I woke up this morning with the beginning of this short advice in my head. I present it immediately in the hope that it may be of help to some. I see already that it might help me because it sounds so true and to the point.
- Trust the Process
Over time, lots of things shape up.
- After a lot of crying, even very bad things bug us down less.
- Society tends to shape up. NB: Despite this upward trend, there are still a lot of ups and downs. However, this is not just a zero-sum fluctuation. Over time, overall, it gets better.
Be hopeful and optimistic. There is powerful build-in goodness in you, in others, in the Universe. See it, use it.
- Use Free Will
People have a knack for morality. Animals and computers can go through life without ethical dilemmas and are just fine the way they are. Human beings not. Only going with the flow, letting life take its course, is like being dead, living a useless life, like a piece of wood being carried by water going down-stream.
It’s true that many people who got addicted to hurtful behavior in the end do break the habit. However, when we passively let life take its painful course, we might die (from the addiction or something else) before we can let go of destructive behavior or passivity. And even if we merits to still be there and shape up in the end, without much effort, what a waste of time and how much pointless pain from not confronting the challenge to shape up head-on!
A moral life is not the hegemony of, does not belong solely to religious people. Evil is not a subjective, spiritual thing. Yet, religious and other moral thought can teach us and inspire us how and why to use our Free Will. Religious leaders and literature can inspire tremendously.
Someone who listens to wise people from the past can often avoid much suffering. However, it takes an active brain to learn from the ones who went through life before us, or even our contemporaries. We need to sail on our own insights, though inspired by others. If we just slavishly follow other people’s insights, we won’t notice when we took a wrong turn, and with our brains shut down, then we’re really in trouble. So we need to think for ourselves, always.
Evil, and our strive to diminish it, can be understood completely inside the material world. Evil is the sum-total of long-term unnecessary suffering and destruction. Examples:
- To frustrate someone else because you forgot to say: I’m hurting, can you hold my hand, I need to cry for a moment.
- Not to insist that a young person holds your hand when crossing the street, because you want to be liked.
- Who cares about the environment – live in the now!
Free Will is not free because it doesn’t cost anything; using Free Will costs effort. That’s why employing it is meritorious. And that’s why computers cannot have Free Will. Artificial Intelligence can be flexible and creative, but it cannot solve an ethical dilemma meritoriously. And a St. Bernard dog can save lives, but that’s because it has a fine nature and received a first-rate training – not because it triumphed in a moral problem. It also cannot imagine beyond its instincts and memory. Only higher creatures have Free Will – but if we do not use it, if we do not swim against the tide, if we always would choose short-term comfort above long-term profit, animals are superior to us, because then we would not live up to our potential while they do.
Free Will is called free because it can free us from our bad sides, from the moral level that we are now to a higher plane. When we are equally tempted to chose something more evil and challenged to do something more benign, we take our time (even if just a split second) to make the evil look less worthwhile and the good to look more worthy (which in the long run they are) and do that until we can opt for the ethically better.
Free Will is simply the ability to take your time to invest effort and dare discomfort to choose against evil.
- I wanted the cookie but I knew it was not a good idea. I said to myself: you’ll only regret it and you can really enjoy it tomorrow with permission. I decided to leave it, and felt better already.
- I was tired and didn’t feel like springing into action, but the need to do something was clear to me. I started telling myself how proud I would look back to having done something, and telling others about it, and that it would really bring out the one I want to be, even if I would not immediately succeed, and that I could rest afterwards without hurting my health, until I went for it.
- I hate resting and I love to just be active, but I know that denying my needs is not good in the long run. I told myself that I should have more years to be active if I take well care of myself. I put up some calming music, got into bed and slept for a solid two hours, waking up more refreshed and relaxed.
We don’t just “choose good,” because even the worst choice people made was fueled by a belief that this was good. Rather, we think well what option leads to the least suffering and destruction in the longer run.
What is better depends on who you are so far. For selfish people, generosity is the challenge. For people who do not take care of their basic needs, asking help and receiving good can be the challenge. If you’re under 60, ask your loving partner or best friend what you should do. (After 60, you probably know yourself.)
Judaism, that should have taken out a copyright on Free Will, teaches that Jews have an additional challenge, not only to chose good over evil but also choosing holy over mundane all the time for the good of everyone including themselves. If they don’t, they are inferior to Gentiles, because they do not live up to their potential. If they do, they are equal to Gentiles who chose good, because both groups reach their potential.
Happiness is a decision. Though most of us are born happy campers, and some are born singing, life tends to bug us down. It’s not worth the time and the suffering to simply wait till we feel better, or can do or get something that would “make us” happy. We can all do it ourselves on the spot, unrelated to conditions and preconditions.
Smile. Laugh out loud. Sing. Pick happy words. Give someone a wink. Or a hand. Dance. At least in your mind. Don’t pursue happiness – just pluck it.
Life is such a great gift. There happens to be a Universe. There is a lot of matter in the Universe. Some of it condensed to basic and even heavier Atoms. That’s where beauty starts already. Some of them combined into Molecules. Some of them combined to macroscopical structures. Some of them got together with molecules that can replicate, so that they are what we call Alive. This also meant having company. Some life forms became multi-cellular. Some even got nerve calls. Some of them got clusters of nerve cells, brains. Some of them acquired preprogrammed instincts and an ability to learn to avoid pain and seek comfort. And some of them received brains that could choose long-term good over evil despite short-term good or bad feelings! But even if you don’t buy that you can be thrilled and grateful to be alive and moral, even if for a short time in great pain, you can still enjoy life, because you can.
I am the right person to tell you. I was born in one of the most depressing cultures in the world: Dutch Calvinism, preaching that Mankind is evil and not inclined to any good. I was born to two Holocaust survivors who lost a short while before that, their four parents (and most of their families and friends) to the Nazi murder machine. I grew up without friends. (That has changed.) And anyone who knows me knows that I’m a very happy person. You’re invited to join, if you didn’t choose happiness before already.
Don’t be afraid that true happiness will take away your authenticity. That’s only when you make (shallow) happiness your only goal in life. But if you combine happiness with the hard work of Free Will, everyone will see the true you of you all the time.
Why trust the process? Life teaches that there is an Upward Trend.
Why use Free Will? Because it fits us and all will be better for it.
Why be happy? Because we can, it’s our birthright and why suffer for nothing?