A to Z Theme Reveal // Bleak Realities of Human Existence

When I was young my parents a tried to instill in me Christian ideals, a reverence for God, and a proper and deep fear of hell. It never worked, not for one second. I saw from a very early age that there was no God, and even more frightening, no real need of one either.

Their beliefs, rituals, and practices always felt like a veil, hiding something truly terrifying but much more real than anything the bible and it’s God had to offer. I peeked behind that veil, I asked myself what does life mean without God, and I found….nothing. Once I sensed that truth I was flung into a state of anxiety, grief, and wonder over the strange predicament and place of the human species on this planet and in time.

This is what we call an existential crisis, and I have been having one for as long as I can remember.

If life has no meaning, then what is the point of everything we try to do, build, make better, or leave behind? If there is no meaning of life, why should we go on living at all? If there are no Gods where did we come from? Why do we exist? And why are we able to ask such questions? How are we to cope with such knowledge, and spirit, and longing in such a short lifetime? How do we cope with life and then death?

ni·hil·ism
nīəˌlizəm,ˈnēəˌlizəm
noun
the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.
synonyms: skepticism, negativity, cynicism, pessimism; disbelief, unbelief, agnosticism, atheism

Nihilism can be a very pessimistic worldview, and it is often where most people find themselves after religion. You accept that life amounts to nearly nothing at all and you set about spreading the news. When you are challenged you point out that every religion, every myth, every law and system of morality was invented, changed, and misused by humans and only humans. You reject any plea or point made to the human spirit and focus on the futility of our search for meaning, perfection, or truth.

There is nothing out there for us and to look to the heavens for answers is a waste of time. What we seek doesn’t exist. We are nothing but another chemical reaction happening on a rather small and fragile planet, orbiting a rather ordinary star, in a featureless corner of the cosmos.

ab·surd·ism
əbˈsərdˌizəm,-ˈzərd-/
noun
a philosophy based on the belief that the universe is irrational and meaningless and that the search for order brings the individual into conflict with the universe

The meaning we long for cannot be found outside of ourselves. For some this conclusion is at odds with everything they feel inside. Every fiber of their being tells them that their life is important, that all life is important. They cannot take the leap, let go of God, and accept that to whatever extent life matters or not, it only matters or doesn’t matter to us alone. The answers we seek are inside of us.

ex·is·ten·tial·ism
ˌeɡzəˈsten(t)SHəˌlizəm/
noun
a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.

The truth is, being alive is hard. Having all this intelligence, this emotion, this desire, and forethought is painful in a universe that doesn’t even know you are there. It doesn’t make sense to us, so we try not to think about it.

But I want us to think about it.

So, for my A to Z Blogging Challenge theme this year, I have chosen to share with you all quotes and saying of deep and depressing insight into the bleak realities of the human condition. I want to share what keeps me up at night, what scares me, confuses me, what is painful and what is interesting about existing.

From what I can tell we all grapple with trying to understand what it means to be alive and come to terms with the purpose of our time on this planet. For most of us the conclusions are far too disturbing and to talk about such things in public is considered taboo.

But I want us to talk about it, together.

I want us to talk about it so we can transcend this truth and suffer unto a greater understanding of who we are. What sets us apart, the only dignity we have, is our thoughts, our freedom, and our ability to shape our world into something all our own. Our power lies in our stubbornness, our empathy, our intelligence, our consciousness, and yes, even in our despair and suffering, which belong to us and no other life forms. We ought to embrace that.

Most of the quotes I’ll share come from famous philosophers like Albert Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche, but I’ve tried to include more recent pop culture insights too. Of course, the list isn’t comprehensive. I had to choose one for each letter, and there are many quotes I love that I was forced to leave out. I’m saving those for future posts after the challenge is over.

I promise it won’t all be pessimism and meaninglessness, though. I’ll try to leave you with some joy or inspiration. I’ll make sure to at least remind you that while the universe may not care about you and that eventually we will all die and it will be like you were never here at all, even though none of us matters, you are important, to you!, and that is good enough.

//

 

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

This post was written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge Them Reveal link-up

Photo by Jakub Kriz on Unsplash

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Your Ignorance is an Ocean, and it’s Time You Learned to Swim

 

“What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.”

— Isaac Newton

Last week I overheard something at work that normally would have sent me into a ranting rage if it weren’t for my resolution to mind my own business and stop being such a know-it-all all the time.

I was sitting at a table in our lounge and around me there were nothing but older white men. They were discussing the crazy weather we had been having and the reports for that day then one man, a new employee, said something like:

“You know what I don’t understand? How come you can watch three different channels and get three different weather reports, but these scientists claim to know what will happen 50 years from now because of so-called ‘global warming?'”

He thought he was very clever with that one. He let his comment hang in the air as if he alone had settled the long debate over climate change right then and there. After an awkward pause, one man spoke up a little. He replied that, actually, the weather reports weren’t so different from one another—I mean, it isn’t like you see 70 degrees forecast on one channel and 20 degrees on another—and that the models for climate change were, in fact, pretty accurate. The first man didn’t reply though, and no one else spoke up, but I could tell his question had had the intended effect on a few of them.

I chose not to speak up myself because, for one, I didn’t know this man, and two I knew that I would expend a lot of energy and get nowhere anyway. I’ll admit I was angry too. I was angry because these kinds of fake debate points are tiring and because, in my mind, he had committed a sin by seeking confirmation and followers in his willful ignorance!

But more than that it made me sad. This man missed an opportunity he had presented to himself to learn something new. He must have known there is an answer to such a question. He could have taken it his phone, fired up Google, and learned something that day, but he was too arrogant to consider that he didn’t know something. He stated his question as the answer—the end of the inquiry and not the beginning—and learned nothing.

Humans like to know things. We like it when other people think we know things too. We enjoy the respect knowledge commands, and we feel useful when our knowledge is relied upon. So, we go about pretending we know everything. We form opinions and tell ourselves they are the same as facts. Our perspective, our mindset, our upbringing, and our way of life are real and right, and all the rest is wrong. Case closed, discussion over.

The reality is scary. The reality is we don’t know much of anything. We are floating on an open sea with no land and no sign telling us how to survive or which way to swim. We cling to anything that feels solid, anything that feels like a fact because it is better to float on a lie than to risk drowning in the search for truth.

It doesn’t help that social media, advertisements, and ratings are killing our ability to investigate, deliver, and believe in facts. Now we are divided between believing everything and believing nothing and while we fight we are dying and so is the planet.

We are coming to a time when our survival will depend on our bravery in the face of our ignorance. It will be hard, but it starts with just a small step. It starts with you. It starts with seeing that you don’t know much for sure but that you can find the knowledge you need every day if you try.

You have to get comfortable with your ignorance. Tell yourself it’s ok not to be 100% sure. It’s okay not to have all the answers. At work, as a parent, in your relationship and in the face of your future but what isn’t okay is to give up on curiosity and genuine knowledge.

Science and human advancement are collective endeavors. It takes all of us, working together to move them. It takes the scientists who have a passion for truth and develop everyday new ad better ways to find it. It takes politicians who care about the future of all people to create policies that prioritize advancement and discovery over profits. It takes a voting body of people who elect officials who are honest and who demand and consume media that is fact based.

It takes all of us to move further into a better understanding of our reality and what we ought to be doing or going.

But how do we know what is right and wrong? How do we know who to trust? These are questions that bigger and better minds than mine are tackling right now, but I am learning that it does take a leap of faith, a hard thing for a nonreligious person like myself to accept. The best I can tell you is to look for consensus in the scientific community, in the intelligence community, and in responsible news reporting agencies.

This is the best we have, but we are weakening it by ignoring it, dismissing it, and refusing to take it seriously and make it an important part of our culture and daily lives.

Don’t read just one story. Don’t read stories from unknown and unverified media sources. Don’t just read the headlines and don’t share stories without reading. Ask questions and then look for answers. Look for answers in more than one place. Look for videos and articles about how to think logically and check out a few Crash Course videos on the basics of science and philosophy. It’s just a start, but it’s the start of something very big, a way of life where curiosity, logic, and knowledge are a priority.

This week, be curious, and do it with intention. Choose to learn something new or dig a little deeper into a story you saw fly across your timeline. Don’t let your own mind grow stagnant. Don’t just accept your own way of thinking and your own knowledge. Do not let yourself think you already know anything or that you cannot keep learning every day. Do not forget how far human curiosity and refusal to give up or give in has gotten us. We are far from the end of what we can know.

Get out there, and get swimming through your own ignorance. Then teach something, and then help those around you do the same. We only get better, we only do better, when we learn better, and that starts with each of us.

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Learn the Meaning of What You Say

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a fresh start, every week. Mondays are our do-overs, our reset buttons, our first days. From now on every Monday is a second chance, and this time, we might just get it right. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

For me, this Monday is off to a pretty good start. I decided to set my alarm 15 minutes earlier in the mornings, which allows me to hit the snooze button and still get up on time. The extra time really made a difference. I didn’t feel rushed, and I got to work early. I think I’ll keep it this way. I like getting to ease into the day rather than starting it off with panic and chaos. Mondays are already hard enough, right?

“First, learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.”

— Epictetus

Ever since Election day here in America, there have been a flurry of posts, tweets, and think pieces looking to place blame for Clinton’s loss. Some would say that those who opted to stay home on election night share some responsibility. Some would say that Clinton and her strategy team deserved some blame. I would say for the most part the people who felt they could stomach Trump’s racism, sexism, and xenophobia on the off-chance that he might “make America great again”—whatever that means—are the ones to blame.

But there has been a new accusation coming out lately. Some believe that the real reason Clinton lost was that of “identity politics.”

Identity politics are the tendency for people to vote in the interest of a particular group they may belong to, for example, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Think of it this way: the same way that the media has replaced the terms “neo-nazi” and “white supremacist” with “alt-right,” they have also replaced “civil rights” with “identity politics.”

According to the new theory, Clinton and the Democrats lost because they continue to court and fight for POC, immigrants, the disabled, and the LGBTQ community. They lost because too many of us are talking about what matters to us, about what we need, and about the ways we are hurt and afraid. We are talking about ourselves, and straight, white, working class voters are feeling a little left out.

They see too many women, minorities, and queers walking around like they deserve something. They’d like to return to a time when those people stayed quiet and made themselves available every other second Tuesday in November.

(I would like to take a moment to point out that straight, white, men and women have been voting for their interests since the dawn of this country’s existence and it never seemed to be a problem for them until other groups started doing it. See also: Trump’s entire campaign strategy.)

This wasn’t meant to be a political lecture, I swear, but I have had great issue already with the right’s demonization of political correctness and civil rights, and I will not tolerate it from the left. I will not tolerate it from people who have the privilege of finding our needs trivial, and I will not keep quiet while we are shovel aside or back into our closets.

This is was not meant to be a political lecture but it is a lecture, nonetheless. This isn’t just about Democrat or Republican; this isn’t even just about America. It’s about understanding that what we say, who we blame, and who we defend means a hell of a lot to a lot of people. It’s about understanding that what is important to you isn’t important to everyone sure, but remembering that suppressing the needs of others for your own needs and gains is wrong. It about understanding that these words hurt more than you can know.

It’s about understanding that for some of us, these rights we are fighting for have been long denied and we will not let you belittle or postpone them any longer.

It’s about compassion, empathy, and goddamned human decency!

Before you speak of which Americans deserve representation, protection, and consideration in their government officials please take a few moments to learn the meaning of your words. Learn how it affects people when you are offending by being asked to use correct pronouns. Learn how it affect people when you are being asked to refrain from offensive language and problematic convictions. Learn what it means when you tell the people most in need of help and understanding, protection and care that it would be better for everyone if they would just let it go for an election cycle or two.

Take a moment to read something outside of your bubble and really understand the needs of people who don’t live, think, or believe the same as you. Learn about the meaning behind what they say, then examine the meaning of what you are saying. Take a moment to examine why you have such a problem with those people and their needs. Take a moment to consider if it were you being told to shut up and go away.

Words matter. Words mean things. Words hurt.

Use yours wisely.

P.S. Democrats do need to face the fact that they lack support from whites living in rural areas. The knee-jerk reaction is to take a page out of the opposition’s book, but I would encourage us to find another way. Do not let yourselves become what you hate. Remember, when they go low, we go high.

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Featured image via Unsplash

Jean-Paul Sartre on Freedom and Responsibility

“I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness

I have been interested in Sartre for a long time, but I haven’t yet gotten around to reading his most famous book Being and Nothingness. From what I have read about him, though, his philosophy sounds like something I could definitely get behind.

Sartre was an existentialist. He followed and endorsed a philosophy that faces the weirder and more painful aspects of the human condition, and attempted to shed light on the truth of the human condition. At the center is the fact that humans are alone, and we are wholly responsible for what we do in life. There are no single sets of rules and no single meaning for any of us and to believe in such things is to believe in an illusion.

The philosophy sounds depressing, but when you study it, think about it, and come out of the other side gives us a better sense of freedom and optimism.

I may not have read him, but I have collected a few of his quotes. Taken out of context I can’t be sure what he means, but some speak to me nonetheless. My favorites have to do with humans accepting the fact that God does not exist. I don’t want to debate this because the point isn’t whether God is or isn’t real the point is that for people who know he doesn’t exist the realization, despite appearances, can be jarring and upsetting.

“That God does not exist, I cannot deny, That my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget.”

 Jean-Paul Sartre

As most religious people assume, letting go of God does leave quite a void. The trick, and for some nonbelievers, the entire crux of it all, is to face the hard truth. You have to accept that the emptiness inside you is a reality. To deny it is to lie to yourself and to waste your life in lies. Existentialism begins with seeing that humans are untethered and free. As Sartre would see, our existence comes before our essence. We are here before we have a purpose. If there is a God, things are the other way around.

Now, facing these facts are hard. So, of course, most humans spend their whole lives running from it all. We would rather believe we have to do this or that, that we have rules and have to follow social constructs. We would rather give up our freedom of choice and say that our purpose and plan was laid out before we got here, and further give it up by believing that we must do this or that once we are here than deal with the uncomfortable fact that at any time we can do anything we like.

“We are left alone, without excuse.”

Jean-Paul Sartre

Whenever you think you can’t leave your job, you can’t leave your spouse, you can’t pick up and move to Austrailia, you are lying. You can, you always can. To say you cannot is to lie to yourself, and remember, lying to yourself only limits the quality of the life you will have.

It isn’t easy for us to do those things, but it isn’t impossible. The biggest hurdle is capitalism, and from what I understand,  Satre had some things to say about that too. Capitalism makes us feel trapped.

The point is you should never let yourself get stuck. Never forget you have more freedom than ever feels possible. And as we all know, with great power, comes great responsibility. You are free and with that freedom, the option of blaming anyone else for who you are and what you do is no longer available.

The loneliness, the freedom, and the responsibility are all scary things but to turn from them is to turn away from seeing the world for what it is and enjoying all that life has to offer. You have only one life, don’t waste it on illusions. I don’t mean God entirely, I mean the illusion that whatever you have is all there is and that all there is is what other people say you can have.

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

Jean-Paul Sartre

Just like any philosophy the entire truth of being is not contained in any one but a little bit of wisdom can be found in each. There are things I don’t agree with Sartre on exactly.

For example, I agree that for humans, existence proceeds essence. There is no implicit purpose in our design. I also agree that there is no designer. I don’t agree that there is no design. DNA  gives us our design and to some extent determines some of our nature. The way Sartre has explained things, I think he means to say that each human being starts as a blank slate, and that isn’t true.

I believe there may be some limits on what we can and can’t do; I just believe there aren’t as many as we think there are. We have much, much more freedom than we can ever imagine. The sad part is we act in ways that limit our own freedom, both as individuals and a society.

I hope to read Sartre’s work soon, and I hope to pull as much wisdom as I can from him. I will treat him as I would any other great mind. I will take what makes sense, what can work for me, and what I think will improve this world and use it. The rest I will toss. From what I have heard of the man I expect to keep more than I throw away.

“Everything has been figured out, except how to live.”

 Jean-Paul Sartre

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Written in honor of Jean-Paul Sartre’s 111th birthday.

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Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Marcus Tullius Cicero

Hello and happy Wednesday to you all! Congrats on making it halfway, if you are in need of a little push to get you through the rest of the way I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday. It’s a weekly event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading. Every Wednesday bloggers share their favorite quotes to help motivate and inspire each other to keep going. It’s pretty amazing.

My contribution for the week is from Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Just about everyone has heard of the roman philosopher and politician Cicero, who lived and died during the times of Julius Caesar. Born 3 January 106 BC to a wealthy family of Arpinium he is widely considered one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists. His influence on the Latin language was so immense that the subsequent history of prose in not only Latin but European languages up to the 19th century was said to be either a reaction against or a return to his style.

According to Michael Grant, “the influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language”. Despite that Cicero himself considered his political work to be his greatest achievement. He fought to uphold republican principles in the final civil wars that eventually destroyed the Roman Republic.

In the end the murder of Julius Cesar on the Ides of March in 44 BC would secure Cicero’s own execution shortly after. Cicero championed a return to the traditional republican government and in the ensuing power struggle Cicero found himself the enemy of Mark Antony, a Cesar supporter and the other prominent politician of the time. He had a habit of attacking Antony in speeches and so was named enemy of the state.

He was executed by soldiers in 43 BC and his severed hands and head were then, as a final revenge of Mark Antony, displayed in the Roman Forum. His last words are said to have been, “There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.”

“Even if you have nothing to write, write and say so.”

— Cicero

With this quote Cicero puts into words my primary defense against writer’s block, which is to write anyway. If you have no subject write about how it feels to have nothing to write about. Tell your readers how frustrating it is and how much you long to be able to find the words again. Be detailed, be descriptive, use as much metaphor and feeling as you can.

Write is as a poem. Write it as a story. Hell, write you writer’s block into a song! Write about your frustrations in such a way so that your readers can feel it too. Make them feel what it’s like when the words won’t flow and you mind gets stuck. Write 250 words, then 750, then write 1000 words all on not being write anything. By the end you might just write something truly worth reading, despite what you thought was a failing of your mind and your imagination.

Because the truth is, writer’s block is just a day when writing is a bit harder than usual, and all that means is you have to work a little bit harder too.

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Britannica

Original image via Drew Coffman

A Few Thoughts on the Death Penalty

It’s been a hard week here in Aurora, Colorado. Last week the defendant in the Theater Shooting trail was found guilty on all 165 counts against him. I watched the entire live feed as the judge read each verdict. It took about an hour and the defendant never reacted once.

Tomorrow they jury will begin hearing arguments for the “sentencing phase”. They will decide whether or not the defendant will spend the rest of his life in jail or if he will die for his crimes.

After the verdict was read I made my way to the comment section of the story and was a bit surprised to find everyone stating without a shadow of a doubt that this man was not insane and that he deserved death. I remember feeling, as I have many times since this tragedy happened over three years ago, a deep sadness.

I am sad for the victims and their families. I am sad for my whole community. I am also sad for the defendants family. And I admit, I am sad for this poor man too.

I know what he did was wrong. I would never dispute that fact but I wonder if our definition for insanity might be a bit off. It seems legally he only had to know that what he was doing was wrong to face the possibility of death by the state. I have a strong feeling that this just isn’t the right way.

Over the three years that I have had this horrible event and trial in my mind I have reevaluated my feelings on the death penalty and I think I have come out of this knowing that it just isn’t right. More than that, I don’t even believe it is useful.

The first thing that gave me pause was the permanence of death. Once we decide to kill someone we can’t go back. What if we are wrong? In this case we know he committed the crime but there have been others where we executed the wrong one. How can we live with that possibility? I would rather the guilty ones live so we don’t kill any more innocents.

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot.

– Exodus 21:24

Historically capital punishment seems to me to only have been used as a means of revenge and possibly a deterrent. Revenge serves little purpose other than the possibility of closer for the families but I would argue that letting the perpetrator live, studying him, and finding the underlying causes so that we could recognize the warning signs in others and prevent further tragedy would be a much more satisfying conclusion then simple execution.

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

– Mahatma Gandhi

Clearly the death penalty doesn’t work as a deterrent because, it seems, this country is dealing with a rise in mass shootings. In fact a simple Google search showed me there was “still no evidence that executions deter criminals” and that the F.B.I. Confirms a Sharp Rise in Mass Shootings Since 2000. I mean it seems obvious that if people feared death they would not commit such crimes but they do, time and time again. It seems almost….insane?

People laugh at me when I tell them the thing that finally changed my mind completely on the idea of capital punishment. IT was a quote from Gandalf the wizard in Lord of the Rings. In the books Frodo believes that if only Gollum had been killed he would have been safe. Gandalf in turn lectures him about what should be for him to decide and what shouldn’t:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

This touches on my first point about the permanence of death and the possibility of killing an innocent. I just don’t think we should be dealing out death to the ones who we believe deserve it when we can’t give life to the ones who deserve that too.

So what do we do instead? How do we punish those who commit the most heinous crimes. Well, I think we should start by taking a look at the ways in which society contributes to it’s members feeling like this is the only way to get what they need, and we should look at the state of our mental health care.

People who commit theses crimes are deeply disturbed and probably hurting very badly inside. Wouldn’t we be a better more just society if instead of killing them we actually rehabilitated them? Maybe even learned something from them? Then need to shed blood for blood feels so primitive, but helping those who need our help the most feels a bit more enlightened. It feels like a step forward for us all.

I’m not saying this man should ever be released from prison. I don’t know enough about him to know if he could ever be deemed anything less than a threat to society. There is a possibility that he can come to understand what he did and feel real regret and sadness for his actions. I believe he could also find some redemption in helping us prevent future deaths. Why not go that route instead?

Why the need to “fry his ass” or “kill him by firing squad”. I know we are all angry but we cannot let anger make us do something we can never come back from. We can never undo what was done and another death doesn’t ease the pain of the losses we have suffered. We should all stop and think about what is right and why.

We might find out that there could be a better way after all.

P.S. This was written with all due respect for the victims, their families, and the community. The views expressed are my own opinion and were voiced with no ill intent.

Writer’s Quote Wednesday – François de La Rochefoucauld

This weeks Writer’s Quote Wednesday is one I am particularly excited about. I have chosen to dedicate this one to an author I only just learned existed but have already become quite a fan of. This week quote is from the philosopher, and author of maxims and memoirs, François de La Rochefoucauld.

François de La Rochefoucauld” by Théodore Chassériau  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

La Rochefoucauld (15 September 1613 – 17 March 1680) was born in Paris to a life of extensive privilege. His family had money and nobility, he was quite educated, and he had good looks. He became a military man and a public figure and it seems he had a way with the ladies.

For the most part he seems to have had it made.

But he lived during a time when the royal court wasn’t sure whether to it could trust the independence of the nobility and went back and forth between threatening it and supporting it. La Rochefoucauld was susceptible to feminine charm and through a series of events involving the women he cared for he found himself in opposition the monarchy.

Between 1648 and 1653 he’d be jailed, exiled, labeled a rebel, and shot in the head for his plotting. He survived but between that and injuries he’d received from other battles he just couldn’t keep fighting. Not only that but he was running out of money. He decided to retire to a life of reading and intellectual conversation.

This is where La Rochefoucauld gets interesting for me. He and a group of his friend liked to play a sort of game. They would discuss the conduct and motives of humanity but would express their thought in the briefest, most pungent way possible. La Rochefoucauld studied this game very closely. He kept notes and worked hard to perfect his delivery. Later he would write a whole book of these “acerbic melancholy observations about the human condition”. That book is called Reflections; Or, sentences and Moral Maxims.

The philosophy of La Rochefoucauld, which influenced French intellectuals as diverse as Voltaire and the Jansenists, is captured here in more than 600 penetrating and pithy aphorisms.

I downloaded the book and read it in a morning. The book itself is short and consists of a long list of cynical little sayings that cover topics such as pride and self-love, vanity, passions and the emotions, love, sincerity, conversation, and politics. Some of my favorites include:

  • 22. – Philosophy triumphs easily over past evils and future evils; but present evils triumph over it.
  • 30. – We have more strength than will; and it is often merely for an excuse we say things are impossible.
  • 48. – Happiness is in the taste, and not in the things themselves; we are happy from possessing what we like, not from possessing what others like.
  • 269. – No man is clever enough to know all the evil that he does.
  • 437. – We should not judge of a man’s merit by his great abilities, but by the use he makes of them.

There are many, many more good ones and I urge you to read the book. Not only did I enjoy the little aphorisms, but I found the writing style interesting. Instead of writing a long and complicated book about his philosophy, La Rochefoucauld keep it short and to the point. I felt like I was reading someone’s Twitter feed rather than a book written in the 1600s.

I also enjoyed the cynical nature of the maxims. La Rochefoucauld does not sugarcoat anything and he seems to have quite a pessimistic view of mankind and his motives. I can dig that. I don’t believe that any man (or woman) is truly and purely good. We all have hidden motives, hidden even from ourselves. I also believe that more often than not when we think we are doing something for good reasons it’s only because we wish to forget that we are doing them for bad reasons.

“137. – When not prompted by vanity we say little.”

François de La Rochefoucauld

This maxim in particular caught my eye for two reasons. One, I am a talkative person. When I am alone or if I am in a situation where I can’t talk I get anxious. I talk because it fills the silence around me and it calms me. I’m working on learning to enjoy the silence and I hae come to term with the fact that I talk so much for what are often selfish reasons.

I think this quote applies especially to us writing types though. Why else would we sit and type out our own thought but for vanity. I mean yeah there are other reasons but at the base of all of them is the idea that I, more than anyone, am so interesting, and smart, and funny, and I should share it with the world.

I think all writers come with more than their own fair share of vanity, and egotism, and narcissism, and….self-love.

We love our own minds and the words and worlds we create there. There is nothing wrong with it, in fact, it’s a good thing. If there were so many self-absorbed writer’s out there we wouldn’t have the joy of reading so much amazing work. We writer’s have to love what we do and think ourselves great enough to share it with the world.

Writer’s need a good dose of vanity in order to speak up.

Bonus info: Here is the video that introduced me to La Rochefoucauld. Check it out. It’s basically a lot of what I said above but presented way better. After that you should check out the other videos from School of Life. They’re really good!