“Daddy told me to tidy up my room.”
Magnetic pen on iron filing drawing-board (erasable)
“Daddy told me to tidy up my room.”
Magnetic pen on iron filing drawing-board (erasable)
Today is your 2nd birthday! For two years you breathe this planet’s air now, and you never stopped giving us maximum amounts of joy and amazement, triggering our unconditional love and endless happiness! Our angel! We celebrate you every day, but today is an opportunity to share the joy with everyone who wants to join in! Happy birthday, Tsolmo!
It is also an opportunity to reflect on the past two years. Three things amaze me the most: your eating habits, your sleeping habits, and your health. They are so remarkable because I expected these to be the most difficult aspects of fatherhood, but they go astonishingly well!
I am in charge of your food, at least your regular meals. You eat everything I prepare for you! All the vegetables, fish and seafood, beans and grains, all the spices (Italian herbs, curry), Goji berries, etc. You love to eat fruits (especially bananas, guava, tangerines, apples, papaya, cherries, and even buddha heads!), and often prefer them over cookies or other snacks. We almost never have to throw away half-eaten meals, and you often don’t need any snacks between meals (except fruits). We seldom have “drama” at the dining table, and if so then because you want to play with toys or read books while eating which we sometimes don’t allow (for practical reasons). I am sure you get all the important nutrition in sufficient amounts so that we don’t need to give you any food additives. At the same time, you don’t eat too much fat or carbohydrates (sugar, starch, flour). You are physically very well developed and strong, also very active. Currently, your 92cm height and 13.4kg weight are at the upper range of 2-year-olds worldwide (according to a WHO table).
Besides the unproblematic eating behaviour, you also sleep extraordinarily well! We often put you to bed at 8pm or a bit later. Usually, you sleep latest at 9pm. You seldom wake up during the night. I mean, REALLY SELDOM! I can count the events with two hands, and all those happened during an illness. We can always sleep until 7am, at least, often even longer. Additionally, you have a nap of 90-120 minutes after lunch. I believe, this good sleep has several positive consequences, like a very stable temper, high mobility, activity and energy during the awake time, good attention and curiosity, good mood and playfulness!
Both, eating and sleeping, definitely have a positive impact on the third astonishing fact about your life so far: You have never been really sick. A few (maybe 5?) light illnesses (colds) with elevated temperature (which hardly count as ‘fever’) and runny nose. Teething hasn’t been any problem, you never (NEVER!) had any digestion problem like stomach ache (as far as we can tell) or diarrhea, you never vomited, you didn’t even have rashes on your butt! The worst problem you have to deal with is mosquito bites that we can’t prevent 100%.
Probably, all three aspects are connected and related. Good sleep means good activity. Good activity means good appetite. Good appetite means enough nutrition. Everything together means good health. Good health (physical and mental) means good sleep. And so on. I hope we (your parents) and you in cooperation can keep this cycle running for as long as possible!
I confess it: I am a misanthrope. Misanthropy is defined as hating people or mankind as such. Hate sounds a bit too strong to me. Yet, I can’t deny that my image of people and of mankind as a whole is very negative. I guess, that is a very important part of me, one that you (Tsolmo) will be exposed to sooner or later. Therefore, I dedicate this and the next five blog entries to this topic. I will start with an attempt of a short self-analysis to find out what made me a misanthrope. Then, I will reflect on friendship and on the idiocy of people. A four-dimensional model of responsibility will support my claim that we may expect more from people. Moreover, I will widen the scope from individual people and social collectives to mankind as such, examining anthropocentrism and the inevitable failure of the human race. The series can’t be complete without a link to Buddhism and its cure against hatred: compassion and loving-kindness.
It is important to point out one thing: I don’t suffer from it. I hate people because they lower my life quality, not because misanthropy is a kind of phobia, mania or psychopathic disease. Someone with arachnophobia usually doesn’t suffer from spiders themselves, but from the phobia that causes unpleasant states of mind in the presence of (harmless) spiders. Not spiders are the problem, but the phobia! These dispositions are irrational and the result of a malfunctioning or distorted psyche. Misanthropy is different. As I like to explain in this series, there are good rational reasons to justify a misanthropic mindset. The view itself doesn’t cause me any trouble. I don’t feel mentally exhausted, scared, or puzzled after moments in which misanthropy is manifesting itself. When people or mankind show their despicable features again, I feel rather confirmed in my misanthropy. Therefore, not misanthropy is the problem, but people!
The first question is, of course, what the roots of my negative image are. I believe there are basically two influences: My experiences with being bullied and teased, and my upbringing in a very rational spirit (“If you just use your brain properly, you will never face any trouble!”).
I don’t want to blame it on the countryside. I don’t think rural people (at least in Germany) are different from city people. All kids are exposed to social interaction. Yet, living in the countryside might have had one significant impact: I could choose to live remotely in my own world. In this world, life was harmonious and simple. Out there, in the social world, at Kindergarten and primary school, and later at secondary school, life was not that easy. For a reason that I didn’t understand (and still don’t understand), other kids (mostly older boys) teased me. On the school yard, on the school bus, in the village. Maybe my introverted and shy character gave them the expression that I am weak and a good target for their fun. For me, it wasn’t fun, though. What’s wrong with those boys? Why can’t they just accept me and see my qualities. Being told that I am smart very often by parents and teachers, I liked to believe it. I was also able to build magnificent Lego castles and could even play drums. So, why the hell would they tease me? There was only one possible solution: They must be stupid. Unintelligent. Not able to see beyond the narrow margin of their stupid life. Not able to grasp the implications of their actions and words. Not able to see things from someone else’s perspective, from MY perspective! I assume, it was during those primary school years that I formed the strong conviction that being smart always results in being nice, and that people who are not nice and kind must, therefore, be utterly foolish and stupid.
This idea had a serious consequence, according to my logic: If everyone was as smart as I am, then the world would be full of nice and kind people, and there would be no bullying, no unfairness and injustice, no exploiting of the weak by the dominant people, no misery.
The teasing of the primary school village boys turned into bullying at the secondary school. Classmates – even those I considered my friends – had fun calling me “farmer”(even though my family didn’t have a farm, just a house in the countryside) and making nasty comments about it (like “Ew, there comes the farmer again, what a stink!” or “Will your father come to pick you up with your tractor?“). I hated that! Those spoiled city kids, what do they know?! In the countryside, I could play drums without bothering the neighbours, and I could even have my own country Pannonia! Why can’t they appreciate those benefits or even envy me for having that kind of awesome life, but instead have to make it look like I am a fool?! I was quite confident and knew that they are wrong. What bothered me more was: Why are they doing that? Again, there was only one plausible solution: They must be stupid! I started keeping track of my classmates performances with a little book like those used by teachers to note down marks and students’ performances. Florian made a stupid comment about my jacket: 6! Anika smiled at me: 1! Stefan wanted to know where I bought that new cool pencil case: 1! [Note: In the German school system, marks range from 1 (very good) to 6 (insufficient).] Then, at the end of the year, I knew who was my friend and who will not be my friend. It wasn’t that serious, I guess. For example, Florian (a real example) became my bandmate later, so I was obviously good at forgiving. Yet, it shows how serious this thing was for me, the 13 year old Jan.
I am not a psychologist. Maybe my retrospective analysis is simplistic and plain. Certainly, the logic that I am a misanthrope because classmates made stupid comments is fallacious and too simple. Yet, I believe that the discrepancy between my peaceful and idyllic countryside life and the unpleasantness that I was exposed to whenever having to deal with other people plays a very important role in developing this negative attitude towards people. A seed was planted: Be careful! Don’t trust anyone! People don’t have the capacity to understand you! See what stupid things they do all the time! This seed was watered at countless occasions! The boy scouts summer camp, the rock festival, the carnival parade, the local fairground, any public place – everywhere stupid people doing stupid things that make this world a worse place! Of course, this is not true, but this is what I perceived (and still observe). With this mindset, I retreated more and more into my world, delving into my hobbies with a rather small circle of close friends.
Another factor seems important: News. Problems everywhere! I didn’t mind poverty, crime and war. That was a human problem. But I was seriously concerned about the destruction of our planet by the human race. Loss of rainforest, pollution of air and water, destruction of landscapes by industry and agriculture. A life form that destroys its own habitat – how stupid is that? On top of that, the church (and religion classes at school) wanted to tell me that mankind is the crown of creation. What a bullshit! We are like a disease for this planet! This insight raised my misanthropy to the global level. Not only the idiots around me bother me, but mankind as a whole! Beautiful and innocent species go extinct because of human stupidity! The ecosphere suffers from the ignorance of men. There is a clear parallel to me suffering from the idiocy of people around me. I understood and felt for the planet! Both of us, Earth and me – that was utterly clear to me – would be better off without people!
I use the past tense because I thought like this at the age around 18. In parts, I still think like that, but in the meantime my thoughts and reflections became a little more sophisticated and differentiated. As I explained in the introduction, my misanthropy is not a misled sociopathy, but the inevitable result of my experiences and observations. Two problems arise from it: If I hate mankind (as in every human), how can I love you (and everyone who means something to me), or does it mean that I also hate you (and my wife, my friends, my parents, etc.)? And: If I am such a hater, wouldn’t it be better for society to get rid of me, or at least sanction my negativity and my insulting attitude?
The first problem: I find it totally legitimate and acceptable to make a clear distinction between the particular level (me and my personal relationships, interpersonal ties and emotional connections, etc.) and the general level (mankind). My capacity for love is not interfered by my misanthropy. I value my family and my friends with a healthy portion of emotions involved and with the moral integrity that may be expected from an educated member of society. Moreover, needless to say, my misanthropy is purely intellectual, but never violent, aggressive or attacking (neither with hands nor with words). I admit, I don’t care much about people dying in wars or in natural disasters as long as I don’t know them. But I will, of course, to the best of my abilities, always protect you (Tsolmo) and my dear ones from any danger, harm or threat. More about that later!
The second problem: You (the reader) may find it disturbing that I judge you as stupid even though I don’t know you. I said it, right?: Everyone is stupid! How offensive! You may give me animal names or use other swear words, telling me what I can do myself. You may block my blog or unfollow it, and never visit it again. Haters are not welcome in our contemporary societies. Yet, be reminded: I try my best to explain my views. I try to examine the (psychological) roots as well as the logic and heuristic of my current conscious worldview. I will give reasons and arguments (in the next 5 texts of this series). If there is anything wrong with my idea, there will certainly be a way to convince me of that. It’s just that nobody succeeded with that, yet. I want arguments! The burden of proof that people are NOT stupid and that mankind is NOT a problem for this planet is on you!
These days I write about “my heroes”. Some of them are already (or long time) dead, some I never met in person. But there is one personal hero that I value more than anyone else: my extraordinarily beloved friend Ren Li.
In 2010, I visited China for the first time. One of my former housemates in Germany, a Chinese engineering student, welcomed me in Hangzhou. Since she was pregnant at that time and had no physical power to guide me on long tours through the city, she asked her old high school friend to show me around. He brought his girlfriend (which is Ren Li). We met at my friend’s house. The moment she entered the house, with a sunny smile on her face, I fell in love. We spent two wonderful days together, enjoying the beautiful scenery around the West Lake of Hangzhou, and at several other sites around the city. Her boyfriend drove us around in his car, but often just dropped us off, watching movies or playing video games in the car while we strolled around. Lucky me! Thanks to Li’s warm and gentle character I felt close to her immediately. We talked about music, life, future visions, and it felt like we are soulmates! It happened that I had a thought, and in the next moment Li said exactly that! Besides this mental connection, there was also an electrifying physical attraction between us, not primitively sexual, but rather out of a desire for nearness that came from deep within the soul. For some time, we walked hand in hand. In a famous pagoda, we hugged tightly for a moment, a magic that I will never ever forget.
After that, we kept in touch, often videochatted, wrote emails and letters, and visited each other several times. She went to Japan to get a master and PhD degree in architecture from Tokyo University. In 2013 I met her there. During that visit she made it very clear to me (indirectly, though) that I would never have a chance to be her boyfriend (or even more). That was the time that I gave up on my dream (but it WAS my dream, that is not a secret). We met again in Taiwan twice, and certainly will meet more often in the future. I made her your (Tsolmo’s) godmother, because for some time I hoped that she would be the mother of my children… I need to make clear, however, that I was (and am) not just interested in her as a girlfriend. I always felt like my love for her is very special in a sense that I never felt like that for anybody else. I can love my girlfriend or wife, and at the same time love Ren Li with all my heart, because it is different from sexual or partner love. I don’t love her in a way that I wish she was mine, but in a way that all what matters is that she is happy and joyful in all her life. I would go so far to say that only because of Li I even know what true love really is.
Li is a very special girl in many respects. She is one of the most creative people I ever met, with an extraordinary sense for aesthetics, beauty and composition. I know her as an introverted person with a huge inner world (which I like much more than outgoing extroverted but superficial people). To use a phrase from a Ben Harper song, she is “tattooed on the inside”, as I like to say. In a letter she once wrote to me, I was impressed by this sentence: “酒后面大多是可以说的故事. 在茶后面可以不言语.” (“When people drink alcohol, many stories are told. When people drink tea, stories are moved inside.”). We are both tea drinkers, and I think that connects us. Unfortunately, Chinese cultural traditions and the Japanese lifestyle (especially for a PhD student) confronted her with the limits of physical and mental resilience. I have strong confidence, however, in her ability to cope with all the difficulties in life. Her beautiful mind will guide her way! She deserves a good life more than anybody else!
Happy birthday, Li! We love you!
Look, Tsolmo, Guy Garvey of Elbow wrote a song about you!
Well… of course, he had something personal in mind, and who knows what that is. But that first verse and the chorus (not so much the second verse, though) really touch me!
This is where, this is where the bottle lands
Where all the biggest questions meet
With little feet stood in the sand
This is where the echoes swell to nothing on the tide
And where a tiny pair of hands
Finds a sea-worn piece of glass
And sets it as a sapphire in her mind
And there she stands
Throwing both her arms around the world
The world that doesn’t even know
How much it needs this little girl
It’s all gonna be magnificent, she says
It’s all gonna be magnificent
You have to know that my grandparents – your greatgrandparents – live near Hamburg at the river Elbe which is so wide there that it has beaches. As a child, I played there for many hours, watching the ships entering and leaving the harbour of Hamburg, so amazed and overwhelmed by the huge carriers and cargo vessels that I threw myself into the sand. I found stones and sometimes little shells, trash and all kinds of items washed onto the shore by the waves. This image and the memories of the great times I had there all come up when listening to this song. This jaunty happiness, dreaming of a cruise on one of those ships, fighting pirates, discovering treasures full of gemstones… and imagining, almost hoping, that those colourful sea-worn pieces of glass actually ARE gemstones! So, now, I see you standing on that beach, carefree, playing with an empty bottle, and all your thoughts circle around is whether it is possible to stop the waves from rolling in by smashing them with this bottle (“where all the biggest questions meet”). No job, no homework (yet), no bills, no complicated relationships, just this small world full of curiosity and an untamable urge to discover. And your mind will be imaginative and creative, with a blue round piece of glass just as precious as a sapphire. And in this natural state of joy, you want to hug the world that is so great and beautiful and good! It’s all gonna be magnificent! Try to keep this light-hearted optimism as long as you can! How much the world needs you, I can tell! This bundle of love and joy that you are! And if not “the world”, then at least “my world”… Only complete WITH you! I love you, Tsolmo!
“For the best Mom!” (Mother’s Day gift)
Limbic Print, watercolour on paper.
In the epilogue of his great book “The Love Bug and other Tales of Psychotherapy“, psychiatrist Dr. Dan Briddell explains his simple formula of a “good life”: ROSEBUD. It is the easy to remember acronym of seven “stepping stones” as elements of a guideline for how to live a good life:
R – Reality: Come to terms with, understand, and respect what is. Embrace reality from a position of emotional and intellectual strength.
O – Optimism: Develop and maintain a healthy optimism and humour in all aspects of life. There is an enormous power in the zone of positive thinking.
S – Service: Serve a greater good. Develop activities that extend your time, commitment, and service beyond self-interest.
E – Ethics: Develop an ethical approach to life. Endeavour to make the right choice – each and every time. Be receptive to corrective feedback.
B – Balance: Maintain balance in all things. Diversify your life’s portfolio and seek the appropriate balance with thoughtful attention to work, play, relationships, and emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth.
U – Unconscious: Learn to appreciate, befriend, and grow more comfortable with the silent, inner aspects of your self. Dreams, memories, reflections, intuitions, imagination, and meditation are all keys to unlocking the dazzling power of the unconscious mental process.
D – Develop your gifts: Develop and maintain a high degree of self-respect through the assessment and refinement of your unique abilities, skills and gifts – especially the gift of love. Even modest acts of kindness and encouragement, each and every day, will strengthen your own feelings of love and contentment.
This acronym is aptly chosen, not only because it is easy to remember, but also because it evokes the association with Robert Herrick’s famous poem “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May“, which the teacher John Keating in the “Dead Poets Society” uses to explain to the students what it means to “seize the day” (Carpe Diem), to live in each moment to the fullest, making the future rather than hoping for it.
However, as always, I am slightly critical with Briddell’s quite superficial explanations (though in the book in more detail than cited here by me). Maybe he didn’t want to overwhelm his readership with too much psychology and scholarly parlance. He wrote for the US-American market, and the anti-intellectual US-American society has to be addressed with easy-to-grasp, idiot-proof advices that are vague enough to press them into their dogmatic religiosity and shallow esoteric life-help-palaver. With the danger of producing a lot of palaver myself, I’d like to elaborate further what my thoughts are after reading Dr. Briddell’s stepping stones.
As obvious from previous blog entries, I am very careful with claims about reality. First of all, no ontological certainties about reality are possible without proper epistemological reflections. What we hold for real often turns out to be the product of our deluded mind. The problem is the certainty that we suppose when making reality claims. Much more important than a close look at what is, from my point of view, is a position of systematised doubt and unbiased skepticism. Seeing the reality is a good goal, but impossible for most of us. Instead, I’d like to name awareness as the important stepping stone. Awareness as in mindfulness. It also substitutes the “unconscious” part of Briddell’s “rosebud”. Draw as much unconscious insight into your awareness as possible. Buddhist practices like meditation and the constant endeavour to exit the matrix are helpful ways to explore the real reality and get rid of delusions.
Optimism concerning the future can easily drift towards irrational hope and unrealistic dream-chasing. I favour the term vision (as in being visionary) when it comes to future plans. Have visions of possible futures as outcomes of your current decisions. If possible, choose those options that enable more options or that are reversible. Remember that the seed for your future is planted now, in this moment. With healthy visions in your mind, you keep an overview of your options and can apply your wisdom to proceed on your way. But never get attached to your futures. Optimism is contained in this as the firm conviction that – as long as you always have a choice – your way (not necessarily the goal!) will be satisfying and joyful! No need to speak of humour! Think positively, but not for the sake of mind-deluding positivity!
Service as understood here is very close to selflessness, a term that I would prefer since it is broader. Meaning in life is often created or made apparent through selfless acts. It is connected to forming virtues by internalising and cultivating virtuous behaviour towards others (kindness, helpfulness, care, generosity, empathy). Make others happy and they will be the greatest source of happiness for you. But don’t put the burden of the entire world onto your shoulders. From my perspective, it is totally OK to set priorities and care more about those people who are closer to you in the social network of inter-relations (family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, sports club mates, etc.). It requires skills of emotional intelligence, particularly empathy, feeling and thinking from another person’s perspective, temporarily giving up the own stance. That might be hard for someone who is not used to do that.
Ethics is my professional field, but here I would like to replace it by integrity. Ethics, on the one hand, is too intellectual and academic for daily life. And we don’t need to study Kant or Aristotle to act with moral coherence. Morality, on the other hand, is running the risk of being applied by principle, not by rational reason. Think of religious morality following the church’s rule, for example. Be a good person! Eliminate hypocrisy, double standards, inconsistencies and logical fallacies from your values and worldview. Integrity in the sense that an outsider could predict your decision from the fact that you promote and follow clear values and virtues is much more important. Unshakable ethical integrity can be applied to all situations that will ever occur in your life. Knowing what is best to do is a precious benefit for your life and an important skill. The more reasoned your values the better. But nothing is wrong with learning, making experiences and adapting your value set when you have good reasons to do so.
I have no objections about the call for balance, but would name it harmony for a better understanding. It is in accordance with the Middle Way thinking of Eastern philosophies. It is not about slowing down your life or limiting your activities to some necessities. It is about the awareness of the consequences of a high amplitude of the oscillation of Yin and Yang around the Dao. There will be times in your life when the amplitude is high, usually around the early Twenties, as a student, and times where you wish to calm down the pace with which your pendulum is swinging. Harmonising your life means to go with the flow of these oscillations and let them arise and cease naturally. Extremes, however, are indeed better avoided. Better make sure you know when enough is enough, in all possible respects.
The last point, development, appears a bit shallow to me. Not that it is not important for progress in life, but from my perspective, Dr. Briddell didn’t come to the crucial point here. We all “develop” all the time according to the experiences we accumulate, that is unavoidable. The problem is that most people perceive their development as a process that proceeds without their influence. Most people believe either in destiny (“There is nothing I could do about my life, anyway! It is all decided for me!”) or fate (“I will get what I deserve, anyway!”). While the former is utterly dangerous and often connected to a strong faith in a divine entity (God), the latter leaves slightly more space for self-responsible action, at least when understood in the right way (for example as in “I am the Captain of my fate!”). Best would be, however, when we understand that we are entirely self-responsible for the outcome of our lives and approach it with creativity. Furthermore, development has a notion of growth and progress. I am convinced, however, that it must include the attempts to get rid of unhealthy traits, habits and mindsets, a de-development so to say. Then, the term cultivation is more aptly fitting here: Planting seeds for future change towards more healthy states (character traits, personality, life conditions) and less unwholesome elements. I think, this point is also strongly connected to my tree of knowledge picture: Cultivation refers to exploring the roots and opening up more and more efficient channels of meaning construction. The fruits to be harvested then will be love, happiness, harmony and high life quality!
Now the ROSEBUD acronym changed into AVSIHAC (Awareness, Vision, Selflessness, Integrity, Harmony, Awareness (again, for ‘unconscious’), Cultivation). This is less easy to remember and there is also no poem about it, and I am sorry for that. But if you really understood what this is all about, you also don’t need any acronym. You just live it!
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