“…Soon, I hope, I’ll have again figured out where my career is heading. I will have mastered (insofar as French is master-able) this language. I will look with relief – rather than panic – upon a lane with 4 swimmers. For now, though, all I can do is learn and learn and learn.”
This quote is from my friend ann over at whatifandwhynot. The whole post is highly recommended reading as is the entire collection of posts/essays.
What captures my imagination in this quote is the optimism, the quiet self-assured belief that in the end she will succeed – she will learn. I equate the two, success and learning, not only in the ordinary sense of mastering a skill for a job, but in the sense that a core value of learning is mastering the skill of empathy as a prelude to self-fulfillment. What I read in the quote above is just that, a belief that the ultimate goal of happiness is achieved by learning; learning to communicate with, to accept the other – to be empathetic. Empathy might be the most important skill a person can learn. It is the glue that binds a couple, a family, community, society, and ultimately the world. Without empathy we degenerate into a culture of apathy, disharmony and selfishness with a warped, sadly limited conception of happiness.
What is the unchanging origin of happiness? Love? Seems like a good candidate to me. There are the three classic types of love: Eros, Philos, Agape (just google ‘varieties of love’ for the complete list). For me the types of love are less important than what we do with the love we have. Can we be happy without love, of some kind, and can we feel love, of any kind, without empathy? I would go so far as to say our happiness depends upon our capacity to love which in turn is contingent on our ability to feel the other, to be empathetic.
Charles Bukowski says “…we are here to drink beer…” as well as love, learn and “…laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” I count 5 good reasons for why we are here and that’s not a bad start. Bukowski probably really believed we are here to drink beer, but it could be he meant we should enjoy the things we have/make…enjoy the fruits of our labor so to speak. Either way is a good enough reason to exist. Stephen Jay Gould suggests we must create our own reasons “from our own wisdom and ethical sense.” John Cage tells us, “No why. Just here.” What it comes to for me is there is no why outside our own will, desire and capacity to create a meaning and live up to it.
So my friend over at whatifandwhynot has knocked it right on the head. Be optimistic that you can do what you want/need to do (do what you love/love what you do…see Ray Bradbury). Be optimistic about seeking and finding happiness -the Raison d’être . Look for it in the world as well as in yourself. Find it in the people around you…the people who share the lane with you. Find what is common with the other, work to make common ground, be empathetic and you will find love and happiness. Above all learn…and learn and learn and learn….
That’s all I have for now.