Words of Wisdom (pt 1)

bible words of wisdom

Booking under: Keith

Our theme for October is practicing mindfulness. Gretchen used this theme as an opportunity to be more purposeful in her thoughts and actions, which in turn helped her live more purposefully and “in the moment”.

One of the things Gretchen did was “examine true rules”. For her, “true rules” are the “collection of principles for making decisions and setting priorities.” In other words, they make up our personal philosophies on how to live and act. I thought this was an awesome thing to do, and want to use this post to write about what I take to be “true rules”.

All people should be treated as equals

different people equal value

Different talents. Equal value.

Perhaps one of the more universal “true rules”, I nonetheless think this is quite valid. But first, I want to address what I take to be a common misconception of this principle. Some people believe “all people are created equal”, and I simply cannot accept this (at least not literally).

Just take a look at the people around you, and it’s clear that nobody is “created equal” with anyone else. Some of us are taller and some are shorter. Some are more musically inclined while others are more artistically talented. Some of us are born into material comfort but others find themselves in more difficult circumstances.

However, I don’t think that means some people are therefore superior or more “valuable” than others. This is simply because we did not do anything to earn the “gifts” we were born with. Some of us just got lucky in the “birth lottery” that we were born with the natural and material advantages we have. In following this Rawlsian line of thought, I believe we should treat everyone (regardless of background or talents) as equally valuable individuals that deserve dignity and respect.

What if everyone did that?

person jumping into washing machine

What if everyone decided to jump inside a washing machine?

In line with the rule that everyone should be treated as equals, I believe a good way to know whether something is right or wrong is to ask the Kantian question: What if everyone did that?

While David Hume is my favorite philosopher, I’ve always leaned quite towards Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy. Kant also believed that individuals are valuable persons and should never be considered just a number in a utilitarian calculus (e.g. should I sacrifice one person to save five?). When deciding whether something is morally right or wrong, Kant recommends (very roughly) that we mold the intended action into a rule and try to imagine if everyone can consistently follow that rule. In other words, what if everyone did that?

What if everyone lied? Well, in short, promises won’t be made anymore and the world would descend into chaos. That, I think, is how we know lying is wrong. The consequences don’t make the act of wrong (sometimes lying to protect someone might have good consequences). Rather, lying is (I think) a wrong thing in and of itself. It disrespects the individual by taking away their right to know the truth.

Choose positive

cup of water half full

Is the cup half full or half empty? The optimist says half full!

Moving away from “true rules” that are inspired by canonical philosophers, another thing I try to live by is to “choose positive”, or to view the world as “glass half full” rather than “glass half empty”.

There has been a lot of research showing that people who are optimistic do better in life than those who are more pessimistic. Interestingly, I also have a (rather pessimistic) reason for “choosing positive”. The way I see it, difficulties and challenges in life will happen no matter what. Regardless of your attitude, you’ll still have to face the rocky parts of life. If that’s the case, why not face it positively and try to make the best out of every difficult situation? Easier said than done I know, but I will commit this month to remember this and to choose positive.

Bitter first, sweet later

chocolate cake

Maybe everyone believes in “bitter first, sweet later.” After all, we have dessert after dinner!

This is actually the translation of a Chinese saying. The idea is that it is always better to go through hardships first (or earlier) and to enjoy the rewards last (or later). In terms of our broader lives, I think this makes sense. It’s better to work hard while we are young and energetic rather than to have to tough it out when we’re old and frail. While this may run counter to the instant-gratification culture we live in, I think this rule does contain a lot of practical wisdom.

Funny enough, I’ve always lived this out quite well when I was younger. As a kid, I’d always eat all the vegetables and other non-meat dishes first during dinner. This would allow me to sit back and finish my meal with bite after bite of meaty goodness. However, I soon began to think: Don’t I get less enjoyment from my meat if I eat it near the end of my dinner when I am almost full? Shouldn’t I eat it at the beginning to get the most pleasure out of my meal? Similarly, I understand the temptations of the “live fast, enjoy now” line of thought, and agree we should reward ourselves every now and then. But reflecting on this rule has reminded me that we should be disciplined with our living in order to get the most mileage out of our lives. I’ll be committing to follow this more closely this month.

Summing Up

Summing-up

It’s been great to take a step back and reflect on the life principles I believe to be “true rules”. I might have missed a few here, but I think these principles are highly valuable and they do inform how I feel and (try to) act. What are your “true rules”? What are your guiding principles in life? Check back next week as we dive into what Nicole‘s been mindful about!

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