A Sense of Being – A Being of Sense – or Why to Not Have It All Can Be More

Wealth, fame, leisure, luxury – these things seem to present an irresistible allure. In former times, the most important person was the king, in Europe. Or an emperor. The nobility after that. The craftsmen and merchants also were well respected. Some had even more power, such as the Medici or the Fugger, who as rich merchants either bought kings and emperors by lending them money. Or even were lesser earls themselves, at a later stage.
At the heart of all this is very often the longing for appreciation. I’ve posted about that before.

But another yearning shows itself: what if the appreciation of others has already been gained?
Perhaps, if the appreciation and self-esteem are in place through upbringing or surroundings, the next step in a human life is feeling fulfilled…

The last Austrian empress comes to mind, Elizabeth II., former Bavarian princess and wife of the last Austrian emperor:
contrary to popular belief she was not the sweet and tragic figure who fell in love and then became sick and had to leave family and country for health. Tuberculosis of the lung is so nice and pale and sweet and bitter, it lends itself beautifully to the stereotype of the tragically dying young lady and sweet girl.

But this is the popular image painted in movies of the fifties of the last century, shortly after the war, when people felt a particular need for the perfect, glamorous world of fairy stories.

Most of her life she spent in travelling, and building little, playful kiosks and castles. Sometimes taking on enormous, life endangering risks, such as sailing in storms that could easily have killed everyone on board.

Wrote poems of longing and more or less sad mystery, spent a large amount of time on drilling her body and eating practically nothing in order to fulfill the idea of the most beautiful woman at a European court, she had been purported to be.
She seems to have been sometimes bulimic and anorexia was at the bottom, apparently.

In a way she seems to have been what is called a bird in a golden cage: with education and a comparatively easy childhood in the outdoors she led a life as the completely ‘useless’ wife of an emperor, her whole existence being geared towards producing an heir to the throne.

Once she had done her duty, she was little more than a decorative asset. A life like hers – driven across and around the world, severely exercising morning, noon and night, almost feverishly hunting adventure and dangerous risks – begins to make sense in this light:
a well-educated human being with creative ideas and not the slightest task or challenge to keep her agile mind busy.

So perhaps, not to have everything, may be the height of existence, after all.

Why Large Groups Can Seem Safe – and How to Avoid the Wrong Ones

Human beings and large crowds: an explosive mixture, at times.

My father used to put it quite bluntly: “if  1,000,000 flies sit on crap – you will too?”

Large crowds and also large groups can be wrong and they can be dangerous. In politics, they can cause dreadful movements, such as the Nazis were during the Third Reich, my favourite example, because so close and real in history.

There are sects that make people tools in the hands of their ‘leaders’ for a religious cause.

There are other kinds of groups.

Why do people in everyday life seek crowds or a group to join? Why do we look for confirmation of our views in a group, sometimes even just family or friends?

To feel safe – or safer.
Because we feel we are being accepted with what we feel or think. To feel less insecure or threatened, or more proud of ourselves, since we are part of a larger ‘body of common interests’.

This can be important. Human beings since the dawn of time were not meant to exist on their own.

Also, in worthy causes, a group makes us stronger, for example peacefully, non-violently fighting for environmental change, by protesting in the streets.
Joining a group for child protection. Or for the protection of women. To do good for those who are less fortunate than we are, who live on the streets perhaps.

To share joy and make it manifold!

But how can we judge if a cause is worthy? Especially if you feel already insecure or threatened.

Fear can be the worst counsellor!

The beginning of it all is respect:

  • For oneself.
  • For others.
  • For all living beings.

Working at self-esteem can be a good starting point.

But how does respect for myself feel and how can I get over the fear, since others are there that threaten me – or seem to do so?

That’s a tough one. I think there are times when easy solutions can be even more dangerous.

The best couple of ways I feel can help, are these:

  • Learn a method of self-defense that teaches respect for a sparring partner. This will influence your way of treating yourself and others – respectfully.
  • Join a good group of similar-minded people.
    • Find them by using the values given above – or use the United Nations’ Human Rights Declaration, as a yardstick.
  • Have patience and keep the ultimate worthy goal in mind:

keeping the peace in peaceful coexistence.

The Willow Tree – and the Fight for Life

I like the saying: ‘when you fight you can loose. Not to fight means you have already lost.’

I also remember the principle from jujitsu many years ago, apparently part of its age-long tradition:
‘Be like the willow tree that bends before the storm – and then darts back. Yield in order to win.’

Fighting may sound like: ‘be strong – and hard.’

To me it’s more like this:
‘Persevere – hang in there. And: don’t forget about the breaks!’

Love – Life – Marriage – Passion

Love is not an adventure – but a journey.
Passion is not a function – but a person.
Marriage is not a commitment as in: prison – it’s a decision.
Romance is not a fleeting idea from fairy stories – but heart and mind of a person.
Life is not a sandbox and games – but responsible behaviour – and a ‘Yes’.

Numbers, Business – Everywhere: Love?

People for quite some time, even more so since WW II and the global ‘advent’ of an apparently global culture – have embraced the idea that business is good. More business is better. Which basically means: the higher the numbers, the better.

This leads to the rather sad realization that many people also treat love that way: they may not know better, but they act as if numbers are at the bottom of it. Love the most beautiful, the richest, the most handsome, the loudest, funniest or something else …est.

And the surface too often is taken for the real stuff: whatever someone says is taken at its face value, it seems as long as the image is ‘fitting’ the mainstream, the fashion, the – numbers, all’s well.

Particularly irritating at times is the behaviour of grown-ups, who seem to have no sense of their individual value, who think that having fun can have one connotation only – and that it is also fine to listen to what the majority apparently has to ‘say’ about these matters.

Who are constantly testing their market value by flirtatious behaviour or coy looks and moves – and seem to overlook completely, that they are transformed into a product, on ‘the market’… Almost seize to be human, and loose all individual character in the process, because they try so hard to be ‘part of the crowd’, the majority. Fulfil general ideas, instead of being a person.

So, what people believe, seems to amount to this:

  • The majority, it is taken for granted, is always right.
  • Fashion or what people take for it, the mainstream, is the best thing to have – or be. Or at least be part of.
  • The majority states that having fun means, more of everything is better – even in love. Or what they take for it.
  • If one conquers ever so many more and new people every other day, not only will certain others look up to them – it will make life so much more interesting and – fun…

All these assumptions are based on  the idea of numbers: and since human beings are not ‘working’ by numbers alone or even mainly – these ideas will never result in what many people are looking for.
Instead, the boredom and the uneasiness continue – and become more. More people, more exciting moments become necessary to fill the void, scare away fear or anger –  and less and less insights into their own soul, true needs or sorrows are possible.

What will be impossible to find, are fulfilment and the inner calm of ‘having arrived’.  The ultimate contentment.
These things can be found only inside, not out.

Pluralism – Tolerance – Life or: Why It is Difficult at Times to Accept the Other

For quite some time now, research about peace and how to keep it has been going on, at least since WW II, one of the most dreadful catastrophes mankind has seen.

Among the most important aspects are these two, which actually are two sides of a coin:
pluralism and tolerance.
They seem easy in theory, but everyday practice shows they are not. Why?

Because it is human to be afraid or at least intimidated by what is different from ourselves. To judge – and more importantly – feel judged by the ‘other’. The concept, idea, shape or, simply, behaviour that is different from what we are used to.

In ancient times so research seems to confirm, this point of view was a lifesaver: trust only what is the same, difference can be dangerous. Apparently animals still act that way: any smell, colour and shape different from their own seems a danger.

Yet, there are details that can make all the difference: animals that are smaller, insignificant, or have a smell that is considered neutral, may be ignored altogether.

This points to something that makes the whole idea even more poignant:
The other is only made an issue of, if it is not just different – but when it appears to be dangerous!

Unfortunately, this is true for human behaviour too:
Most of the times human beings start fighting, on smaller or larger scales, they do so because they feel endangered.

Xenophobia is the ancient Greek term for the behaviour that is at the root of these situations: the fear of the stranger, the other, the dangerous one.

Peaceful coexistence, if aimed at, needs these few ideas:

  • Remember that with self-esteem and the realization of being human and thus imperfect comes more security by feeling adequate.
  • Start getting to know yourself better to help self-esteem along.
  • Stop thinking that feeling insecure or inadequate is something bad – or very singular. It’s human to feel afraid sometimes, to feel inadequate or insecure. Deal with it.
  • Do not try to feel more secure by making others smaller, in deed, or in words.
  • Most importantly: try to cross the boundaries, get to know the ‘other’ on safe grounds – and start relishing what plurality has to give.

This is the high road to peace – and more respect, for yourself and for others.

One of Those Questions – Love in Triples?

It seems that in long-term relationships for all kinds of reasons people can forget about passion and how it might work…
Sometimes it’s not so much the ‘forgetfulness’, but reasons outside of their strictly personal ideas have made them come together, especially: marry.

For thousands of years mankind has been wondering and does every day, if passion must not fade, naturally, after some time.
I am not sure if I am the right person to answer this definitively, but in my opinion: ‘no’.
I am a romantic and I believe that with patience and knowledge and the right setting more things are possible, than “are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio”, as Shakespeare has Hamlet say in the famous play.

A lot of people seem to feel that the solution lies in the triple: have the long-term partner to share life with – and the second ‘love’ to share passion with. Little vignettes may swim to imagination’s surface, painting the life that way in rosy, passionate and separate colours…
Interestingly, almost no one takes the time to think this through… Man (and woman) is not a machine, a function, but always a unique being, a whole of mind, soul and body.

So, shortly put: triples do not work in love.

Be that as it may, this little clip from one of my favourite movies gives a nice answer to that question, that is not definitive, on the surface – but makes you wonder in a good way…

Stephen Fry: “Playing Grafcefully With Ideas” – Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein or Modern Heroes

I like to share this address here, Stephen Fry’s address to Oxford students on what to value very highly in life, especially as student or – I like to add, human being:
freedom of thought

Fry’s speeches and subtle humour are famous already, as actor as well as writer he can be said to practice the true art of understatement.

I will just put this here, it’s great fun and well-versed as well as read. Take a little time off your household chores, perhaps, get a breather from a working life of pressing tasks – and enjoy!

The Art of Making Mistakes and Yet Thrive: Try Again!

There’s no shame in failure, only in not trying again. (Henry Ford)

Many quotes similar to this have been attributed to Henry Ford. The image of the proverbial entrepreneur is associated with him.

Regardless of this being really his own words – I have found them to be quite true in the course of my life.

In a number of cultures, the strict rules we grow up with as children can create the impression that making mistakes can lead to serious consequences. During education the consequences of a mistake or an error are often painted in very dark and sinister colours. This method often is used to make children and adolescents better understand that consequences should be taken into account before acting.

The concept of Yin and Yang is often used to describe the fact that nothing and no human being is just one thing – or another.
Black – or white. But both, more often than not.
In some ways this is true.
The Chinese concept itself is a little more complex.

In order to find out what concept helps understanding life and human beings as well as situations wholly and thus truthfully, and so make our ideas reliable, the Yin-Yang-concept is not sufficient.

To make it clearer and yet easy to understand, I like to use the image of the kaleidoscope: most situations, people and even mistakes are not one- or two-sided, but rather multi-faceted, that is:
colourful!
Therefore, to be afraid of a mistake can also be the result of not looking at the whole picture. Of all the pros and cons a situation, a person or especially a mistake can have.

Basically, as the quote above also shows, not trying again is the real shame. And not seeing what is true, but jumping to conclusions.
I’ve posted about this in another context before.

If we slip on a banana peel, fall and get hurt, we pick ourselves up. We attend to the scratches – and we may notice in the event that the slip has prevented us from running across the street, without watching out for the van that might have killed us.

That is a simple example of what I mean:
Get up, try again – and see if there aren’t upsides after all!

I Cannot Be Bothered with Museums – or: Being Is so Light – or: Why Education?

I am part of a family that for hundreds of years has been busy to educate and learn and further culture, arts and knowledge, basically across half of Europe.
When I was still a girl, I often felt overwhelmed and intimidated by all the possible knowledge domains that are there these days, all the facts, figures and rules of art one would learn, languages and their often hidden meaning. Mathematics, physics, chemistry, in short: all the subjects of the higher holistic academic education, based on humanist principles, in turn based on Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Humboldtian education ideal of the nineteenth century.

I often asked myself: will I ever be able to learn and understand all these facts? Apart from the possible interpretations and philosophical consequential thoughts one might develop. My parents used to discuss philosophical matters, such as epistemology, the limitations of knowledge, as opposed to wisdom, terminology questions, or language, society and its roots, politics, arts, sciences, literature…

I’ve learned in the meantime that for all the high ideals and aspirations, growing up does for us what we need: knowledge becomes ‘manageable’, categories form in the mind and thus build a solid structure, slowly but surely, if we continue.

I also learned early in life about Socrates and his (alleged) dictum:
“I know that I know nothing.” Although proper research does not find this to be part of the Plato texts, it is widely acknowledged as a short gesture of respect towards previous philosophers and scientists, in the sense that a wealth of knowledge exists and one human being would not be enough to imbibe it all.

Some people have answered the question ‘why study’ in a more generic way:
‘Being educated is a worthy and dignified asset and a proper value of distinction.’
Some find:
‘It can be crucial for a life in wealth or even riches’ – which is the, alas, modern, utilitarian variety of the reason for education.

But somehow these answers weren’t enough for me. They seemed to reduce knowledge and wisdom to something ‘countable’.
For myself I have found a basis for education that is rooted in a belief and experience, especially those blessed with wealthy families and upbringing, may not easily share:

‘Education can make the fundamental difference between the ‘unbearable lightness of being’ – and the ‘unbearable heaviness of being’.’

Why? How?

Lightness of being may be felt by those, who live in comfortable circumstances, who do not know, what real want or need of the fundamental necessities in life feels like. And who may even be tempted to idle away their lives in constant partying and drinking and perhaps even drug abuse, or worse, in order to quench any emotion or thought of emptiness or lack of focus this way. (This kind of behaviour may be a phase only, when people think they have to prove their membership of the ‘wealthy elements’ of society, prove to be bold and exciting…)

Heaviness of being can be felt by those, who have seen – or see – this want, this need. Who have to reduce their living circumstances for years or even decades to the bare living and breathing and clothing and food.

For some time I was part of the second aspect of people. One day, after years and years, one might say, I had the chance to ‘return’ to the museums of my childhood, to the paintings, the knowledge of scientists and meaning.

I entered that hall of paintings, in my case the Flemish and Netherlands artists of the 14th to 16th century, mainly.
And suddenly I was moved almost to tears, feeling:
“Thank God, this is all here, still, and will be, whatever else may happen.”

It was like a revelation at that moment, of art lifting me up above the worries and fears of everyday life. I remembered a number of things I had learned during childhood about the rules for why these paintings were just this way. That made the experience even more insightful and exciting.

So, my answer(s) to the question above, why education, are these:
It can lift you up.
It broadens the horizon of understanding, that is understanding humans, ways of life, religions and politics.
It can make you feel as if a light, like a beacon, shines on our lives, because all those wonderful artists have created art to make life more colourful, multi-faceted and exciting.

So, be undaunted, now or later, and conquer the knowledge, the wisdom and the arts – to light up your life with the knowledge and arts – your way.