A career in philosophy?

My mom’s best friend’s son is here. He’s not that talkative. In fact, the only thing I clearly remember him saying is that he thinks philosophy is really intriguing and that it is high on his list of potential career choices.

Side Note: I don’t know what it is about the word ‘intriguing’ that makes it so awkward to use in context. Do other people feel that way too? Maybe its just me…

You know how the new generation is marked by stubbornness? If I was to be a tad bit nicer I would say perseverance rather than stubbornness. Either way, our heads are thick like rocks. In my mom’s best friend’s son’s case, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that his stance on philosophy was set in stone (though he was clearly being difficult).

Here’s what I think about philosophy( or should I say, what philosophy is). For me, philosophy is just putting into words what everyone already knows about life on some level. The only difference is that ‘philosophers’ are more aware about some ideas and other people aren’t.

Maybe I’m ignorant. Sometimes I wonder what a career in philosophy would be like. What would I do? Think? Write books on my thoughts? What does philosophy contribute to society?

That’s when I think about the French Revolution. Ideas have a big impact. It was the ideas of the Enlightenment that spurred on the prospect of thought that all people are equal; therefore, people do have the power to change a political system that they feel is unjust and/or corrupt. However, where did that get France? Sure, now its a democracy but look at that road it went down. Do the ends really justify the means? Some people described the revolution as ‘devouring’ its own children. Above all, I view the ‘children’ as the original ideals. These radical ideals have been developing for a long time and a great majority of the people supported them. A lot of good that did; only 2 years into the revolution and signs of the Terror were already emerging. Soon enough, the ideals were warped into hyper superstition and well, terror. That’s why yes, ideas have strength but without action or careful process of thought, acting on these ideas will only lead to chaos. France got its democracy but how can we be certain that chaos will always lead to a positive outcome?

Another way I look at philosophy is that it is not a reflection of human nature, but rather an idealized or warped expression of human nature. Or maybe it’s the state of human expression that we desire to have. While philosophers think that they are getting to know more about the human condition, they’re really losing touch with a sense of reality. Before you all argue with me, look at evidence. Just how many philosophers have ended up in the mental asylum or otherwise committed suicide? This just proves that philosophy is creating nothing from nothing, believing that there’s an answer when there really isn’t.

My final point? I agree that philosophy can be a tool (I cringe at using ‘important’ prior to the ‘tool’) in many careers like journalism or law. However, it is not a necessity as understanding philosophy or not, life goes on. Why? Because philosophy is either writing what’s already here or pulling nothing from nothing. I think that if I were to choose a career, I want to do something to help people. I want to do something that contributes to the development of society. I don’t know what that’s going to be yet but right now, I’m open to all suggestions (excluding philosophy).

To Life…

Hubris is dangerous. Life is finicky. People are persnickety. Society is prejudiced. Combined, these form a dangerous combination. Assuming life does not equate to character, nothing alone can do damage. Combined, the results are deadly. Since the latter three are inevitable, let’s try to avoid the first. Easy to do? Really?

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be arrogant to have hubris. The most common, and the most pathetic form of hubris is hubris in retrospect. I used to think we learn history to prevent us from walking down already trodden dead ends but it turns out, we’ve done little to improve. That’s what history is isn’t it? We fancy ourselves smarter and more capable than the previous generation to handle our futures and the future of our interlinked societies but the blatant truth is, our moral values haven’t changed much. Sure there’s democracy and all that but how do we know what other people think? That test you got perfect on? Do you know your friend is jealous of you? That slight twinge of joy when others fail, do you know when that happens to people. Here’s another question: do you know when that happens to YOU? I know this because it’s what I feel. Before you reprimand me for being a sad and bitter person, I get the privilege of asking (or should I say daring) you to admit that you don’t. Don’t play the cowardice dice with  me; it’s so easy to say anything with the anonymity of the web huh?

What history is, is that we view life in retrospect from what I call a ‘bird’s eye view’. Amidst the chaos, you can’t really see much. Now pretend you’re a bird. Pretend that you’re lifting off the ground. Your view gets clearer and clearer as you rise higher and higher until the sound of shoving and yelling dissipates into fresh air. Now, you can see miles and miles from all directions. All people are equal. An old man falls and nobody helps him to get up. Another man nears him and it seems like he’s going to help. People stare at him. He shudders and leaves. Later, he is reprimanded by his peers and is deemed as a moral coward. Can you honestly say that you won’t do the same thing in his position? I don’t know, I admit that I always underestimate the gravity of peer pressure. On this level, I really admire Chelsea Handler for always stating the blatant truth. She is the polar opposite of those phony politicians with their whitened smiles and faces masked with promise of lies. We think that we are too smart to trek down the same doomed road but after all the extra twists and turns, its where we end up. The difference is that some of us realize it, and some of us don’t. Therefore, history is a circle. It’s a cycle of never-ending generations of people making the same type of mistakes over and over again. Its funny, we ridicule it and then we go back to our own little bubble.

Some things are inevitable; pride is one of them. Every person on Earth is self-centered to an extent. I’m not saying that’s bad or wrong. I’m not saying we should fight it. I’m saying it would be amazing and revolutionary if we did but no matter what, we should always admit our weaknesses. Admitting means acceptance at some level which is a teensy weensy step to improvement. This is why I fully believe in our potential to become morally superior than the previous generation. Actually, my opinion is very paradoxical because I don’t think the character of mankind can change yet, I believe it can. For me, there are some things in life that you have to believe in. It doesn’t matter what the truth is, you have to believe in goodness. Sometimes, believing is the only thing that makes us different from a pessimist. We only have this life. Might as well enjoy it.

Laughing/Smiling/Crying

Today, my friend asked me if I’d rather cry inside a limo or smile on the back of the bicycle. I secretly think she was betting that I wouldn’t understand this statement since she said it in chinese and she knows-as everyone does – how I’m hopeless in that language. I understood (haha got ya!). Ok fine, I admit that I wouldn’t have understood it if my mom hadn’t asked me the very same question years back. Of course, she was kind enough to explain this statement in great detail – you know how moms are.

Literal meanings aside, what this statement means is that would you rather be happy and poor or sad and rich? Basically, this is the classic example of “money can’t buy you happiness”. If you answer that you’d rather smile on the back of the bicycle, it means that you’d rather be happy. People who choose the other option value money above everything.

My friend proceeded to ask my other friend (who is not asian) the same question. My other friend looked bewildered and responded: “Why can’t I smile on a limo?” We laughed because she didn’t get it.

For me, if I say that happiness takes precedence over everything else, I’d be lying. But smiling doesn’t necessarily have to mirror happiness. I smile because I know I will be happy. My dad always tells me if I surrender to the lure of what he calls “happiness” now, I’ll regret it in the long run. I think he alludes the state of happiness to the state of contentment. And I agree. Strangely enough, that is the general accepted meaning of happy. Of course, nobody says it out loud. There are just some things in the world that are true but to maintain a positive moral outlook, hardly anyone admits it.

So later on, I ask my mom the same question. She laughs because she remembers that she asked me the same thing years back. I pressed her for an answer. Then, a serious look crosses her face. She said:

When I was your age, my answer would be that I would smile no matter the mode of transportation I took. But now that I think about, what use is smiling if you’re not happy in the end. I chose to smile on the back of the bicycle and now, I can’t seem to smile. That’s why, if I reevaluate if I predicted that one day I would have you – I would have chosen the limo.

It’s touching that she loves me so much that her first priority would be my happiness and future. But then she told me that I have to smile no matter what. So I will choose the bicycle like she did but she trusts me to make smart decisions and end up happy in the end. I hope I won’t disappoint.

In response to: In Praise of Sadness

Actually, this is the first time I’ve picked up a copy of Reader’s Digest. I probably should have enjoyed it more than I did. However, that’s not to say I didn’t like it. It just happens that my favourite article is also the article which I think is most misleading. Yes, life is full of little ironies, no?

Anyways, for my own sake, I won’t go into a detailed summary of the article. Just know that the author argues that people should embrace sadness and experience it to the fullest. The first time skimming through the book, I found myself nodding in agreement with the writer. Then, I read it again and found that some points put forward quite unsettling. Yes, we grow by experiencing despair but I don’t think that character grows by experiencing sadness to the fullest. I think we as people grow by learning to cope with change; we grow by learning to deal with the mental stress in a healthy way.

A good quote I found is: “Thinking positively is better than thinking negatively but thinking realistically has even more commend to it. And thinking realistically acknowledges that the richness in life lies in the interplay of light and shade.” However, I think the writer fails to acknowledge that thinking positively isn’t synonymous to imposing a false cheery state. Thinking positively is thinking realistically because being positive means that I will live life to its full potential despite the downsides.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that life is full of contradictions and whatnot. It is constructed entirely out of opposites. We feel because we can, because there are contrasts; therefore, we have points of comparison. Bottom line: sadness exists because happiness exists. We feel happy because we know that we feel better than when we are sad. We shouldn’t concentrate on being happy but we shouldn’t focus on the contrary either. In fact, I don’t think there is need to focus on happiness or sadness. These feelings will come naturally evoked by the little bumps in life that come along. What we should focus on is smoothing out these little bumps. By that, I’m referring to a state of control, not happiness.

Yes, we often regard control as happiness and there is nothing wrong with that because if we don’t have control on our lives, we don’t have control in anything. Happiness isn’t all bland and bleak. Happiness is a beautiful word and it refers to richness and wholeness. So be happy! Smile and make the best out of the materials you are given! Of course, being happy naturally means that you’ve had more than your fair share of downsides in life.