Reflections on Aphorisms #92

Today was a less productive day than I had hoped, but at least I got more physical activity (though not tremendously much so) and was able to get a little more writing done than I was able to do yesterday. Listened to a lot of audiobook stuff too, so that’s at least a sign that I didn’t just waste my time (though there was more of that than I’d care to admit to).

Aphorism 130

Few people know death, we only endure it, usually from determination, and even from stupidity and custom; and most men only die because they know not how to prevent dying.

François de La Rochefoucauld 

Interpretation

I can say without deceit that I have entered the happiest time of my life so far, yet I think that if I were to be faced with my mortality I would be more willing to let go of life now than I have ever been.

I think that there is something about being miserable that makes everything else less bearable.

I’ve been thinking a lot about archetypal stories recently, and one thing struck me as funny.

This might be controversial, but I’ve decided to be radically honest and I’m not going to apologize for saying it.

There are a lot of stories where the characters can be either men or women without causing a change, and a lot of stories where the characters are locked into their gender. In the latter case, if you change the characters’ roles around they feel different.

And I think I’ve finally figured out what the reason for this is.

In the stories where characters can change without issue, it’s generally the story of the Hero, a completely actualized self. Look at Star Wars. A New Hope and The Force Awakens are basically the same storyline, and there is relatively little difference between Luke and Rey represent complete people, and despite the strong parallels (and differences, but generally parallels) between the two they are almost entirely undefined by their gender.

I’d compare this to the characters in Shakespeare’s Othello. Othello goes through a breakdown of his psyche, and he becomes disintegrated. He becomes the pure essence of this wayward masculine element, and ultimately destroys his wife, his feminine counterpart, and thereby completes his tragic fall.

I think of the classic story of Sleeping Beauty, who is a very feminine figure in the archetypal sense. I think you could tell the story with a male character in the protagonist’s spot, but you’d wind up with some real difficulties as you go onward because it’s not the archetypal role of the masculine to do the things that Sleeping Beauty does. You couldn’t replace Maleficent with a man, either, because she represents the destructive feminine, the force that destroys that which intrudes into the unknown without being prepared, whereas the destructive masculine force is that of the tyrant and the destroyer within society who rejects change and the unknown.

But I’ve gone on a tangent. Let us return to Rochefoucauld.

Montaigne (he’s French too, so he counts as Rochefoucauld, right?) draws a contrast between the philosophers and the peasants. Philosophers spend countless hours trying to figure out how to live and how to die. Peasants have their lots assigned to them by birth. The philosophers struggle, toil, and despair. Peasants live with quiet dignity.

Of course, I think Montaigne oversimplifies and romanticizes matters.

But when Rochefoucauld says that most men die only because they don’t know how not to, I think it ties into this notion that most of us live deeply unfulfilling lives. At least when your life is set out ahead of you by an external force, you have the ability to follow a path set by someone other than yourself.

Death used to terrify me. I wouldn’t go outside because I was afraid of what I may find. I’ve got this lovely neurotic personality that hates going outside for a whole sort of reasons, I have terrible seasonal allergies (which flare up during both of the seasons that we get in Arizona), and I’m always capable of conjuring up the worst nightmare hell scenario that could possibly happen. I was never particularly prone to separation anxiety in the sense of being a whiny infant (by all accounts, my brother and I were pleasant children to be around), but I would worry and obsess over every possible woe that could befall my family members when they weren’t in my watchful care.

I still do, from time to time, especially when I’m putting things off and not using my time well.

But one of the things that has come to me as I’ve grown and particularly as I’ve dedicated myself to the study of philosophy and the mind is that it’s best to let go of most things.

If I step outside tomorrow and get hit by a falling airplane (or get hit by a falling airplane while asleep tonight), what flaw does it reflect in myself?

Nothing.

I’d much rather worry about taking one step forward than obsess over the past and the worst that could happen. When death comes for me, which I’m not planning on any time soon (by the grace of God), I don’t plan to grovel before it. Instead I’ll focus on what I’ve done, and what I can do with the time I have left.

Resolution

Don’t sweat the small stuff. (Hey, I’m even willing to punctuate emotionally raw reflections with cliches, and I’m not trying to be flippantly dismissive. Judge me as you wish!)

Become the full human, whatever that takes.

There is a lot to regret, but no reason to spend time doing so.

Reflections on Aphorisms #91

Today was a moderately successful day. I didn’t get as much physical activity or writing done, but now that I have classes (which I’m very much currently ahead on) I can justify that a little.

I also have been getting better at trying to spitball some of the writing I’ve been doing instead of waiting to perfect it in my head. I’ve been listening to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and trying to follow some of the advice there.

Aphorism 129

The passions possess a certain injustice and self interest which makes it dangerous to follow them, and in reality we should distrust them even when they appear most trustworthy.

François de La Rochefoucauld 

Interpretation

One of the things about emotion is that it tends to lead us toward things that further emotion.

If we want to feel good, we tend to lead ourselves in paths that gratify us, and we slowly develop an attachment to our own pleasure.

I forget who once said that we tend to continue doing whichever behaviors we reward in ourselves, though I’m sure that it’s a common sentiment enough that it’s been echoed and repeated to the point that you could lose yourself in a rabbit hole. Maybe Jung, or even Nietzsche? It follows some of the biological nature of the brain as a system that tends to follow both chemical processes and associations between neurons, and I’ve definitely heard it described in that language by someone who has been in the 21st century (Jordan Peterson?), though I feel like its origins may even be classical.

To a certain extent, one could also extend the idea to Rochefoucauld.

Passions are generally bad not because we should stifle our emotions and get rid of them, but because passions represent the emotion as the sole driver of our decision-making process. We need emotions so that we can prioritize things. Of course, emotion serves as a simplifying heuristic; “liking” or “disliking” something based on experience or prediction is much simpler than making a rational decision every time it comes up, but can often lead to equally good results. Going further, however, emotions are part of what makes the human experience worth living through.

Yes, emotions often include suffering, and passions are dangerous, but they’re also responsible for everything we perceive as good. Happiness in itself has no place on the scale of vice and virtue, but the purpose of virtue is to foster as much happiness as possible on a grand cosmic scale (even if it means sacrifice and struggle in the short-term) made possible through an understanding of truth and meaning.

Passions are often the result of seeking happiness above seeking virtue. It’s the desire to have the meal without the work, metaphorically speaking. There’s a children’s story in the vein of Aesop in which I believe a chicken (I should remember; animal symbols often carry archetypal significance) works to sow seeds of corn but the other animals do not help, despite being asked to help. Of course, when the harvest comes, everyone asks the chicken if they can share in the food, but the chicken keeps the grain for itself.

Without delving into the morals of the story, acting on passion is similar to desiring that which is unearned. Although passion is not necessarily innately wrong, since there are justifiable reasons for the actions that can be ascribed to passion flowing out of a desire for justice and righteousness, the fact remains that the passionate are prone to be deceived and preyed upon by those who can manipulate their emotions.

Worse, passions tend to undo the clarity of mind that would be needed to safely act upon them. Even if a wise person can rely on their feelings above the knowledge they have acquired and the counsel of peers and sages in a single instance, in repetition they wind up preparing themselves to act on passion when they believe they are simply considering the input of their emotion.

Resolution

Make emotion one counselor among many.

Avoid entitlement.

Don’t do something in an emergency that I would not do in principle.

Reflections on Aphorisms #90


Classes officially start for me tomorrow. I’ve already had a chance to log on and preview them, but since it’s a Sunday I haven’t gone into depth on anything. I’m hoping to get disciplined about being done with classes well before the actual due dates, so that I can devote some time at the end of each week to really reflect on and use what I’ve learned.

Aphorism 128

We have more strength than will; and it is often merely for an excuse we say things are impossible. (Maxim 30)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the things that always strikes me as odd is that people talk about how “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” in the vein of Paul, but most people actually have the opposite going on in their lives.

We do not push ourselves to our fullest and expound upon our potential. This would be difficult and unwieldy, and we are unwilling to confront the suffering that it would bring upon us. Suffering, however, is not the greatest evil.

There are very few people who actualize their potential. We possess much more strength and power than we give ourselves credit for, and even “successful” people do not bring their best selves into being. This is the cause of much of the conflict in life.

I consider myself successful, in the sense that I do not believe myself to be a moral failure, and where I have deficiencies I am remedying them. I have chosen the sacrifices that I wish to make in order to become a person who is good and God-fearing. Even then I have not lived up to the standards that I have set for myself, both morally and practically.

By what means, then, can we seek to meet our own standards?

According to Rochefoucauld, who seems in this case to be quite correct, we need to realize that a lot of the time it is not our bodies or our minds that betray us but our will.

In his Memories, Dreams, Reflections (which I have written a review of), Carl Jung talks about the case of a mother who infected her children with contaminated bathwater. She had known that the water was not pure and safe to drink, but had permitted them to do so, seemingly out of negligence. Jung discovered that she had developed a complex; she was quite happy with one of her children (her daughter, if my memory serves), but not the other (her son). The reasoning for this wasn’t a matter of mere approval or disapproval; there were correlations and associations that led to her antipathy.

The daughter died, the son survived, and she slipped into such a shattered mental state as to be institutionalized.

She would never deliberately murder her children. However, she wound up in a ward for the insane, deemed incompetent or mentally defective. There was no limit in her capacity, however. She was perfectly intelligent, and in fine physical health. It was only the fact that she had begun to loathe her role as mother and the burdens that her marriage and society had placed on her that caused her to abandon her duties.

Most of us occupy this state. There is no shortcoming in us which justifies our failings. We are actually often surpassed by those who have much better reasons to fail than we do. I recently read Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken (my review), and in an interview at the end of the book she mentioned how she had chronic fatigue disorder and vertigo flare-ups during the writing process.

She’s written two award winning books (both of which have been turned into movies) with chronic health conditions that make even getting out of bed a burden. I’ve never read Seabiscuit, though I can vouch for the quality of Unbroken, and I think that her aptitude is a good model of how far the will can carry someone.

Most of us don’t have that will; I know that I certainly don’t yet. Fortunately, I don’t believe we’re static beings. We change and grow. At the very least we have seen that people are capable of disintegrating. However, every day and every hour we have experiences that change us, even in our dreams. If we capitalize on our experiences and avoid those things which bring us to moments of weakness and psychological disintegration, we can move away from weakness and toward strength.

Resolution

Find and do things which serve a greater purpose.

Don’t pretend that weakness is an obstacle.

Every time I want to stop, ask why.

Reflections on Aphorisms #89

Today was not quite as productive a day, but the great thing is that at least I was productive enough recently to actually pull it off without falling behind, though I would’ve loved to have gotten a little more done.

Aphorism 127

Although men flatter themselves with their great actions, they are not so often the result of a great design as of chance. (Maxim 57)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the great things that I’ve realized about working as I grew older is that you don’t work for a reward, you work for the opportunity or expectation of a reward.

This may sound a little weird, but it’s actually a very familiar trend in the modern world. As a writer, I see this very often in a day-to-day sense where I write for the public and rely on their response and write as a freelancer for clients and hope that my work lives up to their expectations.

As a more traditional employee, however, you still do your work for extrinsic rewards. There are very few things that we do in the modern world for the sake of getting them done. This is why a lot of hobbies are satisfying and popular; fixing a car or growing a garden doesn’t necessarily lead to financial success, but it’s a great way to accomplish something.

I think that this is part of the reason why people  become so dissatisfied with the modern world. I remember realizing at some point during my college career that I would never be rewarded (financially, at least) for the work that I did. I would be rewarded for joining a team and meeting certain requirements, but the actual work was not going to be the source of my reward.

This is responsible for a certain amount of what I believe to be best described as bureaucratic apathy. Because the reward for the work doesn’t follow from the work itself, there’s a disintegration of motivation and ideals.

Of course, when you work directly for an audience or client you have a much better chance of having a link between work quality and recompense. I’ve written a lot over the years, and I like to think that I get a little better at it daily, or at least weekly.

This is where we wind up back at Rochefoucauld. I honestly believe that some of my writing is at a professional level, but I’m not yet there as a writer. This would be frustrating when taken from certain perspectives, but I’ve learned that the quality of work does not necessarily correlate with the reception that it receives.

I think that there’s a reason why humans have a tendency to gamble, and it’s tied to the concept that there’s a disconnect between actions and success. Sometimes success comes long down the road, instead of immediately, and it needs some time to be recognized.

Where gambling becomes dangerous is that this can be willfully triggered by those who exploit our perceptions of chances of success and use it to give us the perception of potential future gain where none exists.

The horrible thing is that getting rid of this would also require to some degree getting rid of our hopes and dreams, because we would lose our ability to go for the future that we desire based on the work of the present.

Reason is useful, but it only deals with the known and experienced. To prepare for the future by moving into the unknown and mastering it is a matter of the spirit.

Resolution

Take every chance to do great things.

Don’t let failure stop effort.

Never do things for the sake of merely pulling a paycheck.

Reflections on Aphorisms #88

Wrote this earlier in the day, so I haven’t had a chance to see how the day went yet. By all indications, though, today will be a good day. I forced myself to just sit on the couch and write for a few hours (a handful of ~5 minute breaks aside), which means that my productivity has hit a level that I am honestly a little surprised by myself.

At the time of writing I’ve written around three-thousand words (perhaps even a good chunk more) and it’s not even noon.

Aphorism 126

The evil that we do does not attract to us so much persecution and hatred as our good qualities. (Maxim 29)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

The other day (link to my post), I wrote about Rochefoucauld’s observations on jealousy and envy and I think that there’s some truth to it when you view it by means of this maxim.

I think that it’s particularly true in modern society, and perhaps in Rochefoucauld’s society too, that people have a tendency not to focus on the negatives that people do.

Some of this stems from good, some from evil.

On one hand, we ignore the faults in others because it would be hypocritical of us to condemn them. We still have faults in our own persons, and it is right that we hold off on a certain degree of judgment. We may also be overly optimistic, trusting others and giving them grace when their actions do not line up with their ideals. That we don’t know for sure what their ideals are is a problem that keeps me up at night, but it’s a matter for deeper philosophy than I have a desire to get into before noon.

We may also lack the virtue required to see faults for what they are. If we do something wrong, we justify and rationalize it, or at the very least shamefully hide it. When we see others in the same sin, we defend them as we would defend ourselves. We argue that it isn’t so bad. We come up with a legitimate goal that it furthers. We ignore it so we do not have to confront it.

More dangerously, we may also feel that it is not our place to help our fellow humans. We can look at those adrift and argue that we were never appointed as their moral arbiters. Of course, we should not trample on the freedoms of others.

There’s an idea in certain interpretations of Judaism and Christianity that there’s a provision of free will because God wants humanity to be free to choose or reject the divine will. All the evil and suffering in the world exists because without the ability to suffer we would never be able to reject God. Suffering flows from rejection of God, but a perfect world would be the destroyer of all virtue because nobody would do anything except absolutely surrender to God.

To force others to morality has the same effect as removing their free will. It may be necessary in certain cases (e.g. to prevent the violent from preying on the innocent), but it is not a morally good act of itself outside the context of protecting people.

One of the reasons why we turn criticism of people toward their virtues is that a flawed virtue is obvious but also something which is acceptable to talk about. If you tear into someone for being an alcoholic, you look cruel. If you point out that someone who is generally honest lied about something important, you look like a defender of those poor souls that they might exploit without your warning. You can argue that you are not condemning their character (even though you are) and instead claim that it is all about their actions.

Nobody is perfectly virtuous. My best “virtues” come from a lack of temptation and appeal rather than mastery of the self. I am sure that this is replicated in other people. When I was a youth, people praised me for my pursuit of wisdom, but I was really more afraid of being a fool than I was desirous of wisdom.

In this light, what is the correct course of action?

To recognize virtue in others and praise it.

To recognize vice in the self and in others and seek to eliminate it.

To speak openly without condemnation or flattery.

Resolution

Seek to pursue virtues where I have vices.

Don’t forget that evil motives can drive seemingly good actions; they corrupt them entirely, but that is not immediately obvious.

Grant some grace. Some. Do not go so far that you permit people to become victims.

Reflections on Aphorisms #87

Lots of work to do, got most of it done. What hasn’t been done can get done tomorrow.

That’s a good place to be in.

More weird dreams. I wonder if there’s a sort of Jungian “Once you find out the meaning, the dreams will stop” thing going on for me right now.

Aphorism 125

To establish ourselves in the world we do everything to appear as if we were established. (Maxim 56)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed in myself and in many students is that there’s a tendency to posture as if one is better than one is.

I mean, heck, I just got into grad school by using a writing sample that received probably the most editing of anything I’ve ever written in my life, and which took the usually freeing writing process and turned it into something a little bit painful.

I’m proud of it, but it definitely isn’t the sort of effort I can really put out reliably, which is half the reason I’m going back to school.

So there’s an irony there: the pressure to get into a spot where I can improve myself requires that I look good.

Of course, this has a positive side-effect. I’ve improved myself and forced myself into a sort of initiation on the road to further improvement.

But it does feel kind of silly.

There is a darker side to this, namely the use of posturing rather than actual improvement.

This isn’t actually unique to this field.

One of the ways to conceive our lives is as a heroic struggle, basically Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I don’t think that this by itself is sufficient to cover everything, but it’s enough to really get one thinking about the role we play in our world.

If we look at life as a series of challenges that we must overcome on the way to something greater, we have three things that really need to happen:

  1. One must overcome their challenges.
  2. One must find the way (Way, perhaps).
  3. One must turn that into betterment.

There is room for deception at each of these steps, both self-deception (Jung’s Shadow) and deception of others for personal gain.

The problem with deception is that it’s very hard to keep your stories straight. Once one walks the way of deception they lose the way of the hero, or the Way. Let us not forget that Christ uses the terms “the way, the truth, and the life” in a strong statement of divinity, illustrating the importance of finding the right path for life as being equal not only to truth but also to life itself, and to an extent as a way of finding God. Note that this is something of a theological blunder, so don’t read too much into it. I just don’t have better words right now. The Way, understood as an archetype or otherwise, is just very important.

There’s something to be said for the idea that strength attracts strength. We desire the desirable, unless some charity works within us. For this reason we often try to posture and present our best face forward, trying to be that which we are not so that we can enjoy the privileges of that which we wish to be.

Resolution

Be the real deal.

Don’t deceive.

Find the Way and take it as far as it leads.

Reflections on Aphorisms #86

Today was a productive day.

I’m glad to be able to say that.

I had probably the weirdest dream I’ve had in a long time last night. I’m not sure what the meaning is. Probably “Don’t eat anything spicy right before bed.”

For what it’s worth, I do kind of enjoy dreaming, when it is fantastic. It’s like a front-row seat at a really surreal theater.

Aphorism 124

The hate of favourites is only a love of favour. The envy of NOT possessing it, consoles and softens its regrets by the contempt it evinces for those who possess it, and we refuse them our homage, not being able to detract from them what attracts that of the rest of the world. (Maxim 55)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

Envy is one of my least vices, in part because I’ve always been a little frugal in my tastes and in part because I just find myself to be unusually grateful when I force myself to slow down and look at things.

Of course, I’m probably one of Rochefoucauld’s “favorites” in the sense that I’ve been lucky and fortunate, with a certain amount of prudence learned from others’ examples and a dab of talent that I don’t typically put to good use.

It makes sense then that I shouldn’t be too envious: my main goal is to be my best self, and while I’m not terribly good at that it also stands to reason that most other people are not going to be the best possible version of me and I won’t feel jealous of them.

Though, I will say, going to GenCon and seeing a bunch of other professionals in the games industry gave me perhaps the closest thing to envy I’ve ever had, though I was still more grateful to meet people than I was jealous of their success.

Reading Scum and Villainy (affiliate link), a quite excellent game that I picked up at GenCon, made me a little envious. It’s very similar in many ways to my Waystation Deimos (affiliate link) in terms of mechanics (I think they share some DNA, but I’m not really familiar with how Blades in the Dark and the Resistance system are related) but they have a lot of great ideas that I never even thought of, so I’m just a wee bit jealous of them.

Of course, that’s more of a “Oh hey, you had the idea I wanted to have” moment and I think there’s some room for healthy expression there. It’s not necessarily that one is envious, one learns from the masters.

What I think Rochefoucauld is getting at is when people become bitter over the differences between them in a social sense. Certainly I know people who seem to have had more success for their efforts than I have, and I think that this is a pretty common experience in the human condition.

Jordan Peterson once said something about comparing yourself to other people, and he pointed out that in every person’s life by the time they’re thirty you’re going to be able to draw something like a dozen different axes of comparison between you and them.

For every one in which you’re inferior, there’s probably one in which you’re superior.

And that overlooks the fact that any inferiority may be your own fault. Right now I’m not a famous or successful writer or game designer, but that may be as much due to my own skills as to any lack of exposure and networking.

If you seem inferior to someone in every way, perhaps the best response is to admire them instead of envying them. It will give you the clarity to pursue the same path that they walk, and adapt it to your own way intelligently and without deceit. It enables you to have conversations openly and without the desire to score points and inflict wounds, which makes you much more pleasant to be around.

Reflection

Admire those who do what I wish to do better than I do.

Compare on multiple points, or don’t compare at all.

Count blessings.

Reflections on Aphorisms #85

Today was kind of a weird day because I got a lot done, but not by my usual metrics.

Tomorrow I really need to get into shape on working on those, because they do tend to reflect how I’m making money currently.

Aphorism 123

We are never so happy or so unhappy as we suppose. (Maxim 49)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

There’s a long way down, and there’s a long way up.

I like the notion that there’s a metaphysical heaven and hell that reside below the depths and above the peaks of what the world can hold. Because there is the sacred, we cannot know true hell, and because there is the profane we cannot know true heaven.

The one way to alter this would be if one or the other were to vanish from the world, and neither seems like a likely outcome.

At the same time, we are limited by our history and our context in how we perceive the world around us.

I think that this comes up a lot in modern politics; we see the world around us and think that it’s really awful, but the whole situation is really not all that worse than what people have been used to a long time. In fact, we live in a blessed golden age compared to not just some but probably any of our predecessors.

There are examples I could give here that would be more politically charged than they need to be to make my point, so I’ll focus on the idea of nuclear war bringing an end to humanity.

First, the estimates are apocalyptic in their scope, but overlook the fact that a lot of the dangerous of a nuclear war are centralized in particular zones. We’d possibly see a return to a dark age, but probably not the end of the species.

This is not good, but when you look at it in context it’s immediately obvious that there are far worse things that have happened throughout history. Think of the plagues and wars that spanned continents, famines that took out massive portions of the population.

Humanity has always faced existential threats, and always will. They take on new forms because we’ve been fortunate enough to transcend the old ones, and our means of doing so have been imperfect and driven by base motivations.

We also overestimate our prosperity.

I don’t want to diminish our accomplishments, since they’re almost always a reflection of what happens when virtues are practiced consistently and sacrifices are made to improve our condition over a long period of time, but at the same time it is important to realize that our current state of being is one of a potential multitudes.

If we were serious with ourselves and pursued virtue with the same dogmatic obsession that we tend to pursue the things that we want, we would see outcomes we can only dream of.

Resolution

Never settle.

Don’t obsess over the pain of the day. It is a reminder of imperfection, of virtue unfulfilled. Nothing more.

Don’t presume that there is something fundamentally different between now and the collected past.

Reflections on Aphorisms #84

Getting back from travel really leaves me on something of a back foot.

Of course, I spent like two hours today on a call hammering out some game design stuff, so I suppose that one could say that I really wasn’t unproductive so much as not doing the normal things that I would consider productive. There was some of that too, but not as much as I had been doing.

Aphorism 122

Strength and weakness of mind are mis-named; they are really only the good or happy arrangement of our bodily organs.

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

Right now I have an appreciation for this statement in ways that I don’t think I would always have. I’ve got a headache and I’m exhausted, and I’m also a tad hungry. It’s amazing how a couple little things have such a big impact on my abilities.

Of course, none of these are novel. I’ve been tired and had headaches before, and I get hungry with regularity. In fact, I’ve experienced this exact combination of detriments over and over again.

But one of the things that I note about this is that I tend to lead myself down very different paths of behavior when I’m in “good” condition than I do when I’m not, despite the fact that my actual abilities are probably not significantly impaired by the way I am right now.

Of course, Rochefoucauld has perceived a reality that definitely justifies the statement he makes. Being tired definitely gets in the way of functioning. Pain and hunger impact mood, but how much they really impact functioning is probably pretty dependent on the individual. I’m afraid to say I’m something of a wimp. I have a very good pain tolerance on the high end of the spectrum–I broke my arm as a youth and was more concerned with getting dinner than any pain that it was causing me even as it gave way under my weight when I attempted to stand–but I also have a tendency to whine and moan. Worse, I enjoy this sort of complaining and I let it lead to a certain self-indulgence in which I am less productive than I really should be.

Of course, this is the antithesis of what I should probably be doing. When you face a trial, you are presented with a unique opportunity to overcome something that poses a challenge to your unique being. This allows you to move along several different paths, most of which can be labeled clearly as heroic or unheroic (and perhaps there is only one heroic path).

Generally I find that I miss these opportunities, and this makes me something like a fair-weather friend to myself. This is not a good place to be, because part of the act of becoming fully human is to figure out a way to take care of oneself.

Fortunately, there’s always going to be room to improve on this. I like to think that I get a little better at dealing with things each time I encounter them. Of course, this probably doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but I’ve been on such a process of self-improvement that I might actually have a chance to change it now.

I guess the lesson to take away from this is pretty simple: You are a creature of circumstance, but you don’t have to be defined that way.

Resolution

Don’t let circumstance overcome potential.

Be willing to sacrifice the moment for the future.

Remember that you are a being of flesh and blood.

Reflections on Aphorisms #83

Travel is brutal and I don’t like it. I’ve had something like five hours of sleep in the past 24 hours, and that’s being optimistic about the amount of time I actually spent sleeping on the plane, so if this is more rambling and incoherent than my average work I apologize in advance.

Sometimes being tired leads to free association, though. Even though this isn’t always desirable, it can lead to points of interest. Speaking of which:

Aphorism 121

Interest blinds some and makes some see. (Maxim 40)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

I’ve written about the distinction between the known and the unknown before, especially as it pertains to heuristics (basically, they’re fast hacks to understand the world better than our brains could otherwise do), so I’m going to take a different approach today.

Having an interest in things leads to an opportunity cost of all other things in which one could be interested. My experiences recently with dipping my toes into the game industry have pushed me to realize this: I’m not sure that I want to make games as the be-all end-all of my life, but there are people who have totally committed themselves to that to the exclusion of all else.

And that’s not necessarily bad, but it means that they’re not even considering applying some of their talents elsewhere. This is not, of course, a universal rule; some people have fully assessed their life and still choose to be monolithic in their pursuits, sometimes in error and sometimes in pursuit of exceptionalism.

The dangerous thing is when people haven’t assessed their life. I remember an instance when I was in college where it looked like everything was going to go off the rails. I was in a teaching program and hadn’t yet gotten any classroom experience and was letting the angst of uncertainty build up. My father was between jobs after the company he had been working for canceled his project, my friends had all gone away for the summer, and I generally just felt like I was adrift and life was down to the lowest point it ever had been.

Because I was living with the conviction that I was going to be a teacher (one I still hold) but I had not considered my options, this became something of a crisis. In reality, had I been willing to see it, I would have realized that I had talents and skills that would help me reach my goal, downplay my fears with the reminder that other people go through the same things without issue, and work toward a goal.

Instead, my interest in the path I thought I was on, the life I thought had been granted to me, blinded me to the fact that it was really a path that I could choose to walk and take proactive steps toward.

You can’t do much without a purpose, and interest can be a pathway that leads in that direction. However, if all you have is one consuming passion, it can vanish or be thwarted and put you in a state of disorder.

Resolution

Be open to opportunity.

Reflect on goals.

Find the pathway that leads to the stars.