Elements of good life

Posted December 4th, 2008 and filed in Education, Employment, Human Condition, Human Mind, Life

To be able to live a good life in the full human sense, one’s given default setting is not enough. If it were, education and thought and action would not be necessary. Going with the flow is not an option. To be able to exercise consciousness and rationality and choice, there must be a reflective element in one’s life. A life that does not allow time and energy to think will be a life of ignorance and passive reaction. The command “slow down” has the beginning of wisdom in it. Too bad most lives do not have this element. People do not reflect, therefore they never learn the lessons hidden in life’s pains and frustrations.

One must reflect or remain at the psychical state of a 3-year-old, which is common in adults and even elders. They never mature or blossom in the true human sense. Their beauty is external, if it ever exists, given by nature and gone with youth. They contribute nothing to the human heritage other than their reproduction, which they usually fulfill instinctively and irresponsibly. 

The default life is not a good one. We live in a society defective in many ways. Without wakeful individuals, it will not be able to correct itself. Unthinking herds contribute to its evil. If one cannot command him/herself, he or she will have to obey society, which makes one a part of a machine, inconsequential, unimportant, not a human being that is unique and full of its own spirit.

An unexamined life is not worth living. But an examined life may still be unworthy of living. There must also be a creative element, a learning element (which I would like to think is supplemental and subservient to the creative element and without exception comes with it), and a meaningful element, through which an individual’s learning and creative action extend to others, and connect to the whole universe.

These, I think, are the conditions of having a good life. Reflection must come first and life must be examined, once the individual has gained independence from his family of origin in both mentality and financial means. This reflection must also be done continuously, as life more often than not poses unexpected and unwanted lessons to us. Paying attention is the key. Pretending to be dumb will make one truly dumb.

Socrates

Posted September 21st, 2008 and filed in Human Condition, Human Mind, People

Nobody can be more disillusioned by human beings than Socrates was. His countrymen, by a vote of (though marginal) majority, agreed to put him to death. He was already 70 years old, but his fellow citizens had no patience to let him die naturally. This most just man, who preferred risking his life to committing any injustice even under tyranny, had the reputation (a true one) of being the wisest man in his time. Having done nothing but discuss fundamental ideas all his life, he was considered an intolerable criminal and sentenced to the ultimate penalty. His country, where the majority of citizens were his murderers, was the city state of Athens, the most illustrious of all places in human history, the source of Western civilization.

As he calmly drank the hemlock and embarked on an unknown journey, what was his final impression of the men of Athens? Judging from his tranquility throughout the trial, his opinion must have been finalized long before. Unlike politicians and revolutionaries of his time and of later times, he would not consider “the masses”, or “the public”, or “the people”, to be qualified as the ultimate judge in any matter. Any honest man, such as John Stuart Mill, could not help but objectively define them as a group made of a few wise and many foolish men.

What can be done about this human predicament? How is history progressing? History does progress, to our amazement. All our material comforts, civil rights, and mental enjoyments, owe to the efforts of people before us. And these efforts, I imagine, are not just made by the great individuals, but also by the unconscious blind following herd.

So this collective of the human race is much like a monstrous, gigantic individual human being: clumsy and heavy, slow and blind, savage and timid, selfish, desiring both self-preservation and self-destruction, capable of both good and evil, committing right and wrong in no particular order, waddling through his muddy cognition, fumbling and tumbling, making many mistakes along the way, suffering and inflicting sufferings upon others, killing and mocking his benefactors, admiring vices. With a moment of luck, sometimes he rises from the mud pit he was born into, wipes his eyes, and casts a glimpse to heaven— a glimpse into what life can be. Chances are he will fall back again. But in his dark, chaotic, subconscious dreams, will he remember that sight of heaven, that clean windswept height which for a moment seemed within his reach?

On Pleasure

Posted August 2nd, 2008 and filed in Education, Human Condition, Life

My first encounter with Western culture struck me with its central theme of “fun”. The frequency with which this word is used in common language amazes me. Fun loving and fun seeking seem to comprise the core of this culture’s mentality. Fun is the center, the purpose, the praised achievement, the pride. “It is so much fun” is the highest compliment to the merit of anything. “He/she is so funny” is the highest compliment to a personality. Every effort should be for fun. Everything you do should be fun. Work is frowned upon among adults and early retirement is most people’s dream, much like learning is frowned upon among the young and indulgence is encouraged by their peers.

Fun is more the emphasis of Canadian characteristics than of other western nations. I remember my first public speaking course. When everyone was asked to pick a topic they were passionate about and give a talk on it, the three Canadians by birth each picked a hobby of their own such as kayaking, while I talked about the education of Summerhill, and a black student talked about the darkness of his Africa.

Canadians are concerned with how much pleasure they can derive from this limited life span. Their dreamy expressions when talking about traveling, camping, skating, rollerblading, skiing, hockey, snow-shoeing, birdwatching, whale-watching, sailing, surfing, rock-climbing, vacations, road trips, a show, a sports game, or an entertaining novel or movie confirm to me a hundred times a day what is considered the highest value in this culture: life enjoyment and personal entertainment. Anything deeper and heavier is not their favorite topic. Their planning revolves around evenings, vacations, retirement. For them, real life lies in fun activities; everything else is the price to pay for these fun activities and considered a necessary evil, such as work and chores. For all the drudgeries they endure at work and in life, they demand immediate pleasures for compensation. When they get such pleasures through whatever ways humans have invented, they consider themselves satisfied.

This inability to look beyond, or rather, the ability to not look beyond, never ceases to amaze me. Even if they don’t read history, they must know what is happening in other parts of the world. And even in Canada there is still much social injustice and absurdity.

The elevators in my apartment building have a monitor in each of them, showing commercials, movie trailers, daily tips, and trivial facts. A repeated tip for cleaning a dog’s tear stain almost drove me crazy. When there are people suffering from starvation or slaughter somewhere else on this tiny planet, it seems to me almost a crime to be concerned with your dog’s tear stain.

The unthinking crowd comprises the masses. They are the back and the bottom of this world: brainless, mindless, indifferent, driven by lower desires. You may try to yell, to kick, but they have not the ear to listen, and the skin is as thick as an elephant’s. You shall despair, if you want to make a difference in this soulless village.

Both media and education are dumbed down for the masses, to get market share. This continual dumbing down results in an even dumber next generation. The vicious circle goes on.

Canada’s short and peaceful history may be the root of this indifferent and self-content attitude. Lack of suffering makes a person and even a nation shallow and unsympathetic. Secondly, the rich natural resources and sparse population may be the reason for the light-heartedness. And finally, the poor and dependent economy contributes to the absence of ambition.

What I see is a nation willingly surrendering itself to mindless pleasures and nothing beyond. It is a nation that cannot produce a leader who can safely direct it to a future of choice. It surrenders its destiny to fate, to any unexpected turn of history. Such a nation consists of individuals who do not look beyond their life span and their immediate environment. Pleasure is both the means and the ends. Don’t talk about anything beyond, or they will hate you and call you preachy. It is a popular understanding that most people prefer to talk about anything but the meaning of life.

There is some merit in this culture. Over the years I have been partially assimilated into it. I have learned to appreciate its good cheer, its love of living. I have adopted its life-enjoying attitude. It is an antidote to the fun-denying, life-denying culture I came from. It is here, in this beautiful landscape, among these friendly people, that for the first time my life has become enjoyable.

However, the deepest part of me will never be assimilated. To divert me from a purposeful life is nearly impossible. After much suffering, I appreciate more yet value less the pleasures in life. They are not the essentials.

Fight the default setting

Posted December 10th, 2007 and filed in Education, Human Condition, Life

Those who never get to know the pleasure of intellectual growth are pitiful. Unfortunately, they are the majority. Most people live a stupefied, stagnant life. Their growth stops at an early age. The rest of their life is left to life’s abuse and authority’s manipulation.

Most people are not blessed with good experience and good company. Who knows what you will be born into? If you are born into a ghetto, then without any conscious self-directed effort by yourself, you will become part of the ghetto. If life treats you harshly and meanly, you will likely be harsh and mean to other people, not only because you are conditioned by hatred, but also because this is the only way you know. The best blessings of life, I think, are positive experiences and good people. Fair competition, recognition of merit and of good work, dedication and enthusiasm, care, vision, nobility, stamina, courage, sacrifice, gratitude, integrity, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, generosity, honesty, friendship based on mutual admiration for each other’s character … these are the best things you can witness and experience in this life. These are the fertile soil for the blossoming of your soul. There are heaven and hell on this earth. You know which one you are in. Heaven or hell, it is the people around you. So too are you other people’s fateful environment. When you are aware of this fact, I urge you: make a conscious effort, and make a paradise of where you are. Show some devotion, bring out the good in you despite sarcasm, dare to be different, think of yourself as the rock others depend on, lead and serve, care, appreciate, encourage, act, make a difference. The rewards are endless. There is no greater joy than bringing hope and inspiration to the darkness in which you and others are imprisoned.

No matter how bad your environment is, you can rise above it. Heroes are born in all kinds of places. They are made heroes by their own conscious effort. There is no natural hero-making environment on this planet. Society is designed to produce mediocrity, if not failure.

Self-awareness

Posted September 10th, 2007 and filed in Human Condition, Human Mind, Life

It is amazing how we must come back to learn about one’s self, and how this self remains the biggest mystery to us. This living organism, being molded and denied and conditioned since birth, evolves to an adult body, containing a very confused self-awareness often called soul, constantly changing on cellular and atomic levels, growing, then deteriorating to its demise. In the middle of the process, we ask: what is it? (Or: What am I?) As far as we are concerned, we are the only biological organism asking this question. Not even all of us. There is a threshold of humanity above which you must develop to be able to ask this question. Many human forms did not even achieve that. For those who barely crossed this threshold, this question only vaguely appears in their bad dreams. To be able to come to this self-consciousness and ask this question clearly is what it is to be human.

In solitude one lives with oneself. And one had better take a good look at it. The awareness of the body. Then the awareness of the mind. How does everything work? We don’t know. When something stops working, we don’t know why either.

In the past I have been busy absorbing external knowledge to overcome external forces. I do not know what exists in me. I use one doctrine to battle another, until I have exhausted my armory and my mind. I don’t know what intrinsic force or power I have.

When we were born we had this dream

Posted July 22nd, 2007 and filed in Human Condition, Life

When we were born we had this dream of a magnificent life: live on this beautiful planet, travel long and far, meet beautiful noble people, have deep love and friendship with them, play the hero and heroine in epic stories, create legends, fight worthy enemies, perform remarkable feats, always stand in the forefront making history, survive great danger and adversity, climb the highest mountain, swim the seven seas, touch the farthest star, command a brave, devoted army, prevent catastrophes, lead human race to a new dawn, die gloriously for a high cause and with no regrets.

We were not prepared for a life so obscure and pathetic. We were not prepared for infestations, diseases, and garbage. We were not prepared for all the grey details. We were not prepared to live with indifferent and superficial contemporaries. We were not prepared to fight disgusting enemies. We were born for a mission, but nobody mentions it. Instead, we are asked to find jobs. Why should we be different? Don’t we just look like everybody else?

But we coped. We managed. We struggled in our personal history, suffered from our own mistakes and other people’s cruelties, swallowed all the bad things thrown at us, compromised in all lesser aspects. We only hold onto one thing, one thing we would not give up: What we should be doing. We did not get the glamorous stage to perform, did not even get the costume, but whenever possible, at any dirty, slimy, nasty place, we perform: we dance a divine dance, we sing a noble song, we create beauty, we fight for truth and justice. Instead of applause, we get scoffs, confusion, condemnation, rotten eggs and orange peels, or no attention at all.

How long does it take the pure hearts to get used to this world? Forever. We are always so out of place, even those of us who have coped the best. No matter how hard we try to mingle, to blend in, we stand out as different. No matter how much we have grown to love this world, we are never at home.

Home. When people sing the home-going songs we feel so lost. Where is home? We do not miss the place we were born into. We are happy that we left it. Every step we took, there was no reason to look back. We are forever in escape, hopefully into a better state. We have traveled this far, yet found no paradise. Home. It is a heartbreaking word. We have no home. If it exists, it is in the future, not in the past.

Not a smart species

Posted July 10th, 2007 and filed in Human Condition

There is no safe haven. If you do not fight against absurdity and evil, then you live with it. Bite your tongue and suffer.

We are really not a smart species. Look at the wars, how we love to slaughter each other. Look at those smokers on street, how we love to destroy our health and other people’s. We are getting rid of ourselves before Nature does. We produce a few demons and some saints, the rest is the mass: shrewd, decent, ignorant, can follow either demon or saint, depending on who is louder or looking more assertive or arousing more emotions in “the people”. I guess usually demons win. Who is elected President? Who is crucified? How many times have we beheaded the best scholar and poet and artist of an era (Ji Kang), chopped a great literary critic in half (Jin Sheng Tan), burnt Giordano Bruno and Michael Servetus, cut into a thousand pieces alive the brave selfless general who saved the nation and the emperor (Yuan Chong Huan), shot Yu Luo Ke in public for his truth-telling essay, stripped and hanged Dietrich Bonhoeffer? My friends, don’t think these are only in the past tense. These are still happening and will happen again. I was only citing historical facts, to disclose to you our track record. Yes, this is the species to which we belong. We are doomed if we do not redeem ourselves and our children.

Predetermined occupation

Posted January 10th, 2007 and filed in Education, Employment, Human Condition, Life

Back to Vancouver. Still beautiful, the city lights before dawn.  It was 7 degrees below zero. It snowed 3 days ago. A taxi driver from India drove me home. I have never met a taxi driver at the Vancouver airport who is not from India. In Calgary they are all from Pakistan. Often an occupation in an area is controlled by people from a certain area. For these people of a certain regional and/or racial origin, it is also a fate they can hardly escape, due to lack of influence and connection in any other career. I realized this latter point yesterday when again a (this time underground because he is not licensed) driver from Hunan Province was driving me to Shenzhen Airport. We talked about it. He told me how hard it would be to start from scratch in a new field in which nobody you know could guide you with experience. There is also people’s inertia in play, but a cultural effect like this is an almost determining factor in the economy and in people’s lives. Again, people are not free to do things they have never heard of. And it takes great courage to go out of one’s “normal” way into a risky, unknown life.

Long view and optimism

Posted July 10th, 2006 and filed in Human Condition, Life
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How is one’s past connected to his present and future? How does he redeem the fate he was born into? How does he rebel against the role he was assigned? It is not determined all by his efforts, neither all by luck. It’s both. Without the open-door policy of China since 1978 I would never be where I am. I would never have been exposed to those great thoughts, the job experience with a world-class multinational firm, the technology and management skills. I would never have been able to learn another language, and choose another country to live in. One statesman’s idea can have such an impact on so many lives, and a future beyond his vision will be born.

Therefore, take a long view, heart, take a long enough view so you can be optimistic again, and see that irreversible trend toward humanity and freedom and improvement of life. Even if you are in much misery and loneliness, without wealth or power, be optimistic, for this is the whole point of life, of living: to live as if everything is possible, to fight as if there is still hope. And trust the unknown, unpredictable ally from the universe.

Have you ever walked the streets

Posted June 10th, 2006 and filed in Education, Human Condition

Have you ever walked the streets, taking in the buildings, the city, the technology, the system, the civilization, and feeling proud, as if all the achievement of human beings is yours? What a long way we have come!

Being educated is great, because when I look at all this, I am not just looking at the image of things, but also considering their history and meaning conjured up in my mind. I look at them with insight and awareness of their connections. Therefore I gain more from my sight of the city than an uneducated person.