Nourishing Happiness

This week I vividly discovered that I am pretentious. It came as a surprise, but it should not have. Pretentiousness is typically, (almost always), judged by another; very seldom, (almost never), by oneself. This makes a tremendous amount of sense. I am not going to purposely choose actions or words that I deem pretentious or even that I know will come across as such. I am confident that everything I do and say is authentic; the real ME. Yet I look around and see many individuals acting all uppity and arrogant. Can't they see how fake they are? I am so glad that I am always so artless and true-to-myself.

...yeah, right.

This week I discovered that, in a sense, pretentiousness is necessary for experimentation in order to evolve and to aid in defining this elusive being I call Me. Whether a foray into Steampunk or Tarot or the ancient game of Go, even when they don't stick, they have been valuable tools for learning and growth. This week I have learned that one individual's Steampunk is another's ceramic Toby jug. This week, I am determined that I am going to work, (in this and future weeks), to be more careful about judging another's affectation.

Pondering pretentiousness in this regard, brought me to consider possible underlying structures from which it---(pretentiousness)---may come forth to be perceived by another. These considerations in turn brought me to thoughts of opposing desires and fears that when consciously or subconsciously hidden, may appear to manifest as pretentiousness. I came up with six spectrums defined by a-desire-for and a-fear-of on opposing ends. They are 1) virtue and vice, 2) inclusion and exclusion, 3) knowledge and ignorance, 4) abundance and deprivation, 5) honor and shame, and 6) self-esteem and guilt. So am I asking, is pretentiousness actually the surface veneer hiding one's desires and fears? Am I never my genuine self, but merely, (as Freud suggested), a product of my desires and fears?

I don't want to believe this; so I won't. I am confident that I have experienced bursts of authenticity between my bouts of experimentation-perceived-as-arrogance. I believe that perceived pretentiousness is simply an indicator that one is searching for authenticity. And that's unavoidable; and okay.

So, beginning with virtue and vice I want to more closely examine each of these six pairs because I believe that by doing so I may perhaps better understand my efforts toward definition, and I may perhaps develop more patience with other's efforts toward authenticity. At the very least, I believe I will come to a reinforced recognition of the multi-leveled falsity of pretentiousness. And who knows, I may come away with much more...

A desire to be virtuous feels natural and is probably one of Humanity's oldest attempts at justifying rule of law to establish trust. This spectrum from virtue to vice is in many ways synonymous with a desire for order and a fear of chaos; (see this previous post). But, as said, I also believe that Goodness is our more natural state, (as opposed to iniquity), because I believe it is through trust and relationships that one finds meaning and purpose in this Life. Granted, (as stated in previous written thought), the trust and the relationships may need to be developed with future generations as well as with contemporaries, but this is doable and likely to reduce the quantity of perceived arrogance. When dealing with contemporaries, pretentiousness may be interpreted from this jumble of judgement when there is disagreement as to where the line is drawn between good and evil. For me, the closer to virtue one draws their line, the more that individual fears evil (either as practiced by others or for its siren call); and also the closer to virtue, the greater the perceived pretentiousness. Moving the other direction, the closer to vice (as it is currently commonly defined), the less likely it becomes to build trust and relationships, thus potentially leaving a Life devoid of meaning and purpose; (and forcing a degee of defensive determination that may also come across as pretentiousness). This spectrum, (as do all the spectrums), encompasses many elements and branches that originate from its roots: (in this case) virtue and vice. Within this spectrum, we could examine politics, religion, sexual mores, cultural differences, and even sports and rock n' roll from a perspective of good to evil, right to wrong, or merely my educated, thoughtful preference to your misguided, thoughtless preference. All of these disagreements have the potential for perceived pretentiousness.

By touching on differences and disagreement, we have segued into inclusion and exclusion, and additionally I have illustrated how each of these spectrums will intertwine, (depending on circumstance), with other spectrums. I have PREVIOUSLY argued against inclusion stating that "If we focus on inclusion, we focus on differences, which, (though typically unspoken), reinforce divisiveness by clearly identifying an us and a them." And, "Teaching and preaching inclusion may simply encourage political correctness and perpetuate divisiveness." Based on these arguments, (and experience), it is obvious to me how pretentiousness can be perceived from an individual's desire for inclusion or from an individual (pompously) working to be politically correct. And if one is working from a fear of exclusion, it is also obvious to me why the individual may put on airs to become safe and secure in a group of one's choosing. This particular spectrum feels very short for those who perceive their self as excluded, but I believe it lengthens considerably for those who feel safe and secure and included; which is why I suggest that each one of us should begin from a perspective of personal exclusion, thus increasing common ground and dramatically decreasing perceived pretentiousness.

A desire for knowledge and/or a fear of ignorance may be sincere and self-directed, or it may be an other-directed delusion / facade. Either way it is apparent how pretentiousness may be perceived from this foundation. Be it a blowhard tripped up by his or her own actions or words that make plain the desire and fear, or an actual expert that is described as pretentious by those whose reactive fear of ignorance may also be perceived as pretentious, opportunity for artifice and duplicity is plentiful and may even sneak up on the performer and/or the audience. Pretentiousness may be lessened along this spectrum through empathic listening and careful communication. It is also important to note that each one of us is lacking (at least) some knowledge in (at least) some areas, and more frequent use of the simple, honest phrase "I don't know" will also lessen perceived pretentiousness. For many on this spectrum it is a relatively short spectrum, but I believe a sincere effort toward learning and growth will stretch an individual in that direction.

Remaining consistent with the context of this written thought, the spectrum of abundance and deprivation is largely applicable to comfort and security, beginning with basic needs and (often) blossoming into a desire for excess. Aditionally, this desire for abundance and/or this fear of deprivation may simply be that, or it may become entangled on a pretzeled  spectrum from privilege to impoverishment (implying a circumstance in which the individual has had little influence), and may further convolute by being interpreted as deserving or undeserving (indicating an often delusional belief reinforced by circumstance). I have consistently maintained that credit and blame are drastically over-emphasized, meaning that more of what we define as success or failure is essentially random fortune and/or misfortune; (I also believe that we tend to overlook or discount the impact of another's misfortune when it results in personal success or accomplishment). From this underpinning, it is a small hop-skip-jump from a desire for comfort, to a desire for excess, to a belief that I am deserving and worthy, to perceived pretentiousness. And on the other end, one who is mired in, (or even near to), impoverishment may come across (to those interpreting from privilege) as needy and/or more deserving, thus whiny and pretentious. Pretentiousness may be lessened on this spectrum with a better understanding of the serendipitous nature of abundance and deprivation.

The final two spectrums will be examined together:

A desire for honor and a fear of shame is similar to a desire for self-esteem and a fear of guilt. There is one important difference: honor and shame are bestowed upon an individual by one or more other individuals, whereas self-esteem and guilt are bestowed upon oneself by oneself. The inner feelings may (and frequently do) run parallel with those accorded by others, but I also believe that with practice, one can separate guilt from shame and again move toward self-esteem; a lack of honor is NOT synonymous with dishonor. Additionally, I believe that one can expand / inflate self-esteem, creating pride; (as in, one of the Seven Deadly Sins). It is easy to see how pretentiousness can be perceived from the pinnacles of pride as well as from the angry depths of guilt and shame. I believe openness and truthfulness, (and a recognition and practice of some qualities shared between the two spectrums) will mitigate this perceived pretentiousness. These shared qualities include skepticism, uncertainty, doubt, thoughtful questioning, and even a degree of diffidence.

Finally, I believe by admitting to and recognizing my pretentiousness, and working to understand its essence as found in personal desires and fears, I am also working to reduce nonproductive airs and to advance learning and growth, that will aid in the long-term survival of Humanity. I believe that to sincerely desire an individual effort toward Global virtue, Universal inclusion, Unbounded knowledge, Proportionate abundance, Commensurate honor, and Accordant self-esteem, will in turn diminish individual fear of vice, exclusion, ignorance, deprivation, shame, and guilt, and may encourage likewise individual effort. Nourish to flourish.

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Hibernating Happiness

"The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than to a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell a big one."
--Adolf Hitler on winning the support of the German people. Mein Kampf, 1925

Almost 100 years later, it is good that we are no longer subject to being preyed upon due to our simplicity as a society, state, nation, culture, species, or otherwise-organized group of individuals.

In the Winter of 1941, with the Germans at their doorstep threatening to overrun Moscow, Stalin planned and pulled off a daring feat of showmanship: a full-scale military parade in Red Square. This stunt at this critical time acheived sensational results, inspiring such patriotic nationalism as to aid in pushing citizens and soldiers beyond the brink of normal human endurance in order to stand against the advancing force.

Nationalistic pride in a time of war with actual barbarians at the gate... Yes.

Nationalistic pride today, with facts that contradict a bombastic and divisive exaggeration of barbarians... Questionable at best.

"We build too many walls and not enough bridges."
--Isaac Newton

"There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect."
--Ronald Reagan

"When we begin to build walls of prejudice, hatred, pride, and self indulgence around ourselves, we are more surely imprisoned than any prisoner behind concrete walls and iron bars.
--Mother Angelica

If we build a wall, are we on the inside looking out? Or are we on the outside looking in?

"Today I am at the head of the strongest Army in the world, the most gigantic Air Force and of a proud Navy. Behind and around me stands the Party with which I became great and which has become great through me..."
--Adolf Hitler, as part of his speech declaring war on the United States, December 11, 1941. It was also in this month of December that his troops, mere miles from Moscow, were being pushed back, never to come closer to Moscow or Victory again - the beginning of the end.

Big Lies - Big Parades - Big Walls - Big Declarations - Hubris.

In that winter of 1941, Stalin was eventually able to move past his hubris by listening to his intelligence sources on the ground, enabling him to call for Siberian reinforcements which helped to turn the tide. It was at approximately this same time that Hitler, surrounded by yes-men, and believing in his destiny and invincibility, and having no actual front-line intelligence that reached him, followed his hubris and declared war on the United States, further solidifying the beginning of the end.

The Greek word for what typically follows hubris, is "peripeteia" - meaning a dramatic reversal of fortune.

In this Winter of 2017 in very different circumstance, 76 years after one leader, (suffering from hubris and a lack of intelligence), began a slow spiral into collapse and infamy, we are again presented with hubris on the world stage; we are again forced to patiently wait for peripeteia.

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Happiness Stranded, Part 2

Upon reviewing last week's post, it appears that I came to the conclusion that we have artificially enhanced trust with bureaucracy. I suggested a shift in focus from ego-dependence in the moment to interdependent effort for the future. In other words I question the wisdom of trusting (my own and other's) egos today, and I encourage personal learning and growth that trusts future individuals to advance today's learning and growth. So by shifting focus away from this moment, I am mitigating my need to be justified and my desire for power, because it is more difficult for my ego to interact with, much less clash with, a faceless future ego. And if we are able to shift focus in this manner, on a large scale, perhaps the seemingly urgent necessity of bureaucracy will begin to fade.

I want to ask, how can I ensure that my personal learning and growth today will advance learning and growth tomorrow? But in asking this question, I believe I am misinterpreting the concept of trust. Trust, by definition, implies a belief or faith not based on proof. So the answer to the question is, I can never be certain that my personal learning and growth will aid in the advancement of future learning and growth. But I believe I can be reasonably certain that personal learning and growth is more likely to aid in the advancement of future learning and growth than is personal quiescence and stagnation. In addition to the intuitive obviousness of action over inaction, if I don't resolutely add to my personal learning and growth, regardless of its ultimate value, who am I to trust anyone, today or in the future, to put forth any amount of benevolent, humane effort.

So from this, I believe we can work back to one's need to trust others in this moment. Last week I presented some broad strokes that illustrate how it is from fear, (specifically fear of a) violence, b) loss of control, c) conspiracy, and d) injustice), that we have constructed laws to enhance trust. I accept the need for protecting individuals from physical or mental harm. Beyond that, I believe our overabundant complexity of statutory and ordained edicts have led us astray regarding trust. Because I trust another does not allow me to cry "Foul!" if/when I am mistreated or disappointed. I am the one who chose to trust. Trust is not a guarantee. By definition, trust is a leap of faith. If I have misjudged, the failure to span the breadth of the abyss is my failure. Provided the void is not so deep that I fall forever, I feel I have no choice but to (eventually) pick myself up and move on; again, knowing, with reasonable certainty, that the failure was mine.

Though enlightening, this realization is not permission for me to simply watch, (be it with amusement, disdain, or apathy), as others leap and fall, failing to reach the fringe of my topography. Typically, those who place their trust in me, do so upon my encouragement. And yes, in some circumstance, they have misjudged and fail, and I can do nothing but watch; compassionately. But if I have encouraged another to make that leap, and I do not work to extend solid ground suitable for a safe landing; or if I do not at the least extend a hand to lessen their leap, then it is also my failure. With that said, some individuals may come to expect an always-available safe landing spot, choose to make their way back across the cleft, and never encourage another to leap safely to their Terra Firma. In some circumstance, though difficult, learning and growth may be best advanced via failure.

This uncertain back and forth is why 1) I must learn to recognize my failure, efficiently pick myself up, and move on; and 2) I must refocus to extend redirected and additional effort leaping toward future faceless individuals who cannot disappoint, hurt feelings, or waste reciprocal time and effort slashing or stroking egos.

"Trust is not a guarantee. By definition, trust is a leap of faith. If I have misjudged, the failure to span the breadth of the abyss is my failure."

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Happiness Stranded

"Hope is a slighter, tougher thing even than trust, he thought, pacing his room as the soundless, vague lightning flashed overhead. In a good season one trusts life; in a bad season one only hopes. But they are of the same essence: they are the mind's indispensable relationship with other minds, with the world, and with time. Without trust, a man lives, but not a human life; without hope, he dies. When there is no relationship, where hands do not touch, emotion atrophies in void, and intelligence goes sterile and obsessed. Between men the only link left is that of owner to slave, or murderer to victim.

Laws are made against the impulse a people most fears in itself... (347)

...They were afraid to kill and afraid to die, and called their fear Reverence for Life." (382)

The above is from Ursula K. LeGuin's "City of Illusions" taken from the Library of America edition "Hainish Novels and Stories, Volume One."

If Law is "enforceable rules of order," then the mere thought of this delicate construct affirms first and foremost that we fear chaos. In chaos, there is uncertainty; and our fear of uncertainty has led us to create an overabundant complexity of legal strands addressing a large majority of our individual impulse control issues. We can untangle some of this with a few broad strokes.

  1. Crimes against a person show that we fear violence.
  2. Crimes against a property show that we fear losing control.
  3. Crimes that aid in the completion of other crimes show that we fear conspiracy.
  4. Crimes against rules show that we fear for our safety, we fear unfairness, and we fear bad/immoral people.

According to my interpretation of the quoted passage above, all of these fears have aided in creating all of these laws to nurture relationships; which leads to Trust and Hope, which in turn provides possibility for a meaningful Human Life. I am not sure I completely agree; I need to explore. My first (and second and third) time thinking this through, I hopped over relationships. It is important that minds touch; not only other minds, but also other connections, all connections, personal temporal possibility, and all temporal possibility. It is important that hands touch; not only other hands, but also personal contributions, universal contributions, tangible productivity, and tangible possibility. I suppose if laws are the strands of fear, then Trust and Hope are the threads of relationships "with other minds, with the world, and with time." From fear, to laws, to relationships, to trust, to an occasional retreat into hope.

I do not believe that the quantity or complexity of our laws is necessary, though I understand the seeming necessity of the broad strokes. And because I question bureaucracy, I could easily turn this into a forum on the evils of over-legislation; but I will not. Instead I want to focus on the individual struggle to avoid violent and/or nonviolent subservience to an individual, a group of individuals, and/or a system. I too often want to focus on the wall I am beating my head against, thus losing sight of my bruised and bloodied head. When I am able to refocus, I find that I typically make greater progress scaling, tunneling beneath, or circumnavigating the wall; and lacking dynamite, these are better choices.

In the aforementioned story, the protagonist is struggling with his own identity in determining which of two paths to follow; and at the same time he has challenged himself to not be fooled by either a) others who have been fooled or b) Liars. Ultimately he determines that by choosing not to trust, he perpetuates the lie, whether the lie is intentional or not. One without trust must be carried forward by short bursts of hope. I believe that the protagonist has discovered his "bursts" will eventually burn out, requiring either delusion and the end of his meaningful Human Life (living out his remainder as slave or victim), or the actual, physical end of his life. This is harsh; but knowing this brings him closer to Truth.

I trust, I learn, I decide to stay (and trust again) or move on. These are moment-by-moment decisions. I (actively) hope in short bursts between decision and new (or renewed) trust. Hope-burst stamina is limited.

Does this mean I am forced to choose to trust in someone who, (or something that), has yet to earn that trust? I don't believe so. Instead I can choose to trust in my personal learning and growth. Instead I can choose to trust in universal skepticism. Instead I can choose to trust my contributions in this moment to a future that will continue to exponentially learn and grow. Instead I can choose to trust in those with whom I still share a mutual trust, and continue working to find new circumstance (that will replace a recent loss of circumstance), in which trust will come.

I am fortunate to have lifelong relationships that do add meaning through mutual trust. The loss of circumstance mentioned above is a result of being fooled, (I want to believe), unintentionally. Regardless of intent, I was also fortunate to be able to move on, with little more harm than a few physical discomforts. Many are unable to stand on principle, and some of these (may feel they have no choice but to) resort to delusion (possibly as an unwitting victim). This is sad.

But back to my need to explore. In my meandering thought, it appears I have drawn a straight line from fear to trust. Am I truly unable to live a meaningful Life with no trust? Or am I more genuine by recognizing this artificial construct as being built on a foundation of fears, denouncing its insincerity, and trusting in future learning and growth instead of momentary relationships? Wow! This feels like an epiphany. A future "good season" is more important than today's ego. An epiphany? ...this is sad.

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Still Learning Happiness

I began this blog in September, 2011. I have been writing weekly, (and on occasion, weakly), since. Prior to this exercise, in 2010, I self-published a book called "Burgeoning Whatnot: A Father's Monologue To His Adult Children." Below are the first 2+ paragraphs from its Introduction.

"It is with no small amount of trepidation that I enter the final stages of manuscript preparation, and ready myself to hand this book to you. Perfectly capturing my anxieties, the following sentences from Carol Shield's 1995 Pulitzer Prize winning "The Stone Diaries" caught my attention: "This 'work of art' is about to become one of those comical, tasteless presents, like the ceramic lobster platter and the atrocious bisque wall plaque, which are consigned, and quickly, to the basement or garage, and which eventually become the subject of private family jokes or anecdotes. No matter. It has been executed with love..." (pp 114-15). As evidenced in your hands, I believe the trailing sentences to have greater import than the initial thought.

I encourage you to read (or not read) this book of 'thoughts as poems' in any way that your spirit moves you. You will find (with a few exceptions) my comments at the end of each poem. You will also find two groupings of consecutive poems; one 'On Baseball' and one 'On Writing'. In addition you will see an assortment of 'Nuggets' or untitled short works scattered throughout. Generally speaking and inclusive of the aforementioned, each piece of Whatnot stands on its own. As you read, I strongly encourage you to (remember your teenage years and) rebel. Sever familial entanglements as best as you can, so that you may disagree, apply your own interpretations, and think things through to a deeper level than what I present. Words communicate ineffectively, yet can be a catalyst to unspoken thoughts and quiet reflection which will more readily lead you to more meaningful truths.

This book is moved by Loving-Kindness, filled with Compassion, shared with Joy, beat into shape with Persistence, and grounded in Structure..."

There is a certain melancholy surrounding this reminiscence, as I believe there frequently is when one looks back at a personal effort that does not meet personal expectations. Yet, for me, that is an apt and relevant description of every effort, no matter how small or large, made throughout my life. If I am completely satisfied with an outcome, I am recognizing only a portion of its meaningful impact. There will always be a portion relegated to a couple of boxes out in the garage.

With that said, I would do nothing different in this regard. This past 10+ years of studying and thinking and writing have been most edifying. I am now working on a change that may, in the near future, redirect some effort; but I can foresee nothing that will break this habit.

I often encourage one to not live in the past, yet this week many personal thoughts have been drawn in that direction. I also say to myself, at least once daily, "having learned from the past, I will live in the moment, for the future." Perhaps instead of "having learned" I should say "still learning" as a reminder to, on occasion, purposefully look back to remember, (and to possibly add a greater depth to), previous learning. This week I was drawn to one Sonnet in particular, from Burgeoning Whatnot:

A water nymph astride her studded crest
As briny jewels collide and reappear
We catch a modest glimpse of surf-sprayed breast
Thus quashing gauche attempts to conquer fear
A laugh that lifts above the pounding waves
A music for and of the centuries
A queen attended by her knights and knaves
A grace that can defy Earth's gravities
She dances with the Sun and flirts with Zeus
She floats through time undone and plunders breath
No plot to tantalize or to seduce
Yet in her wake love dies a happy death
Her ghostly silhouette we watch from shore
Her sunset pirouette, and then no more

As best as I can remember, and based on my comments at the time, I believe this began as a sensual dreamy ode to the Ocean; but was quickly associated with Perfection and its transcendent elusiveness. Today, I need to be reminded that despite its inaccessible indifference, the chase is not only worthwhile, but also necessary.

At the age of fifty-something, I am working to redefine myself (more truthfully), and (in a sense) begin again. It is not an easy task; but worthwhile, and (I believe) necessary.

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