(About 7 minutes to read)
Terri, who occasionally comments on this blog, pointed out the other day in a discussion about compassion that some feelings or emotions are as strikingly beautiful as anything physical. Of course, that is true not only of compassion, but also of love. And to me, one of the most beautiful things about love is how it so often creates in us both a desire to improve the lives of our beloved, and a sensitivity to ways that might genuinely improve their lives.
When I composed the following poem, I had in mind more the desire to improve, than the sensitivity to know what would improve. Still, I think the poem works in its own way.
Love is an ancient thing
That travels back before gravity was born
And forward beyond the last gods.
I have wanted to sip your breast
In between the lights of night and day
And tell you how I’ve taken sides
Against a mammoth
To bring you his tusks
So that you, my woman, my love,
Will be happy now
For all the worlds
You have given to me.
Should love — any kind of love — really be thought of as a single emotion? Is romantic love just one emotion? Erotic love? Mature or deeply attached love?
Perhaps erotic love is but a single emotion, lust, but how can you make the same case for the others? Romantic, mature, and other kinds of love do seem to have many characteristics, rather than just one. For instance, in addition to making us desire to improve someone’s life, don’t both romantic and mature love also make us feel greater tolerance for the differences that might exist between us and our beloved?
It’s a tricky question, I think, because perhaps they only make us overlook the differences, rather than actually make us willing to tolerate the differences. Or are those the same thing?
Most people, I believe, stubbornly accept reality just as conscientiously as they accept their religion. That is, only when it is convenient to do so, but then conscientiously. Realism is not our main strength as a species.
Have you noticed that humans so seldom are what they want to be? Yet so much of our happiness, I think, comes from accepting ourselves as we are.
All that striving to be what we are not seems to produce more unhappiness than anything else, because — while we can change ourselves around the edges — we have much greater difficulty changing our core nature.
But then, what is our core nature?
I don’t think I have the complete answer to that question, but surely part of the answer is that our core nature includes our talents. By “talents” I do not mean our skills, but rather our raw predispositions to such things as athletics, mathematics, music, drawing, writing, dance, mechanics, etc.
A good way to tell if you have a talent for something is to ask yourself two questions. First, “Do I like doing this?” We usually like doing what we have a talent for doing. Second, “Does it come comparatively easy to me?” I think the key word here is “comparatively”. If you don’t have a talent for, say, mathematics, but do have a talent for music, you will usually find that music comes a whole lot easier to you than math. Answer those questions honestly, without wishful thinking, and you will most likely gain a pretty good idea of where your talents lie. At least that’s been my experience.
In my view, pursuing one’s talents in life by working to turn them into actual skills is — all else being equal — not only conducive to happiness, but perhaps more important, conducive to a sense of meaning.
Now, all of this might seem commonsense, and so obvious it’s hardly worth mentioning, but I have met far too many people who were more or less clueless about their talents for myself think “it’s just commonsense to know your talents”.
Why have so many people been ignorant of their own talents, though?
I think the single most important reason is that, in this matter, most of us listen way too much to the advice of others. They usually mean well, but they don’t know you nearly as well as you yourself could — if you took a dispassionate look at yourself — know you. Most often, other people of good will want what’s best for you, but their idea of what’s best for you is very heavily colored by what they know about what’s best for them.
The worst evil that you can do, psychologically, is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face. — Ayn Rand
The main reason I think of Rand in something less than an entirely negative light is because several of my female friends have told me over the years that Rand helped them psychologically liberate themselves from the oppressive expectations and indoctrinations of the religious cults they grew up in.
While I think there are better — much better — authors than Rand for helping with that, I’m glad she did indeed help my friends realize just how greatly they had been lied to about their worth and potential as women.
Having said that, my overall impression of her is that she is squarely in the buffoon class of philosophers and social critics. Indeed, I even think it was pretentious of her to have called herself a “philosopher” at all. She did very little to push the envelope of rational thought, such as the great philosophers have done. But that’s a minor peeve of mine. A greater reason for calling her a buffoon is that she could not laugh at herself. Have you ever known a buffoon who genuinely could?
I am of the view that humor, in general, evolved as an adaptive mechanism. To put it somewhat superficially here, it seems to me that humor greatly facilitates logical reasoning and attention to empirical evidence. More specifically, it can play a key role in helping us to overcome our innate cognitive biases, egotistical attachments to our beliefs, and general intellectual inertia, in order to change our minds when we are wrong about something. And changing our minds when we are wrong about something can have obvious benefits to our survival, albeit it is quite often extraordinarily difficult for us to do — and nearly impossible for those who lack any appreciable sense of humor at all.
In that regard, self-deprecatory humor is no different than humor in general. So far as I can recall, I’ve not yet in my sixty years met a man or woman who “took themselves too seriously” and who greatly understood themselves.
There used to be a saying among fire fighters that, for all I know, might still be current. “Never fight fire from ego”. Both myself and the men I worked with in the few years that I fought fires profoundly distrusted anyone who “fought fire from ego”. We knew they could too easily get themselves killed — or far worse, someone else killed.
Today, forty or so years later, I still haven’t found anyone — whose ego has such a firm grip on them that they can’t laugh at themselves — that I would trust at my side in even a moderately demanding situation, let alone where my life might be on the line. Yes, I know, I’m only thinking of myself here, but so be it.
Of course, you might want to make up your own mind about all that, rather than simply swallow what I say. I have, after all, been certified as crazy by a group of scientists. Personally, I don’t think the space alien scientists who have contacted me through my microwave know what they’re talking about, but it might still be reasonable of you to take my words — or anyone’s words, for that matter — with a bit of reflective thought, rather than reflexively.