I love the study of philosophy. I particularly love a central question of philosophy: what is a good life? What is the best way to live your life? In this age of fake news, constant hyper connectedness and social media saturation this question is more relevant than ever. Our lives have become more turbo-charged but less meaningful. We are living in the most affluent, but least real period in human history. We are living in an age of affluent superficiality. Here are a few insights into some of the myths of modern reality gleaned from a lengthy study of ancient wisdom and modern psychology. Please don’t take this to mean that I am sorted. I am not.
1. Life is about seeking happiness. When a parent says all they want is for their child to be happy they are condemning their child to a life of unfulfilled expectations. Any life must contain suffering and loss. To suggest otherwise denies the basics of biology. Uber parents who seek to protect their offspring from the reality of human hardship, struggle and competition are doing them a disservice. They are creating weak, unformed humans who deny reality.
2. Respect women. This is a lesson good mothers seek to impart on their sons. I totally agree. But feel she should broaden that to respecting all people regardless of gender or race. The statistical appearance of virtue is not defined by race or gender. Otherwise sexism and racism is justified. But when people lose the right to be respected it is crucial to become indifferent rather than to hate. Hate requires effort. Respect virtue in others regardless of race or gender. Cultivate indifference to those who are capricious or cruel.
3. Get an education and get a job. We are living in the most interconnected transient commercial age in human history. Education is now a commercial commodity offered by businesses, often disguised as public institutions. Mainstream education is not a guaranteed pathway to commercial success – nor is getting a job. Our young people need to be savvier than ever. We need to inspire them to seek knowledge for themselves as part of a good life. Yet mainstream schooling can sometimes quash this natural instinct.
4. Save for your future. It is not about diligent saving, it is about wise astute diversified investing. Poorly invested life savings can be wiped out in an instant by a cacophony of mouse clicks.
5. Always respect authority. Think Mr Putin and Mr Trump and that North Korean guy.
6. Sort your life out. No such person has ever existed. None of our lives are a linear upward progression towards nirvana. This is an old human myth. I have yet to meet such an omnipotent being who is totally sorted. We are doing our young people a disservice in suggesting that such people exist and that they are failing by not living up to such an illusion.
7. Care for what others think. Be a team player. Make sure you are “laid back”. Meeting such an expectation often means going through life as a doormat or dumb follower.
8. “Settle down” and “get ahead”. All humans face an extreme contradiction in their existence. We prize stability. We crave it. Yet life is entirely transitory. We all age and die. Everything changes with time. Yet we seek to deny this reality. We believe fame and fortune and status have eternal meaning. They don’t. Yet this is no excuse for denying that there can be real meaning in life.
9. Life is fair. It is not. Children get cancer. Young mothers get killed in car crashes. Our wealth and prosperity are massively determined by the country we are born in and the family we are born into. Randomness of birth plays a huge role in the quality of our material lives. Yet many people believe their material success is entirely due to their own talent, effort and ability. They conveniently overlook random advantages they have had.
10. Take responsibility for how you conduct your own life. To me, as a partially sighted grumpy old bachelor with a penchant for cheap whiskey and bad company this is the essence of a good life. Each day we interact with many people. We can choose to make these many interactions positive or negative and this requires effort and awareness. The waitress in the cafe, our partner, workmates, bus drivers, passers-by in the street. It is not about being a Pollyanna nor being an arrogant winner. We have a choice with every interaction we make and every decision we make each minute of every day. Positive or negative? Maybe this is what is meant by the new age concept of “mindfulness”. It is about recognising the finiteness of our reality, the countless lucky breaks we have been given. It is also about recognising the darkness of the alternative. The alternative is bitter negativity, ugly cynicism and nihilism. We face this choice each minute of each day. The choice is ours alone.
Peter Lyons teaches Economics at Saint Peters College in Epsom and has written several Economics texts. He is far from sorted.
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