Howling Through The Human Condition

My nephew, Tom, who is 15 years old, told me the other day:

“Uncle Dave, would you believe our teacher said we wouldn’t be discussing Shakespeare’s tragedies because they might be too upsetting for us?”

“Well Tom, I know the new child psychology is to wrap children in cotton wool so reality doesn’t frighten them too much. I think it’s called “the snowflake generation”. This is when the adolescents are so sensitive they find it hard to face the world.”

“Why are we so sensitive, Uncle Dave?”

“Well, one thing is “Health and Safety” rules now days. The kids are pushed into safe spaces and are not allowed outside by themselves. Their games are closely supervised.

Years ago 80-90% of seven year olds walked to school alone, now only 10% do. So they don’t feel any sense of independence and they don’t have a chance to learn things by themselves. Some risk taking is good for kids, they learn to face their fears. Consequently, having been protected from everything, children are hypersensitive to any discomfort right up to early adulthood. there is more mental illness among children now because there is a terror of encountering opinions which differ from theirs.”

Well, Uncle Dave, wouldn’t it be better to study the tragedies to learn about fear and conflict? By the way, someone in class mentioned the Human Condition,  what’s that?”

“Tragedy teaches you about adversity and you learn a lot from adversity. The Human Condition is composed of the things essential to our existence, such as, birth, growth, adversity, conflict and mortality. Shakespeare is full of the Human Condition.”

“So, studying Shakespeare helps us examine the Human Condition?”

“Yes Tom, you’ve got it in one!”

“Give me some examples, Uncle Dave, and I hope I don’t get too upset,” Tom smiled.

“In life we have to endure many things we howl about, we come into the world howling, we howl through life and we probably will leave the world howling!”

“Oh, Uncle Dave, you have such a way with words, just like Shakespeare,” said Tom, laughing.

“Hamlet is a good example, he asks all the questions we ask ourselves: Who am I? To be or not to be? Why do we exist?

Hamlet wanted to know should we accept our troubles in silence, or should we act to overcome them? Or, if we can’t overcome them, just accept our predicament and live one day at a time and enjoy what life we have.”

So, Uncle Dave, not to study Shakespeare is to miss out on essential life knowledge?”

“That’s right, Grasshopper, sorry, I mean Tom.”

“That’s okay, I am your Grasshopper.”

“Now Tom, when you go to see a Shakespeare tragedy, you will experience fear of what’s going to happen, and then you will feel pity for the main character.”

“What then, Uncle Dave?” Tom interrupted.

“Catharsis is next, you get purged of those emotions and you leave the theatre uplifted with an understanding of what it means to be human.”

“So, Uncle Dave, my teacher should be teaching us Shakespeare, otherwise he is hindering our education.”

“Yes Tom, he thinks he is protecting you from life’s rocky road, but you need to be taught about the tools to face your future.”

“Well, I’m going to read Shakespeare on my own time,” said Tom, determined.

“Well Tom, if we don’t study such works of literature, how will we endure the real tragedies which affect our world?”

“Thanks Uncle Dave, for setting me straight. I’ll be going now.”

“A couple of thoughts to take with you Tom:

All the world is a stage and most of us are UNDER REHEARSED!

All the world lives in one of two tents: Content or Discontent.”

Anxiety Help (from the green padded stool)

I was daydreaming, which writers do a lot, sitting on my green padded stool in my favorite watering hole. My daydreaming was interrupted when a chap climbed on the stool next to me. He looked to be in his early 50’s. He was sweating, grim faced and stooped over the bar.

He ordered a boiler-maker, which was a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser. That was a powerful alcoholic combination compared to my non-alcoholic tonic water with ice and lemon.

He drank the whiskey in one gulp and then took a sip of beer.

Then his eyes started to roll and he mumbled:

“My body fells tingly and I’m dizzy. I feel like ice water is in my veins. I want to run away from my body but I can’t. My heart is pounding!”

His breathing was shallow. The bartender gave me a cold cloth to wipe his forehead with.

“Take deep breaths, fella,” I said, holding the cloth on his forehead.

He recovered after about five minutes, then he blurted out:

“The walls of life are closing in.”

“What do you mean by that, my friend?” I said as a reflex action to his outburst.

He looked at me with watery eyes and said:

“I’m depressed and full of anxiety. Life is getting claustrophobic.”

He ordered another whiskey.

“Do you think whiskey is the solution to your panic attack?”

“It blots out my negative thinking.”

“What got you into this situation?”

“The last two years have been a disaster for me. My wife died, then I was passed over for promotion. Now my job is in jeopardy because I’ve lost my concentration. My health has been deteriorating and I feel I’ve lost all control over my life.”

“Maybe I can help. Sometimes talking it out is therapeutic.”

“Hey mister, what makes you an authority on depression and anxiety?”

“I’m a writer of a blog where I try to inform people on solutions to their problems.”

Tom, the barkeep, came over and said:

“Hey buddy, listen to this guy, he knows what he’s talking about.”

My stoolmate pondered that for a minute and said:

“He does?”

“Yes, he does, trust me I’m a bartender!”

“What qualifications do you have?”

“I’m a student of life. I took some psychology courses when I was young and I continued through my life to read about anxiety, depression, fear and phobias, all of which I am interested in.”

“Well mister, this depression is taking over my life,” my stoolmate mumbled.

“Do you realize that depression is a defense mechanism against the sickness of negative thinking?”

“You mean to tell me, that depression is good for you?”

“No, depression is NOT good for us, but it’s the body’s survival mechanism over extreme stress caused by negative thinking.”

“How does depression help you survive?”

“Your body has to deal with the stress, so depression depresses negative thinking by numbing out fear emotions but it also numbs out good emotions, like love and joy.”

“So, my negative thinking has caused my depression”

“Yes, but you can get rid of depression by discontinuing to think negatively.”

“Easier said then done!”

“But worth the effort if you want to get control of your thoughts and feelings.”

I noticed my stoolmate stopped drinking whiskey and was sticking to the beer. Was I getting through to him?

“Hey Dave, you want another tonic water?” said Tom, the barkeep.

“Yes please.” Tom was my buddy from our school days, which is why I come to this tavern.

When Tom brought my drink, he winked at me, he knew I had helped others from the green padded stool.

“So many of my friends seem to be going through bouts of panic and depression. Why is that, I wonder?”

“Well, my friend, stress over long periods of time plays a role. Each of us creates much of our own stress, but the society in which we live affects us also.”

“How does society affect us?”

“Our environment and social order have changed drastically in the last 30 years. Modern society is fast paced with the advent of digital technology. Consequently, this hasn’t given people time to adjust.”

My stoolmate was pondering that statement for a minute.

I continued: “The situation is compounded by the increasing uncertainties in today’s world, climate change, nuclear proliferation, etc, means society gets more anxious and finally values are unclear today.”

“How’s that about values?”

“Nietzsche, the philosopher, said: “God is dead!”

That means the usual values prescribed by religion and society are gone. We must all cope on our own and take responsibility for creating our own meaning and moral code, which becomes very stressful!”

“So, my panic attacks come about from too much stress?”

“That’s right. How do you feel at this moment?”

“Terrible! I feel like I’m losing control of myself and my life and I have a feeling that something bad is going to happen. Also, I say strange things to myself, like I’m going crazy.”

“All that tells me you have extreme anxiety that is probably generalized. You have an overall feeling of a vague danger coming all the time.”

The stoolmate was squirming on his stool!

“So, this is affecting me in every department?”

“Yes, physiologically, behaviorally, and psychologically.”

“Oh No! What am I going to do?”

He put his head in his hands and he was shaking!

“Relax fella, there is help for you.”

I motioned to Tom to give me the cold cloth again.

“Here, my friend, hold this on your forehead for a few minutes.”

I handed him the cloth. I didn’t want him to have another attack.

After a minute or so, he threw the cloth on the bar and said:

“How can I recover from this horror situation?”

“Your recovery program should include:

A reduction of your physical reactions, an elimination of avoidance behavior and finally change your subjective interpretations right now, your self-talk is terrible and is perpetuating your state of apprehension and worry.”

“How do I put all that into action?”

“Well, you might need a therapist, but if you were strong enough, you could do it by yourself.”

“Please tell me the treatment, Dave, my name is Jake, by the way.”

That was an improvement, he called me by name and introduced himself.

“Fasten your seatbelt, Jake, here we go:

First, you will need some relaxation training. Deep breathing exercises to reduce anxiety.

Then Cognitive Therapy to get rid of bad self-talk and replace it with realistic thinking. You need to correct your distorted thinking.

Then Distraction, some diversionary activities such as a hobby, listening to music, journaling, and writing down your daily thoughts.

Finally, Mindfulness practice would be beneficial. Realize your bad thoughts can’t hurt you and try to live in the present moment, where your life is.”

Jake was writing all this down on a piece of paper that Tom gave him. He put it in his pocket.

The Jake got up to leave.

“Remember, my friend, yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the Present.”

“Thank you for the info, Dave, I feel better already.”

He walked out of the tavern whistling.

Tom and I smiled at each other and gave the thumbs up sign.

To Be A Philosopher

My nephew, Tom, just turned 15 years old when he spent a day with me because his parents were visiting some people they met on holiday.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, he is very smart and he studies with kids two years older than him. So, it didn’t surprise me when he said:

“Hey Uncle Dave, guess what, my teacher started philosophizing about how beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This started me thinking wouldn’t it be great to be a philosopher.”

“Tom, philosophy might boggle your mind,” I said, smiling.

“No, I’m up for it, Uncle Dave.”

“Well, you will have to realize that ALMOST nothing is certain.”

“Okay, but how do I begin my philosophy education?”

“Oh, you want to play Master and Grasshopper again?”

“Yes Uncle Dave, but I would prefer it if you didn’t call me Grasshopper.”

“Okay Tom, to begin with you need to consider what is or appears to be directly in front of your eyes. You must begin to question and doubt what is supposed to be obvious.”

“Do you philosophize, Uncle Dave?’

“You and I, Tom, philosophize without even knowing we’ve been doing it!”

“No, Uncle Dave!”

“Yes Tom, it’s true. We’ve both wondered how the universe began, we’ve wondered if we know anything for certain or is life meaningless. All this wondering is tantamount to philosophizing.”

“Define philosophy for me, Uncle Dave.”

“Well Tom, the word philosophy is derived from “philos”, the Greek for “love” and “sophis”, the word for “wisdom”. So philosophy is the love of wisdom.”

Tom was pondering that for a moment.

“Well Tom, are you a lover of wisdom?”

“Oh yes, Uncle Dave.”

“Keeping on with the definition, philosophy is the rational investigation of Being, knowledge and right conduct.”


“Uncle Dave, what’s the nature of philosophy?”

“There are three things about philosophy’s nature:

It is an activity that exposes falsehoods and inconsistencies.

It uses REASON to do this.

It involves thinking about ALL sides of an argument.


When we talk philosophically to people, it makes all parties THINK!”

There was a minute’s silence, Tom was pondering again.

“The main thing in becoming a philosopher is that you must start doubting everything.”

“What should I start doubting, Uncle Dave?”

“Well, my boy, you can doubt something that is supposed to be obvious and beyond dispute about the world around you. You have to become a “Philosophical Sceptic.”

“Uncle Dave, are you telling me to doubt the EXTERNAL WORLD?”

“Yes, but lets start small with just one object. Lets say my eagle head cane here.”

Tom looked long and hard at the cane.

“Well, it could be a hallucination or an optical illusion.”

“Very good Tom, you’re getting the philosophical thinking technique. So lets analyze this. An hallucination is the false perception of an object when no object is present. When a person hallucinates his mind is disordered and it is playing tricks on him.

Now, an optical illusion is a trick of light and heat, etc. These two phenomena focus on a thing appearing but is not real. But, what if everything in this room is not actually here at all?”

Tom was thinking hard, I could see it in his eyes.

“Maybe, everything out there is just a DREAM!”

“Great thinking, Tom. Many philosophers believe that the world you think you’re in right now is a dream. And if you wake up from the dream, you can’t be sure if you’re not falling asleep, follow?”


“Any other ideas about the existence of the external world?”

“Maybe, the world is just in our imagination.”

“You’ve hit on a great point again, my brainy nephew. What you’re thinking of is akin to “Solipsism”. Your self alone is the external world. Some believe one’s own mind is the only thing that exists!”

“But, that’s kind of hard to believe, isn’t it, Uncle Dave?”

“You’re right, Tom. If your mind was all that exists, what would you do with yourself? If there were no other people, there would be no point in writing this blog.”


“Oh Uncle Dave, the more we talk about the existence of the outer world, the more I am haunted by my doubts. But, when I go out and about I’m too busy enjoying my interaction with the world that appears to be there to bother to think about whether or not it is REALLY there.”

“I told you it would boggle your mind. Lets wind up this discussion since we can’t prove or not prove the existence of the outer world.”

“Sounds good to me, Uncle Dave, but it was interesting.”

“Yes it was, but I think we should get on with analyzing and classifying our perceptions as they APPEAR to us. Forget about if there is or isn’t anything besides those appearances.”


To sum up, here are some thoughts on philosophy:

Philosophy is an orderly way of discussing subjects we know nothing about.


Philosophy is a study which enables men to be unhappy more intelligently.


Philosophy is nothing but COMMON SENSE dressed up in a suit.


Tom left scratching his head.