Philosophy Tuesday

“I suppose it’s an invitation.  Won’t you be my neighbour?  It’s an invitation for somebody to be close to you.  You know I think everybody longs to be loved, and longs to know that he or she is lovable.  And consequently, the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that they are loved and capable of loving.”

— Fred (aka Mr) Rogers

(Pairs wonderfully with this quote also from Mr Rogers and the follow-up post.  And it’s always worth a revisit to his testimony before congress.)

Philosophy Tuesday

“It emphasizes the fact that you can’t rely on the applause of the wider world to tell you whether you’ve lived well or not. Public acclaim may be nice to have, but ultimately, it’s not worth very much. It’s treacherous, fickle, it’s usually wrong… you’ve got to take a lonely private view of what is success and failure for you. I think that is what it’s saying. You’ve got to try and find a meaning that’s within yourself…”

Kazuo Ishiguro on NPR

(I love this, not only for the bit about the creative arts, but that creation and art the most personal to us, the art of living our everyday life.  Who, in that context, is our audience?  Who are we seeking applause from? What actions have a big ‘in order to‘ in them to seek that applause? What default and inherited contexts are we living in, what unquestioned ‘truths’ about what makes for a good life for us?  Where are we being passive and seeking external validation?  We can examine all of these and set any aside that do not enliven and empower ourselves and those around us, and seek our meaning and answers from within, rather than from without.)

Philosophy Tuesday

Here’s something interesting came to mind recently that might prove useful to create a clearing and a more productive relationship with our “goals” in life:  making a distinction between “tactical goals” (smaller scale, direct, and in pursuit of something concrete) and “life goals” (large scale, longer term, and encompassing many aspects of life).

When we lump them together, think of them both as just “goals,” and then relate to them in the same way, they tend to mush together in a way that can lead us toward a couple of big pitfalls.   The first is that we can get caught up with equal fervor or grit while pursuing the both of them, to a degree where it often becomes unproductive.  But while with a tactical goal the short duration and the specific expected outcome limits the reach of it, while also providing end points where we can reflect and choose to let go of the goal, with life goals they can become so all-encompassing that it not only can more easily veer into unproductive and deleterious territory but when they do we often don’t abandon it and, instead, get stubborn and double down.  (With double the unfortunate results.)

The second is that we can get single-minded, or more accurately, single-pathed about it, and not realize that when it comes to life goals there may be many paths towards fulfilling our vision. Or, even more so, we may get so locked in on that goal that we might miss that our vision and desires can be filled in many ways and that the goal we set, and the path we locked ourselves into, isn’t what we actually or authentically want.  Which can then feed back into the first pitfall and we get stubborn and…

By keeping them distinct it allows us to keep our perspective and to keep how we relate to each of them proper for their respective scales.  And as such interact with them in their proper and fruitful ways.  To to facilitate that, maybe it’s best to rename “life goals” to something else… authentic inspirations?  Eh, that doesn’t really roll off the tongue, but whatever we choose can help to keep the two apart and to facilitate making the proper tactical goals along the way towards fulfilling our authentic inspirations.

Philosophy Tuesday

Slowly, my practice changed.

I kissed the hem of each new day

and breathed, as gently

as you press a pear to see

if it is ripe, as slowly

as you separate your hand

from the back of a sleeping child.

And I praised this life,

a late-March garden

where new growth stands

on the bones of the old.

… from the poem Barbarous World by Ginny Hoyle

Philosophy Tuesday

One of the reasons we may glom onto simple explanations and binary/dichotomous thinking while resisting nuance and complexity is because (likely often) we’re already tired from the social conditions of money and debt, of our living situations, of dominance shenanigans, of terrible design (urban and otherwise), and many other things causing friction, frustration, hardship, hurt, and just downright exhaustion.

And so, we think that we don’t have enough energy or enough brainpower to fully engage.  It’s easier to go into full reductivist mode, listen to our inner hacks, and latch onto whatever we think will bring us the most comfort.  Sometimes (often?) with a touch of make-wrong so we can also pretend we have agency by labelling others.

Now, it’s not that we don’t face a lot of friction in our everyday lives and that we don’t need to expend a lot of energy dealing with many things.*  The thing is, by holding onto that excuse and unattentively and letting those hack stories take over, we rob ourselves not only of a lot of the rich and varied experiences that is available in life, but more unfortunately also of the chances of resolving those very things that we keep having to grind through.

It becomes a rut.

It may even feel designed purposefully designed.  And, perhaps (often?), it is.  Because to keep us stuck in this state allows those who loot and deprive us to keep on doing it.  If we can’t engage, we can’t work towards ameliorating the system.

But that bit where we feel we don’t have the energy or brainpower to engage?  That’s also a ruse (both one of our own and one they also peddle to keep us on the sidelines).  We can take a breather**, then head in.  A little bit here, a little bit there, working together, we can strive towards a more just, verdant, equitable, diverse, beautiful, and peaceful life for all.


* Though, mindfulness and ontological inquiry can make an amazing difference here – it was downright astounding to me just how much more smoothly all my days went once I’d begun taking myself on and practicing for a while.  Doubly astounding was how much of that friction was self-inflicted…

** And with mindfulness in action we’ll be less drained to begin with, and able to dive in even more fully.

Philosophy Tuesday

A friend made this observation the other day, and it’s so delightfully tied to my interests I wonder why I didn’t come up with it sooner:

“Learning how to fail is like learning how to fall in parkour or Aikido.” *

And it is.  So much so.  In quite a few ways.  For starters, there’s learning now to fail/fall without being injured or otherwise taken out.  But, even more so, is learning how to fail/fall gracefully, so that we can roll and come right back up.

Then there’s the next level, which is how to be during the failing/falling, without a loss of being present and our peace of mind.** Our spirit doesn’t get taken out either.

Then, as we build our ability and get used to the whole thing, it becomes part of the process.  We engage, we vault, we fail/fall, we roll, we examine, adjust, work, grow, and continue.

And we may just begin to get thrown, fall, or fail less often to begin with.


* Or any other martial art…

** My own experience with this is fun/weird/remarkable/unbelievable/did I mention weird?  There are these two instances I can remember clearly where I’ve slipped or otherwise fallen during kung fu practice.  And both times, I had this amazing moment of realization in the air, as my body hit the horizontal, that was clear and surprisingly calm:  “Oh, I’m falling,” it said.  And with that, without any need to think or plan, I rolled and was on my feet, no worse for the wear from the fall.  It was smooth and fluid and “automatic” and drama-less and I was able to continue my practice right where I’d left off.

Philosophy Tuesday

Was talking with someone about envy recently… ontologically it’s quite the interesting emotion, and one that I’m sure pretty much all of us feel to some degree at various times throughout our lives.  But in musing about it, I realized that there might be several nuances and additional layers that I hadn’t really considered before.  I call them Envy Envy, Due Envy, and Shame Envy.

(As a quick aside, it’s important to note that, though they’re often used interchangeably, there is also a distinction between Envy and Jealousy.  Briefly, Envy is about really wanting something someone else has, whether possessions, attributes, status, or whatever.  Jealousy is to feel insecure or protective of something you already have, or to feel threatened or to worry that someone will take something you already have.)

Envy Envy is the garden variety of envy, that longing for something that someone else, such that we ache within.  A little envy can be motivating, since it can push us to get off our duffs and go out to get that thing.  But a strong amount of envy, or being envious of and pursuing something improper (including something that won’t get us what we actually want) can be quite deleterious.

The next two take this common Envy and add something that doubles down on the deleteriousness.

Due Envy layers on a sense of entitlement.  It says “Not only am do I want and covet that thing you have, but I deserve it and I ain’t getting it.”  It’s envy coupled with a feeling of insult and of being thwarted.

Shame Envy, while similar to Due Envy, twists its layer towards a sense of, well, shame.  Not so much shame for feeling the envy, but more along the lines of “Not only do I want and covet the thing you have, but I should have it by now and I’m bad and wrong and failing for not having it yet.”

And it’s very much possible to have all three Envys at the same time!  Envy Envy is already present in Due and Shame envy, but since Due and Shame envy share that same fantasy of expectation and entitlement, when the discomfort of shame sets in, Due Envy lashes out to try and discharge the pain.

The key here is to recognize that it’s the expectation and the fantasy that’s at the root and that needs the transformational attention.  Because without addressing that not only does their deleterious impacts continue but it’s unlikely to be able to wrangle the base Envy Envy back into that productive zone.

Philosophy Tuesday

There’s that phrase, “couldn’t see the forest for the trees,” which is really kind of a clever description of someone who’s either only considering a small part of a situation and/or who are so focused on the details that they completely miss and don’t appreciate the larger situation and context.  But at the same time, we have the phrase, “stuck in their ivory tower,” or perhaps, “their heads are in the clouds,” which relates to someone who is only seeing things from a thousand meters and are so focused on the ‘big picture’ of the thing that they are completely separated from the facts and requirements and the nuances of the situation and context.

Which points to a spectrum, doesn’t it?  And, even more so, of the value of traveling along that spectrum.

One of the great things I feel fortunate to have learned in becoming an architect is that skill of being able to zoom out and see the whole of the thing, including the form, the environment, the context(s), their interactions, and the possible impacts… and then (have to) zoom all the way into the specific detail of how that piece of wall will connect to the floor.  And everything in between, including function and circulation, codes and safety, space and experience, and etc.  It’s a constant shifting of scales, and a constant game of remembering that what you change at one scale will have an effect and impact the others (and therefore might require changes or adjustment there).

The spectral game is to remain present and mindful of both scales, at the same time.  To see both the forest and the trees and to appreciate both.

Or as this Sufi proverb expresses in an equally clever manner: “Trust in God, but tie up your camel.”

Philosophy Tuesday

I just saw an interview with Stephanie Hsu (and Ke Huy Quan) from Everything Everywhere All At Once, and she expressed something quite cool:

“I’ve always been drawn to films that have sort of big philosophical cores but are really about a small slice of life.”

Which is a great description of EEAAO; it’s got a massive philosophical core and resonance while, at the same time, it is about a very narrow and intimate slice of life.  It is about the places and spaces where we all live, and that is what makes it universal.

Her quote also speaks to something that I absolutely love about exploring ontological philosophy:  just like the film it too explores huge and amazing things, with insights into the being part of human being that are profound and deeply fascinating.  And again, just like the film, all of those grand things are things that are having an impact on us on a moment-by-moment-by-moment basis, touching us and every single aspect of our everyday, “mundane” lives.  The more we unconceal and get, the more our lives can transform.

And in there is a great reminder, for it can be all too easy to get hypnotized by these grand ideas and think we’ve gotten it and that we are especially clever… without ever doing the actual work to bring it into our lives and to have it make the impact in those everyday ways.  In a sense, we can eat the menu while thinking that’s the meal.

Perhaps even more often are the times where we may intellectualize it all and to relate to it only in an abstract manner… in order to avoid looking at ourselves and our lives and to avoid where these insights could reveal things that our calculating selves would rather not look.  All, in the end, to avoid discomfort and to avoid doing the work that will bring us closer to whom we profess we want to be.

Stephanie’s observation about EEAAO is a great one, a reminder that there is always a personal side to being human, even when and especially when we learn and uncover more and more about what it is to be human.  And if we want to create that more perfect experience and expression of who we are, it’s a reminder to bring it down from the lofty clouds and to do the work and to apply it to ourselves, all the way down into those small slices of life.