What no one told us

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that because what the world needs is people who have become alive.”

Howard Thurman

I’ve been inspired by this quote since I first came across it back in 2012. It spoke to me and captured something in me that was previously unspoken but there in me, nevertheless.

At times I’ve been someone who didn’t heed these wise words. No, no – the world needs a better political system. And then I forgot about what has me come alive and instead went into politics. Mr. Thurman’s wise words didn’t come into my life until 2012, 40 years later. But then again, in 1972 I already knew everything there was to know about everything and wouldn’t have had the wisdom to heed his words anyway. My arrogance was far and away way too big.

I have since discovered that this is what turns me on, has me come alive. Talking about philosophy, what it is to be human, what is possible for human beings living, playing and working together building a world of people who have come alive and being one of those humans.

Whether the world, i.e. all you other people, needs the world of honour that I’m proposing is none of my business. My business is to do what makes me come alive. It’s your business to figure out whether this makes sense and then whether to add it to your base of wisdom so that you can better do what makes you come alive. My intention is to write words, hopefully wise words, that may inspire you and make it easier for you to take on the challenges you will face in constructing a world that will turn you on. Make me a part of your brains trust and I will do my best to live up to honouring that decision.

What no one told us is what is it to be human and that we should ask this question. What is it that makes us unique? Let’s start there and build from that. As I see it, what makes us unique from other species is our rational mind. It’s this rational mind that brought about my power to learn and use words to speak to you over the internet using computers. What also makes us human and is also unique to us is our incredible framework of feelings and emotions. Properly harnessed it leads to the creation of symphonies and sonnets, computer networks and cancer cures. Improperly harnessed it leads to the creation of hydrogen bombs and concentration camps. We get to choose. That’s also what it is to be human: to be a being of choice.

But wait, there’s more! What it is to be human is to be gregarious, sociable. We’re social animals who enjoy hanging out together. Not all the time. We also need our own space, but at heart most of us would rather be close to each other than far apart. Look at the world we’ve built. Regardless of language, culture, religion or race, we’ve gathered together in villages, towns and cities that number into the millions. We get together by choice, to work and play. Most of the time, in most places we are at peace with each other. We assemble in office towers. We get there jammed together in trains and buses and cars. We sit shoulder to shoulder at concerts or sporting events, quietly listening to music or boisterously cheering on our team. We’re like this everywhere. We’re social animals, we’re sociable animals. We like being together.

What it is to be human is to be born tabula rasa, born with a mind that’s empty and needs to be filled correctly. We need to figure out what “correctly” means and sadly too many of us too often have gone to bloody battle arguing over what correctly means, completely missing the black humour that correctly implies never going to bloody battle with each other. More than anything, we rational, social beings born with empty minds need a moral compass, a rational code of conduct for living together.

We’re surrounded by codes of conduct. We have constitutions, laws, moral imperatives given to us by political leaders, religious leaders, gurus. But pretend for a moment that you are tabula rasa. From that perspective, try on this code:

Do no harm. That’s it, that’s all you need. Never by choice harm a human being. Never harm yourself, never harm your neighbour. Never harm anyone. But I didn’t quite get that right. That’s not quite all we need. Rational beings living close together with all the grab-bag of emotional baggage that comes with us need to align with each other on this. We need to agree with each other, to promise each other that we will live this way together. It’s like shaking hands and promising this to each other. “I promise to do you no harm”, and you in turn promise that to me. And one last thing: we must honour this promise, this agreement and all the others that will follow.

  • Do no harm
  • Everything by agreement.
  • Be your word

That’s what I’ve chosen to offer as A Code of Honour to best build A World of Honour.

But wait, there’s one more thing that goes into this being human. We are beings filled with feelings and emotions and these feelings and emotions run the show. When there’s a conflict between doing what we know is the right thing to do and what we feel we want to do, feelings trump knowledge every time.

An example of this in my life is my capacity to procrastinate so perfectly and let myself get away with it. Like I launched my website on 1 July and here it is, the 1st of December, or whatever, and I’m putting up my 2nd post. My intention was and still is to get out a post every week. It’s like I’ve got this little demon sitting on my shoulder, you know like in the cartoons, and this demon is conspiring with my mind and telling me that I don’t feel like writing. Meanwhile on my other shoulder is my conscience telling me be your word and don’t listen to the devil.

My struggle is to be my word in the face of conflicting feelings. My battleground is procrastination – you’ll have your own skirmishes.

Ultimately, we must address conflicts between our feelings and our thoughts with our moral compass, our moral code. I wasn’t put on this Earth to follow the coaxings of some little devil nor the edicts of someone else, no matter how wise and saintly that person might be. I was put on Earth to choose my path, to discover what has me come alive and then do that, to use my capacity for reason and logic to carve out a joyous and creative life.

This is what I will write about.

3 thoughts on “What no one told us

  1. Right on! I have always wanted to do the same. For a long time I would procrastinate and struggle to be my word in the face of conflicting feelings. I remember you used to tell me this story, I’m not sure when you switched from the childhood adventure stories I remember so fondly, but we cant stay kids forever I guess

    Things change and perhaps writing about philosophy is your true calling. I find many of my blog posts turn into philosophical gibberish but some of them turn into fascinating stories. Pretend for a moment you were tabula rasa. You were on a family holiday with your family and Patrick, one of Michael’s friends. I remember he always used to say you told the best stories, but I sort of took it for granted that dads told stories where Indiana Jones joined family vacations and Michael and Patrick went with him on adventures while we sat around the fire.

    Did you know that Christian people used to believe in a metaphor to describe their internal voices as a little devil sitting on one shoulder and a conscience on the other? During my time with them I noticed the ones who are 60+ years old still believe it, whereas the younger ones know that is nonsense. They know they were put on Earth to choose their path, to discover what has them come alive and then do that, to use their capacity for reason and logic to carve out a joyous and creative life. Because God asks them to.

    I remember the day I learnt everyone was put on Earth for exactly the same reason, and we had been raised in a culture that was designed to tell them that was the devil making them think that, and gradually evolve into no one telling them to think that. When it was so glaringly obvious that we were supposed to think of it as God all along. Why? Because you procrastinate on writing for decades and while that is better than a world they used to beat into submission its easy to not procrastinate.

    Anyway, like you say you were not put on this world to follow coaxings of little devils or wise saintly people. You are to get them across the bridge. And in the world in which you exist, your family grew up in the land of the angles, who once long ago had a holiday called Michaelmas that I’d never once heard of growing up, celebrating the day St Michael threw Satan down from heaven, with regional variations explaining how the devil landed in a blackberry bush.

    I love you. And while I would never take my life or place a wager I’ll get struck down on the 7 year anniversary of starting this,
    reason and logic tell me that stories have a purpose.

    Like

      1. You are welcome. I wish you could explain why I need to be alone in my echo chamber though.

        Like

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