Fighting Quiet Desparation

 

“Tom, do you subscribe to Thoreau’s quote: Most men lead lives of quiet desperation?”

“Yes Dave, I do, but I’ve been fighting it all my life. I’ve been always looking for enjoyable things to do, but when I do find something I never do it.”

“Sad, isn’t it, Tom? My idea of quiet desperation is: our unmet desires, dreams unfulfilled. It’s the robotic movement through life as your dream of adventure is in the background.”

“Oh Dave, that’s a wonderful description.”

“Thank you Tom, I also think people never figure out what they really want to do in life, so they never do it. But you and I have found it, late in life, in our retirement! You with your amateur acting and me with my four books and blogs.”

“Right on Dave, so it’s the fight between heart and mind and our subsequent unhappiness by not listening to both sides.”

“So, how do we try to break out of our quiet desperation? We need to think about our longings and needs for meaning.”

“What are our needs for meaning, Dave?”

“Well Tom, to provide an answer to the longings mentioned, I would say that meaningful lives are lives of ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT in PROJECTS OF WORTH.”

“Wow! Dave, that’s a mouthful. What exactly is active engagement?”

“It’s when someone is so excited about something that they are completely gripped by it, things we are passionate about. You feel alive when you are actively engaged.”

“What projects then would be worthy?”

“Well Tom, I think it’s commitment to something of value that’s the key, such as your amateur acting and my writing. Your acting is enjoyable for you and it brings pleasure to others. My writing gives people information to act upon to live life better. Also, helping others would be a worthwhile project.”

“So Dave, a meaningful life must satisfy two things. First, there must be active engagement and second, it must be involvement in projects of worth.”

“And Tom, I would add, someone who is actively engaged may also lead a meaningless life, if the objects of their involvement are worthless, such as memorizing the dictionary or making hand written copies of War and Peace.”

We both laughed.

“In conclusion, a person asked me the other day: How can life have any meaning or worth if it must come to an END?”

Tom and Dave were silent for a few seconds.

“I answered this serious question: You fail to see that the opposite can also be proposed, if there were no end to life, life would have no value, it is the ever present danger of losing life which helps to bring home to us it’s value.”

Tom and Dave pondered that statement.

“Tom, have you read, The Hitcher’s Guide to the Galaxy?”

“I dabbled in it, Dave, but it’s a big book”

“Well, if you remember, Deep Thought, the super computer, was asked about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Deep Thought’s verdict was “42”!

The builders of the computer were gobsmacked. They had the answer but they didn’t understand it. They didn’t know what it was the answer to.

If you want the right answers you must ask the right questions!”

Tom and Dave left the building vowing to look at the stars tonight.

Meaning Amongst Absurdity

“Hey Tom, have you ever thought about the joke our awareness plays on us?”

“What’s that, Dave?”

“Our superior intellect makes us aware of our inevitable death but we have an intense desire for continued existence and because of our intellect we recognize the futility of that quest.”

“Well Dave, what I want is to create some meaning in my life for as long as I live.”

“Yes Tom, so do I. We live in absurdity so we need some meaning.”

“What do you mean, we live in absurdity?”

“Consider this: Why do we stand in line at the store? To buy food. Why do we buy food? So we can stay alive and healthy. Why stay alive and healthy? So we can work at our jobs. Why work? So we can earn money. Why earn money? So we can buy food. The vicious circle is ABSURD!”

“That’s funny, Dave.”

“Not so funny when you consider how we are like a hamster in a wheel cage. Round and round we go. The whole circle is a meaningless ritual rather than something coherent and self-fulfilling.”

“I guess another example of absurdity would be: We get up to go to work. Four hours later we have lunch. Then back to work. Then go home for supper and sleep.”

“Yes Tom, this cycle goes on Monday through Friday all at the same rhythm. But one fine day the “WHY” of it overcomes us.”

We both pondered for a minute.

“So, the absurdity of routine life hits us like a ton of bricks. What do we do?

We have to provide our own meaning in our lives.”

“What are some of the ways we can provide that meaning?”

“Well Tom, we all want to be happy, and I think there are 4 roads to meaningful lives which would create a happy background for us as an enduring condition.”

“What are the 4 roads, Dave?”

“I will list them and then we can discuss them individually. Helping others, becoming successful, seize the day, and freeing the mind. None of these elements is the last word on life’s meaning but they can be a framework for us to construct a worthwhile life. So Tom, what do you think about helping others as a means to meaning?’

“Well Dave, helping others would allow us to break free of the pointless cycle of eating to live, living to work and working to eat. We could escape the narrow concerns of our own private lives by helping people outside of our private existence. But, I wonder if there is something egotistical about it when helping others becomes a means of helping ourselves feel good.”

“Very good point, Tom. Altruism helps the person being helped and also it benefits the helper.”

“I think helping others is one way to give us a sense of purpose but there are other ways too.”

“ The feel good factor is indicative of a sort of claustrophobic life when a person is wrapped up in their own little world their horizons are restricted. When you help others it’s an escape from this narrow focus, to one which makes us feel good as well as the people we help.”

“Right on Tom, helping others is NOT the end all of the meaning of life itself. But it is tied to it because it’s one of the GOOD things in life.”

We both took a minute to savor our discussion on Helping Others.

“What about our desire to be successful and achieve as an element of the meaning of life?”

“Dave, I think we crave success because we think it will make us happy.”

“I think it goes beyond that, Tom. There are two ways of viewing success, one concentrates on the importance of having done certain things. Man is the sum of his actions.

The other view is becoming a certain kind of person. The outward signs of success are merely the visible evidence of a more important inner transformation.”

“I get it Dave, what matters is the becoming, the development of oneself to its full potential, not the job that goes with it.”

“There is a link between the doing and the becoming. What matters is to become who we become by doing what we do.”

“I think I have it Dave, to develop ourselves through achievement gives us some meaning. If you pursue your passion, no matter what recognition you get, should be seen as a success.”

“So Tom, what about, “living for today”, to give us meaning?”

“You’re talking about “carpe diem”, seize the day, aren’t you?”

“That’s right, my friend, you and I are mortal, we are trapped in the PRESENT and we could die at any moment, so we must try to make the most of our present.”

“The amateur philosopher’s version of seize the day is simple hedonism, party on, the pursuit of pleasure,” said Tom, soberly.

“Tom, if we interpret “living for today” as a call to party continually, then it is an inadequate law to live by, this is NOT the only way to understand what carpe diem means.”

“So Dave, what is the true spirit of carpe diem?”

“What we value in life: relationships, learning, creativity, food, travel, interesting hobbies—the call to seize the day is a call to appreciate these things while we can and not put them off. You don’t have to experience everything now, but we must make every day count.”

“I get it Dave, we don’t want to put off doing today what can be done today.”

“The wisdom of carpe diem is that our TIME is SHORT and we should not squander it. Carpe diem is NOT only about pleasure but having satisfaction in your present.”

Tom and I remained silent for a few minutes pondering what we had discussed.

“Now, my friend, we come to the last element of gaining meaning in your life—freeing your mind and losing yourself. What do you know about that, Tom?”

“Lets see Dave, I think freeing the mind means Chill Out and let go of your ego. This means that the “I” becomes unimportant. Attune yourself to nature and stop thinking so much about things.”

“That’s a good point Tom, but remember what Descartes said: “I think therefore I am”. If this is true then the idea of detaching ourselves from our egos is false, because the self is the most certain feature of reality.”

“So, freeing your mind by losing yourself is NOT a satisfactory way of finding meaning in your life,” said Tom, scratching his head.

“If you stop to think about it, permanently losing a sense of self is otherwise known as Death!”

“Wow, that’s a sobering thought,” said Tom, wide eyed.

“Thinking is good, assessing ideas through rational argument, it is the best way of examining ideas.”

“Well Tom, in conclusion to this discussion, some of the elements we talked about might provide some contentment and satisfaction BUT there is NO last word on the subject.”

“So Dave, we can say that our life can be worthwhile if we have a balance of happiness and concern for others, where time is NOT wasted and we are successful in terms of pursuing our interests.”

“Right on, Tom, the sobering truth is that life is a continuing struggle and time is so fleeting.”

“I’ve often thought of how time flies and it sends shivers up my spine.”

“Well Tom, time carries us from a PAST we cannot revisit to a FUTURE we cannot know. It is the basic experience of our live. Time dictates the direction of travel, trapping us in our PRESENT as it takes us from the PAST to the FUTURE.”

“So Dave, we ask the question, “What’s it all about?” and we see that there are many ways in which life can be meaningful.”

“Well buddy, as a member of the “Oldie Club” I am worn out by this discussion and by the time we learn to make the most of life, the greater part of it is GONE!”

With that, Tom and Dave walked out into the sunshine SMILING.

Memories

“Hey Tom, do you realize our memory is resilient but also very fragile?”

“Yes, I’ve heard that is so, Dave.”

“It’s so scary though Tom, when you think that everything we do or say depends upon the smooth operation of our memory system. Any form of memory loss would be tragic.”

“It’s scary, alright, they say aging inevitably brings a decline in memory, just when I like to reminisce about the past.”

“Yes Tom, memories are about the past. That’s why time seems to speed up for us oldies, we have more past than future.”

We shifted on our green padded stools.

“I think we need bigger stools, Dave.”

We both laughed.

“They say memory is unreliable, why is that, Dave?”

“The past is fixed, BUT: Every time you recall a memory it is changed because every time you “see” the memory in a different light, a different perspective. It no longer means exactly what it meant at the time of the original memory.”

“That’s interesting Dave, I didn’t realize that.”

“Tom, here’s a curious fact about memory: In looking to the past, you realize you may NOT have access to the original memory because you cannot possibly recover the PERSPECTIVE you had at the time.”

“Very interesting, I’m learning so much today.”

“Let me tell you a story:

I remember a row with my father when I was 13 years old. He worked nights so I hardly ever saw him. I wanted him to go on the day shift so he could be a regular father to me like the other kids had. I also wanted him to show more interest in me. I looked at that dispute as a TRIUMPH for my arguments.

In looking back now, I feel SHAME. I had no feeling for my father’s point of view, what motivated him and what his aspirations were. Maybe he was dissatisfied with his life.

Now being older, my perspective on that event has altered, from TRIUMPH to SHAME!”

“Oh boy, Dave, that story is food for thought.”

“Tom, do you have any similar stories?”

“Yes I do, but it’s a long one.”

“Oh well, put it in a reply on my blog and I will read it later.”

“I was thinking, Dave, about how my mind flits from the past to the present to the future and back again. It’s strange.”

“You probably think more about the past because it has “pictures”. The present is so fleeting that you don’t realize you’re thinking about it because it’s significance is so fleeting.”

“Dave, here’s a fact I read, a 70 year old knows what it’s like to be 20, whereas

A 20 year old has no idea what it is like to be 70!”

“That’s the asymmetries of life. I like that word: Asymmetries.”

“Tom, did you know that Old Age is the longest life stage?”

“No Dave, I didn’t.”

“The stages of youth—Baby, infant, toddler, child, adolescent, young adult, approximately a 21 year span. But you are in none of these stages for long.

According to the actuaries, you will be old for 25-30 years.”

“That’s amazing, BUT: the thing that bothers me lately is forgetting.

Every once in awhile I struggle to find the right word. The worry is not so much being unable to find the right word as the knowledge that I know it!”

“I know, it’s frustrating but I’ve learned that autobiographical memory is the most susceptible to disruption, distortion or loss.”

We were silent for a minute.

“Hey Tom, my mouth is getting dry, lets order another beer.”

We both drank a quarter of our pints at once, we were so dry!

“So, lets recap: No matter what the cause of memory loss, the consequences are a disaster, much of what has been acquired and learned is gone. The person with anterograde memory loss, loses the ability to store new experiences in a way that can be recalled. His future is wiped out while he is alive.

A person with retrograde memory loss, the past has been erased or rendered in accessible, the person they once were with abilities, talents and character traits has vanished!”

***

“Hey Dave, do you live in the past? This question was asked of me. It implies that my present is so impoverished that I must take refuge in the comfort of my idealized memories. In other words, I am a “poor thing.”

“Maybe Tom, us oldies should embark on a review of our lives. What do you think?”

“Sounds interesting Dave, because as we age, one becomes preoccupied with “Who One Is” rather than “What One Does.”

“Yes Tom, with the life review you want to recap what themes and events helped to define you as a UNIQUE person. It’s a reminiscence-based process of coming to terms with one’s life.”

“Hey Dave, I remember a lot about my adolescence and young adulthood. Why, I wonder?”

“Well Tom, my friend, it’s because the events in these two periods define us, our identity, our place in the world. These two periods provide us with our CORE adult story that we carry around with us, largely unchanged, for our life.”

“Dave, do you look at old family photos?”

“Yes Tom, my old photos serve as cues to my autobiographical recollections. My photos allow me to make contact with, and even relive, parts of my personal past.”

We finished our beers.

“In conclusion, I maintain that memories of our past make us “poor things” into story tellers. And the stories we tell are potent determinants of how we view ourselves.”

“Well there’s certainly lots of ideas to mull over:

You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.”

Tom and Dave have left the building!

The “Someone”

“Tom, the other day someone called me a surly curmudgeon atheist.

“What did you say to that, Dave?”

“I said, “Well everyone has to be something.”

“Then this someone said:

“Why is it so difficult for you to believe in God? Don’t you know he cares about you?”

“I bet this someone was starting to get under your skin, Dave.”

“Too right, Tom.”

We both shifted on our green padded stools.

I responded to this someone:

“The world is uncaring. The cycles of life come and go. We individual living creatures are just along for the ride, tossed about in the surf.”

“I have faith,” said the someone.

“What I have difficulty with is the concept of faith, because it isn’t based on logic, experience or evidence.”

“I put my faith in God to get me through the day.”

“When you cross the road, I bet you look both ways.”

“Boy oh boy, Dave, you really hammered home the point that faith might make some people feel good BUT practical matters require reason and evidence.”

“Right on, Tom”

We pondered for a minute.

“Oh, and Tom, this someone also said:

“If you don’t believe in God or Eternity, then what you do in this life is irrelevant.”

“I disagree,” I said, “Your acts here are all that matters.”

“So this someone thinks if this is all there is, what’s the point?”

“That’s what he was trying to put over BUT I contend if this is all there is, then what we do here is the ONLY thing that matters. In fact, it makes it matter all the more!”

“So Dave, how do we feel about our actions in life?”

“I say if a person feels that they are accomplishing their goals, they should feel good and feel that they have a meaningful life.”

“What about other people?”

“Well Tom, you know what Sartre said, “Hell is Other People”. And we do encounter lots of irritating people.”

“I have mixed feelings about lots of people I meet,” said Tom.

“Some people try to block our goals and take away our sense of control. Others have their own agendas and they don’t share our beliefs or our sense of what is important. So they take away our sense of primacy. We resist and this reinforces our identity.”

“What’s the message then, Mr. Curmudgeon?”

“The message is, my friend, that we need others physically and psychologically. Others can create anxiety in us, but they also define who we are.”

***

“And finally, Tom, this someone started attacking my character by saying I couldn’t be a good friend and I wouldn’t have many friends because of my beliefs and surliness.”

“He didn’t say that, did he?”

“Yes he did. I guess we have to conclude this discussion with the concept of Friendship.”

“You, Tom, are my friend. Am I your friend?”

“Yes Dave, you’re my friend.”

“Ok, so let the discussion begin with Aristotle, he said that some friendships are based on utility, what people can do for on another, others based on pleasure and yet some others on virtue.”

“Our friendship is primarily based on pleasure. I love your blogs!”

“Well, thank you, Tom.”

We both laughed.

“And Tom, what I like about you is that you’re a good listener and once in a while you come up with some very pithy statements.”

“Well Dave, thank you, we are like a mutual admiration society.”

We laughed again.

“To keep with Aristotle, he also said, a solid friendship is between good men who are alike in virtue.”

“He must be suggesting that there is NO friendship among the corrupt!”

“Aristotle also suggested that good people are not just morally good but they are also good at something.”

“Oh, oh, Dave, I feel a kicker coming.”

“Yes Tom, here it comes, a friend must have skill, ability, be thoughtful and have defining attributes of EXCELLENCE.”

“So Dave, you and I have to be well-rounded, morally and intellectually. According to Aristotle, the best life is fulfilling your duties as a good citizen.”

We both drained our beer glasses.

“Hey Dave, by the way, who was that “Someone” that attacked your basic self?”

“Well Tom, I didn’t want to say before… but I was on a woodland walk, my constitutional, you know, when in the misty distance I saw a figure approaching.

The figure was wearing a long black hooded cloak. I couldn’t see his face, but he was carrying a farm implement, I think it was a scythe. He did all his talking from a distance and when he finished he disappeared.

Scary, right?”

“Yes Dave, but he did inspire a good discussion.”

We left the building in a hurry!

The Big Question

“I feel my age today, Dave,” said my buddy Tom.

“I also am feeling my age today, my friend. I try to be cavalier about it but it’s a serious subject. You can’t joke about loss of vigor, increasing frailty, rising disease risk and failing cognitive faculties. Then there’s the unavoidable matter of the end of consciousness and the self—death, in other words—that’s drawing closer and closer.”

“So Dave, what’s our topic to discuss today?” said Tom, squirming on his green padded stool.

“How about: What makes people act the way they do?”

“Okay Dave, you start us off by answering that question.”

“I think it’s the fear of death, that is one of the primary driving forces of human action.”

“Anything positive about that grim thought?”

“Well Tom, the thought of inevitable demise can be a motivation to live life, while you have it, to the full. But the bugaboo at the core of the human condition is inevitable death.”

“I don’t think about death very often,” said Tom, soberly.

The barkeep brought our beers and we both took a sip.

“Tom, whether you are conscious of it or not, you are aware that we humans will die and this has a profound and pervasive effect on your thoughts, feelings and behavior.”

“So we are aware of many things because we are the smartest creatures in nature.”

“Right on Tom, because of our intellect we are aware that we exist, but we also know that someday we won’t exist. Our intellect makes us aware of the joys of being alive but the downside is the awareness of death.”

“So Dave, I guess that’s our predicament.”

“Being self-aware is wonderful BUT we pay the price because on the one hand we have an intense desire for continued existence but on the other hand we recognize the futility of this quest.”

“How do we manage this existential terror of death?”

“Two ways, Tom, cultural views and personal significance, known as self-esteem.

Cultural views are beliefs we create to explain the nature of reality to ourselves.

They are religious belief in immortality and symbolic immortality, the belief that our life works will last past our death. Ex- your writing or painting or in the memories of the living.”

“Wow! I am a good actor maybe some will remember my artistry on stage.”

“You never know, Tom.”

“What about the second way, self-esteem?”

“Our self-esteem, how we feel about our accomplishments, enables us to believe we are significant beings rather than just material creatures destined to be obliterated.”

“Thank goodness for our confidence in our self-worth.”

“That’s right Tom, we would all be quivering piles of biological protoplasm on the fast track to oblivion if it wasn’t for our creations of reality.”

“So we create effective terror management beliefs that we are valuable members of society and this helps us through the mist.”

“That’s right, my friend, we create our meaning and purpose in life. If you take away our meanings and purposes all we would have left would be the thought that we are vulnerable physical creatures that are on earth for a short time.”

Tom looked a little dejected with this discussion.

“What do you hope for Tom?”

“I hope for a sound mind in a sound body!”

“Me too, buddy.”

“I was just thinking, reminders of death are all around us everyday. Turn on the news, there is a lot of death news in the world. By middle age, grey hair, wrinkles, body aches are all reminders of how soon death is coming. So, why aren’t we cowering in our closets?”

“Because we have psychological defenses to cope with death thoughts. We suppress bad thoughts and we keep death thoughts from becoming conscious and then you tell yourself, “NOT ME, NOT NOW.”

“I’ve got it Dave, instead of thinking about death, your defenses DISTRACT you with matters like: What’s for dinner or where to go for your next holiday also how much you have accomplished.”

“Lets have one more beer for the road.”

“Hey Dave, alcohol and drugs are ways to diffuse death. By diffusing from death you separate from it. I wonder how many beers it would take to diffuse, to dim awareness and distort perceptions?”

“Don’t worry Tom, two beers just relax you.”

We both drained our beer glasses.

“So in conclusion, accepting our mortality is a means of diminishing the destructive effects of our death fears so we can appreciate everyday life.”

Tom spoke up: “Life not death is the great adventure.”

“A final word about how life is so transitory, everything in life passes fast. Evaluate your own life: Think of the moments of joy and victory in your life. Think of the moments of sorrow and defeat. Are they permanent? NO!

They all come and pass away. You are just a watcher. We are witnesses of all this. We are the perceivers. Life comes and goes. There is nothing permanent in this world. Everything changes. You have survived all the setbacks, defeats and sorrows. All have passed away. The problems in the present, they too will pass.

You are just a witness of change. Experience it and enjoy the present moment.

FOR THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

So now to lighten you day:

The only thing worse than growing old is to be denied the privilege.

Sing along:

For life is quite absurd,

And death is the final word,

You must always face the curtain with a bow,

Forget about your sin,

Give the audience a grin,

And…

ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE!

THE END

War, What’s It All About?

At the moment over twenty conflicts are going on around the world.

At the top of the list is the “War on Terror”.

This concerned my buddy Tom and I as we climbed up on our green padded stools.

The barkeep brought our pints and said:

“I’m at war with my beer supplier, he’s late again!”

“See Tom, you can’t get away from war.”

“The majority of the conflicts now, are in Africa and the Middle East,” said Tom, soberly.

“There’s one in Mexico, Tom, it’s the drug war, the cartels fight for territory, cash and power. The US wants to tighten the border to halt drug gangs from coming into the country.”

“Of course, Dave, all this fuels weapon manufacture and arms trade. The military-industrial complex is making billions!”

“Yes Tom, I suspect the complex pushes for war.”

“So many global conflicts are bubbling, I hope our leaders can handle them carefully and diplomatically otherwise violence could escalate very fast.”

Tom and I sipped our beers and stared at the sign behind the bar:

“The only war worth waging is one against the poverty of ideas.”

“That sign is food for thought,” said Tom.

I nodded.

“Tom, lets list some of the reasons for war.”

“Okay Dave, you start off.”

“I’ll start with making a comment, I think violent conflict is hard-wired into the human psyche since primitive times. The first reason for war is Defense against an aggressor or potential aggressor.”

“Another reason is Economic Gain, to take control of another’s wealth, oil, etc. Or to protect a country’s economy.”

“Here’s one, Tom, Territorial Gain, the want or need to get more land or take back what was lost.”

Here’s a big one, Dave, Religion, different religions fight each other, such as Protestant vs Catholic or Sunni vs Shia. Religions have deep roots and any conflict can get very volatile.”

“There are a few others such as Nationalism, Civil War within a country, Revenge, to punish or redress a grievance, and last is Revolutionary, where a large section of a population revolts against their rulers because they are dissatisfied with their leadership.”

“Wow! Dave, that’s quite a list.”

“Tom, lets discuss a little about: How we decide to support our country or any country, when it enters into war? We can look at this question with The War on Terror in mind.”

“Well, I guess what we have to do is examine the reasons to support or not support a country when it enters into armed conflict.

Punishment is a reason. President Bush said after 9/11:

“Make no mistake the USA will hunt down and punish those responsible for these attacks.” Bush wanted justice, the evil doers needed to be found and punished.”

“Yes, but Dave, in the legal sense bringing one to justice requires capture and trial and Bush said he wanted bin Laden dead or alive.”

“Also, what forms of punishment are justified when maybe innocent people will be killed?”

“In any war there is collateral damage.”

We both sipped our beers and pondered…

“What about National self-interest to support a conflict? When a country is threatened by hostile aggressors, then self-interest is a vital factor.”

“Are we saying that self-interest is a justification for war?”

“Many are against self-interest as a justification. I can see their point.

Think about it, Tom, if nations were justified to go to war whenever it was to their advantage, there would be no good guys or bad guys, it would be every country for itself.”

“The other thing in the equation is Appeasement (the policy of giving in to aggressive powers to keep the peace).

George Bush after 9/11 was using anti-appeasement to rally the civilized world to America’s side. He was raising the fear that if we didn’t stand up to evil now, further and greater wrongdoing would follow. So it is necessary to go to war in order to prevent even worse bloodshed in the future.”

“Yes Dave, I can see that is a powerful argument to go to war. But there is sometimes a downside, such as the case in Afghanistan, did we reduce the threat of terrorism or did it just create people sympathetic to the terrorist’s goals?”

“Well Tom, it’s too bad the world is NOT 100% in favor of Pacifism, the extreme opposition to war.”

“When you talk about the morality of war the subject gets complex.”

We both agreed.

Here are some thoughts on war:

Why worry about the future? Between the bomb and pollution, there may NOT be any.

History reveals that wars create more problems than they solve.

In the war of right and wrong, we can’t afford to be neutral.

Tom and I drained our glasses of beer and left the building.

 

 

Growing Old Gracefully?

The young barkeep served our beers and said:

“You two look like you are growing old gracefully.”

Then he went away laughing.

Why was he laughing? Does he think we are losing it?

My buddy, Tom, and I almost toppled off our green padded stools!

Are we not in touch with the world and ourselves?

“Well Tom, there’s our next topic for discussion:

Are we growing old gracefully or are we losing it?”

“You know what they say, Dave, there is NO STOPPING the downward slide.

A lot of oldies in my retirement village read your blog so lets dissect this topic.”

We both stared at the painting behind the bar. It was of an old man and a old woman gazing into each others eyes. The caption was: “Forever Always”.

“Tom, are we past our “sell by”date?”

“Absolutely not.”

“The Bible tells us that three score and ten is a reasonable age. But you and I have almost got four score. We have been given an extra ten years, who knows how many more we will get.”

“Dave, the other day when I walked past a shop window and glanced at the reflected figure I was astonished. I sneaked another look. Who is that, I thought. Then after a couple of seconds I was forced to remake my own acquaintance; it seems like I no longer recognized myself at first sight. How scary is that?”

“Well Tom, all I can say is: the YOU behind your eyes believes you look like you did thirty years ago even though the reflected image tells a different story!”

“But Dave, aren’t we entitled to our vanity? I’m not embarrassed by my younger image in my head.”

“Whatever floats your boat, Tom. I think one of the most comforting things about growing old gracefully is the ability NOT to take things too seriously.”

We both sipped our beer and pondered our discussion.

“Well Dave, how do you want to be and think when you’re eighty?”

“Well, we are NOT losing it yet! I don’t want to be a cripple, I want some semblance of health. I want to enjoy a walk and a good meal plus some red wine. I want to forgive my parents for bringing me into this absurd world. I want to take each day as it comes and enjoy it. I don’t want to become sour and bitter. I recognize it’s the little things that matter, not fame, success or wealth. I want to be thankful that I’m a nobody, so I don’t have to live in a goldfish bowl.”

“Wow! That’s quite a list. I will add one more thing: who wants to live to be a hundred? I don’t. What’s the point of it? A shorter life and a merry one is far better than a life full of fear and perpetual medical surveillance.”

“Tom, I’ll leave you with this:

In life, we try to do our best, but it is never good enough!”

The Face In The Mirror

My buddy Tom, and I were sitting on the green padded stools and staring into the mirror behind the bar.

“Tom, do you like what you see?”

“What do you mean, Dave?”

“Do you like your face, the one in the mirror?”

“Well, I’m a little tired and stressful in my eyes. I see some anger in my expression. What do you see in your face, Dave?”

“I see a person who is worthy, a person who likes himself.”

“Are you saying I’m not worthy?”

“Keep your shirt on Tom. Looking into the mirror was just a little self-esteem test.”

Oh boy, the green padded stools were getting hot!

“What the test is supposed to convey is that self-esteem is central to good mental and physical health. In other words, life is like a mirror, frown at it and it frowns back, smile at it and it returns the greeting.”

“How would you define self-esteem, Dave?”

“To me it’s confidence in your own worth and abilities. It’s self-respect and feeling good about yourself.”

“I know I have some rough edges and faults but I guess I’m glad to be who I am.”

“Glad to hear that, Tom”

“Dave, I’m a little confused about what makes up self-esteem.”

“One part is identity. Who am I? What is my essential self?

Identity provides a sense of oneself and one’s individuality.

Self-acceptance is another part, believing in oneself and acknowledging weakness and trying to improve.

And then there’s self-confidence, belief in one’s abilities.”

“So Dave, what are the benefits of having a good opinion of yourself?”

The barkeep brought two more beers.

“It’s on the house, fellas.”

“Thank you, very much,” we said in unison.

“Back to the question, some of the positive consequences of having a good opinion of yourself are:

You would be less driven by fear.

You’d be happier.

You’d worry less.

You’d enjoy life more.

You’d be more comfortable with expressing your feelings.

And this one is very important,

You’d be able to manage the existential terror of death better, the knowledge of your mortality.”

“Hey Dave, here’s the big question: How do we build self-esteem?”

“What you need is to feel worthy right down to your core. You are unique and important. You must believe this deeply.”

“But Dave, what if you encounter a stressful event and it knocks you for six?”

“Well Tom, what you do is say to yourself when the event happened:

Getting through this will be a challenge but I’ll choose the course that seems best.

Then during the event say:

This is difficult but I’ll take it one step at a time. My quest is to transcend this but it is revealing my limitations.

Finally, after the event say:

I am hopeful.

I have the courage to see it through.

What are my options now?

This will pass.

I believe things will improve.”

“It all makes sense, Dave. So once you have strong self-esteem it can be your protection against life’s storms.”

“That’s right, Tom, the important thing to remember is:

Don’t let setbacks, traumas, criticisms and stressful events or any externals define you. Each person is too unique and complex to be so narrowly defined. What defines you is your “Inner Worthyness.”

“Drink up, Tom, here comes the conclusion:

A person told me the other day they had so many problems that if something terrible happened to them it would take at least two weeks before they could worry about it!”

Man’s biggest problem is NOT “outer space” but “inner space.”

With that we both jumped off the green padded stools, smiled at our faces in the mirror, and headed out into the wonderful world.

 

Differences, Conflicts and Inequalities

My buddy, Tom, and I were perched on the green padded stools wondering what topic they would inspire us to discuss today.

Then we both noticed the words above a picture of the American flag:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created EQUAL.”

“There you go, Dave, there’s our discussion for today,” said Tom, smiling.

“That’s it, Tom, we are all equal, BUT some of us are MORE EQUAL than others.”

Hey Dave, drink up, we are just getting started.”

Tom ordered another beer for both of us.

“Tom, give me a reason for inequality among people.”

“Well, there’s income and wealth. Money buys security and freedom to do things.

The rich/poor divide is a main factor in inequality.”

“Right Tom, also there’s occupation. Knowing what someone does for a living tells us a lot , your income , your education and what you’re interests are.”

“What makes an occupation prestigious?”

“The amount of income received and the education needed.”

***

“So, social inequality is a very important issue.”

“Absolutely Tom, because there are so many inequalities in life: income, social problems, education inequalities, rich and poor divide, poverty, etc. These inequalities have consequences for all.”

***

“Hey Dave, lets go over some of the views of social class.”

“Okay, lets take the Concensus View first. This view believes that social class inequalities are Necessary and Inevitable because some jobs are more important than others in maintaining society. Some jobs require specialized skills that everyone doesn’t have.”

“Tom spoke up and said: “Also these talented people must be motivated to train for these positions. Therefore there must be a system of unequal rewards.”

“Tom, one problem with this approach is that there are many poorly rewarded jobs which are also vital in maintaining society.

Ex- An owner of a business can only be successful through the work of his employees.”

***

“Then there’s the Marxist View: the inequalities lie in the private ownership of the Means of Production (land, property, factories and businesses).

Two social classes emerge, the ruling class who control the means of production, and the proletariat, who work for wages.”

“So Dave, Marx wanted to overthrow the capitalists and create an equal classless society called Communism.”

“Yes sir, Tom.”

***

Tom and I sipped our beer and stared at the words on the wall:

“All men are created EQUAL.”

“Lastly, we have Max Weber’s view and he was a German sociologist.

He agreed with Marx with the exception that people’s MARKET situation also created inequalities. This means difference in skills and abilities lead to people selling themselves better in the market place.

Also, there are status differences between people such as gender, religion, age, and ethnicity (black or white).”

“Now, we come to the explosive part of social inequality.”

The barkeep spoke up: “I was called a racist the other day,” he said, laughing.

We ordered one more round of beer.

Tom and I, also, have been called racists when we voice an opinion that someone doesn’t agree with on ethnicity.

The barkeep came back with our beers and said: “Listen fellas, everyone is a bit racist whether they admit it or not.”

“Dave, what do you make of what the barkeep said?”

“Well Tom, there are theories that back up the barkeep’s remark.

One theory is that racism is based on primitive survival mechanisms such as fear of anything that appears different. People fear that a group of different people might take away a level of security, importance or control from them.”

“In other words, the prejudiced person doesn’t want their status quo disrupted.”

“You could say that Tom, but I think there is more than that involved.”

“Such as what, Dave?’

“Sizing up people that are different than us has always been a human priority.

We tend to put people in categories, are they one of us or not. We favor our in group, we see our values as more desirable or superior to those of others.”

“Are you saying it’s ingrained in us?”

“Yes, I am. It may be unintentional, but when you study these theories, we are all a little bit racist. We tend to classify people into our in group or into an out group. Race, religion, and culture our the criteria we use to put people in one group of another.”

“Do you think societies will ever change?’

“I hope attitudes will change. Maybe we can work through our differences and debate them rationally.”

I took a long sip of my beer, almost draining the glass.

“We will have to neutralize the “Us versus Them” mentality. We will have to resist the bias that is built into us by evolution and modern society.”

“Dave, I’m still a little confused about being called a racist.”

“Well Tom, think about it and write your thoughts on a reply to the blog.”

***

“So Dave, what’s next? What is going to shape society in the future?”

“Well Tom, globalization is the big thing now, the world is getting smaller.

Advances in transportation and communication are bringing people and places around the world closer to us. We now live in a “Global Village”. One certainty is that places around the world will become more similar to each other, language, culture, customs, food, all these things are coming together. Like it or not, we’re all in this together!”

“I think there are some down sides to globalization, such as the labor drain on poorer countries. These places would lose the workers to richer countries that pay higher wages.”

“That’s right, Tom, also cultural barriers would break down. Immigrants would try to impose their culture on others, who would resist it and conflict would arise.”

“A good thing would be more free trade all over the world thus improving struggling economies.”

Tom continued: “So buddy, what’s the answer to it all? What’s it all about, Dave?”

“Well, all I can say is:

If you want a stable existence, comfortable housing, good education, and freedom in all your pursuits, increase your quality of life and minimize your risk of premature death, the secret is: BE RICH!”

 

The Mass Media, The Giant That Controls Us

“ I was sitting on a green padded stool watching the news on the TV. When the news was over the barkeep turned off the TV, so then I stared at the sign over the bar: “The Green Padded Stools Make Philosophers Of Us All”.

I smiled.

Then my buddy, Tom, walked into the bar.

“Hey Tom, come over here and sit yourself on this blue padded stool.”

Tom was partially color blind, he saw green as blue.

“Hello Dave, what’s up?”

“Take a look down the bar, there are four people reading different forms of the Mass Media. One is staring at their smart phone, one on a laptop, one reading a newspaper and one engrossed in a book, and a minute ago I was watching the news on TV.”

“Is that so unusual, Dave?”

“The point I’m making is that what you see is the Giant at work. It’s the Giant that controls us—The Mass Media.”

“Controls us?’ said Tom, quizzically.

“Yes my friend, we are being saturated by the Media. The opinions we hold are formed by the Media. Our very identity is influenced by them, what we read, hear and see influences how we see ourselves and how others see us. They know the info they serve up to us forms our opinions. We wouldn’t have an opinion without their info.”

“Do you find this threatening?” said Tom, scrolling his smart phone.

“Yes, especially the “new” media, the digital screen electronic devices. They undermine human relationships which leads to social isolation, with people losing the ability to communicate in the REAL world because, like you a moment ago, they are wrapped up in a solitary electronic device.”

Tom, looking guilty, turned his smart phone off and put it in his pocket.

“Sorry Dave, I got lost surfing the net.”

“That’s alright, the news is sobering. Shall we have a non-alcoholic cocktail?”

The barkeep mixed us a couple of tasty cocktails.

“Any other threats by the Mass Media?”

“Yes, the transnational news corporations, like Murdock, control newspapers and TV satellite broadcasting. Microsoft and Google control internet technology. All this enhances the power of the powerful. In other words, it’s a threat to democracy.”

“Some other controls please,” said Tom, sipping his cocktail with the paper umbrella in it.

“Well like I said, it forms our opinions and also it exercises social control.”

“Social control?”

“Yes Tom, the Mass Media is the ordinary persons only source of evidence and they color, shape and construct our views of the world. They tell us what is right and wrong according to their agendas. They influence and control our lives to a great extent. They also tend to report and stress certain things in a more favorable way than others.”

“Can you put some detail on this social control?”

“The media does “agenda setting”, they tell us what to think about.

Then there is “gate-keeping”, where the media refuses to cover some issues, they tell us what they want to tell us.

Also there is, “norm-setting”, where it emphasizes conforming to social norms and discourages non-conformist behaviors.

“All this is very interesting BUT what effect does Mass Media have on the audience? Do they treat us like thinking humans or mindless robots?” said Tom, soberly.

“Well, the mindless robot approach is called the hypodermic syringe theory. They inject messages into the audience hoping for immediate effects. They take us as unthinking easily manipulated robots, who are unable to resist the injected content. This approach is not supported by many.”

“We tend, at least I do, to listen to opinion leaders such as teachers and people in the know. They pass on their views that they have picked up through the media.

This means we are passive and easily led,” said Tom, with a questioning look on his face.

“You hit the nail on the head, Tom, this is called the two-step flow theory. There are other approaches which see the audience as thinking and critical humans. They use the media to inform them about their interests.”

“I’m very selective in my approach to the media,” said Tom, seriously.

“Most people are selective, some people only read or watch media output that they agree with, input which fits in with their views and interests.”

“What’s the future, Dave?”

“Well, the world is becoming a global village. There is a lot of instant info and entertainment coming into us. The whole world is now exposed to the same info through mass media which cuts across national boundaries.

The Giant is becoming even bigger!”

We finished our cocktails.

“Tom, I will leave you with this tidbit:

We are bombarded with so much news and much of it is GRIM. So we can’t decide whether to watch the six o’clock news and not be able to eat, OR the ten o’clock news and not be able to sleep.”

With that, Tom and I got off of our green/blue stools and walked out into the fresh air.