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An Ode To Death, Inspired By Bertrand Russell

That we are not perfect is widely accepted. Why else do we need to work towards the betterment of ourselves? Not that we all do it as much as we ought to, and in this busy world where there are a million things to do, it just gets harder.

I came about this quote from Bertrand Russell, a part of his essay “On History”. A very worthwhile, if arduous, read.

The past alone is truly real: the present is but a painful, struggling birth into the immutable being of what is no longer. Only the dead exist fully. The lives of the living are fragmentary, doubtful, and subject to change; but the lives of the dead are complete, free from the sway of Time, the all-but omnipotent lord of the world. Their failures and successes, their hopes and fears, their joys and pains, have become eternal – our efforts cannot now abate one jot of them. Sorrows long buried in the grave, tragedies of which only a fading memory remains, loves immortalized by Death’s hallowing touch – these have a power, a magic, an untroubled calm, to which no present can attain.

It simultaneously accepts death, and gives us – the living – a reason to rejoice in our imperfections. We can be perfect when we are dead. Now, is the time to become better, for we are not perfect now.

It is an ode to the transience of life. That life can be miserable for some people is well known, and for some others, life is a party, a festival to enjoy the fruits of the billions of years of evolution.

In either case, there will come a time, in each of our lives, when these won’t matter. Perhaps this sounds emo, on the surface. But, it is one additional reason for us to accept what we have, what we can do about the time we are given, because in the end, our time will end – and when it does, we will take to our grave what we’ve left behind as the living.

What Should We Do To Improve Human Life?

I was very close to making the title of this post “the three steps to achieving world peace” or “improve human life in three easy steps”. Those would get me the clicks, but would they bring back my soul?

Jokes aside – this was originally a question on quora. I liked the question so much, I decided to put it up on the blog as well. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I think I have the perfect solution to this question – and my gut says that it will work if we are willing to adopt it. My gut, and my past knowledge of humanity, also says that this will probably not be adopted.

1. Empathize 

Try to understand the other person. Do something for him or her. Try to get where they’re coming from, their motives, intentions, the why of their existence.

This goes a long way because you and I can quickly forgive those whom we know have a good intention.

2. Forget about ownership

This is not just about material ownership. This goes for the time when you say my wife, my child, and my thoughts. Yours is not yours. Mine is not mine. Your child has his own motives and intentions and the same mantra goes for your other half. Let everyone do whatever the hell they want – with a few rules. Don’t hurt others, Don’t be destructive and if you need to destroy 1 resource, make sure you plant 2. There is no I.

3. Focus on the positive

Lots of amazing things happen in the world every day. Lot of these amazing things we don’t even know about. I wrote in a previous post about how the chances of us existing at all are close to none – can you imagine what the chances of you existing are?

It’s crazy stuff!

The big stuff aside – focusing on positive is important because it makes us happier. And a happier human being is a happier society. “Im so tired” has become the mantra of our generation and is it really all that necessary to be all that tired all the time?

On the same lines, it is possible that we might not have come as far as we have today (space travel, energy innovation) if we didn’t have the innate need to own and compete for limited resources.

But if #2 is not possible, I am pretty damn sure that we can all still empathize and focus on the positive things in our life and world. That alone brings us 66% (2/3rds) closer to where you want us all to be. And if you’re talking about improving human life – perhaps one ought to start with oneself.

I’m keenly aware that this answer focuses solely on the non-material aspects of improving human life, and in my opinion, it seems to be the most important at the moment.

Comparing yourself to others is crazy – but you already know that!

I’m sure that you have heard of this quote widely attributed to Einstein:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it’s stupid.”

It’s quite apt in a situation where we tend to compare ourselves to others. Perhaps we don’t think you are stupid, but comparing our lives to others’ is a sign of looking externally for validation of our abilities.

I’ve been in the workforce, as have many others, for longer than I have been in college. Anyone of us can tell you that grades do not matter as far as ability to lead a successful life goes.

To live a successful life, some of the things you need are:

  1. empathy
  2. emotional intelligence, and
  3. an ability and willingness to prioritise the needs of you and those around you
  4. and a host of other things

Ask yourself this question: why are you comparing yourself to others? Is it because it gives you a sense of satisfaction that you have done well? Is it because it’s very important to you that you have a better life than others?

If you answered yes to one or both the questions above – then consider this:

It’s great that you know that grades are important to you and want what they have. You would do well to focus on getting the best life you possibly canComparing can lead to temporary depression and it is just unnecessary stress you don’t really need.

Comparing your life and wanting it to be better than others is like saying: I don’t want to just win, I want others to fail.

Alternatively, compare your life and be happy when you get better grades than others. And when you don’t, make a mental note that you have another chance next time and you’ll do better.

These are the different alternatives you have. No one way of thinking is the best possible thought – life is subjective.

In most of life you will do well if you are able and willing to invest time into what you do. But you will do even better if you are able and willing to take others along with you on your journey.

In my opinion, comparing isn’t necessary. Life is a team game and we, the human kind, are one team.


PS. I had originally written this as an answer to a quora question on grades. I liked the question so much, and it was so apt to life, that I decided to answer it as a question on life.

Reading and the Three Golden Rules of Wisdom

Reading and the Three Golden Rules of Wisdom

Every person that I meet wants to read more. Two problems face us when it comes to reading. First, we don’t have enough time to read at all and second, when we do – there is so much to read and so little time.

Conversely, We don’t spend as much time reading as we used to. This story is conducted in the US, but the decline in reading is probably global.

Rule #1: Context Matters. It’s not just about what you’re reading, but also about how and why it relates to the real world.

There are people who don’t read books at all – and this was surprising to me. Until I heard someone on TV say that we read just as much as we used to. Blogs and tweets have replaced books.

While you can gleam peripheral and superficial knowledge about something in 140 characters or from a quote – what you don’t get is context. 

So here’s the first golden rule: You choose what to read. And that either you can give yourself context as to why and how that book (or phrase, or chapter, or tweet) relates to the real world, or the author can give you context.

Context is important because it’s not about the what but also about why this book matters to your existence as a human being 

Rule #2: No book is bad. That’s like someone saying I’m a bad person. why? Is it because of my ethics or morals? My lack of people skills? My dressing sense? Be specific as to why a book is bad.

Saying a book is bad is an unnecessarily vague statement. Why is it bad? What’s so bad about it?

Is it:

  • written incoherently?
  • Has no point?
  • Grammar and/or language is unsuitable?
  • Author is otherwise a bore?

Whether or not you like a book is subjective to your own tastes of course. A history buff would love to read something about East Germany while someone into fantasy would think that same topic is oh-em-gee-so-boringggg!

So, no book is bad in it’s entirety. Coherently structure what is so “bad” about a book and try to look past it to get the ideas out. Concepts and ideas improve our understanding of the world.

Which leads me to the third point:

Rule #3: Your time is your own. If you can’t get past page 42 of a certain book – chuck it out.

Invest time where your returns are more guaranteed. It’s your time. It is possible that one is not enlightened enough to understand the book – either unenlightened because the language is too elegant or unenlightened because the concepts don’t make sense.

Conversely, it is possible that a book is “bad”. Give the book a benefit of the doubt and see, if, perhaps it’s not the book but one’s understanding of the world due to which the book is unable to teach us.

Passion: Did you give it your very best?

Passion: Did you give it your very best?

How many conversations have you had about Passion?

Most of life is about reflection and to ask oneself whether one is living the best possible life.

So many people continue to reevaluate, turning away from job opportunities that are prestigious but not courageous, making families out of friends and neighbors, buying less, giving away more, sharing and renting rather than owning, reinventing rituals and ritualizing reinvention. So many people are looking compassionately and critically at their own parents’ lives and choosing to do things differently, sometimes even reclaiming edifying, abandoned elements of their grandparents’ lives. ~ The New Better Off by Courtney Martin

It is easy to leave your job or the things that bind us by thinking that they are limiting. But these same things, in some way or another keep us grounded.

It is great to read that our parents and those who came before us did so much to make our lives simpler. They worked hard doing things they didn’t want to, so we could work hard doing things that we want.

These days, everyone talks about passion. What is it that makes us tick? In this world of constant buzz of passion, there is something to be said about having the courage to stick to something even when you don’t enjoy it.

It is possible that we are too impatient, too thoughtless, too narrrow-minded. We don’t give something enough time and understanding to make it worthwhile because it’s not instantaneous. How can one know if something is worthwhile or not if one doesn’t give it enough time and attention?

When times get tough, many quit. “Passion” is not about the moments when you’re energized because the work is invigorating. It is about the moments when you don’t feel like doing it, and yet, you just do.

Stick to something, stick though the thick and the thin, ride the waves – make something happen – whatever that something is.