Choosing a personal Philosophy
When a young person recently asked me for education and career advice, I asked the enquirer to first choose a Philosophy of life, and them align the career choices to this philosophy. The reaction was of complete bewilderment at the suggestion.
A philosophy of life is an overall vision or attitude towards life and the purpose of it. We all need personal philosophy in life or we risk wandering, and responding to random stimuli and information with little or no impact on our long-term goals. In this age of information overload, misinformation and pseudo-science this becomes even more important than ever before.
Sir Ken Robinson has very well articulated the importance of your ‘element’ and aligning your work life to your element: http://sirkenrobinson.com/finding-your-element/
Videos from Sir Ken Robinson on finding your element? https://youtu.be/J9LzSPf-Ct0
How finding your passion changes everything: https://youtu.be/03v_UScdLQY
The Japanese have a word Ikigai to describe your raison d’etre for your life. How to find and do work that you love ( Ikigai) : https://youtu.be/G2SqqjRn_c0
There is a famous quotation from Mark Twain : “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Some people may go through life without ever finding out the purpose of their lives.
Robert Bryne once observed, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”
“The unexamined life” said Socrates “is not worth living”.
There is one practical benefit of examining a life, though – both for the individual and the society. It can be an extremely humbling experience. It exposes our insignificance and liberates us from all forms of ego. This realisation can make us better human beings – more considerate, less judgemental and therefore blissful.
It is perhaps for this reason alone and not necessarily for any other that we should devote ourselves to the task of examining our lives.
I find the following lines from Bertrand Russell very uplifting: The Prologue to Bertrand Russell’s Autobiography: What I have lived for
Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.
Another summing up of a great life was by Isaac Newton. When he was asked how he saw himself, he responded “ I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself, I was like a child on the seashore, looking now for a smoother pebble or a prettier shell, while the whole ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me”.
Another tribute to a life worth emulating is in Shakespeare’s play “ Julius Caesar” at Act5 Scene5, where Mark Antony says of Brutus “ This was the noblest Roman of them all. All the conspirators save only he did what they did in envy of great Caesar. He only in a general honest thought and common good to all, made one of them. His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world :This was a man”.
For much of the past, one’s philosophy was guided by the religion into which one was born. God’s revealed guidance for living was to be followed. With the rise of rationalism, and decoupling of religious rituals from working in an economy, a closer look at the Philosophy one adopts becomes important.
See for example Milton’s lament ( on his blindness)
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
The last line itself is a great Philosophy!
A pragmatic philosophy of life is in the famous poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling:
Here is the poem recited by Sir Michael Caine : https://youtu.be/EEFMVIfl2UY
This Desiderata attributed to Max Ehrman is also a wonderful philosophy that is very practical : https://youtu.be/zFxvV7-JDRw
Polonius advice to son Laertes Hamlet Act 1 Scene 3 : https://youtu.be/TtZyeMg8G34
Resources for further exploration:
1: Will Durant : Story of Philosophy : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_Philosophy?wprov=sfti1
2: Will Durant : Fallen leaves: last words on life, love, world and God
3: Clayton Christensen : How will you measure your life?
4: Richard Dawkins : The God Delusion : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_God_Delusion?wprov=sfti1
5: The best Philosophy books : https://www.google.co.in/amp/s/taylorpearson.me/bookreview/best-philosophy-books/amp/
1: Clayton Christensen: How will you measure your life? ( TEDx talk) (20 minutes) : https://youtu.be/tvos4nORf_Y
2: Clayton Christensen : How will you measure your life? LinkedIn speaker series( 1 hour 12 minutes) https://youtu.be/5DwYcNr0Nuw
3: Frederick Nietzsche : how to find yourself ? : https://youtu.be/0OIZMGEQ298
4: What great Philosophers can teach us about how to live?
Alain de Botton: Author of The consolations of Philosophy ( 1 hour 20 minutes) : https://youtu.be/joul2MSHZtc