Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Je Suis

Premise #1: All that is is and that's all there is.
Premise #2: Anything else (e.g. meaning)
is simply a matter of perception and perspective.

Karmic Buildup
The small disabled child does not see himself as tragic. Early on, he doesn't see his self. He just is. The tragedy in his disability is thrust upon him by others. Others who use a sense of tragedy for motivation or because they fear not seeing his situation as tragic or because they know they should see it as tragic.

And yet, he's not tragic. He just is. He just shows up every morning wandering into consciousness. Over time he puts the pieces together and determines that no one sees him. All they see is tragedy. The tragedy accumulates like bad karma that covers him, hiding his self.

He's tries to be seen, but can't. Some seeing the tragedy rather than the child avoid him out of discomfort. Some overcompensate making him feel different or stupid. And occasionally some come along and see just him.

He may ultimately choose to ignore the perspectives of others, he may buy in deciding that he is indeed tragic.

You Say Tomato...
Five people are involved in a near fatal accident.

One sees it as a wake-up call.

One interprets it as a warning.

One becomes depressed over the apparent futility of life, afraid to hope for the future because you never know when you'll be gone.

One engages life completely, taking on new challenges, planning new adventures, because you never know when you'll be gone.

One becomes a paramedic so that she can help others who find themselves suddenly thrust into a similar experience.

Majority Rules
For most, gaining perspective is simply a matter of learning to align with majority opinion.

False Pessimism
One sees a flower; another sees a weed.

One sees a depressing cloudy day; another sees sweet relief from the hot sun.

One sees an opportunity to ride fresh powder; another sees an opportunity to get stuck in traffic.

One sees the tragic end of employment; another sees the glorious beginning of a new adventure.

In all instances, both are neither right or wrong.

There's nothing inherently depressing about a cloudy day. Sure, we can draw correlations between incidents of depression and deprivation of sunlight. But the correlations represent third and fourth order effects. There's nothing in the nature of clouds that is depressing.

There's nothing in the nature of a heavy snowfall that's cause for concern, except insofar as it interferes with plans. And even that is subject to perspective. The degree of unhappiness is directly proportional to the unwillingness to relinquish the plan. The degree of happiness is directly proportional to the willingness to plan anew based on new information (e.g., there's three feet of snow outside).

There's nothing inherently tragic about job loss... or losing your home... or bankruptcy. In all cases, you still wake up the next morning. You still breath air. You drink water. You talk. You walk. Again the tragedy is proportional not to the degree of fiscal loss, but instead, to the sense of loss. The sense of loss is proportional to the degree to which we hang on to what was rather than moving ahead with what is.

What Does this All Mean?
In the end, there is no inherent meaning in anything.

To find meaning, you can look to god. You can look to the heavens. You can look to education. You can look to occupation. You can look to family. You can look to friends. But you won't find it there.

I would dare say that were the meaning of life to exist a priori, then you'd find some agreement among its purveyors. Religious leaders would coalesce about it, rather than staking out territory and dismissing one another.

If the meaning of life were to be found in academics, in careers, in family, in friends, you'd know about it.

Nope, there is nothing inherently meaningful in anything. One woman's meaningful pursuit is another's waste of time. One man's ultimate goal is another's most hated vice.

The Philosophical Key to Happiness
I believe that sustained happiness (happiness that is not situationally dependent) can be found in existentialism. I know that existentialism is a classic haven for the chronically depressed, but that's an artifact of intelligence, not the nature of existentialism. The lamenting existentialist cries out: life has no meaning with the implications being all is lost.

Surely, the lamenter lacks creativity if not intelligence. If life is void of inherent meaning... well... let's just say that you see a door closed and I see one opened. Is being handed a blank sheet of paper and a pencil terrifying or freeing?

If there's no inherent meaning and if you want meaning, then you can look elsewhere or you can simply create your own. You can look at any situation and make it good, make it bad, make it glorious or make it tragic. It's up to you.

The funny thing is that we tend to deny that this is the case believing that there are situations that are inherently tragic or glorious or bad or good. However, all the evidence points to the contrary. In any situation, you'll find people responding differently based on their perspectives and beliefs. Were there to be some deeply ingrained, inherent sensibility, it would take control. But there's not. There are common threads and themes. However, there is no inherent meaning.

I've become acquainted with the discomfort people experience around the notion that there is no inherent fundamental meaning to anything. What would become of the world if everyone just started making their own rules and all that. However, my thought is: What would become of the world if everyone felt fulfilled and happy independent of situation?

We've marched down several millennia of pursuing things one way. Perhaps it's time for a change?

Happy Wednesday,


  1. “The small disabled child does not see himself as tragic. Early on, he doesn't see his self.”

    I would phrase this different: the child does not see himself as disabled, he is the one person that surely sees himself without judgment until he starts adopting judgments he creates or picks up along the way (disability as a judgment- for example a person who cannot walk has a disability because “he should be able to just like all walking people”)! And where people can think this is "bad" there are probably also people who think this is good.

    And it might sound harsh to some, but there are enough places in the world today where people with disabilities bring money on the table for the family, and it is seen as an advantage. Kids and adults with missing limbs are sent out on the street because purses are pulled more easily when confronted with these disabilities.

    “For most, gaining perspective is simply a matter of learning to align with majority opinion.”

    I like you said this. I think this is the basis for a lot of unhappiness for a lot of people. Say you were a shy child, you were a child with reading challenges, you were a child diagnosed with Autism, or you were just different then the people around you in the area you grew up in. People around you made up things about you. They might have said you are shy, you are crazy, you are stupid, you are ADHD, you are doomed. And they might have brought this as a fact, and found support from others into this “fact”. And so, you became “the stupid”, “the dumb”, “the crazy” person.

    If we don’t want to adopt these beliefs that others make/made up about us, we will have to recognize that there can be more than one perspective at one time. I think most of us can remember at least one incident where as kids we tried to fight the belief. “I am not stupid, knucklehead” probably didn’t help the person change it's mind about you! If at that time we just could have told ourselves “that’s your perspective and I see it different” we could have let is slide by easily.

    The tragedy is proportional not to the degree of fiscal loss, but instead, to the sense of loss. The sense of loss is proportional to the degree to which we hang on to what was rather than moving ahead with what is.

    People sometimes seem to believe that if "we would give meaning to life" we would not feel loss, and they take these feelings as proof that your statement “life has no meaning, except what you give to it” can’t be right. “They would not give themselves bad feelings if they didn’t have too, that would be stupid!” Understanding that our feelings of loss, despair, and frustration are not bad, but helpful indicators about what we hold onto, can really help us to understand our loss.

    Ok, so much more to say, but my respinse is already an article by itself!

    Mark, thanks for the inspiration on this cold, beautiful Wednesday!

  2. Landmark Education puts it this way:
    "Life is meaningless, and it's meaningless that it's meaningless".


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