Suicidal Ideations and The Meaning of Life

“That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions, and, were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions.”

George Santayana (1863-1952)

“Is life worth living? This is a question for an embryo not for a man.”

Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

Flipping through a book of quotes, I came upon the two above. I looked at them for a long while with that feeling that these words were stirring something in my head and my chest, but unable to discern what they were exactly. Have you ever given yourself cause to pause for a mere feeling? Where you recognize that this is something worth looking at, worth turning over for a few more cycles in your mind before moving on to the next thing in your mundane little life. You could take the blue pill: close the book, turn away, and let the feeling dissolve back into the cushy ether of your contented self.

Or you could swallow the red pill and stay, letting the wheels cough and wheeze back to life – a cerebral resurrection. I read them over and over again, each reading slower and more deliberate than the last. It is no surprise that I have wondered about killing myself – you must be honest; all of you have. It seems like something that is unavoidable to think about, even if you have no conscious intention of actually ending your own life. We are animals with vast curiosity. What does it feel like to die? Will people miss me? Who? What will the eulogy sound like? How will the obituary read? How should I go? What if I write a memoir in the place of a tacky suicide note? A suicide memoir. Death sells.

Ironically, thinking about the meaning of life puts one in a rather morbid mood. Even the religious types. All they can talk about is how they’re going to die, where they’re going to go when they die, what good they’re going to do before they die. Old and new testament. Death, death, death.

Thinking about life is just as pointless as life itself. And that is a-okay.

We need to stop worrying about what meaning this great and mystical Life has because there is no inherent meaning. You survived conception, wombhood, infancy, childhood… All you have to do is live. Make up your own goddamn meaning. It doesn’t have to be what I think is the meaning or what your neighbor thinks is the meaning or what your pastor thinks is the meaning. No one can explicitly tell you what the meaning of life is, only what the meaning of their own life is. And even that is perhaps impossible. Perhaps only our subconscious knows what the meaning or purpose of our own life is and all we have to do is listen.

What do you feel is your meaning of life? Is it possible to ever know what it is? Share how glamorous or inglorious your death would be in the comments below.

(Huh. That really was rather morbid. It’s just been one of those days…)

The Self-Help Business Model (is No Help At All)

“I learned that everyone makes mistakes, and has weaknesses and that one of the most important things that differentiates people is their approach to handling them. I learned that there is an incredible beauty to mistakes, because embedded in each mistake is a puzzle, a gem that I could get if I solved it, i.e., a principle that I could use to reduce my mistakes in the future. I learned that each mistake was probably a reflection of something that I was (or others were) doing wrong, so I could figure out what that was, I could learn how to be more effective. I learned that wrestling with my problems, mistakes, and weaknesses was the training that strengthened me. Also, I learned that it was the pain of this wrestling that made me and those around me appreciate our successes.”

Ray Dalio (1949 – )

The above quote is from Dalio’s “Principles,” a manifesto/sociological guide into power dynamics and systems thinking. If you’re looking for deep psychological and societal insight, don’t go to the self-help section. Go to the business section. Great business books offer an economic view of the world, exposing the bare bones of the system we’re all encapsulated in. The common self-help drivel is bogged down by an Inception-level of frameworks, dully scraping the surface of how social interactions work, but not nearly hitting the core of it.

Business is driven by profit. This material drive is what allows the businessman to see the network from an outside perspective. The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge is a fantastic read for those who have never even heard of systems thinking. Using business models, Senge shows how everything is not a linear series of cause and effect – it is an entire web of cause and effect. Events do not just occur without a catalyst. And they cannot occur without affecting something else in the web.

He points out the main reason we find it difficult to see the system is due to blame-shiftingPost hoc ergo propter hoc. After the fact, therefore because of the fact. The government shut down. The President is the head of the government. Go to Hell, Obama. We think everything has a simple one-step cause. No! The government is more than just the President… (and I will not go down that spiral that is politics at the moment).

Another book you’ll often find in the business section is The 48 Laws of Poweran “instructive book” summarizing the “philosophies of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and Carl Von Clausewitz with the historical legacies of statesmen, warriors, seducers, and con men throughout the ages.” It’s used in business management and as a practical guide to gaining the upper hand in day to day life. It’s ruthless and amoral – again, the detached, third-person perspective that shows us how power and social interactions really work.

The 48 Laws of Power, Principles, The Fifth Discipline

All in all, stay away from self-help. And check out those books. My summaries hardly do the books justice. Guaranteed to be fascinating to anyone interested in how power, society, and sociological forces work.

 

Lesson Quickie: The Platinum Rule

“Be fair with others, but keep after them until they’re fair with you.”

Alan Alda (1936- )

Have you heard of The Golden Rule? Of course you have. You’re a socially aware, up-to-date human being, who loves Norman Rockwell. If however, you are none of those, let me get you up to speed:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Even if you haven’t heard of this as “The Golden Rule,” you’ve likely heard variations of it. Treat people how you want to be treated. Be nice. In essence, don’t be an asshole.

However, have you heard of The Platinum Rule?

“Treat others in the way they like to be treated.”

In essence, Don’t Be An Asshole version 2.0.

The Platinum Rule is really the maxim that should be taught to us as kids. What if Little Jimmy actually likes being pushed around and pissed on on daily basis? Is it okay for him to run around enacting this golden ritual on other kids? Everyone has their own special brand of weirdness and while we often find others with compatible weirdness, no two weirdnesses are exactly alike. I mean, how many times have two people stripped and jumped into bed only to find out that one’s only into some Fifty Shades shit and the other’s only into furry shit?

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains dogs and cats excite me.

But I’m digressing.

Quickie Wrap-up:

Compromise. Sympathize. Empathize. Wear the leather bustier one night and the fox costume the next night. Don’t assume everyone’s into the same kinks as you are. Don’t assume you’re the be-all end-all of what’s in and out. Most likely, you don’t even know what day of the week it is [Hint: It ends in “y”]. Communicate and just remember to not be an asshole, capisce?

But also remember not to be a pansy. Make sure others exercise The Platinum Rule with you in return. (Still, try not to be an asshole about it, though.)

Let the Golden Hours Slip By

“You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by. Yes, but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.”
James M. Barrie (1860-1937)

Taking it easy is not a new concept. It’s so goddamn cliche – I mean, how many can you think of? Stop and smell the roses. Don’t worry, be happy. YOLO.

However, while it pervades our culture, it is precisely the cliched nature of the idea that has made it seem illegitimate, too watered down, lost in the din of empty thoughts. In one ear, out the other.

When do we really relax? I’m not talking about a trip to Disneyland or spending a week in Vegas. That may get you away from your work and regular routine – but that’s certainly not relaxation. (Really, if you’ve ever been to Disneyland, you’ll know the experience is far from stress-free.) The kind of relaxation I’m talking about is where you lie down in a hammock in the middle of nowhere and do absolutely nothing but sleep and maybe read a book (while sipping a lemon iced tea, why the hell not). I’m talking about the kind of relaxation where you have no responsibilities on your plate, truly no worries. Don’t have to go to work – don’t even have to worry about ever going to work. All you maybe have to “worry” about is what you’ll eat when you’re finally hungry.

Think of the cliches again. A dime a dozen, right? What does it mean to relax anymore? Even though it has become a stock phrase to say “relax and just enjoy life,” do we ever really mean it? Is it a coincidence that you can so easily dismiss this attitude? Our culture has nearly criminalized relaxation – it is lazy, unproductive, uncivilized. Get a job, hippy. Contribute to the system and actually earn your living.

Pulling college all-nighters, agonizing over your living room set-up, being disappointed by Iron Man 3… Stop worrying about the things that don’t matter. Just be.

[Edit: Well, that was cryptic and disorganized as fuck. Good luck figuring that out.]