Saying It Well...

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"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."— Mark Twain

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Adriana Lima in Elle Magazine

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Constructing a Life Philosophy Paper

Why is philosophy important? Everything is a reflection of our philosophy-even the time we got up today (and our attitude upon waking). Are we “morning people” or “night people”? This is just one example of many incidents that give our views on life, whether we will or nil. It is then important to examine what those views are, to ask ourselves if they will lead to happiness and indeed, what that happiness we may be vaguely searching for is. In chapter one of Constructing a Life Philosophy, several individuals try to do just that.

We begin with M. Scott Peck. Peck sees life as a journey with various destinations or goals along the way. Each of us has a map-a complex viewpoint or philosophy-that tell us how to get where we’re going. Problems arise when the map has errors, either in where we are going or in the legend. A false map will not lead us where we want to go.

As an example, Peck tells us of “brilliant but unsuccessful” computer technician whose wife has left him and the children have gone with her. At first, the man did not appear to be very distressed about his marriage, only his children. Neither did the man seem distressed over his lack of career and financial success. As Peck talked to the man he discovered that his childhood had not been the best. While the man’s parents were not aggressive towards him, they were often neglectful. The man defended his parents, but found it hard to trust people; particularly authority figures that he believed did not have his best interests at heart. However he was very affectionate with his children, a relationship where he was the authority and therefore had the “upper hand” as it were. Peck believed that every time the man attempted to reach the destinations of familial or financial success the map would warn him not to trust the other crucial parties such as a spouse or supervisor. The man must change his map to read not to trust his parents and other people that really had let him down. Peck admits that while facing the truth may be very painful, it is necessary to reach our goals in life.

Plato also discusses the painful necessity of facing the truth. Plato, like Peck, uses a symbolic allegory to describe our search for truth and happiness. Plato describes the typical individual as living in a cave. While in the cave the individual must face the back wall on which (s)he sees shadows of everyday things like plants, animals, vehicles and such. As this is all the individual ever sees, this is his whole idea of reality. Plato then supposes he releases the individual from the chains and shows him what has been creating the shadows-small toys and models. The individual cannot believe it and it is likely that the toys will seem less real to him than the shadows on the cave wall. The individual will be in denial, much like the man defending his negligent parents in the first viewpoint. Once the individual is used to the models Plato speculates on leading him out of the cave to face the real world. The individual must adjust to the light, the wind, an entirely new and different view of reality. Like the man in the first viewpoint, it may be easy for us to slip back into old beliefs, to have a desire to run back to the cave. However, once the individual sees real plants and animals he gradually comes to appreciate them and feel how truly unrealistic the shadows were, how little his reality matched the truth. Yet were he to tell other individuals in the cave they would likely disbelieve him and even think he was trying to do them a disservice.

Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox also emphasize the importance of the story. They claim it is the stories we and society tell that shape our philosophy. These stories can be beneficial or detrimental. For example, an individual influenced by Watergate may develop a healthy skepticism of government or they become paranoid of all authority. The above stories, if incorporated into one's world view may encourage one to face hard truths, or they may influence one to create drama in a twisted attempt to discover further knowledge. The key, say Keen and Valley-Fox, is to find a story that helps an individual to achieve one’s goals. All philosophy tells a story, and all stories create a philosophy.

So now that we know that it is important to search for happiness and meaning and that truth and our stories are key to understanding, the next questions are: what is happiness? What gives life meaning? How do we go about finding it? The following viewpoints all agree it must be our decision to look for meaning and to cultivate it in our lives. However, they differ on where we should start looking.

Richard Robinson claims life has no intrinsic meaning and that individuals are entirely responsible for creating their own paths. This is nobler than many philosophies or religions he claims because it does not relieve any responsibility from us or give any blueprint for how we should act. He does advocate the ideas of brotherly love and courage as these are necessary to survival.

Charles Colson disagrees with Robinson. According to Colson, the only thing that can bring us true happiness and meaning is finding peace with Deity, particularly the Christian idea thereof. Colson tells a story that is full of wrong turns and scandal. On the suggestion of a friend, Colson prays and begins to study Christianity. Colson feels what could be called spiritual manifestation that Christ is the Savior. With the extreme differences between Robinson and Colson’s respective ideas, they both agree that the decision to find meaning is ours.

Riane Eisler advocates honor of the female Deity, as represented by and manifested in nature. If religion and society were not male dominated, Eisler insists, we would be less exploitive of natural resources and of other people. Eisler strongly emphasizes the ideal is not a female dominated society either, but rather one that is based on partnership. Like Robinson and Colson, Eisler believes we should seek each other out in order to better each others lives. Partnership, or an equal society, will encourage balance among the world which will leave us with socially and economically rich societies.

Like Colson and Eisler, Emil Brunner also encourages a relationship with Deity. He holds the belief that evidence of God’s power and love is everywhere, which mimics Eisler’s divine view of the earth. According to Brunner, the very idea that we were created by God implies a purpose. Like Robinson, Brunner claims it is our responsibility to find our individual life plan, which Brunner believes comes from God. It is likely that the results of an individual living by Brunner’s ideas and one living by Robinson’s would lead very similar lifestyles. This is very interesting considering their original idea of what gives life meaning are essentially polar opposites.

Brooke Medicine Eagle’s view is reminiscent of Eisler’s, although Medicine Eagle perhaps focuses more on the Human-Earth relationship than the Society-Earth relationship. Medicine Eagle believes that as all things are creations of Deity, all living things are children and manifestations of that Deity. Therefore all things, including ourselves, deserve respect and honor.

Despite the many differences in the various viewpoints we can see a couple themes. All seem to agree that we must constantly be striving for truth. All, whether explicitly or implicitly, accept the importance of stories and their influence. All believe that to some extent we are responsible for our own happiness-which does not have to be frightening as Robinson reminds us. All agree we must respect ourselves and other people. A trusting relationship with a higher power seems to be important, even if that higher power is our own human potential. Perhaps the most important thing we can glean from these writers is that, while there may be vast differences in belief and culture, we all to some degree want the same thing. Diversity and unity is possible, and as long as one lives with honor we can respect them.


mudderbear said...

WOW, this is a lot to assimilate at one time, unless you are the student, I suppose. Sometimes I think it's best to just go along and just behave yourself. But I guess all you philosophers would have to spend years defining what 'behave' means. Anyway, good paper....

Jak said...

This is very interesting. I like the idea of a map needing true legends etc. It makes me wonder just what has defined my legends and what I'm working with. It's a good definition and I like that it puts a picture on it- something I feel I can change or be definitive with.
The allegory of the cave has always interested me too. It used to be exciting to me- it meant there was so much out there to learn and experience. Reading it here, for some reason I felt scared. I don't want to be like the guy defending shadows on the wall (I think that's one of the reasons I've posted so much about the whole polygamy stuff). It makes me wonder just how we know what is really real. Yikes!
Last night the yogi said that a great yogi was asked what the difference between psychology and yoga was. He said psychology deals with pain, yoga deals in bliss. As I sat there stretching and feeling awkward, I also did feel bliss. Very connected with my mind and body and like I could just let go of the past. Somehow that seemed to fit in with your discussion :)

Anonymous said...

Really fascinating. Thanks for the post!