The unexamined life is not worth living

January 7, 2010

It has been more than a while since my last posting here. This is largely due to an insecurity of mine about posting something that isn’t worth writing. Not to say that life hasn’t been interesting or exciting, but it is a very specific skill one must have to sit down at the end of the day and reflect on their thoughts. It is skill still more elusive to be able to translate these thoughts to paper (or in this case, the ‘cloud’). However, a blog not updated is even less worthwhile than a blog poorly scribed.

And this brings me to today, and to the idea of an examined life. In my philosophy class we are reading ‘Confessions’ by St. Augustine. This is largely an autobiographical work, and my Professor spoke briefly to the difficulty he has in writing about himself. I laughed and nodded in agreement. What is there to say about yourself? You can always address the simple facts; I am 21, I am white, my name is Tyler, I go to school at Seattle University, I major in Economics, I like computers, I (when I can afford it) fence, I run everywhere, I drive a fast car, I am short. But these don’t really tell who a person is. That is much harder to communicate, and much harder to even notice about oneself. I had a conversation with someone last year and they asked me the question ‘What is your philosophy? How do you live life?’ This was a pretty memorable night, November 22nd, 2008. It was the first time someone had really challenged the basic question ‘Who are you?’ and was genuinely searching for who I was. It was here where I first started to think about that question. I formulated a few basic rules, which have since grown in volume. Tonight, while smoking a cigar, and sipping a beer, I reflected on a similar conversation(s) I had had in the past few days. I’ve recently been talking to people a lot about relationships, but not the concept itself, but the issues they raise with conflicts of perception and personalities. How well do people really know each other, and how well do we know ourselves?

That is when I decided to examine what I had originally termed ‘rules’, but now consider a basis for who I am; a philosophy.

Most of you who know me, have heard me quote one before, or offer it to you as a guideline, but I don’t think I’ve ever reflected on them, no explained where they come from. Each does have a story behind it, and each does impact how I operate. The official  list is as follows:

1. Do the least to get the most, but don’t take the easy way out.
2. Do it for the story. Always.
3. Don’t stress. Everything always works out.
4. It doesn’t matter how much you plan ahead, you’re wrong.
5. Don’t wonder “What if?”

Rule number one is the primary summary of how I approach all things in life. Although I find it to be the most misunderstood and confusing rule I have. I never like things that I know, I never like things that are easy, and I never want to try hard to achieve something easy, no matter its importance to my life. An A in a 101 class would be harder for me to achieve, on lack of effort alone, over a 400 level class. Mystery. Difficulty. Puzzle. Challenge. All these things are something attractive to me. I’ve found myself spending hours on approaching an issue from ‘my way’ rather than doing it a much easier way, mostly to prove to myself that it can be done. Reverse-engineer the cyphered answer over solving the actual puzzle; fix the monitor over getting a new one; write the paper on something ridiclious over writing it on a ‘normal topic’. All of these examples that people have pointed out to me in the past. And while I understand the merit of ‘attacking the puzzle’ or ‘solving the mystery’ I think there is something more to it than that. Picking the impossible girl, choosing the difficult (to pay for) school, trying to improv presentations and tests; is it to prove my own worth to myself? I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’ve ever sought validation or praise above the next guy in line. There is something about the act of doing things differently that brings meaning to the telos of my actions. Simply put, I think I really do just like to be difficult. So in this I find that life’s rewards are greater when you can find that feeling. For some it may be in a sport, or in being the best, or in being sucessful. For me, I think the attempt itself is the fun. ‘Motives matter’ is something I say a lot, and I feel like that motive is most suited to me. So, don’t take the easy way out. You might fail at the hard way, but there’s something (whatever it is) to be said for even attempting the hard way.

Rule two, ‘Do it for the story’ is a rule that I borrowed from a friend of mine, Eric Gordon. I credit him with being that friend in college who really showed me that you can have fun and take chances. It won’t kill you, and you get killer stories. Stories are a small sense of immortality. History was once nothing but stories passed down family lines, and today they range from verbal, to written, to movies, to games. But if you have a story to tell, a piece of you is communicated down wherever that story goes. In essence, you can travel with it, and people who have never met you (or even just people listening to you tell it for the first time) get a perspective on you that you probably don’t communicate otherwise. Don’t let fear stop you from trying; Do it for the story. Always.

Rule number three was one of the inital three rules created on November 22nd, but I don’t think I truely understood it until recently. Life sucks. In no person’s life can there be a fairy tale as the autobiography. Life will be hard, life will be bitchy, and life will shit on you. Not to sound overly Sartre’y, but there is little you can do about it. It is in how you react that you discover, and convey who you are. People will get sick, relationships will fail, classes will kick your ass, and things generally won’t go your way. If you’re following rules number one and two, then you’re especially bound for some poor luck. Yet, amongst stress, worry, fear, apprehension, aversion, none of these will improve the situation. They will only lead you further from correcting what you can, or reacting in a way that would at least placate you in the present. The slippery-slope of stress, pity, self-pity, and anger only serve to make the problem worse. Although life tends to fuck each and every individual who lives it, life also has a way of working itself out. Patience, optimism, determination, and any other cheesy noun will, eventually, help you to work through the issue. I can thank Heather Hanson and my Sister for this view. Things will work out in some way. It may not be how you want, but it will always be better than you think. Don’t stress, it’ll work out.

Rule number four is just a combination of rules 1,2, and 3. I am a disorganized mess. Everyone knows this, I know this. I get done what I need, but it’s usually through some combination of dumb luck, and off-hand ability, that allows it to occur. Yet, I never find myself wishing I had a ‘plan’. Plans fail, and this leads to stress. I’m not advocating jumping in to the burning building, but I am saying that life, again, will fuck you, and relying too heavily on how things ought to be, will distract you from how things are. Plans are excellent, but not concrete, and adaptability is essential to staying sane. Don’t plan ahead (too much), because chances are, it isn’t going to work out exactly the way you’d like.

Rule number five is the most recent addition to the family, and the one with the most noticably defining moment. I did, or rather, didn’t do something recently, and I have questioned that decision since. I never question my choices, and it shook me a little bit. Life isn’t that long. 100 years if you are lucky, and often less. There isn’t time for you to wonder how things would be if they had gone differently. Also, if you did it the hard way, and for the story, there should be no reason to stress over alternatives (See what I did there?). If you find yourself thinking ‘What if I had done that thing the other day’, you clearly are not happy with the results. We don’t wonder (I realize this is a broad statement) about our choices if we enjoyed them. So go and do whatever it is you didn’t. Don’t wonder ‘what if’.

And those are my rules, but moreso, those are who I am.

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3 Responses to “The unexamined life is not worth living”

  1. James Harmon Says:

    Heather Hanson, or Heather Hansen? Because my mom always says things will always work out too haha

  2. Dad Says:

    Well spoken.


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