“The Second Voice”: My Footnote to Emerson’s “Self Reliance”

October 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

Reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance” was a lesson in self empowerment and individuality.  I finished it with a few lingering thoughts in my head on how living a life of individuality can be complemented with the ability of self-analysis. Ultimately, “Self Reliance” is only the jump-board to the creation of a meaningful life. I’m hypothesizing that self analysis comes from being able to see ourselves as how someone else might.

Being a social maladroit (someone lacking social skills, might or might not be smart) can be one of the most uncomfortable experiences one can have in life. Of course that discomfort isn’t immediately noticeable when there just isn’t a need to be interacting with others or if the social interaction one has is with an immediate social group where members have probably known each other for a really long time. Many people might go through life without understanding what the hell is wrong, why one has so much difficulty getting along with others, until someone actually asks them “What the hell is wrong with you??”

I propose the need of…..(drumroll and fanfare)… “The Second Voice” .

What exactly is this “second voice”? It is the honest voice of another person whom you trust enough to listen to their “Hmmm… you know, this is how I see you.”

Through some observations of self and others, there are a few obstacles that make the second voice is elusive:

1. If I’ve built a reputation that prevents me from hearing “second voices”- becoming defensive over others opinions of me, thus discouraging them from doing so in the future.

2. If I come from a culture where straightforwardness and talk of others right-in-their face is discouraged, and my social circle is made up of people of the (1) kind. This makes it hard to find people who can be honest when I need them to.

3. With enough Opiates, I don’t feel the need to seek out “second voices”. They don’t serve me a purpose, since I can get by each day with “check facebook, twitter, email, youtube, surf Lifehacker, read gossip magazines”. My pain is dulled somewhat, but there’s a possibility that the truth of my existence and difficulties in reality might hit you someday, sometimes hard.

If one is able to cross the “ego barrier” and work at building a reputation of being open to feedback, one may have the opportunity of meeting someone or being some person that can give you that “second voice”. Often enough when he most need it.

How does one start? I haven’t been able to pinpoint a step-by-step process, but often one’s outlook on life is a big part of this.

Como la rie vida!

(How life laughs!)

The ability to laugh at oneself is often a terribly underrated skill. Instead of thinking of frustration and anger at an object, situation or person, one might be trained to look at the irony of it all fifteen minutes after fumes inside one’s brain has ceased. Instead of defending oneself against an unfavourable accusation or remark, he can try admitting to it, but also exaggerating it to ridiculous proportions. Good comedy comes from unexpected exaggerations.

Beyond simple humility, I suspect this is one of the VIP passes and high roads that gets people to places (and happiness). Situations that have the potential to make us look bad often have the flip-face of a ridiculously funny future barroom joke. Self depreciation, when honest, is an amazing skill and conversation starter, and relationship builder. Ask the Steve Martins and Eddie Murphys, they know the best humor comes from self depreciation! Charles “Charlie” Spencer Chaplin’s best works were works of self depreciation of his characters.

And the sad man is cock of all his jests

-George Herbert

The second voice then, will come when people realize one  has the ability to be self-critical when it is called for. One can self meta-analyze, and have a good laugh about it. Do it right, , then it eventually becomes a reflection of self-confidence, and sometimes suave even. It’s a positive spiral upwards where others’ second voices eventually lead one to be able to have a self -second voice, to be able to see oneself as others do.

Without the second voice, one is stuck in a limbo of being unable to get along with others, where one’s every action causes the distress of those around him.

Of course I’m not saying that others’ opinions of oneself is the ultimate truth. Much of it might not be. Having the information, and having the option of acting on that information however, is extremely helpful.

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“I Must Be Myself”: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”

October 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

“… Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them, O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities. I shall endeavour to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be chaste husband of one wife, -but these relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs.

I must be myself.

I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

(Bolding and line spaces mine)

Full essay here.

The Case For Rafael Nadal As An Icon and “What’s There To Improve?”

September 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

“The Case For Rafael Nadal As An Icon”

It is not a very sensible thing, to look up to rich and successful sportspeople as role models or icons. Like movie stars and sports personalities, their lives are often detached from our immediate own. Television and newspapers glamorize the lives they lead: the big money, the fame, and the debauchery.

We often forget that they’re mere human too: they have the same needs and wants, but sometimes distorted, for many of them live in bubbles: secluded and out of touch with the reality that surrounds them.

I learnt it the hard way. In the final vestiges of my youth, some of my icons have shown just how human they are. Tiger Woods is such a human, even though many believed him to be beyond that. A perfect tragic character, not too dislike Dostoevsky’s Mitya Karamazov, whose suffering might be a chance to build character.

Still foolish as I am, not discouraged from pursuing certain sports personalities as icons. What might even be more absurd, is that one of such is a man younger than I am, whom I look to for inspiration. Surely this isn’t some kind of unhealthy fascination with fame, success and popularity!

The seemingly everyman, down-to-earth personality of Rafael Nadal keeps me interested. The man has just secured his first US Open trophy this month, thus securing himself a place amongst the pantheon of tennis greats- a select few who have ever won every Grand Slam in tennis: the Australian, French, Wimbledon, and US Open during their careers. Some have even proclaimed his rising and usurping of “the greatest tennis player of all time”, Roger Federer, to become the true Greatest.

Nadal is irked at such suggestions, and if he is to be believed, would claim that he himself is only a work in progress despite his achievements. There is still much to achieve. Roger is the ideal figure, he claims, and the superior model to learn and look up to. After all, he has more slams than me, he would say.

“For sure I think is talk about if I am better or worse than Roger is stupid, because the titles say he’s much better than me, so that’s the true at that moment. I think will be the true all my life. But, sure, for me, always, always Roger was an example, especially because he improved his tennis I think during all his career, and that’s a good thing that you can copy, no? So I try to copy this, and I know Roger and me are different, much different styles. Being better than Roger I don’t think so is the right moment to talk about that, because I am I don’t think that.”

-Rafael Nadal,US Open post match interview, when asked if he had chances of being better than Roger Federer, and possibly becoming the greatest tennis player ever.

It really isn’t too difficult to understand Nadal’s mentality and outlook, even though sky-high confidence Americans (especially the journos) are dumbfounded by what they might think is unnecessary humility in the face of greatness. The only way to remain relevant to what you’re doing, and keep getting better, is to believe that one has still much to learn, and to be on a quest for perfection.

But of course this comes with the understanding that perfection is elusive- it just doesn’t exist. The existence of an ideal figure who paved the way for a similar quest or journey might personify that ideal. Outdoing or usurping him/ her is seemingly unthinkable.

That’s Nadal for you, a man hellbent on improving- the key word in his career and life. That might just possibly be the one thing I take from him as I waste precious hours away from sleep, watching his matches and reading up post-match interviews of the man.

“What’s There About Me To Improve?”

What about me then? How is this relevant? Why improve? What flaws do I have? Too many. Too much for this lifetime. So I’ll just do my best to improve day by day, consciously. But also to do with what I already have. It is important to balance some healthy discontent with acceptance and satisfaction.

I’m much more satisfied with myself than four years ago, and what I am now, have now, can arguably bring me a certain level of contentment in life. But what a great example Nadal and Federer make about healthy discontentment, not just for sport, but for life!

Here is a list of n things that would take me a lifetime or more to perfect, nonetheless worth the effort to:

1. Writing to communicate to others
2. Anticipating the needs of others
3. Reading other’s nonverbals
4. Learning to be culturally sensitive, and adaptation to different environments
5. Learning new languages
6. Sensitivity and an appreciation for numbers and mathematics
7. Learning to develop and nurture a passion for something
8. Patience, cool-headedness, and emotional control
9. Faith over doubt
10. The art of small talk
11. A healthy sense of humor
12. Handling constructive criticism like a man
13. Learning to say “No” when it is called for
14. Dressing well, dressing to respect oneself
15. Existing with people that may not appeal to me
16. Non-judgement of others
17. Sensitivity and appreciation for building and maintaining sources of incomes (businesses, investments etc)
18. Learning “What it means to be a fucking human being”

Some of these are intentionally vague, possibly hitting the periphery of what I’m really trying to express. Some are obviously too large to tackle, but always nice to keep in the radar.

Argentine Tango: My Take On “Do One Thing That Scares You”

August 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Photo by ro_buk

Ben Casnocha’s post on his adventures in hip-hop dance class inspired me to write a little on my own dance-dare experience, six months into starting it.

In my case, Argentine Tango was that challenge that I threw down at myself. I have never participated in any dance lesson before, and to this day, stepping into anything that resembles a dance studio still intimidates me.

Tango is a play on opposites. A dance where the man leads and invites the lady into a sequence of actions. To do this effectively, the man needs to have the knowledge and ability to lead on the dancefloor- walking, carrying himself, navigating the dancefloor, being unambiguous in his directions. These are all disciplines to be mastered.

But tango isn’t merely a science where one follows rules and formulas to guarantee results. Tango, with its rich culture is an improvisational dance, where the element of joy and passion is evoked through the connection created each time a man and a woman embrace, and dance.

Here are some of my observations of this social game:
**********

There are Practicas, and there are Milongas. The former are places where aspiring Argentine Tango dancers work out dance moves with others. The latter are social dance events originating in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where music is played by a DJ throughout the night, men ask women for a dance. Usually, three to five songs of a kind are played in a row (this is called tanda) followed by a short musical break (called cortina) to clear the dancefloor and facilitate partner changes.

Practicas: There are some followers that you’ll find helpful to dance with, hospitable to your intentions (if they are kindly), and a small handful that simply want ‘the perfect dance’. The latter, if you’re not able to give them that, you’ll find yourself in a deeper state of confusion, if you’re not already so.

Milongas: My humble experience on the dancefloor tells me I “choke” whenever I attempt to dance with someone I perceive to have much more experience that I have (aka burning up the dancefloor). It is not so much of how she dances with me, but psychologically I’ve already given up, to play the role of

“I am the inferior dancer therefore I will commit the mistakes that an inferior dancer makes.”

Semi pro and professional tennis players will find this mental state familiar, where you’re matched up against a player thats much higher ranked that you are. Roger Federer’s dominance in the 2007-2008 ATP season can be partly attributed to this psychological advantage he had over nearly everyone else he was up against.

The key to overcoming the choke, it seems, beyond picking up experience with such situations, is to give up the notion of ranking, or who’s the better player / dancer.

Practicas: It is often the fault of the leader if your follower is unable to get what your intentions are. This isn’t an assault to the leader’s ego, or simply “being the gentleman”, but a practical solution to solve issues on the dancefloor while dancing. By taking up responsibility for any mistakes you:

a. Save time trying to find out “whose fault was it?”

b. Forces you to seek for a solution to the problem at hand beyond you and your follower

c. Gives you more control over your own progress and learning in this intricate social game

d. makes you look a little less of a schmuck (if most leaders aren’t already)
Milongas: If you find yourself making a mistake, you just move on and keep quiet without saying a word. Hollywood isn’t to be trusted in its interpretation of life and culture, but I guess the line that Al Pacino uttered in “Scent of A Lady” was true after all.

“From women,” Graham Greene said, “one learns about oneself.”

Here’s to doing one thing each day that scares you.

*****

Here’s Ben Casnocha’s post on his hip-hop adventures

“Damn, I’m Getting Old!”

July 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Do Ladhaki women complain of “getting old?”

The increasingly-heard twenty-something claim to be “getting-old” after leaving college and entering the workforce seems like a desperate attempt at a self-portrayal of “maturity”, having a career, and excuses for solidifying habits of laziness.

Examples:

  • “Gosh, I’m so busy, no time to exercise. Must be getting old!”  (meaning: I’m just too fucking lazy to put in 15-30 minutes of exercise each day by watching 30 minutes less of TV. )
  • “Damn I’m getting old, can’t remember that I agreed to that meeting today!” (meaning: I’m just too fucking lazy to write a daily 3-item todo list that might greatly increase my focus and productivity)

They eventually regret, when they move into late-30’s midlife crisis, and attempt to buy back youth and vitality with a flashy red BMW M6, fad diets and plastic surgery.

Paul Graham finds the definition of adulthood as taking responsibility for oneself:

If you’d asked me in high school what the difference was between high school kids and adults, I’d have said it was that adults had to earn a living. Wrong. It’s that adults take responsibility for themselves. Making a living is only a small part of it. Far more important is to take intellectual responsibility for oneself.

Life has granted each of us with an equal amount of wealth: time.

Youth: You have everything that money can’t buy.

Midlifers will try their best to convince you they have everything toy you want but can’t have. Through advertising, product placement, and paying your dues at the workplace (sometimes parents and relatives too).

Would you exchange something money can’t buy for the attempt at getting something with a hefty price tag attached to it?

Focus on creating life’s best work, or gaining new experiences instead. Which is best done during one’s youth. If you start complaining of getting old, you’d better not regret it.

If you want to do good work, what you need is a great curiosity about a promising question. The critical moment for Einstein was when he looked at Maxwell’s equations and said, what the hell is going on here?

-Paul Graham

Photo by Subhadip

Veintiuno y Quatro: What I’ve Learned Turning 25

July 11, 2010 § 2 Comments

“I love not man the less, but Nature more”, photo by Marina & Enrique

Turning 25, it sure feels more like 21 +4. In one way the grown-upability looms large and clear now, like the midday sun. Or in other words, I look at how much I have learned since I was 21, which I find to be the age where I became conscious of some of my incompetencies. Not to make it sound harsh, but how do we really know where our social skills stand, if we are not conscious of what we’re lacking?

Human Relationships

One thing I’m only beginning to learn, even if I’m still making mistakes about it, is to avoid getting involved, directly, or in conversations about neurotic relationships. Obsessing over twenty-something relationships is a huge waste of energy, effort, time, and money.

When defining himself in a personal blog profile, Kaj Sotala says this about his view on being a romantic:

When it comes to fiction, thinking about romantic relationships and pairing fictional characters with each other? Hopelessly so.

When it comes to real life? Not so much. Give me statistics and the scientific method, please.

I tend to agree, and I suspect this misunderstanding between both is a major contribution for neurotic relationships. Mistaking fictional romance with reality. Kaj’s view may seem like polar opposites, but being able to separate one’s emotions from decision making is crucial in avoiding the big storms in life. I don’t have a good answer how one goes about doing this. Ironically, as a fictional treatise on a love triangle, one of my favourite quotes from Casablanca seems to put things in perspective. Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine says “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”  I leave myself open to be proven wrong by this quote.

We may not have control over life’s random occurrences thrown at us from all sides, but we certainly have control over how we react to them.

I will never be strong enough or smart enough to fight my emotions. But it would be good enough if I understand that I am culpable of being fooled by randomness, that much of my actions are dominated by my actions.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb suggests using tricks in life, such as keeping one self away from potentially emotion-stirring elements, or in Odysseian terms, stuffing your ears with beeswax to resist the Sirens.

On Pursuing Stoic Beliefs

The life of virtue and beliefs I try to build for myself has always been a struggle, I know that. My biggest weakness is the art of non-complaining understanding the randomness of life, never uttering a word about life’s lot, but instead exercise will and control over life’s dirty tricks.

Travel

The words of  authors  like Thoreau, Whitman, and Krakauer have often expressed times when they felt a sense of connecting better with nature than with fellow human beings.

What was that poem of Lord Byron’s that was so prominently featured at the beginning of Sean Penn’s film treatment of Into The Wild?

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is society, where none intrudes,

By the deep sea, and the music in its roar,

I love not man the less, but Nature more.

My desire to travel, not in groups, tours, not mainly to cities and tourist hotspots, but to where nature has revealed itself in its finest.

Tha insight into Lord Byron’s words “a nature, where none intrudes” I tapped into, spending four hours standing in the waves along Railay Beach, or standing on the peak of Mount Kinabalu, staring into the abyss that is Low’s Gully. That opening yourself to nature’s might, be it the endless sea, or that deep dark abyss that might swallow, should you choose to let yourself fall into it, the thought is at once frightening and awesome. I am also aware that 25, I feel the desire to revive those “coming of age” rituals of risk taking that seems terribly overdue.

Some people hear it calling, but never find the courage to respond to it at all. The Great Himalayan Adventure awaits.

Looking at the present and future

Beyond the desire to achieve, produce, and live a meaningful life, I’ve found it very helpful in many circumstances to keep it light, at have a laugh at myself.

This was something I lacked in my early twenties and during college days.

Nerve wrecking tango beginner at a social dance? Frame it as a foray into foreign lands, loads to learn, people to meet, make a fool of yourself and get a laugh out of it. Isn’t that what adventure is all about?

Doctor Viktor Frankl, in his remarkable work Man’s Search For Meaning, says that humans “must make use of the specifically human capacity for self-detachment inherent in the sense of humor.” As years pass, and as I spend more time talking with others (I favor one to one conversations, a lot more frank and honest than group scenarios, less bullshitting) and learning to smile, to find the humor in most absurd situations. Isn’t all comedy a play on the tragedy of others and self?

That said, Dr Frankl highlights that there are a few ways of discovering meaning in life, which, as gargantuan a project it might sound, shouldn’t be thought of “What am I supposed to do with my life?” but “How can I contribute to life?”

1. by creating meaningful work or doing a deed

2. by experiencing something or encountering someone

3. by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering

I would guess my desire to travel fits into (2), which I believe enables doors to open to (1) and (2: encountering interesting people)

****

On a side note, I am trying to fulfill a birthday wish of sponsoring a girl’s education in a developing country for a year.  If you’d like to take a look,

-Here’s my donation page

-Here’s more information about Room To Read’s Girls Education Programme, if you want to understand about the plight that is educational opportunities for young women in many developing countries.

The Opiates In Life

June 20, 2010 § 4 Comments

photo by Caveman 92223 — On the 2010 US Tour

Recently I’ve found myself under the stranglehold of an old hobby – a pastime called Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, for the PC. A once considerable addiction that offered the escape of being a Jedi-for-the-hour. Self customize your Jedi robes, complete with force powers of choice, and gaudy lightsabers (your choice of colors). When I revisited this 5-years ago pastime, I thought to set myself a limit of 1 hour a day for each weekend day.

But as all failure-prone, self-control incapable human is, these tended to overflow into 2-hour sessions, and sometimes even Fridays.

I found my “revisiting of old toys” puzzling initially. Something that held my attention constantly at 18 still does at near 25? I could forgive myself if it were simply nostalgia, but it seemed more than that.

Until I came across Colin Marshall’s short writing on “Opiates”, which enlightened , along with my increased Twitter, Facebook and Youtube usage. Along with what he considers a list of twentysomething “opiates”- things we do/use to dull the pains of life, and takes us away from reality, Colin adds this:

It sounds as if I’m calling moralism, but I’m really the last person to do that. Nor, I should add, do I claim not to partake of these opiates my own self. What grips me with increasing tightness is the simple fear that they do what they’re meant to. Opiates dull pain. Lacking companionship, social, sexual or otherwise? Firing up 4chan ought to take your mind off it. Boring, onerous job to do? A nice chocolate-chip muffin ought to take your mind off it. Directionless life? Check e-mail; check Facebook; check Twitter; check Foursquare (can you “check” Foursquare?); that ought to take your mind off it. Caught a glimpse of the abyss? Buying that funny shirt ought to take your mind off it. But to the extent that I don’t feel pain, I’m not going to address its underlying cause.

Back during my service in the Army, one staff sergeant’s addiction to the distractions so readily available to him left a deep impression on me. As an army regular who’s been serving for six years, it was said that he spent his paycheck nightly on hard liquor and fast women while managing a girlfriend. During the day, he avoided work to spend time with World of Warcraft, had his avatars’ stats pimped out, that the line from him I’ll always remember was

“I wish my life was World of Warcraft.”

I never got to know him better, so I never knew what the underlying pain was.

Like Colin suggests, these activities are not a question of moral issues, good or bad, right or wrong, black or white. We’re all partake in them in some form or another, time to time. When asked the question “Why stay away from Facebook?”, the answer “Because it’s a waste of time” is hardly satisfying.

I think what opiates really do is take us away from reality, even if its just temporarily. And it dulls the pain. Pain that reflects some form of dissatisfaction with some aspect of daily life.

Then there’s the fear of ultimately passing on this acceptance and dulling of pain to everyone else around you, and pretend its okay. The fear gets stronger when you picture yourself with children and grandchildren, with what you have done with your life you have to tell them “you’re not supposed to enjoy your work life, its okay to settle for less”.

The danger of Opiate-addiction is the mid-life crisis, or the post mid life crisis. Colin calls this the “OH SHI-” effect, waking up at 70 years old, having done nothing with life beyond working for a living.

I think it will come much earlier than 70.

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