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    Free Essay
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    Isolated expedition

     

    Imagine an expedition to the Antarctic in 1914. There is no GPS, no world-reaching radio, and no satellite phone. Brutal conditions, rationed food, tight living quarters. Sounds pretty bleak. Now imagine that something goes horribly wrong. As days turn into weeks the rationed food is exhausted. As weeks turn into months hope is all that is left. When hope diminishes, all that is left is the will to live. Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 voyage turned into a disaster just before he and his crew of twenty-eight could reach Antarctica. Their ship The Endurance was held up by ice for ten months and then crushed by it's frozen, unforgiving force, and that is just the beginning of this two-years long journey. It is amazing what he and his crew endure over this time period just to survive. This is an excerpt from a diary kept by crewman Thomas Orde-Lees that recounts a very cold and desperate time some six months after the men abandoned the crumpled, mangled wreckage of their ship on three lifeboats. "As the water splashed into the boats it froze instantly forming thick incrustations of ice on the inside of the boat and over all the gear freezing up the sail as stiff as a piece of corrugated iron. Fortunately the water which ran into the bottom of the boat did not freeze at once so that by frequent bailing we were able to keep pace with it and prevent the accumulation of ice along the keels, where, had it once formed, it would have been next to impossible to eradicate it on account of the cargo. Much sleet covered us, and what with this and the sea spray we were all more or less wet through and our outer clothing was frozen stiff. Our time was largely occupied in picking the ice off each other's backs. It would be a lie to say that we were at all happy under these circumstances but now and again we made a feeble effort to assume a cheerful, hopeful air in spite of ourselves. We were being sorely tried, indeed, though."

         
    Love and courage

     

    To many work is not a gratifying opportunity to do good, but a necessary evil they would gladly forgo if they won or inherited a fortune. It is just a livelihood, a vital drudgery. Its meaning is the paycheck and the value it has in terms of service to their community is indifferent or very subordinate. Their calculating and uncaring attitude is recognizable. Whereas people who heartily act in the interest of others are gracious, they are perfunctory. At best, in establishments that demand courtesy from employees, their behavior is irreproachable, albeit artificial. “Can I be of assistance? Here you are. Will there be anything else? You’re welcome” – no genuine attempt at pleasing, just a vapid exercise in politeness and efficiency that follows a procedure and arouses a feeling of satisfied indifference as would a serving of plain noodles. They do the minimum that is required of them, to maintain their employment, and gladly do nothing provided they get paid all the same. They never miss a breake the end of their working day, they rush out before the first second of the next hour has passed. They live for their time off and dream of a permanent vacation, as though leisure were the essence of happiness. What about the dignity of making oneself useful, which is the antipode of this levity? What about love – I mean the desire to live usefully in the service of others? This desire builds on gratefulness, with a view to worthiness. I start from the assumption that love is a characteristic of people who appreciate living in society, thanks to a combination of positive attitude and relatively favorable social environment. To sum up, the more they love life, in company with others who take part in their life, the more they love others. Now, feeling this love is one thing, acting upon it is quite another, which needs courage. Actually, a lack of courage would not only render this love inactive but also tend to destroy it in order to avoid shame. The mind is a double-edged thinking tool that can cut its way in and out of truth by means of veracious statements or specious arguments. Love may be denied despite every reason for loving. Therefore, courage is a rich trait of character without which love is unable to flourish, neither as an emotion nor as an action. Of course, where laziness and cowardliness have rotted or stunted love, dignity – which stems from the act of loving – is but a potential bloom. May courage be cultivated! I hate to think that the soul has such a capacity for beauty and yet can remain undeveloped, morally retarded, as ugly as a shriveled growth that an earnest gardener could have transformed into a heavenly rose. On reflection, courage should be valued above all other virtues, since it constitutes the necessary condition for developing them. It is not a sufficient condition, however. It is capable of nothing by itself while everything depends on it. Courage is the force that can raise life to joy and joy to love and love to dignity, insofar as the human nature aspires to these difficult heights, though it is always tempted to go for the easy and low option. This nature is indeed dual. People are forever torn between their lofty aspirations and their base temptations. Their choice to honor these aspirations or surrender to these temptations determines their moral status, admirable or pitiable. Admittedly, the more you are afflicted with misery, the harder it is for you to lead a courageous and honorable existence. It is not surprising that children who grow up in miserable circumstances sometimes display miserable attitudes and behaviors once they are adults: low self-esteem and under-achievement, resentment and aggressiveness, alcoholism and drug addiction, vagrancy and crime, among others. These attitudes and behaviors deplorably impact the other members of society who are worried, troubled, harmed, or perverted by them. The problem is clearly cancerous. I hope that the future will bring effective social measures to better assist these children in their pursuit of happiness and worthiness. Benefactions, family allowances, subsidized housing, free health care and school education, together with scholarships, are present solutions that rely on private charities or government policies and call for improvements through greater creativity and generosity. Bearing in mind the deplorable impact that the children of misery can have on society, as they sometimes grow into failures, misfits, or outlaws, I feel compelled to underscore the utilitarianism behind this generosity. Just as these children arouse compassion, they are a cause for anxiety in everyone who is aware of this possible impact. Their welfare is actively sought, both for their sake and that of society at large whose interests are at stake. Likewise, employers who care about their employees, while caring about their business, always offer them the best possible working conditions. These employees are joyful and grateful as a rule, which ensures a superior efficiency and loyalty on their part. Good spirit is good profit. Some dream of equal opportunities for everyone. Will this dream someday become a reality? Everywhere in the world, it meets with inequality – between those who are born lucky and those who are not, relatively speaking. Is it a lost cause? I believe so, though I am a firm believer in progress. Even a welfare state with the most extensive social assistance could only reduce this inequality, not eliminate it. What if it resorted to communism to reduce this inequality further? History suggests that a communist regime would prove ruinous, economically and psychologically, in the long run. The equal sharing of resources between people, imposed on them by a centralized government regardless of their respective contributions to the common good, is an untenable and unviable totalitarian approach. In a word, it is an absurdity. Democratic societies, on the other hand, leave much to be desired, but are certainly the most satisfactory to date. They are based on freedom, talent, chance, and merit, while including a safety net for those who have fallen off the high wire of health and success. Things merely have to improve. The status quo is a steppingstone to brighter days. Forget perfection, which is deadly and imperfect after all: an illusion. However bright the future may turn out, it will not be without shadows. Unhealthy, unwise, unsuccessful, unhappy, and unkind adults will keep bringing children into the world. Assuming these children will benefit from improved relief measures, they will nevertheless suffer from a difficult youth, lacking in the material and spiritual advantages luckier children enjoy. Like their previous counterparts, they will be confronted by the challenge of growing into the opposite of their parents – that is, into healthy, wise, successful, happy, and kind adults. None but the strong will overcome. Only they will appreciate the divine justice that counterbalances the problem of inequality: The less luck people have at the start, the more merit they have in the end if they make a success of their life. This principle is universal and timeless; it is applicable here and now. May the objects of our compassion fill us with admiration as they rise from their woes to become our heroes! This victory against the odds is an extreme. I can think of a second extreme, as pathetic as the first is heroic. Contrary to expectations, some people born of goodhearted and well-to-do parents are miserable individuals. They are insatiably selfish and shockingly ungrateful, so infantile and spineless that play and rest are their sole ambitions. Did they have a weak character to start with? Did their parents kill them with kindness and spoil them rotten? Is that why they have no soul?

         
    No pulitzer for drama no wonder

     

    This year, when The Pulitzer Prizes were announced, the not entirely delightful news is that no Pulitzer was awarded in drama. While the decision is unsettling, the prudence of it must be acknowledged, since, affection for the theater and those who make it aside, there was no drama to consider. Let us have the courage to ask why and, along the way, try our best to understand everybody’s culpability or innocence. If you keep tabs on Broadway, just so you’ll know if, by some surprising concatenation of events, a drama you might actually be interested in seeing comes along, you know that the usual fare this past season was once again a series of enthusiastically promoted trifles. But the financial realities on Broadway make it exceedingly chancy for producers to put up anything that isn’t already proven at the box office and, even more importantly, with the critics, who can even disable a previous box-office success. All very understandable. The producers are not in the business of nourishing unproven works, no matter how worthy they may suspect or be advised they are. Not understandable. The small and regional theaters are seldom managed by people who have any sense of what mainstream appeal might be or they very likely wouldn’t be working in a little or regional theater. Perfectly understandable. Even if a small or regional theater puts up a work that might attract a wider audience than the reliable coterie whose interests are decidedly offbeat, the likelihood that a well-known critic or even a second-string critic will show up is discouraging. Understandable. During the theater season, little theaters put up shows with withering frequency in New York and all over the country. The critics whose names people might known do not flock to any production that doesn’t have some kind of major preproduction cache. Their primary job is to review the little shows in the big venues, not the remotely possible big show in a little venue, and their secondary job, should they occasionally be inspired to assume its obligations, is to cherry pick smaller productions that present some precondition of influential interest. Also understandable. The current crop of critics, when confronted by a work in any theatrical venue that smacks of being mainstream, are unlikely to find it suits their own offbeat temperaments. Not understandable. It is such temperamental selectivity that prevented, among countless lesser knows, a relatively mainstream playwright like Arthur Miller from getting a rave review during the last two or three decades of his life, and even a popular confectioner like Neil Simon from getting one for many years. The inescapable fact is, offbeat people usually prefer offbeat works. Very understandable. We’re all human. But what would be really refreshing is for a major critic or two to surface whose tastes would incline them to help nourish intelligent theater that deals with the major text and subtext of contemporary mainstream American life. Once we were fortunate enough to have them, like the legendary Brooks Atkinson and the more recent Walter Kerr, we could be far more hopeful that mainstream works would have a chance of surfacing. After all, critics are the first significant audience for any work, and so they are necessary partners in the attempt to rejuvenate intelligent and widely relevant American theater. As for the playwrights, we must understand their plight, too. Simply put, comes the hopeful new playwright with a mainstream sensibility, where can he hope to find an outlet? And, if he does, can he hope to have a critic show up, let alone one who is on the same page with his sensibility? Quite a rare – and, year after year, an apparently impossible – combination. Even Actors Equity is aligned against the poor talented soul. Should the playwright somehow find a theater that will put us his or her work, he or she will get what is known as a showcase presentation, which provides for four weeks of rehearsal and a four-week run, possibly extended to five weeks. Since the rehearsals must be conducted with actors who have to participate in their spare time, due to the meager honorariums showcase appearances provide, it’s difficult to get a production that does the work justice. And a four-week run simply is not long enough to build word of mouth. Between the scarcity of venues that have a predisposition toward a playwright who has a sensibility that might reach mainstream America, the difficulty of getting a production that showcases the work in a way that renders whatever excellence it may hold, the brevity of the run, and the scarcity of critics who might arrive, compounded by the unlikely prospect that any who do might appreciate it, can we blame the playwright who finally decides that he’s involved in a hopeless puzzle that, at best, is merely baby sitting him as an intellectual. Is it any wonder that he may sulk between disappointing efforts and finally walk away into a writing career where there is some hope of getting somewhere. Understandable, at least. So there you have, as best as we can explain it, why no Pulitzer was awarded for drama. But we could never leave you without whatever hope there might be. The one factor that hasn’t yet entered contemporary theater that has influenced, for better or worse, film and television, is the advent of the self-funded writer-producer. Considering the gauntlet that faces the mainstream playwright without his or her own resources, such a writer-producer, maligned as he may initially be as self-aggrandizing by the theatrical establishment, may be the only hope left. Meanwhile, we must reluctantly admit, better not to award the Pulitzer at all than to award it to a trifle, masquerading as a piece of consequence. At least, some sort of standard has been indicated.

         
    Psychic readers predict the future but you create destiny

     

    Has a psychic ever told you something incredibly amazing about your future that is hard to imagine as true? Or warned you, perhaps frightened you about the future by reading an awful outcome to a situation? Did you know whether to believe the prediction or not? Sooner or later most of us who use the services of a psychic reader are likely to encounter this type of experience even if you have never been to a psychic or think you will ever go to one. More and more, people are seeking answers for their problems through the venue of the paranormal. There are unexplainable experiences reported every day, as well as, insurmountable problems challenging our coping skills in this rapidly changing world. Therefore, there is a good chance that one of these situations may eventually drive you to seek the services of a psychic, whether you think you would or not. Should you believe a psychic’s fateful predictions? If so, can the future be changed? People tend to think the future is predetermined. Therefore, it can not be changed. That statement couldn’t be any further from the truth. Psychics don’t predict the future. Instead, they predict the probability of the future. Psychics read the future based on the current path you are on at the moment of the reading. If you make a decision that takes you off that path, more than likely the predicted future will no longer be accurate. What really is the future? There is no set time that we can actually label and claim as the future. Think about what happens to time when you read a page in a book. Before you read the book the first page is the future. While you are reading it, the page can be described as the present. Once you have finished reading it, the page now represents the past. The future isn’t a constant, because it is fluid and always moving. Why go to a psychic if the future isn’t engraved in stone? Think of a prediction as a mechanism that can provide a meaningful insight or some self-knowledge not consciously apparent to you. For example, a positive prediction can be a motivating force or something that offers you hope. On the other hand, a negative prediction can offer a chance for you to grow emotionally and spiritually. It can be a warning for you to thwart a foreseeable problem by taking a different course of action. When you go to a psychic, remember to keep the predictions in perspective. Your thoughts and actions today can actually create the destiny you must then meet in the future. The next time a psychic predicts a car accident for your future, take some action. You can watch your speed, drive defensively and be alert as a way to avoid your “so-called” fate. Remember: You are more in control of your destiny than you think.

         
    Suffering

     

    Since wisdom is the art of coping with suffering, it starts with a willingness to tackle it head-on: a) Such is the harshness of our condition that we suffer, sometimes greatly or worse, insuperably. b) Such is the richness of our nature that we can learn to live happily, or at least serenely, within the limits of this condition. This entails us either pursuing goals that are not only desirable or honorable, but also attainable, or resigning ourselves to the inevitable. Admittedly, a great many suffer whose suffering is all the more problematic as their wisdom is still largely in the making. I remember my own past as a young unhappy and suicidal man who composed dark poems. My negative attitude compounded my difficult situation, and I lacked the awareness of my ability to improve both. Today, I feel deeply connected with those who live in the limbo of gloom. Even if my words only reach one of them, they will not have been written in vain. I have recently come across some dark poetry, reminiscent of mine in my young days. The author – Melyssa G. Sprott – is a young talented woman whose youth has been poisoned by abuse and other hardships. Her suffering and her talent have inspired me to feature some of her work and respond to it. Note that my responding to it in a positive manner testifies to my being help-minded, but note also that my responses are written in a spirit of humbleness. I don't claim to provide a remedy; I just try my best to give some useful insights. * * * The following excerpts are from one of Melyssa's collection of poems, entitled "Descent into the Dark." They reveal her aching soul with the moving simplicity of a woman crying for her overwhelming grief. 1. When I was six, my father had me convinced I wasn't worth the air I breathed, the food I'd cost, or other things I'd need. When I was six, my father didn't want children or want the wife he kept, so we were forced to suffer for my father's regrets. "Remember to tell him you love him or you'll die," Mother sings her twisted lullaby. "Wish for mercy, pray for death, await the day he ceases breath. He'll wake you up at three in the morning to beat you senseless without warning. It doesn't matter how still you lie," Mother sings her twisted lullaby. I want to bleed forever, bleed out my sorrow. I can't even bear the thought of tomorrow. I want this nightmare to end. I'll close my eyes to the world. I've been begging for death since I was a little girl. 2. How could all this damage come from such trusted lips? You throw words like stones. My heart is breaking glass. The key you held is the knife you twist. 3. Nowhere to hide in the dark of the night. Sometimes the only comfort we find is in our own pain…. They'll never understand the calm of relinquishing all control. Suffering takes less courage than it takes to be content. I didn't choose the less traveled path of love, joy, and luck. I chose the other path, and now I am stuck. I'm a prisoner of the dark in my eyes. * * * Let us take stock of a few harsh facts that are part and parcel of life, not only Melyssa's or mine, but everyone's. a) The human potential for greatness – great learning and nobility, and great accomplishments – is matched only by the human potential for the reverse. Yes, humans can be and sometimes are monstrously poor-spirited, narrow-minded, and black-hearted, among other despicable traits. These traits may involve genetic or environmental factors that predispose to them, but ultimately they are the fault of the individuals who give free rein to them. The unfortunate thing is, these individuals are a source of suffering not only to themselves but also to those who are at their mercy. Among their victims are children, women, and elderly or disabled people. Actually, even the strongest of men can suffer as a result of falling prey to them. Yet, the others are more vulnerable – especially children who often make the dreadful mistake of blaming themselves for the abuse or neglect to which they are subjected. b) As a rule, people are neither great nor bad in the extreme. They are relatively friendly and helpful – if you treat them fairly – and they lead decent though imperfect lives. Having said this, they have minds of their own, which may not be in keeping with yours. A man may fall in love with a woman who doesn't care a whit about him, and vice versa. A job seeker may hope for employment at some outfit, where in his opinion he belongs, and have his application turned down by an employer who sees things in a different light. These two examples count among an infinity of possible ones that testify to the same truth: Other people's wishes and yours often differ and you must then (out of respect) compromise or abstain from doing as you please. c) On a positive note, there is some degree of harmony between nature's purpose and that of humans. As harsh as our life is on earth, we can subsist or even thrive. Yet, this harmony does not alter the fact that both purposes are distinct, always in danger of being opposite. Just think about the amount of resourcefulness and adaptability we must show to indeed thrive. At best the harmony is labored and confined within narrow limits. Think also about the number of times nature's purpose and that of humans clash, as demonstrated by all manner of nuisances, illnesses, and disasters. In short, the relationship we have with nature is like the relationship some people have with wild animals they have tamed. These animals are pleasant pets provided their needs are catered for. Still, they can turn against their owners for no apparent reason, except that they are fundamentally wild. As I pointed out earlier, wisdom starts with a willingness to tackle the harsh reality of life head-on. It is the reverse of ignorance, and hence is exclusive of the illusory bliss that accompanies this ignorance. If happiness is possible through wisdom, it is achieved with the full knowledge and acceptance of the harsh reality in question. By acceptance I do not mean a passive resignation toward the status quo in all its harshness. I mean a brave readiness to turn our situation – possibly bad in a number of respects – to good account. And this includes bettering what we are able to better, while making do with everything else. Easier said than done, of course. But then happiness is not about what is easy; it is about what is good and right and can only be accomplished through a great deal of meritorious effort. To make or not to make this effort is the question, which sums up human freedom. And surely nobody in their right mind would forever take the easy option that leads to unworthiness and unhappiness!

         
    The bottom line

     

    The following article includes pertinent information that may cause you to reconsider what you thought you understood. The most important thing is to study with an open mind and be willing to revise your understanding if necessary. What Really Matters We are here on this earth to learn acceptance. Acceptance of everything that life can throw at us, the good and the bad. One still needs to work at right livelihood and fight for truth and justice, but there will always remain many things we simply have no control over, and we must learn to accept this. We have no other choice but acceptance if we want to progress. Acceptance leads to forgiveness which leads to progression, but it is never easy. How does one accept the continued support and popularity of war criminals masquerading as leaders or child molesters. To embrace acceptance is to become objective...about everything in this life and on this planet. By becoming objective we are able to disconnect from many of the attachments that bind us to servitude. In the ultimate scheme of things our lifelong tribulations are insignificant. We are here such a short time, and for most of us, our influence and ability to change anything for the better is limited or remote. The path of least resistance for most unwary souls is to be caught up in the obligations pertaining to cycles of birth, family, children, and the roles we are taught or forced to assume. In this mode the freedom of disconnection alludes us. But it is through the gradual disconnection to our worldly attachments that allows us to realize how trivial jealousy, deceit, anger and acquisition are in relation to the big picture of existence which extends well beyond our occluded perceptions. True freedom comes when one is free of these distracting imperfections and can find forgiveness towards those who have wittingly or not caused us harm or pain. The most difficult part is to forgive yourself, but this becomes available once you realize that most of the wrong decisions made, and hurts caused to others, were made from the immature vantage point you were in at the time. You didn’t have the tools or perspective you now have to realize that bad things happen to good people, that what you may have thought was important and worth the shortcuts, was in fact just a blind alley of glitter or delusion. If you can reach this level of awareness, to see that past decisions and actions were made by a less complete and understanding self, you will then be able to find compassion and eventually forgiveness of yourself for the harm you caused to yourself and to others as a result of your shortcomings. Nobody said it was easy. That is why, in my view, most people continue to go round and round in their mental prisons, some eventually spiraling downwards, most doomed to instant replay, and only a few who find the doorway leading to salvation. Is deliverance available to everyone? I don’t know, in fact, I doubt it. So many with besmirched and sullied egos will inevitably follow their ill conceived prejudices to the grave. Or perhaps we all have epiphanies at one time or another and it is up to us whether this brief unanticipated opening into other domains should be acknowledged and pursued, or simply dismissed as a momentary slip of the gears as in a dream. One thing that cannot be dismissed or ignored is the reality of life, death, corruption and beauty. Also intelligence, as it is apparent that this faculty, above all, has allowed our species the ability to comprehend these very notions, and through freewill, choose to manipulate them for better or worse. Most social manipulation via political, monarchal or religious constitution, served some evolutionary purpose but ultimately failed, because no man or demigod can impart spiritual epiphanies on another. Each individual soul must make a choice to see or not to see. On a collective scale, sooner or later any Emperor in any guise is observed to have no clothes, in fact never did, and becomes exposed. We find ourselves at this time, in this hyped electro-techno modern world, either intellectually adrift from the old paradigm of institutional oppression and its attendant restraints and excesses, living in our own delusions, or blindly and fanatically grasping its slimy tentacles as evidenced in the Muslim world. Neither is sustainable, and more likely than not, to clash inducing further misery. Attachment to any belief, even if it’s a non belief, is sowing the seeds of eventual self-destruction. Only through disconnection from externally imposed belief or self-seeking illusion, and by acceptance and the fostering of forgiveness, can we hope to find redemption. Furthermore, this enlightenment can only be realized on an individual basis. The only exception where group fervor is benign is in the unfettered praise of the gift of life through gratitude and thanksgiving, as evidenced by the enhanced aura of such gatherings. The best we can do towards the edification of grace in this world is to help others by encouraging them to follow their own insights, to impartially lend a genuinely helping hand in practical and useful areas, or to communicate love through art and beauty if we are so gifted. Sadly, scientific studies tell us that in the marketing world at least, only 2 percent of any given population can think for itself. The remaining overwhelming majority can only act when persuaded or cajoled by an external entity, which usually means political, religious or commercial coercion. And of course, foolishly allowing this majority to lend control of our lives to any of these interest groups has resulted in our collective consciousness being entangled in yet another fine mess. The best we can hope for now, as thinking individuals, is to be adept and agile enough to position ourselves as advantageously as we can, in circumstance and place, without sacrificing our hard gained spiritual insights to expediency especially at the expense of others. We must continue to disconnect while at the same time investing in pursuit of right livelihood, which usually means sharing the best of what is in us, not an easy feat. Writing this article is my humble attempt to add some clarity to the constant clamor of present day unconscionable self-aggrandizement, and the inevitable pervading disillusionment that will soon be swirling around us. The day will come when you can use something you read about here for beneficial impact. Then you'll be glad you took the time to learn more about actualizing acceptance.

         
    The capacity for happiness and respectability

     

    Humans are liable to experience a variety of afflictions, but they are commonly endowed with a capacity for happiness and respectability. There is no guarantee, however, that they will exercise this capacity at all times and to the maximum, whatever happens. Depression and shame remain a possibility, which increases with the severity of their afflictions and the difficulty of living up to the values that are necessary for their happiness and respectability: courage, efficiency, wisdom, and nobility. Living up to these values is never easy, even under extremely favorable circumstances. It requires an effort of will. To make or not to make this effort is the question, central to the human existence. This question is difficult in proportion to the weight of suffering that bears on humans, while their dignity hangs in the balance. The more burdensome this weight, the more tempting it is for them to take the easy way out. The fear of losing their dignity, however, is a strong deterrent. There is no greater loss than that of dignity, save the loss of life itself. Yet, the easy way out is a very powerful temptation in extremely unfavorable circumstances. Giving up instead of living up to the values mentioned above is then deplorable but understandable. Excruciating circumstances are extenuating ones. Amazingly enough, despite the burden of suffering that is oppressive to many, the incidence of moral collapse – in the form of errant ways like carelessness, vagrancy, and crime, often accompanied by alcohol or drug abuse to fuddle the conscience – is small in comparison with the incidence of worthy behavior. Furthermore, a moral collapse is remediable, except when the person concerned shows an inveterate or congenital weakness, or a mental illness that is beyond cure. On the whole, dignity can be lost and regained. As for those who resist quitting the struggle for worthiness, they rarely do their best. In many instances their spirit is tainted with some degree of indulgence in laziness, cowardliness, ineffectiveness, foolishness, selfishness, and meanness. It has the grayness of dawn. Even those who shine like a late morning sun have a shadow of imperfection at their heels. In short, humanity has yet to fulfill its potential. While there is much courage, efficiency, wisdom, and nobility in the world, much happiness and respectability, there could be a whole lot more. The key to this rise is an effort of will.

         
    The characteristics of soul

     

    At the dawn of spring, I am reminded by my children the joy of anticipating new life. They will usually see a flower or two that has made its way through the soil to a world beyond itself. What starts out as a seedling or bulb is transformed by nature's capacity to evolve. Inside each of us lies dormant an awareness, an identity, an ability to grow beyond what we appear to be. Every moment, we are being challenged by others and by circumstances to create a life that exceeds our present state of living. To move toward our highest good takes a willingness on our part to let go of what we know to what can be known in and through us. You and I are part of the Created Order we see around us, and we are participants in Creating Order out of what we have been given to care for. With this in mind, let us turn to ways our soul can be described in the characteristics that make up a flower: 1. The Ground. The ground nurtures, protects, and gives birth to a flower. Inside the womb of the ground, life is taking root long before we can see it. Because we cannot see a flower that has been planted in the earth, does not mean life is not being created. To be full participants in our world means to be fully connected and rooted in the world we have been given. 2. The Stem. The stem begins its growth in the earth below and into the sky above. This part of the flower is the connecting characteristic of the plant. Much like humanity, we are in this world without being fully of it. This creates a sacredness to our lives. It is our unique ability to live and grow in a way no one ever has, is, or ever will. 3. The Flower. In full bloom, a flower is the illumination of all the life that has preceded it. The radiance and color that pour out of it create life. Notice the next time you look at a flower how you are affected by it. You may notice your heart open and be filled with joy. Or, you may notice more energy and clarity in your vision for being blessed with great beauty. 4. The Spirit of a Flower. The spirit of a flower is the life force moving in and through it. It is the essence of a flower that identifies with your spirit. This part of you opens from the inside out and becomes ONE with the spirit of a flower. It is the same energy that runs in and through you. Like a flower, you begin to radiate your own soul from the essence of your own being. Each spring, take the time to notice the part of you opening up to new life. Just like flowers, we grow from the inside out. What illuminates in our life began inside us. We nurture these inner qualities of attention until they eventually take root and grow into our daily lives. The growth that follows is created from what we attend to or hold our attention on within us. Like the pedals of a flower opening to the world around it, we create a presence of awareness. In full bloom, the beauty or the lack thereof touches the lives of everyone around us. As our inner patterns of attention move through us, the world illuminates the seeds of awareness contained within us for so long. Here, a life is created. It is the life of our soul. Samuel Oliver, author of, "What the Dying Teach Us: Lessons on Living" For more on this author; soulandspirit. org

         
    The columnist in the mousetrap

     

    I am a voracious reader of the most convoluted and lexiphanic texts - yet, there is one author I prefer to most. She gives me the greatest pleasure and leaves me tranquil and craving for more when I am through devouring one of her countless tomes. A philosopher of the mundane, a scholar of death, an exquisite chronicler of decay and decadence - she is Dame Agatha Christie. I spend as much time wondering what so mesmerizes me in her pulp fiction as I do trying to decipher her deliciously contorted stratagems. First, there is the claustrophobia. Modernity revolves around the rapid depletion of our personal spaces - from pastures and manors to cubicles and studio apartments. Christie - like Edgar Ellen Poe before her - imbues even the most confined rooms with endless opportunities for vice and malice, where countless potential scenarios can and do unfold kaleidoscopically. A Universe of plots and countervailing subplots which permeate even the most cramped of her locations. It is nothing short of consummate magic. Then there is the realization of the ubiquity of our pathologies. In Christie's masterpieces, even the champions of good are paragons of mental illness. Hercules Poirot, the quintessential narcissist, self-grooming, haughty, and delusional. Miss Marple, a schizoid busybody, who savors neither human company, nor her inevitable encounters with an intruding world. Indeed, it is deformity that gifts these two with their eerily penetrating insights into the infirmities of others. Then, there is the death of innocence. Dame Agatha's detective novels are quaint, set in a Ruritanian Britain that is no more and likely had never existed. Technologies make their debut: the car, the telephone, the radio, electric light. The very nature of evil is transformed from the puerile directness of the highway robber and the passion killer - to the scheming, cunning, and disguised automatism of her villains. Crime in her books is calculated, the outcome of plotting and conspiring, a confluence of unbridled and corrupted appetites and a malignant mutation of individualism. Her opus is a portrait of our age as it emerged, all bloodied and repellent, from the womb the dying Victorian era. Christie's weapons of choice are simple - the surreptitious poison, a stealthy dagger, the cocked revolver, a hideous drowning. Some acquaintance with the sciences of Chemistry and Physics is indispensable, of course. Archeology comes third. But Christie's main concerns are human nature and morality. The riddles that she so fiendishly posits cannot be solved without taking both into account. As Miss Marple keeps insisting throughout her numerous adventures, people are the same everywhere, regardless of their social standing, wealth, or upbringing. The foibles, motives, and likely actions of protagonists - criminals as well as victims - are inferred by Marple from character studies of her village folks back home. Human nature is immutable and universal is Christie's message. Not so morality. Formal justice is a slippery concept, often opposed to the natural sort. Life is in shades of gray. Murders sometimes are justified, especially when they serve to rectify past wrongs or prevent a greater evil. Some victims had it coming. Crime is part of a cycle of karmic retribution. The detective's role is to restore order to a chaotic situation, to interpret reality for us (in an inevitable final chapter), and to administer true and impartial justice, not shackled by social or legalistic norms. Thus, nothing is as it seems. It is perhaps Christie's greatest allure. Beneath the polished, petite-bourgeois, rule-driven, surface, lurks another world, replete with demons and with angels, volcanic passions and stochastic drives, the mirrors and the mirrored, where no ratio rules and no laws obtain. Catapulted into this nightmarish, surrealistic landscape, like the survivors of a shipwreck, we wander, bedazzled, readers and detectives, heroes and villains, damsels and their lovers, doomed to await the denouement. When that moment comes, redeemed by reason, we emerge, reassured, into our reinstated, ordered, Before Christ(ie) existence. Her novels are the substance of our dreams, woven from the fabric of our fears, an open invitation to plunge into our psyches and courageously confront the abyss. Hence Christie's irresistibility - her utter acquaintance with our deepest quiddity. Who can forgo such narcissistic pleasure? Not your columnist, for sure!

         
    The essence of freedom

     

    Life is too hard and too risky in the eyes of many. By contrast, others are such proponents of a virile existence, demanding great courage and giving great pride, that they are ready to leave the coziness of their home to scale Mount Everest and breast the elements for the sheer joy of conquering the summit. Whatever the perspective, the nature of things remains unchanged. There are rules, necessities and duties, and limits, possibilities and impossibilities. Until doom, one can accept them and make the best of them, much to one’s pleasure and honor, or one can do the opposite and suffer the consequences. The choice between these two options is the very essence of freedom. Personally, I have no use for the second option: a self-inflicted misery that is without the slightest doubt a pitiable way of life. The first option, on the other hand, is a pleasurable and honorable alternative that I find compelling, though uphill. It is applicable to any situation encountered in the course of one’s living venture, provided one is not unfortunate to the point of being hopelessly unable to cope. The range of this applicability corresponds with the range of one’s adaptability. It is normally considerable, despite the tendency to cling to old gratifying habits even after they have become impracticable or unsuitable, owing to a change of situation. One can be weaned from such habits onto new gratifying habits, in the same way as a baby can be weaned onto solids. The more the change is significant and one is reluctant to adapt to it, the more the weaning process is difficult and long in producing the desired effect. Again, the only option worthy of one’s attention consists in taking things as they come and making the most of them, for one’s sake and that of others. The reverse is foolish and harmful, a deplorable waste of humanity. On the whole, the power to live in a well-adjusted and high-minded way and the freedom to choose this way in preference to the alternate, illegitimate, way are the foundations of the life one builds. The exercise of this power does not necessarily imply a principled resignation toward the status quo. One may be faced with a remediable evil that calls for a struggle to remedy it, effectively and rightly. In that case, living in a well-adjusted and high-minded way entails accepting the need for this struggle and the means of waging it, and sparing no effort to attain one’s end. Ills are a test of will, an opportunity to show dignity. They are also an opportunity to probe and appraise one’s inner resources. Over the years, I have improved my situation and especially my attitude, whose negativity was the most unfavorable and improvable aspect of my life. In so doing, I have discovered my true richness. Nature has endowed me with an adaptable capacity for happiness within the limits of my changeable reality. According to my observations, this capacity is not unusually great, compared with that of most people. I am even tempted to think it is somewhat lagging behind. Eleven years plus to adapt in triumph to my physical disability is no feat for the Guinness Book of World Records! During that time, the riddle of life had more or less baffled me. Yet, laboriously, with the help of many books and much thought, I had managed by degrees to clear it up, enough to find a meaning to my life. This riddle is comparable to a mire: The slower you go through it, the deeper you get into it. Perhaps thinkers are commonly untalented in the art of living and their saving grace is their dogged determination to redeem this lack of talent by dint of studying the human soul. Amusingly enough, these untalented individuals are often perceived as gifted, once they have seen the light and reflected it with the numerous mirrors of an elaborate analysis, after a tentative and protracted search in the dark. This sort of overcompensation is typical of people who experience difficulties in a certain area, but refuse to admit defeat. While some fare well in this area with a minimum of effort, they try hard to overcome these difficulties, with the result that they often fare better than the others. Their redeeming feature is their willpower in the face of their shortcoming, which they use as a reason to redouble their efforts, not as an excuse to throw in the towel. This is a recipe for a worthy success. They discipline and surpass themselves, and thus proudly turn things around.

         
    The madness of playing games

     

    If a lone, unkempt, person, standing on a soapbox were to say that he should become the Prime Minister, he would have been diagnosed by a passing psychiatrist as suffering from this or that mental disturbance. But were the same psychiatrist to frequent the same spot and see a crowd of millions saluting the same lonely, shabby figure - what would have his diagnosis been? Surely, different (perhaps of a more political hue). It seems that one thing setting social games apart from madness is quantitative: the amount of the participants involved. Madness is a one-person game, and even mass mental disturbances are limited in scope. Moreover, it has long been demonstrated (for instance, by Karen Horney) that the definition of certain mental disorders is highly dependent upon the context of the prevailing culture. Mental disturbances (including psychoses) are time-dependent and locus-dependent. Religious behaviour and romantic behaviour could be easily construed as psychopathologies when examined out of their social, cultural, historical and political contexts. Historical figures as diverse as Nietzsche (philosophy), Van Gogh (art), Hitler (politics) and Herzl (political visionary) made this smooth phase transition from the lunatic fringes to centre stage. They succeeded to attract, convince and influence a critical human mass, which provided for this transition. They appeared on history's stage (or were placed there posthumously) at the right time and in the right place. The biblical prophets and Jesus are similar examples though of a more severe disorder. Hitler and Herzl possibly suffered from personality disorders - the biblical prophets were, almost certainly, psychotic. We play games because they are reversible and their outcomes are reversible. No game-player expects his involvement, or his particular moves to make a lasting impression on history, fellow humans, a territory, or a business entity. This, indeed, is the major taxonomic difference: the same class of actions can be classified as "game" when it does not intend to exert a lasting (that is, irreversible) influence on the environment. When such intention is evident - the very same actions qualify as something completely different. Games, therefore, are only mildly associated with memory. They are intended to be forgotten, eroded by time and entropy, by quantum events in our brains and macro-events in physical reality. Games - as opposed to absolutely all other human activities - are entropic. Negentropy - the act of reducing entropy and increasing order - is present in a game, only to be reversed later. Nowhere is this more evident than in video games: destructive acts constitute the very foundation of these contraptions. When children start to play (and adults, for that matter - see Eric Berne's books on the subject) they commence by dissolution, by being destructively analytic. Playing games is an analytic activity. It is through games that we recognize our temporariness, the looming shadow of death, our forthcoming dissolution, evaporation, annihilation. These FACTS we repress in normal life - lest they overwhelm us. A frontal recognition of them would render us speechless, motionless, paralysed. We pretend that we are going to live forever, we use this ridiculous, counter-factual assumption as a working hypothesis. Playing games lets us confront all this by engaging in activities which, by their very definition, are temporary, have no past and no future, temporally detached and physically detached. This is as close to death as we get. Small wonder that rituals (a variant of games) typify religious activities. Religion is among the few human disciplines which tackle death head on, sometimes as a centrepiece (consider the symbolic sacrifice of Jesus). Rituals are also the hallmark of obsessive-compulsive disorders, which are the reaction to the repression of forbidden emotions (our reaction to the prevalence, pervasiveness and inevitability of death is almost identical). It is when we move from a conscious acknowledgement of the relative lack of lasting importance of games - to the pretension that they are important, that we make the transition from the personal to the social. The way from madness to social rituals traverses games. In this sense, the transition is from game to myth. A mythology is a closed system of thought, which defines the "permissible" questions, those that can be asked. Other questions are forbidden because they cannot be answered without resorting to another mythology altogether. Observation is an act, which is the anathema of the myth. The observer is presumed to be outside the observed system (a presumption which, in itself, is part of the myth of Science, at least until the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics was developed). A game looks very strange, unnecessary and ridiculous from the vantage-point of an outside observer. It has no justification, no future, it looks aimless (from the utilitarian point of view), it can be compared to alternative systems of thought and of social organization (the biggest threat to any mythology). When games are transformed to myths, the first act perpetrated by the group of transformers is to ban all observations by the (willing or unwilling) participants. Introspection replaces observation and becomes a mechanism of social coercion. The game, in its new guise, becomes a transcendental, postulated, axiomatic and doctrinaire entity. It spins off a caste of interpreters and mediators. It distinguishes participants (formerly, players) from outsiders or aliens (formerly observers or uninterested parties). And the game loses its power to confront us with death. As a myth it assumes the function of repression of this fact and of the fact that we are all prisoners. Earth is really a death ward, a cosmic death row: we are all trapped here and all of us are sentenced to die. Today's telecommunications, transportation, international computer networks and the unification of the cultural offering only serve to exacerbate and accentuate this claustrophobia. Granted, in a few millennia, with space travel and space habitation, the walls of our cells will have practically vanished (or become negligible) with the exception of the constraint of our (limited) longevity. Mortality is a blessing in disguise because it motivates humans to act in order "not to miss the train of life" and it maintains the sense of wonder and the (false) sense of unlimited possibilities. This conversion from madness to game to myth is subjected to meta-laws that are the guidelines of a super-game. All our games are derivatives of this super-game of survival. It is a game because its outcomes are not guaranteed, they are temporary and to a large extent not even known (many of our activities are directed at deciphering it). It is a myth because it effectively ignores temporal and spatial limitations. It is one-track minded: to foster an increase in the population as a hedge against contingencies, which are outside the myth. All the laws, which encourage optimization of resources, accommodation, an increase of order and negentropic results - belong, by definition to this meta-system. We can rigorously claim that there exist no laws, no human activities outside it. It is inconceivable that it should contain its own negation (Godel-like), therefore it must be internally and externally consistent. It is as inconceivable that it will be less than perfect - so it must be all-inclusive. Its comprehensiveness is not the formal logical one: it is not the system of all the conceivable sub-systems, theorems and propositions (because it is not self-contradictory or self-defeating). It is simply the list of possibilities and actualities open to humans, taking their limitations into consideration. This, precisely, is the power of money. It is - and always has been - a symbol whose abstract dimension far outweighed its tangible one. This bestowed upon money a preferred status: that of a measuring rod. The outcomes of games and myths alike needed to be monitored and measuredpetition was only a mechanism to secure the on-going participation of individuals in the game. Measurement was an altogether more important element: the very efficiency of the survival strategy was in question. How could humanity measure the relative performance (and contribution) of its members - and their overall efficiency (and prospects)? Money came handy. It is uniform, objective, reacts flexibly and immediately to changing circumstances, abstract, easily transformable into tangibles - in short, a perfect barometer of the chances of survival at any given gauging moment. It is through its role as a universal comparative scale - that it came to acquire the might that it possesses. Money, in other words, had the ultimate information content: the information concerning survival, the information needed for survival. Money measures performance (which allows for survival enhancing feedback). Money confers identity - an effective way to differentiate oneself in a world glutted with information, alienating and assimilating. Money cemented a social system of monovalent rating (a pecking order) - which, in turn, optimized decision making processes through the minimization of the amounts of information needed to affect them. The price of a share traded in the stock exchange, for instance, is assumed (by certain theoreticians) to incorporate (and reflect) all the information available regarding this share. Analogously, we can say that the amount of money that a person has contains sufficient information regarding his or her ability to survive and his or her contribution to the survivability of others. There must be other - possibly more important measures of that - but they are, most probably, lacking: not as uniform as money, not as universal, not as potent, etc. Money is said to buy us love (or to stand for it, psychologically) - and love is the prerequisite to survival. Very few of us would have survived without some kind of love or attention lavished on us. We are dependent creatures throughout our lives. Thus, in an unavoidable path, as humans move from game to myth and from myth to a derivative social organization - they move ever closer to money and to the information that it contains. Money contains information in different modalities. But it all boils down to the very ancient question of the survival of the fittest.

         
    The quest for truth and the meaning of life

     

    All too often, the quest for truth – which admittedly can only yield a qualified success in the best case scenario – is tainted with laxity and fancifulness, and hence is doomed to a pitiable result, not to say failure. Strangely enough, Blaise Pascal, a famous mathematician and philosopher, is also the eccentric author of a wager according to which the belief in God (or more precisely in heaven as a divine reward for virtue) is defensible to the extent that it is desirable, even though it cannot be proven. Actually, it is supposedly defensible because not only cannot it be proven, it also cannot be disproven. So desirableness is considered a valid foundation for belief, absent provableness and disprovableness! The door is open to every wild fancy, as long as we lack the empirical means of discrediting it. — Who have you invited to dinner, dear? — Some fabulous folks, my love. — Great! And who exactly are these folks? — I don’t know, but they’re fabulous. — Hum! How can you say they’re fabulous if you don’t know them? — Our neighbor across the road told me so. — Forgive me for asking, dear, but isn't that neighbor somewhat loopy? The story about angels watching over us sounds like wishful thinking to me. — This loopy neighbor, as you say, is more fun to listen to than your professor friends, with all due respect. — But don't you think… — Forget about thinking; I’m in the mood for a dinner with some fabulous folks. (If you feel this is a bit of sexist humor, note that I have made no mention of genders. The prejudices that offend us are sometimes very much our own. Remember also that Blaise Pascal was a man.) Personally, I am not willing to forget about thinking. However attractive a claim may be, this attractiveness must be accompanied by credibleness – which is a function of provableness and trustworthiness – before I let it shape my view and govern my life. When credibleness is wanting, I reserve judgment until further notice and meanwhile accept reality as it appears to be, judging from facts and solid arguments, even if this appearance is not consistent with a so-called ideal world. Call me austere (not ready to indulge in the luxury of extravagant beliefs), a man of reason who associates his intellectual austerity with intellectual integrity. Having said this, the reverse attitude is common, especially in matters that are beyond the realm of experience and hence can neither be proven nor disproven. For example, as regards their future – here below or in the hereafter – many do not reserve judgment or keep their minds open to all possibilities, ranging from disastrous to glorious. Instead they believe a heavenly tale because they fancy believing it and often also because a charismatic fortuneteller or spiritual leader, allegedly endowed with supernatural powers, is the originator of this tale. In its wildest and blindest form, optimism coupled with faith is illustrative of this attitude. Is it fanciful and naпve, or even foolish? I am tempted to say yes, and yet I will resist this temptation. There is no denying that the inveterate optimists-believers derive significant enjoyment from seeing their future through rose-colored spectacles. In view of this enjoyment, a sophisticated better like Blaise Pascal will argue that these spectacles are worth wearing, at the risk of laboring under a delusion. I myself lack the grace or the guile of innocent or calculating souls to whom ignorance is bliss. I am all the stauncher as a committed realist since life in itself – without fables and despite the adversities that are part and parcel of it – has meaning to my mind. Furthermore, I contend that religion (as a provider of a questionable but meaningful myth that makes a blissful afterlife the purpose of life) is often a poor substitute for wisdom. It is designed to offset the feeling of dissatisfaction that shadows the foolish if often profound concept of existential absurdity. The more deficient in wisdom, the more avid for religion (as defined above) one is. Now, what is the content of this wisdom, or what is the meaning of life within the limits of life? I have answered this question to the best of my ability in my book A REASON FOR LIVING; and my answer – like any answer to this question – is sure to be both at odds and in keeping with yours. But then, the antithesis of statements and disagreements can usefully stimulate the intellect to resolve the oppositions and achieve a new and superior synthesis. Be that as it may, this antithesis betrays the imperfection of individual wisdoms. At best, they are true up to a point, and we can persistently overpass this point while the complete truth indefinitely recedes like the horizon as we advance toward it. There are as many wisdoms as there are individuals; nevertheless their subjectiveness admits of much intersubjectiveness or deep intellectual kinship. Let us explore a number of cardinal facts and logical assumptions based on facts. 1) The observable universe is the obvious manifestation of a tendency toward order. Ordered things and beings (that show their attraction for a particular inert or living state), ordered behaviors and thoughts (that aim at specific achievements and feelings in preference to others), all this testifies to the tendency in question, which can be called the principle of universal order. The oneness of this principle is not merely nominal. It is fundamental, as demonstrated by the unitary if complex human nature, which comprises every physical and nonphysical aspect of the observable universe. 2) The observation of the universe relates to observers: humans, in the present instance. It is limited to the observable manifestations of this universe, or provides a basis for knowledge only within the limits of these manifestations. Everything beyond these limits – that is, everything that is not observably manifest – transcends our ability to know it. Nevertheless, as Kant pointed out, our inability to know it does not suppress our curiosity. Whereas some accept the limits of knowledge, many don’t. Their effort to penetrate the transcendental mystery ought to yield nothing except fancy. 3) There are, however, various degrees of fancy. At one extreme, fancy is grossly unfounded or rests on the highly suspicious claims of inspired visionaries regarding the great beyond. At the other extreme, fancy is very much tempered with reason. It is reminiscent of poetry, which assimilates certain things to kindred things through metaphors and similes. Take for example the predictions of learned and intuitive futurists about the distant future of humanity. They clearly overstep the limits of knowledge, and yet they are believable to the extent that they are conceivable, given the way this knowledge represents humans and the world they inhabit. Take also for example the conjectures of learned and intuitive philosophers about the intimate nature of nonhuman beings or things beyond their observable characteristics. Like the above-mentioned predictions, they clearly overstep the limits of knowledge, and yet they are believable to the extent that they are conceivable, given the way this knowledge represents humans and nonhuman beings or things. 4) With respect to our human nature, observations include introspections and reveal both the spiritual and material aspects of this nature. Since we measure the value of life in terms of pleasure (sensual, intellectual, or moral), it is safe to say that the spiritual aspect is preeminent. By underscoring the pleasure principle in moral matters, I imply that even the most edifying proof of nobility comprises an element of self-interest. Indeed, nobility is an ideal in the pursuit of which the noble soul takes pleasure – not the low sort of pleasure that one derives from such activities as feasting on a palatable dish or having intercourse with a seductive lover, but the most elevated sort. Therefore, self-interest and nobility are not mutually exclusive. When they come together, the former is exalted by the latter. 5) As we fathom our human nature, we ultimately acknowledge the principle of universal order as the essence of our being, which can normally acquire habits – of thought or behavior – that are conducive to well-being. And so gratitude adds to the acknowledgment, though misery may reverse this attitude when it plagues us despite ourselves. Why such misery? There is no answer to this question. We can ascertain the possibility of misery; we cannot explain it. Saying that the principle of universal order is such as to permit the occurrence of misery is like saying that misery is because it can be, which is no explanation. In short, misery is a mystery; and the best we can do is fight and overcome it, or resign ourselves to it when it is insuperable. Actually, we can do better. We can regard misery as a precious opportunity for courage and merit, whereas an absolutely blissful and effortless life would require no courage and hence afford no merit. But what about extreme cases where we are truly miserable and helpless? We can then take comfort from the knowledge that the principle of universal order is the essence of our being. Each of us is a single human incarnation of this principle among countless other like incarnations, which offer the prospect of a meritorious happiness through considerable effort.

         
    To think for oneself

     

    Let us examine the three purposes of writing: to inform, entertain, and enlighten. To me, the second one is bottom of the list, though it is instrumental in the achievement of the two others. Every great teacher knows this intimately and readily laces his teachings with relevant and interesting stories, and humor. The first purpose, to inform, comes second in my mind, whereas the last, to enlighten, comes first. To explain my attitude, I think it appropriate to draw your attention to my book A REASON FOR LIVING, where both of these purposes are pursued. Part of my book relays factual or theoretical information about things like human physiology, nutrition, and universal evolution. This information relates to the current perception of reality in scientific circles. I am just a vehicle for it. Now, for two reasons, my role as a writer who informs his readers about scientific facts and theories comes second in my mind to my role as a philosopher who strives to enlighten his readers. My main reason is that I regard wisdom as paramount, whereas the knowledge of the material world (i. e., the constituents, structure, and workings thereof) is not equally important, however useful it is on a practical level. Conscience comes before science, which in itself is incapable of providing humans with a sense of what is good, right, or sacred – in a word, with moral principles. An example of science without conscience is the destruction of nature and the violation of human rights by rogue companies who are efficient in their use, or rather abuse, of their environment and their workers to satisfy their greed. My other reason is that my role as a writer who informs his readers about scientific facts and theories is indeed that of a mere vehicle. It is very much secondary to the role of researcher, which drives the scientific enterprise thanks to advanced instrumentation plus skillful, scholarly, and clever observations and rationalizations. By contrast, my role as a philosopher who strives to enlighten his readers is in the driver's seat, so to speak. Not only is it concerned with everything that makes life worth living and gives humans a sense of purpose, but also it does more than mirror the light of wisdom; it generates it by force of thinking on the basis of experience and study. Truth to tell, my readers can likewise think for themselves. They themselves can be philosophers and create their own wisdom while discovering and evaluating mine. Therefore, the light shining through in my book is there to help my readers see a range of weighty matters on which they can meditate to form their own thoughtful opinions about them. And since they can do so, I venture to argue that they should.

         
    Type of tattoo

     

    Tattoos are at their heart a sign of individuality, and as more and more human beings seek a path to locate themselves apart from the crowd, the popularity of tattoos as a form of self expression is only likely to grow. In act, the strict code of practices takes every safety measure so the risk of transmitting HIV or other diseases is virtually nonexistent. however before spread outside, bids from approximately the society drove the reward over the century mark. If you bear these things in head and keep you eyes peeled, asking any and all questions that come to head, you should be fully capable of deciding whether or not your decision to get tattooed will be a acceptable one. One beneficial body about henna tattooing, unlike the tattoos the western culture is used to, the henna tattoo is not permanent, for it fades away in age or it comes outside after a hardly any washings. This path, others that are researching where to get a tattoo, will have that much more helpful info to ease them outside! A great place to do this is Body Mod. Others events are far more profound, like the large number of policemen and fire fighters who tattooed the names of fallen colleagues on their arms for all to see. If you contemplate on the internet there is a controversy about getting Kanji and Japanese Tattoos also. They will necessitate to contemplate into the dynamics of their relationships with customers and the nature of their interaction. Getting a tattoo involves piercing the skin, and so there is going to be some pain involved, no complication how small the tattoo and no complication where it is on your body. The more tattoos you have, the more ink spots you will end up with all over your body as age goes by. This is easy! I know, you are thinking that you can’t much scan Japanese, so how on earth will you be able to recognize these different styles? Well, try this: A temporary tattoo can latest for anywhere from a couple of days to various months and may be an alternative for you who are not certain that a permanent tattoo is the fair body for you. Granted it is a small snaggy and faded at once however he still has one on his forearm nonetheless. A legitimate, well-trained tattooist follows strict health guidelines and is willing to answer any of your questions about tattooing procedures and concerns. However many tattoo artists are spotting the trend and jumping on it already. The best defense in the battle of the fading tattoo is to stay outside of the sun, cover the tattoo with clothing and wear a really acceptable sunscreen. Hepatitis, a disease that attacks the liver, is of a parcel more concern, being a much heartier pathogen that requires a much smaller amount of body fluid transfer, though it should be mentioned that , according to the Centers for Disease Control, there has NEVER been a documented action of Hepatitis OR AIDS caused by a tattoo. Therefore, soon after their tour of the Honda plant, the Harley Davidson Motor Society decided to lay into practice this originally rejected approach. Try to utilize some kind unscented, undedicated body lotion, as some scents may irritate the still-tender skin of your tattoo. Some human beings decorate a small area of skin, while in others it may be difficult to find a square inch of un-tattooed flesh. Studies showed that about 75 % of Harley customers made repeat purchases, and executives quickly recognized a pattern that refocused the convention’s overall strategy. anyway, after getting a tattoo done you should know some aftercare tips that cannot be ignored. Fortunately there are other avenues you can capture instead of getting a permanent tattoo lay on. They are also a great path to express your individuality and unique sense of style.

         
    Violence

     

    Flashes of memory stream into my consciousness. They take me back thirty years plus. I was a boy then, a newcomer to a poor and tough neighborhood. My parents, of moderate means and daring to a fault, had decided to move there after my father had accepted an editing job in the federal government. They had taken a lease on a low-rent brick house, which was also run-down, covered in filth, and littered with trash. I do not mince my words: Previous tenants had been pigs that got along with bugs and rats. “The house has potential,” my mother had said to reassure me, seeing that I was aghast at its sordid aspects. Its one redeeming feature, besides its solid construction, was a large woody front yard, neglected, allowed to become a large dumping ground, as weedy as it was woody, but potentially attractive and pleasant, to be sure. My mother was a hard worker with a great deal of stamina, creativity, and tastefulness. She mastered the art of doing wonders with little money. After three months of intense labor – which for the first week involved a carpenter and two garbage collectors plus two dump trucks – the house was transfigured, quite presentable, even nice, much to my amazement. It now contrasted sharply, cuttingly, with the slums at the rear of the house and on the left of it. On the right was a school and at the front, across the street, was a nunnery on a large piece of land. My parents had conveniently focused their attention on these establishments, as if the good education and good disposition of their teachers and sisters could shield us from the evils of the slums. Needless to say, they did not. Violence was rampant in this neck of the woods and I was elected punchbag with only one dissenting vote: mine! At the root of this violence was malevolence, which grows from resentment, after one has been subjected to mistreatment. As much as my family projected an image of distinction, the neighborhood boys were malevolent and violent toward me. To them this image of distinction was an act of humiliation; their feelings were hurt and it was natural for them to hurt me. Of course it is a lot worthier to elevate oneself than to abase someone else. It is also a lot harder, and nature spontaneously levels everything the easy way. Moral excellence relates to culture, is an acquired trait, by virtue of which a human is courageous and just, worthy of praise. One winter evening, I was crossing the field next to the rink where I had played hockey, when a gang of hoodlums encircled me like a pack of wolves. There were six of them, one of whom – a weakling who always relied on others to feel powerful – lived three doors down, east of my house, across the back street. The leader stepped forward and turned around with a snicker. “Hey shithead, come and kiss my ass.” I was tempted to kick it, not kiss it. “No thanks. Please let me go; I don’t care for trouble.” As I was finishing my sentence, one of the boys lunged toward me from behind and shoved me forward. I dropped my hockey equipment and braced myself to fight and suffer. I was big for my age, but big is small when outnumbered by six to one. Again the leader took the initiative; the fight was on. With several thrusts, punches, and kicks, I repelled my assailants momentarily, until I was knocked and wrestled to the ground. Fists and feet hit me everywhere, nonstop, from all directions. Suddenly I heard a menacing shout and everyone slipped in a last blow before fleeing. A brave and kind man had caught sight of their misdeed and chosen to intervene, armed with a hockey stick. I was hurt but saved. A few days later, still aching all over, I saw the weakling, alone by his house – his hovel to be exact, which was covered with old imitation brick, torn in places, and infested with cockroaches, rats, and woodworms. His face was bruised and wet from weeping, as he screamed with rage, “Fucking bastard, fucking bitch, fucking life, fuck, fuck, fuck!” My anger was now tempered with compassion. I unclenched my fists, prompted by a desire to spare him. I could not demean myself to add pain to his pain, already so excessive that it overflowed in streams of tears and curses. His father was an illiterate and idle drunkard who collected welfare and spent considerable time and money at the tavern. At home, slouching in an armchair, he forever watched TV and drank beer or liquor. When grossly intoxicated, he sometimes vomited before reaching the bathroom and, without cleaning up his mess, fell unconscious on his bed, the armchair, the floor, or wherever. He was also vulgar and brutal. He often battered his son and his wife, and heaped insults on them. His wife was an abusive and sluggish woman who had grown obese from attempting to fill her inner void with chips, cookies, and pop. Day after day she wore the same tattered nightgown and constantly found reasons for bawling out her son and swiping him. She drove him insane, then used this insanity as another reason for persecuting him. These two loathsome and pitiful parents rendered his life at home unbearable. He usually roamed the streets with fellow-sufferers from similar – miserable and violent – backgrounds. Together they ganged up and took their resentment out on other kids such as me. My aggressors, first, were victims. My insight into the origin of violence came to me at that time and has never left me. I saw then and still see a victim in every aggressor. Some say there is such a thing as gratuitous violence, committed by individuals whose youth was favorable to all appearances. Violence for the sake of violence, an exercise in brutality at the expense of others, without provocation, past or present? I beg to differ. Appearances are not a valid means of assessing someone’s youth, whose favorableness or unfavorableness is a subjective, not objective, matter. Circumstances have no value in themselves, but in relation to people who consider them favorably or not. Attitude is here the only relevant concept. Also, brutality cannot be exercised at the expense of others unless these others are viewed heartlessly as expendable. This heartlessness is greatly suspicious, unlikely to belong to someone who regards humans with favor, thanks to a feeling of solidarity, of mutual benefit. In my opinion, aggressiveness is triggered by hostility, without which it is dormant: a mere potentiality incapable of harm. It may include an abnormal sensitivity or intellect that intensifies or alters someone’s perception of the environment. The fact remains hostility, as perceived by someone who feels painfully antagonized and proportionally victimized, is always a factor. Therefore, aggression cannot be dissociated from victimization, not only that of the victims but also that of the aggressors. These aggressors are victims of their sick minds or of the ill treatment they have endured. They deserve compassion, besides indignation. They are liable to a punishment that ought to be effective and exemplary, not vengeful. Vengeance and violence are one and the same thing. Both are resentful and harmful. Both are reprehensible. The harm inflicted does not remedy the harm suffered; it simply compounds one harm with another, and invites yet another harm. It lengthens the chain of savagery from x (a frightening number of savage links) to x+1, potentially +2, +3, +4, etc., instead of breaking it and helping to free humanity from it. There is no worse slavery than savagery. The best course is to make every effort to get over a wrong and forgive it, while bringing the wrongdoer to justice. In sum, justice should not serve to avenge people. It should serve to prevent crime and protect the public, by intimidating or incarcerating those who are a menace to others except under threat or behind bars. It should never push the severity of this mandate to the point of cruelty, in which case it would be a perversion of justice, an ominous sign of barbarity. On the contrary, it should be a jewel in the crown of civilization and foreshadow the coming of a better humanity, more consistent with its true nature and purpose – in a word, more humane. The difference between severity and cruelty is radical yet subtle; it must be emphasized. Cruel law enforcers delight in the punishments they inflict and readily overstep the mark. They are vicious and blameworthy, like the criminals they punish. Law enforcers who are severe, but not cruel, administer punishments reluctantly or regard them as a necessary evil they would gladly forgo if they could. They deplore the criminal element in society and strive to neutralize it through intimidation, or incarceration as a last resort, and preferably through reformation, a fundamental change of the criminal mind for the better. Their ideal, as unattainable as it is elevated, is the supremacy of justice without the institution of justice: no threats, no prisons, only people who deeply understand and freely exercise the principle of justice. Impossible as this supremacy is, it is usefully pursued. The institution of justice can become less and less necessary for the manifestation of justice, which can become more and more customary. This progress depends on the wisdom and willpower of its proponents who make it their duty to educate, assist, and encourage potential followers. It also presupposes that these potential followers take an active part in this endeavor. They cannot be actual followers unless they welcome this education, assistance, and encouragement, and display intelligence and determination of their own. How much can we collectively be civilized – that is, mutually respectful and helpful, in the knowledge that this high goal can unite our wills toward a common good of colossal proportions? In other words, what is the ceiling of our possible civilization, which implies responsibility and solidarity, an elevation of life to love? Nobody knows the limit, so none should be set but the sky! Generally, in a loving environment, human beings show humanity as naturally as fruit trees give fruit in the summer. Love is to these beings as sunshine is to these trees. It helps them grow into what they are meant to grow into (unless their nature is flawed from the start, which is an exception to the rule): beautiful and bountiful creations, as opposed to ugly and puny aberrations. Yet, beware of love; it can be possessive and manipulative, selfish and devilish! Yes, some angels have horns, unnoticeable at first sight under their pretty hair; their paradise is hell. True love is in the image of God (by God I simply mean the fundamental cause of everything. It brings us into existence and, within the limits of its might, supports us in our quest for fulfillment). It is a desire to nurture, not to capture. Under its divine rule, one always has the other’s best interests at heart. No one, however, should be supportive to the point of being an accomplice in someone’s oppressive or destructive acts of egocentricity, folly, or injustice. These evils should not be loved and served; they should be hated and combated. Hate is legitimate toward them, whereas the people who embody them are worthy of love because they exceed them by their ability to do good. They are indeed greater than the sum of their evil ways; they include the power to improve them. Therefore hate is directed at these ways, and love at this power: It promotes the people’s ability to do good. What if a person who is oppressively or destructively egocentric, foolish, or unjust never responds to this love? In that case it is lost and the life of this person shamefully amounts to a waste of soul. By a stroke of luck, my parents were bright and warm people who helped me blossom into a joyful and respectful individual. Their love was true and so was the love of many others who took part in my life. I was also lucky enough to be a good seed. I was a strong and healthy boy, extremely lively and moderately clever, cheery and gentle-natured, though impatient and self-assertive. In my eyes, until my family moved to the poor and tough neighborhood, civility was the norm among the members of society; it made sense. Barbarity, on the other hand, was a stupefying rarity. The abused weakling gave me an understanding of barbarity – which was common in this neighborhood – and replaced my stupefaction with commiseration.

         
     
         
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