Tag Archives: philosophy


29 Dec

I have been reflecting on the fundamental differences between different people and what happens when we make the mistake of thinking everyone is the same — or that they should be.

I am an introvert. Some people do not know what this means, although nearly half the population is introverted. We don’t call attention to ourselves as extroverts do. A book called Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking  gave me much to think about.

I was still thinking about the book when I watched a film called The King’s Speech. In the film, two sons of a king are both unsuited for the throne they stand to inherit. One is unable to sacrifice his personal desires for the sake of social rules. The other is uncomfortable with public speaking, due to an unfortunate lifelong stuttering problem.

As I watched the streaming film, my internet connection became repeatedly interrupted so that I could watch only a few moments at a time. The screen had a stutter of its own. This affected my viewing of the film, but added, I think, another dimension to it. I felt that I had an additional understanding of the frustration of the family and friends of the title character, listening to his fractured communication, as I watched the fractured film. The idea of being a king or queen would thrill some but horrify others. I fall in the latter category, in case you can’t guess.

A friend of mine wrote something about the harmful nature of “unsolicited advice“, which is another way of saying “telling others how to live their lives”. I responded that I think unsolicited advice often comes from those who believe others will benefit in the exact same ways from whatever worked for them. If a woman has thoroughly enjoyed the experience of pregnancy and parenthood, she may think that every woman should become a mother. If she has achieved much wealth and personal satisfaction from working in the financial sector, she may think everyone should apply for such employment. Well intentioned advice, perhaps, but thoughtless, unhelpful, and self-centered.

Should we all live the same life, hold the same job, raise our children the same way? I do not believe so. Do we all have the same inclinations, abilities, and traits? Of course not.

I like the title of the book Quiet because this is a term that has often been used to describe me. “You’re so quiet.

The term is accurate, and yet it is used almost exclusively by strangers. Anyone who knows me feels no need to describe me this pointless and impolite way. It would be like commenting on my obvious physical characteristics. Imagine someone who has known you for years saying, “Your hair is so brown!” or, “Your feet are so small today!”

Those who do not know me, unless they are quiet themselves, often see my quietness as a reflection of my mood or my response to them. Am I depressed? Am I bored? Do I distrust them?  They do not consider that quietness is simply a part of my innate character. They certainly are not complimenting me, with the exception of one or two men from foreign countries in which quietness is a more desirable trait than it is in this culture.

We are all different.

Some are loud, some are quiet. Some constantly seek more in life, while others are content with whatever they have. Some are anxious, some are calm. Some are leaders, some are followers. Some are big, some are small. Some are dark, some are pale. Some make jokes, others are serious.

We all contribute something different to the world.

Sometimes Those Good Things Do Not Happen, But Other Good Things Do

30 Mar

I had one of those days today.

You know…those days when something very simple is expected to happen, only it doesn’t happen, and the simple thing not-happening means that those grand things that would have made your life so much brighter are also NOT happening.

And still the sun shines, and the flowers bloom, and the children laugh, and a guy named Mike publishes a blog post called Welcome to Blue Sky, Rhode Island. Population: One Totally Plibbed-Out Sixth Grade Girl Who Goes by The Name of None-of-Your-Beeswax-if-That’s-Okay-With-You-Mister-Flibbertijeepers and it surprises the heck out of me with its creativity, widening my eyes and possibly my horizons. (When you read Mike’s post — because you must read it — be sure to notice the tags at the bottom.)

Life is beautiful, even if you are hiding in the closet and feeling plibbed-out.


Is It Worth It?

21 Mar

“Let it go. Whatever it is — It’s not worth it.
Focus on your goal. Whatever it is — It IS worth it.
Your mind can only process either one or the other — now, you tell me, which one’s worthy?”Jared Blake DiCroce

I like the way Jared summed up this simple philosophy. (To read more advice from Jared, click on his name)

After so many recent changes in my life, I have come to realize that very little matters to me anymore — or rather, the way I view the things that DO matter has changed dramatically.

People matter.

Health matters.

Freedom and independence matter.

Joy matters.

Doing what is right matters.

… Frankly, anything that does not contribute to the above list is worthless to me now!

A Simple Philosophy

18 May

“If you don’t get what you want, change your mind.”

I heard this from an art teacher approximately twenty years ago.  As a philosophy it has served me well — both in art and in life.

The next time you feel frustrated, think about changing your mind.  Try looking at life from another angle.

See where it takes you!

Henry David Thoreau: Wise Philosopher or Ugly Skulker?

6 Jan

Once upon a time… during the year 1845, to be more precise,  Henry David Thoreau — following the excellent advice of his best friend, poet Ellery Channing — set off to build himself a tiny house in a quiet spot near Walden Pond, in his home state of Massachusetts.

He intended to stay there alone and live in harmony with nature, wishing to experience the stripped-down essence of life, and to accomplish some serious writing.

Fulfilling his intentions, Thoreau wrote a little book called Walden, about his experiment of conducting life in a simple, natural, and self-reliant manner.  He advised his readers to simply, and to reduce whenever possible.  In America’s current sad economic state, and in our modern, wasteful and multi-tasking culture, this is good advice indeed.  However, I suspect it to be something that happens more often through necessity than as a result of philosophical design.

In my high school Literature class, this account of simple living was required reading.  Interestingly, I don’t remember all the volumes I was asked to read for school, but I do remember this one.  Looking back now, I recall that as I read through the book, I observed Thoreau’s timeless wisdom and his clear practicality —  but I also found Walden to be one of the most (ironically) long-winded and boring things I had ever read in my life, up to that time.  Many of the included details felt completely unnecessary to me.  For example, I did not yearn to know the price of the lumber he used to build the house, but I think he devoted an entire page to it.

I have very recently been thinking of giving Walden a second look, a second chance to win me over.  I enjoyed some of Thoreau’s other material, and in fact I found his essay Civil Disobedience particularly inspiring.  I wonder if perhaps Walden might resonate more with me, now that I have more life experience.  What does a teenager know about solitude, simplicity, and frugality?  Answer:  Not very much!

This is not Walden Woods, but I once found it to be a good "thinking spot."

Now, instead of being a teenager myself, I am a parent of one teenager and two preteens.  Life has changed, or to be more accurate, I have been changed by life.  I certainly spend far more time thinking about simplicity now than I did when I was younger, and I even write about it.  I regularly search for ways to make life simpler and more efficient, not to mention less expensive.  Sometimes I even use up my free time in pursuit of creative ways to create more free time.  I admit, there may be something wrong with my math in that equation…

“Our life is frittered away by detail,” Thoreau wrote in Walden.

So true.  How many details are frittering our lives away?  This statement may be more true now than when it was originally written.  Personally, I feel pretty frittered.  How about you?  So you can understand why I started thinking, “Hey, maybe old Henry David Thoreau wasn’t so dull after all!” 

The man was called worse things than boring during his lifetime, I have learned.

If you look up Thoreau on Wikipedia as I did, you will find an early photograph of him (an 1856 daguerreotype) that suggests he looked a bit like Ellen Degeneres with a neck-beard.  There are also some quotes to be found from Thoreau’s contemporaries, many of them very emphatically calling him “ugly.”  I would like to note here that the image in which Thoreau seems to resemble Ellen Degeneres is by far the most flattering image of him that I have seen.

Although Thoreau was not as popular in his lifetime as he has posthumously become, some supported his writings and his actions.  One of his more notable benefactors was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who befriended Thoreau and took him home to tutor his children and perform other helpful tasks while living with the Emerson family.  Emerson employed him for years, spoke well of him, and also made available to him the land on which he lived for more than two years while writing Walden.

Others were not as generous as Emerson, and certainly not as friendly.

Robert Louis Stevenson considered Thoreau to be a “skulker“, and suggested he was not only very ugly, but also effeminate, anti-social, and humorless!

I suspect that Stevenson had a personal grudge against Thoreau, as the majority of quotes about him are more positive, save for the general consensus that he was ugly.  Thoreau’s lifestyle choices were unconventional enough that a few other writers believed it would be more appropriate for him to get a job and act like a civilized person, instead of living alone in the woods like a savage heathen — but many others seemed to find his thoughts interesting.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” This quote from Walden suggests that Thoreau understood the negative perception others had of him, and was more concerned with being true to himself than with improving his public image.

In reality, whether or not Thoreau was ugly, whether or not he stepped to the music of a different drummer, he was neither lazy nor savage.  He studied at Harvard university for some years and spent much of his adult life working in his family’s pencil factory, where he involved himself in upgrading and modernizing the facility.  I found this last piece of information surprising.  I am having difficulty envisioning Thoreau working in a factory of any kind, after reading his work.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. “

~ Henry David Thoreau (from Walden, 1854)

I don’t think he was a skulker at all.  I think he was a dreamer.

Thoreau has long been a famous success, praised by many writers and other great minds.  His writings have influenced important leaders like Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., his works have been assigned in public schools, and his philosophies are quoted across the internet. 

Take that, Robert Louis Stevenson!!


The quotes and information summarized above (along with further information) may be found on these pages:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_David_Thoreau (life, critiques of)

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Henry_David_Thoreau (further quotes by, and quotes about)

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Walden (Walden quotes)

First Graders Can’t Handle Tetherball

27 Nov

Did you ever turn something simple into something complicated?

Sounds like a bad idea, doesn’t it?

I am all about keeping things Simple, so to me it sounds like the worst idea ever.  Who would DO that?

Well, first graders seem to do it quite often.  They love artificial complications.  They also get into fierce debates with their friends over the artificial complications.  Sometimes they come to blows.

I’ve been helping at my son’s school during lunch recess.  He’s in fifth grade this year, but I spend more time on the other side of the playground, with the smaller students.  The ones incapable of logic.

One of the things first graders like to complicate is tetherball.  It’s actually a pretty simple game.  You stay on one side and hit the ball without touching the rope, until the rope is wrapped entirely around the pole.

To make it even simpler, my son’s school has many of the tetherball poles divided by grade, eliminating the height and skill discrepancy between different age groups.

Still, the first grade game turns to chaos on a daily basis.  One of the major causes of chaos: new “rules” the kids make up.  I have overheard things like, “He’s OUT, because he did a bubbly!”

Now, I’m no expert.  I didn’t play tetherball as a child, because I was sure it would lead to head trauma — but even I know that bubbly is a word that shouldn’t naturally come up in the game.  I asked a first grader to show me what the term bubbly is supposed to mean.  His demonstration left me more confused than ever.

Later on, I was hit in the head with the tetherball.  My fault, of course.  I should have known better than to turn my back on a bunch of first graders.  Good news: my head is harder than I thought it was!

Kids have the idea that they can change anything they think is boring, and they will take the initiative to do so.  One of my kids used to change the rules of Monopoly when he got bored during a game.  He liked to give out money to the other players if they were short of cash.  Normally, I applaud the idea of helping those in need, but this is a Capitalist’s game.  The whole point is to bankrupt the other players.  If you play Socialist Monopoly, the game will never end.  Ever.

And it’s already a long game — especially when someone, who also served as banker, was hoarding all of the one dollar bills.  He’d give you a big bill for your rent, and want you to make change, so he could get more ones.  But he wouldn’t make change for YOU, because that would require him to give up some singles.  Don’t have exact change?  That’s fine, just skip the rent payment.  Skip ALL the rent payments.  After all, this is Socialist Monopoly where the goal of the game is… to have no goal at all!  (Except to collect every single dollar bill in the game, and then keep playing.)

At least Socialist Monopoly doesn’t involve bubblies.

As it turns out, I can’t handle Monopoly.  I can’t handle tetherball, either.

Watching a Western

1 Feb

When most people feel sick, or unhappy, they rely on familiar remedies: chicken soup, a hot bath, a new mystery novel, some alone time, a favorite treat, deep sleep…these are sources of comfort and renewal.

For my husband, watching a Western does the trick.

I have recently read that many films referred to as “Westerns” are more accurately categorized as “frontier dramas”, and this seems sensible, but it doesn’t quite roll off of the tongue, does it?  Whatever the term for it, the genre is full of comforting elements, and I have come to realize that my husband knows powerful medicine when he sees it.

Inside the medicine cabinet.

In a Western,  the good guys usually win, but that is not the point.  The important element is the goodness itself, the honesty and clarity of the protagonist’s  internal moral compass.  I recognize the simplicity of his position; he is good because he knows what is needed and also what isn’t needed, what must be done to guard and preserve his needs, and what must not.  What does the good guy need?  He needs his home, his land, water for his cattle, the safety of his family if he has one.  He needs justice, freedom, truth.  What does the bad guy need?  Who knows?  He is too busy trying to get what he wants—and the concept of “must not”  doesn’t figure into it.

In a Western, the plot is usually recyclable.  John Wayne is John Wayne.  No means no.  A spirited child may be endangered.  A saloon girl with a heart of gold often arrives on a stage, or leaves on one.  A lawman is either nowhere to be found, or too cowed or drunk to be of any use.  Sometimes the lawman is the hero.  Will he face his own mortality on a dusty street?  Will he walk away alive, but with a sense of futility rather than triumph?

If not, a gunslinger will very likely be called in, either to silence those who stand in the way of  Want, or to silence those who stand in the way of Need.  Is he fearsome?  Stubborn?  Business-like?  Expensive?  Will he whip the town into a righteous frenzy?  Maybe.  Sometimes a gunslinger stumbles in, and acts in alignment with Need, though he longs for a quiet life he will never find, a life he walked away from the day he became “fast”.

In a Western, choices are made, and the chooser lives, or dies, with the consequences of his choice.

If any of this sounds familiar…maybe you have seen them all.  Or, maybe it is because a Western is a lot like reality.  Not so many guns in our reality perhaps, but we know Mr. Need and Mr. Want, we know the spirited child and the gold-hearted saloon girl.  Maybe we have been one of these characters in life, or maybe we have played each of the parts at one time or another.  Sometimes we stand on a Dusty Street.  We all make choices.

A Western is powerful medicine, a form of truth.

Are you feeling better yet?  I am.