[Over the years I've left exactly four posts unfinished. I have to come to terms with the fact that I will never finish them. So, here they are in their entirety, forever and always to be undone, for your enjoyment/engagement/entrapment. Likely my views have "modified" on these topics. Please keep that context.]
When you view an enticing work of art or read an inspiring piece of fiction you have an emotional reaction. This response stems from your subconscious emotional response to the universe at large.
Just as we evaluate the world with our conscious mind, classifying existents based on conceptual similarity, we do so subconsciously on an emotional level, creating categories of things based on the emotions they evoke. While we have no say in the fact that our subconscious functions this way--just as we have no "say" in whether or not our heart pumps blood--we can direct and strengthen (or stifle and weaken) this process just as we can choose to better our heart through healthy heating and exercise (or impair it through McDonald's and Psych marathons).
Nonetheless, whether or not you consciously address, identify, and classify your emotions, the culmination of these subconscious evaluations manifests in your "personality"--both public and private. More generally speaking, these evaluations are your unique manifestation of your emotional evaluation of everything you've experienced. This is your "sense of life."
In a way, sense of life is what makes you you. No two people's sense of life are the same since no two people can have the exact same experiences and, thus, the exact same emotional responses to those experiences. None of this discounts the conscious mind, of course. On the contrary, it emphasizes its importance. Without consciousness and reason, we would have no way to evaluate our emotional responses and adjust them if need be. We would have no way to choose what to value and, thus, to direct our emotional responses--to the degree that we're able.
Self-esteem is two things: Efficacy and value. It's the recognition of your ability to live--inviolate trust in your mind to create the world you need and want to live in--and the decision that you are worthy of living. Both are necessary for a flourishing life. A man confident in his ability to live but who doesn't believe he deserves it will eventually cease trying (and may even work against himself to atone for his perceived sins). And a woman who loves herself but who doesn't feel competent to deal with the "harshness" of reality will ask "What's the point?" as she gives up on an "impossible" endeavor. (Giving up comes in many forms. I don't necessarily mean suicide.) To some degree, people who choose to live possess elements of both aspects of self-esteem, and the extent to which these aspects are strengthened is the extent to which they have the capacity for happiness.
Achieving and sustaining self-esteem is an active process--one that is renewed as we successfully act to gain and keep our values or diminished as we fail to do so. Of course, having strong self-esteem means you're able to deal with the failure to obtain a value. It means that not achieving something doesn't crush your spirit, your desire to strive for other values, your insistence that there are values you deserve and will eventually obtain.
This process of self-esteem growth or decay is no more visible than in the pursuit of romantic love.
[The beginning of a short story and a rough outline.]
Columba sat patiently on the stone floor--content and confident for the first time in his life--as he awaited his execution. No longer conflicted about his actions, he felt certain, a psychological state his brothers had previously demanded of him but one he could never deliver. He was a monk, raised in the monastery when his parents, unable to provide even basic sustenance, left him at the church's entrance. He was just shy of three weeks old.
Growing up, Columba showed a certain propensity for creativity and precision--the former his bane and the latter his only saving grace. The monks were not ruthless in their rearing, but neither were they nurturing, at least of his more artistic talents. The Abbott, though, had little tolerance for what he saw as frivolous affronts to the true work of God.
Hardly six years of age, Columba "procured" some inadvertently discarded ink and proceeded to paint, with some feathers he had collected, a caricature of the Abbott on a flat river stone--a portrait more worthy of a veteran artist than an adolescent boy. Columba rushed to show his brothers, bounding through the halls with exuberant energy. He liked to look at his painting. He wanted to do more, one for each brother, for each visitor, for the pope himself. Staring at his creation intently, he ran straight into the Abbott, falling backwards but gripping his artwork at the expensive of his body.
He offered his work to the Abbott, extending both hands upward from where he sat. The Abbott took the stone and examined it closely.
"I made it for you," Columba coyly remarked. He even garnered the nerve to smile.
In exchange for his gift, Columba received a beating and a reminder. Between the strikes he heard many "how dare you"s and intense descriptions of his obviously innumerable sins--the worst of which was, apparently, his insufferable pride. When the blows subsided and the Abbott turned to walk away, Columba mustered enough energy to ask, "May I at least have the painting back?" Enraged, the Abbott swiftly turned and hurled the rock. It struck Columba above the right eye, leaving a scar that would forever remind him why he took a voluntary vow of silence that very evening that lasted until the day he died.
Job as calligrapher. Best around. Beauty of books. Bibles.
Innovator of new styles to increase productivity. Never recognized. OK. Content with producing quality work. Secretly took pride.
Did his job well for years. Decades. He never questioned.
Older, slowing. Knew he wouldn't work for much longer. Methods so excellent that the monastery had a stockpile of Bibles.
Asked Abbott if he could keep one of his books--for himself. Abbott outraged.
Columba secretly takes one Bible, thinking they'll never find out. Witnessed.
Search of his room reveals the book and the old man is taken to the local prison.
Day of execution, last words, short speech about property and pride.
Executioner will not commit the act. When one angry monk (witness) rushes to kick out the stool, town people stop him.
Columba walks off, leaving them. Says nothing.
[I started writing this in July 2008. Boy how things change. I'm not even sure if my friend would make this argument any more.]
on the possibility and actuality of love
In the short time I've had to appreciate it, life--god, Bog, and the Rest--has blessed me with a plethora of wonderful and intelligent friends (and enemies) with whom I've had the privilege of discussing some of the most important and most trivial aspects of life--from aesthetics to appliance preferences, politics to bathroom habits (yet I repeat myself). One wholly generic topic that intrigues me--a topic that has captivated many men since we developed a capacity for captivation--is that of love. This space does not shy away from the topic, often providing an electronic medium for concept exploration and abstract reflection. Note, though, that no post directly addresses the possibility and actuality of love, all previous entries assuming both. At this point, some of you (perhaps one of the three regular readers) might be wondering why I now question my assumption--even wondering if something has happened to make me doubt if love is either possible or actual. To get my bias "out there," I admit that I still believe in both attributes of love. This post is more so inspired by a friend who doubts the latter characteristic--the actuality of love. I don't want to erect a straw man in lieu of his/her argument, but I know so little about his/her opinion--save what we could accomplish in a 12 minute car ride--that I'm afraid I may do so. I can only promise to make a concerted effort to provide what I see as his/her best argument against the actuality of love. (He/She also doubts the possibility but concedes that he/she cannot rule it out entirely.)
Why discuss it now? Because the topic interests me and this is my blog. Ha. Showed you.
1. Any discussion of the topic brings with it an absurd number of variables. That being said, I do not mean to present a comprehensive theory/philosophy. I'm sure no one expected such, but I figured I should get it out of the way.
2. "Attacks" on my friend's arguments should not be seen as attacks on my friend as a person. I have a great deal of respect for him/her, his/her life-philosophy, and his/her ability to live it. In fact, more than "attacks" on his/her arguments, I want to use his/her hypothesis to explore my own ideas on the same topic. Again, this should probably go without saying. But I said it. (Wanna fight about it?)
3. This will, more likely than not, sound incredibly pretentious.
Friend's argument (paraphrased heavily): First, we must define love. Love is the recognition and adoration of virtues
It is possible for two people to love each other conditionally. (We both agree that unconditional love is not actually love.) The idea of falling in love is not an impossibility since its existence does not create a contradiction. But just as it is not a contradiction to say that an egg dropped from the top of the Empire State Building may not break, the chance of it not breaking is statistically zero. Likewise, the chance of two people falling in love is probably less likely than the unbroken egg.
What most people experience is not love but a twisted sort of infatuation. They need another person to feel good about themselves. (Alert: About to take liberties with my friend's argument.) In this way, love seems impractically selfish--because the partner's feelings, emotions, actions mean little except as a means to happiness. Both people essentially "do" whatever they want in the relationship and inevitably make each other miserable--though they may not show the misery. "Hell is other people."
There is a mathematically null chance of two rational egoists meeting, discovering each other's philosophy, and living it together. Therefore, love is possible--in the sense that it's non-contradictory--but not actual, since it the number of circumstances required for it to occur make it statistically impossible.
If love is a response to values, then falling in love requires two people who share the same values to meet. ...