Am I an empiricist: am I faced with knowing the world only through my senses and my experiences, is nothing innate? (1) These are questions that constantly “buzz around” in my mind, juxtaposed with, Do I then have significance: will the world I create through my actions have consequences? Will I die without my mission fulfilled? (2) Fear is an emotion that seemingly comes to us far more easily than the feeling of love – though love, when experienced, is tremendously more powerful. I have contact with many, many people on a weekly basis. More than a few, because they are young, share their negative thoughts about the world at large – how dangerous and evil it is. I inquire as to where this view comes from.
The reply is invariably related to accessing electronic media, mostly Internet-based. According to any news source, the world comprises an angst-driven reality (do this experiment for yourself: download any news app and over the course of a week count the number of positive news stories). We are therefore forlorn and hapless beings waiting for our unforgiving fate. You would not be “hard-pressed” to suppose that this is the confusing reality of the world: pain, terror, and, ultimately, a meaningless death.
This is a popular and traditional view. According to Nathaniel Hawthorne: It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate lover or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his object. (3) This view we most assuredly have to reject. We cannot speak of love and hate in comparative terms.
Though bitter melons and apples may both be fruit, they do not taste the same. Having touched on both emotional phenomena in my long life, I would opt for love. Its energy does not leave you feeling sick and nauseated, but light-headed and optimistic – even when the relationship is over.
Now if “I know what I know,” to paraphrase Sadhguru, I thus have great difficulty believing that the world is a bleak and cynical place.
Do I know anyone who has been shot, stabbed, or blown up? Do I know anyone, who knows someone, who has been blown up? Do I know anyone, who knows anyone, who knows someone, who has been shot, stabbed, or blown up: ad infinitum? The answer is an invariable, “no.” Now, I am not naïve: bad things do happen in our dynamic and fickle world. But, they have never happened to me and they have probably never happened to you. To me, life is a wonderful and precious occurrence. And, I am convinced, through my conscious existence, that it is probably the same for most human beings. Existence is not dominated by fear but inculcated with love if we want this reality – if not, the choice is ours. I subscribe to the school of thought that being is good, colorful, and exciting – at any age. In this way of thinking (devoid of mental illness), we choose the reality that we occupy: it does not choose us.
If I want to be unhappy, I am. If I want to live tragically, I do. Conversely: if I want to live joyfully, regardless of my present circumstances, I can. The great psychologist and philosopher, Eric Fromm, (5) leaves us with a thought: If other people do not understand our behavior—so what? Their request that we must only do what they understand is an attempt to dictate to us. If this is being “asocial or irrational” in their eyes, so be it. Mostly, they resent our freedom and our courage to be ourselves. We owe no one an explanation or an accounting, as long as our acts do not hurt or infringe on them.
How many lives have been ruined by this need to “explain,” which usually implies that the explanation is “understood,” i.e. approved? Let your deeds be judged, and from your deeds, your real intentions, but know that a free person owes an explanation only to himself—to his reason and his conscience—and to the few who may have a justified claim for explanation.
A closing thought: I recently saw a man holding the door for a woman. Now, this is a learned phenomenon, but what a marvelous one. In English teaching, we always say, Remember three things: Your first impression is everything; eat and dance properly and finally, do not be afraid to present yourself – regardless of your grammatical command. These three rules free you from your language angst. Always excellence: why not? (Parts of this essay were first published in 2017)
To sum up: This week, we spoke about fear.
To be noted: from Voltaire (6) — God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.
This week on your reflective walk, please ask yourself, what you are afraid of.
Every day look for something magical and beautiful.
Don’t be a wage slave — critical thinking is great!
Quote: My reality is created through my five senses: These control my access to the world. They need not, however, define me.