Schadenfreude vs. Ubuntu

Schadenfreude: the act of joy in another’s misery. German

Ubuntu: the defining of an individual through others ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu(a person is a person through other people). Zulu

The above 2 concepts interest me. Primarily because for all its dexterity, English has not been able to capture these two themes within its language. They are fascinating, real, and whilst not mutually exclusive, they raise questions as of myself. Is my happiness a result of my own personal gain, or is it due to the gain of others, even ‘us’ as a collective?

Honestly speaking, I have definitely felt some pleasure in the misfortune of others. Usually when they are smarter, richer, more arrogant, better looking or dickheaded I might add.

That happiness is very short-lived and stems from personal insecurities and a need for oneupmanship.

My times of experiencing ubuntu, or joy in a collective, have always been ineffable. Working towards a goal, project or a purpose greater than oneself is, ironically, one of the most liberating feelings I have felt. Ironic because typically this involves cooperation in a group and signing up to a community.

Relative personal gain and success are still somewhat hard wired into my brain. I want to do better than those around me, as culturally I grew up in a competitive environment and I want to push myself individually. Yet Ubuntu is a long term dream. To be satisfied with myself, eliminate the pressure I put upon my shoulders and be. Be with others and for others. That would be real joy and fulfilment.

That would be Ubuntu.

Advertisements

For Sure

Here goes another rant about how the modern world is so much worse than ‘when I was younger’ and how we need a return to the good old days.

I’m not going to do that. This is actually a relatively brief post, as it is an idea I have, but I want to get this down and it is late.

The modern world that we live offers incredible benefits to us all. We are materially more prosperous than ever, with many developed countries having to now coin the phrase “1st World Problems” to describe the relative scale of issues people living in these regions face.

The one thing I wish to touch on is the idea of certainty. Something that the 21st Century has thrown up (for a plethora of reasons) is the creation of a much more uncertain world. We are having to become comfortable with a high degree of uncertainty in a number of spheres, much of which feels quite unsettling:

Economic – I am no economic expert, but it feels as though we are on the cusp of a major economic shift as far as employment and the workplace go. AI and automation are and will change the way we work. Disruptive technologies are blowing apart industries (that have existed for decades) in a matter of years. The point is: nobody really knows how this is going to play out. Once you make a prediction, the market itself tends to adjust itself to avoid that very prediction in the first place, especially if it is a fairly dystopian scenario.

Political – Not sure much needs to be said to support my point. Trump, Putin, the Middle East, Brexit ad nauseum. There is a constant febrile atmosphere within the political arena, fuelled by an insatiable press, and it appears as though the rules of the game change from day to day. The future is highly uncertain, even within established and relatively stable political orders

Social – Where to begin? Ultimately the majority of our social interactions occur through our relationships. Historically it felt like there was an element of certainty around our relationships e.g. the couple, the family unit, the community, the religion and the nation state. Each of these institutions is suffering its own identity crisis. Roles and duties within relationships are being replaced by negotiation and demands. No longer is the male the breadwinner and the female the pastoral carer; this is determined after (hopefully) conversations and dialogue. Whilst this is no bad thing at all and not to be discouraged, the element of uncertainty runs amok throughout the entire network. Unless communication is open, transparent and articulated, assumption takes over.

Uncertainty is draining. It requires constant readjustment. Perhaps there should be a space where we establish certainty in areas of our lives, such that we can deal with the uncertainty in others.

Confidence

The single greatest lesson I would ever impart from my wise old sage-like-position under my banyan tree is that of a single human act – confidence.

There are plenty of articles, both scholarly and tabloid, on the importance of confidence in being successful. Confident people earn more, have better social lives, mental health etc.

But they would of course, as they have achieved, therefore their confidence is likely to be higher, no? Well it seems that confidence is less an effect and more a cause. It leads to greater success in many guises and ultimately acts as a virtuous circle.

Confidence is attractive. It is sexy. It is intimidating. It is trustworthy.

By deduction therefore, there may in all of our lives come a time when we have to ‘fake it till we make it’. To this I say absolutely. Whether this be a new job we are nervous about, a new relationship, even stepping out of our comfort zone, living life with an air of confidence pays dividends as it allows us space to challenge ourselves and grow through the trust others put in us.

Of course there is the question around the difference between confidence, assertiveness and arrogance? Nobody likes an arrogant prick, but very few also like the shy, timid wallflower. I have always personally leant towards the latter, thinking it is the better way to be. However I have realised that due to a lack of confidence and high self-doubt, I have perhaps stifled my own growth by not putting myself out there. This doesn’t mean I need to be arrogant, but that toying with the line between arrogance and confidence is ok, as only by working out my line in the sand will I reach a personal satisfaction in my self-confidence. I know what I am good at (and not good at), and I should embrace this wholly. Those in the world making a mark have only their confidence in themselves and their goals in common. Nothing else.

I often act confident in certain situations and am tangibly able to feel the difference in how I am perceived.

In summary, my message to my children and my younger self (if ever I meet him), is be more sure of yourself. You need to project confidence (and vulnerability at times of course, but that is for a different post) and be prepared to step up for your cause, thoughts and actions.

Then, and only then, will you be successful, whatever success may look like to you.

Ignorance is bliss…

The deeper I search, the more I find ‘truths’ about it all. Myself, the world, my relationship to it and its beings.

As I continue to excavate, I realise the bottom-of-the-barrel nihilism is not too far away. Nothing means anything. Everything is futile. We’re all going to die anyway. Meaning is lost. Purpose wanes. The heart sinks.

Fortunately I don’t live in that space for long. My children, family and friends fill my life back with colour again before long.

And yet…

The lingering, nagging, existential ‘reality’ of it all is now difficult to ignore. I live in a community where God is alive. Yet for me, He filled a gap. And increasingly He is diminishing. He is a construct to combat my nihilistic tendency. He allows me to believe in the same narratives those around me that I am close to cling to. It aligns our value systems, our thought processes, our moral compasses.

And yet…

My rational being will never rest in the domain my heart is comfortable in. I must choose Truth..or Joy. It sounds dramatic (some would argue melodramatic), but right now, this is what it feels like.

Perhaps living in Plato’s cave wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Or was it…?

Man in the Mirror

An interesting thought hit me the other day.

I’ve never actually seen myself.

Yes I gawp at my ageing, weathered mugshot every day in front of a mirror. But this back to front reflection isn’t how the world sees me. My friends look completely different in the mirror to my perception of them.

Even looking at pictures or videos feels untrue, as these are momentary glimpses of the me the world sees.

If I imagine people close to me, I create a fairly clear perception embodied in their 3D physical body. For myself, I can create this perception based on an internal view, but this is very different to perhaps how I am perceived by the world. Additionally wrapping it up in a body and staring at it through my mind’s eye is nearly impossible. I just don’t know how another person sees me and it feels a little unnerving if I think about it too much…

Perhaps best not to then.

Hardwired

Each and every one of us is hardwired so fundamentally by their childhood, it feels as though their perspective is an objective reality.

Through my introspection, counselling and deep reflection, I understand how much of my current view on the world is a result of my childhood. I look around at friends, family and even my own parents- the principal hardwirers in my case – and I see the very same thing.

As a child I often had to appease my parents to keep the peace and was never taught how to communicate verbally…I became an ardent people pleaser, a self-sacrificer a deep introvert. A friend whose father always castigated him and who was bullied as a child grew up seeking his father’s approval and a huge extrovert with deep lying insecurities…and still does so today. My own father grew up not understanding the value of communication from his parents. To this day (almost at the age of 70), he cannot articulate his emotions. I think he has probably only told me he loves me once or twice in his life. Not that I resent him for this nor do I feel he doesn’t love me, as he speaks through his actions.

The point is that our emotional hardwiring happens during childhood. Yes it is easy to post-rationalise and ‘look’ for narratives in the past to fit our current issues. However it is becoming increasingly clear to me that objectivity is but an apparition. Our current worldview is so complexly constructed from early days that it becomes difficult to change that view, even if reason dictates that our current view is either outdated or only one of many views available.

The point is hardwiring is emotional. It is this very hardwiring that makes us feel as though something is wrong. And it is difficult to fight this, even when we know this to be the case.

Not sure this post even makes sense, but I know what I am trying to say and I will refine it with time.

Unwinding

Humans are unique relative to any other species in our ability to flexibly cooperate with each other. This is the only reason that humans dominate and have achieved so much in the past 50,000 years or so. From building spaceships to destroying nations, we have succeeded not due to our intelligence, consciousness or our linguistic skills. So says Yuval Harari in Homo Deus, fast becoming a modern day secular bible (oxymoron I know). We are able to aggregate our knowledge collectively and create things far greater than the sum of our parts.

An important element of this cooperation are the narratives we subscribe to. These ‘inter-subjective’ realities are effectively myths that become real only because we all collectively believe in them. Money, God, Human Rights, Feminism, Nation States- these only exist due to our shared belief in their value. They are not set in stone.

As we unwind these historic (and perhaps even present day) narratives, a question that comes to my mind is: what exactly will replace these stories if they are collectively refuted? Is the mere fact that we all now understand how the narrative game is played enough to destroy the ability for any future collective story to take hold? Are we just going to sit there shitting on everything that is not of direct utility to us and our well being?

Isn’t it better to subscribe to a narrative that isn’t true but keeps us happy rather than exist in a cold, hard, nihilist reality? For belief and faith are required to some degree, even in the most logical of arenas. And especially in matters of the heart, logic and intellect tend to go out of the window.

It may be easy to unwind a delicate pattern but not so easy to wind it back. Whilst knowledge is the direction we wish to travel towards, it does not guarantee a happier, more fulfilled existence. Be careful what we wish for.