Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

When All Moments Have Equal Value

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I read David’s Raptitude blog more often I post about it, but I am moved to post what he wrote today because it relates to my interest in deriving enjoyment from the small passing pleasures of daily life. He writes:

A young Austrian bodybuilder arrives in America and starts looking for work.

He can find only menial labor that pays almost nothing. Cleaning up construction debris. Lifting crates onto trucks.

He does this work with a grim face and without complaint. His employer, a small, apprehensive man, sometimes apologizes when he asks the bodybuilder to do particularly unglamorous tasks.

When he’s asked to haul thirty splintery wooden crates up to the second floor:

“It is fine. I get to strengthen my biceps, and enjoy how strong they already are.”

When he’s asked to gather all the scrap iron from a factory floor and put it into a bin:

“It is good. I get to strengthen my back, and enjoy how strong it already is.”

After a year or so, he’s able to find a better paying job as a security at a roughhouse bar. This comes with new challenges, however. He has to deal directly with people, often drunk and belligerent ones. The owner gives him one piece of advice: “Stay mean. Don’t give an inch or they take a mile.”

Despite the bodybuilder’s imposing physical presence, or perhaps because of it, conflicts in the bar rarely become physical. He is able to defuse altercations with words alone, almost every time. Sometimes he even gets the involved parties to shake hands, or at least nod in truce. The owner is surprised at this.

“You’re too nice to be a bouncer,” the owner tells him. “You shouldn’t have to deal with these sorts of people.”

“It is all right. I am doing what I came here to do. Every time I have to talk to someone, I get to practice my English, and enjoy how strong it already is. Every time someone is aggressive, I get to practice my patience. Every time someone is upset, I get to practice my kindness. It is all strength training to me.”

“Don’t you want a break from ‘training’ all the time? It sounds like you’re making a hard life for yourself.”

“No. Every other way to live is harder.”

***

I’m starting to see the unifying principle behind all the philosophies that really appeal to me (e.g. Buddhism, Stoicism, Arnold Schwarzenegger). They view all of life’s moments as having equal value, at least where it counts, and what counts is your skill in embracing the moments that make up your life.

It’s a genius idea, possibly the smartest thing human beings ever came up with. Embracing all moments as a rule transforms every day into precisely what you’re looking for: an interesting variety of experiences, every one of which offers you what you value, regardless of what happens in particular.

This is a dramatic improvement over the prevailing mammalian strategy – desperately trying to make certainties out of favorable possibilities, and impossibilities out of unfavorable possibilities. It’s a losing game by definition, so playing it makes us unhappy. The bigger our brains get, the more obsessively we try to map out every contingency, and the more of our lives we spend suffering possibilities in our heads instead of appreciating the actualities around us.

All moments can be appreciated, on a basic level at least, when you value the two opportunities each one offers – to respond skillfully to what’s happening, and to experience being alive for another moment. When this is what’s valued – rather than the fleeting bubbles of pleasure or ease they might bring — an unpleasant moment is just as good as a pleasant one, sometimes better.

For at least a few thousand years, curious individuals have occasionally stumbled upon this brilliant principle. Like all the best ideas, people discovered it independently, in different times and places. It’s so powerful they sometimes start philosophy schools or religions around it. The Stoics worked on using each moment to practice patience, rationality, and fortitude. The Buddhists used their moments to practice meeting reality without desire or aversion. The Christians, the Daoists, and probably many other traditions, all had their own version.

Even more people, probably most of us, have stumbled on . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 3:03 pm

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