it. The meaning you give to it.

This is my understanding of this statement.

Reflections: Failure to Learn

Learning isn’t necessarily difficult. Any dog owner can attest to the fact that after a couple weeks of persistent training, the dog learns what to do and what not to do. Even lab rats have shown a great capacity to learn and adapt to the demands of new instruction. Then, why is it so difficult to learn as a human? We are conscious, thinking animals who understand what is good for us and what is bad for us and still, the choice is difficult. Other animals can be trained to understand but that instruction can still fail to improve us. Even a child can write a list of good things to do and bad things to avoid and by doing that, showcase a level of understanding that is above that of any other animal, however, as an adult, one cannot help but dip into the bad. Time and time again, the repetition of habits and actions that are controlled by short-term pleasure, by the id according to Freud, short-term pleasure who even the Stoics of ancient times thought to be a troublesome and should be avoided. All these hundreds of years later, it’s still the same fight. Throughout time warning bells against immediate gratification have gone out and even now, just observing the people around you, the people that may be leading lives that you wish not to have for yourself, more often than not, they are lead by that hedonistic need for pleasure in the now.

Knowing all of this, why do you still fail to learn?

A moments thought on your past will bring forth all the times you promised yourself that you will no longer be moved by pleasures demands and that you will stay disciplined towards the larger goal.

A week later or perhaps even a day later you are back promising yourself once more. The failure of will. The failure to change. The failure to learn. However, not a failure to understand for you know even as you commit the act which you have promised yourself not to do, you know even then that you should not be doing it. The guilt or shame that follows after the act is another sign that you understood well enough.

According to philosophers like Heidegger, this shame or guilt comes from the failure to be what you should be. That one has the freedom of choice and you choose the negative, the harmful, the choice that takes you away from the ideal you. When this happens, the action is followed by guilt or shame. A positive to take out of this is that fact that it is a choice. Meaning, you can choose the other option. At least that is the goal.

What to do about this failure? About this guilt?

The famous psychologist, Carl Rogers practiced a technique with the purpose to align the individual’s actual self with his or her ideal self. He believed that incongruency developed in the person when their own self-image was not close to that of their ideal self. In order to develop proper congruency then, the self-image and ideal self have to be similar.

So, a possible solution to the failure to learn issue could be a simple one. Take a piece of paper and write down what your ideal self is. What is the vision of the perfect you and the characteristics that individual has. Then, on the other side of the paper, be honest about yourself and write a list of characteristics that the present you has. Once that is done, keep the paper by your side as a daily reminder or even an hourly reminder if you need that. See what you can be and see what you are and know that ideal you is attainable so that when that bell rings, the call comes to give in, to seek out pleasure right now, you can see that the ideal you would not allow his or her will to break so easily. Even if you are able to delay that immediate gratification for a day that is a win. Most likely, if you are able to delay it for another hour even, that desire to give in will weaken. If you are able to delay it for a whole day then the next day, that gratification bell might not even go off and through this, you can build momentum towards bridging the gap between the ideal you and your current self-image.

Reflections: On Enjoyment

I have started to notice the seriousness of my thoughts and words. There is too much emphasis put on my future action or on past mistakes while not enough on just enjoying life. This seriousness could be seen as an attempt to correct the past or organize the future but either way, life is not that serious. I try to keep that in mind but every now and then I need to remind myself of this. Most of my problems aren’t really that serious. Most of my stresses aren’t that bad. Most of my issues are fixable.

So, just enjoy life.

The times I remember fondly are those spent with friends and family, not thinking about anything, not caring about anything, just being there, talking and laughing and not knowing that a something like time even exists. Who cares about the past in those moments or about the future, I’m just enjoying the brief moment I am here before it’s all over. The finiteness of life may sound like a serious topic but it can also be a constant reminder to just enjoy life, as much as you can, for life could be over really quick. Understanding that this life is finite, you can then appreciate the good times and make an effort to recreate those times as much as possible. Also, the things that trouble you are put into perspective through this understanding.

That’s the state of being I wish to be in, as much as possible. Loving the everydayness. Maybe I need to replace the seriousness of my thought with more of a childlike wonder. To be impressed easily. To imagine more. To observe and be in observation of the workings of life from the smallest of things to the biggest. Perhaps take a page out of Da Vinci’s book and make it a task of mine to learn something new every day. It does not matter what that thing is, it could be something as simple looking up the population of some country to learning how light travels from the eye to the brain. It’s the process of wonder that is important. That could allow you to let go of concerning thoughts about life and for a brief moment enjoy yourself like a child often does when he or she sees something new.

Curiosity. Wonderment. Imagination. Enjoyment. Fun. Happiness. Good times. All of these is what makes life worthwhile. These are the qualities and moments that need to be emphasized.

For what else is there to do in life? Work all day? Stress all day? Push yourself all day? To some people that might be ideal. In a way its heroic to take on more responsibility and fulfill it each and every time. I am not like those people. I have come to realize that. There are a handful of things I enjoy and there aren’t many things I like more than laughing with friends.

I seek the simple life. One that is not too busy. One that is not too rich. One that is not too easy. One that is challenging enough. A life that is worth my struggles and a life that is full of enjoyment. I would assume that I am not alone in this. I would go even as far as to say that this is the typical wish of most people. So, it is by this vision I rate my life. Cutting out the needless things that take me away from this enjoyment and adding those that bring me closer to this. In this manner, it is less about the future concerns and more about the present actions. All the while, I keep a healthy ratio of enjoyment and seriousness and if I am to favor one side over the other, I know I won’t go wrong if I were to pick enjoyment.


Reflections: On Freedom & Guilt

At night, when all the noise of the day is gone and everything that keeps the senses occupied slowly release their grip, a lot of times I feel guilty. It’s this feeling that I did not do what I should do today. When this happens I look at my daily lists of things to do and I see I pretty much did everything I was supposed to do. That confirmation is not enough. The reason being is that only I know the mindset or the effort or the level of commitment I put behind my actions when I fulfilled those tasks.

Some of the tasks were half-assed. Others I did the very minimum. Some I put a complete effort in but most of the times, those were secondary tasks that did not matter that much. You can’t lie to yourself. At least I can’t. I know the truth.

So, that’s where my guilt comes from. Partially. There is another part to it. I have plenty of freedom. I have plenty of choices. I do not lack opportunity. I realize this and this is where the rest of the guilt sits. I am not what I could be. It is my own fault that I am not what I can be. My own actions and commitments that stop me from taking advantage of the freedom I have. This freedom that diminishes with time. This freedom that may only exist now. The freedom that is presented to only the lucky ones and I am one of those and I watch it go by.

All I do about it is feel guilty at night. The noise is gone, the senses are true and my thoughts are what I know.

Schopenhauer said something along the lines about how the ignorant man suffers less and the man who is intelligent suffers the most. I am not calling myself intelligent nor am I ignorant. I must be somewhere worse. Intelligent enough to know, ignorant enough not to understand. That ignorance has been fading recently. I’m thankful for that. My actions have been getting clearer but still, I feel guilty because of all the time lost. All the freedom wasted. All the opportunity gone.

Who knows how much time I have left. Who knows how much of my freedom I have used up. Who knows if this feeling of guilt will leave me.