Something has been upsetting me lately. Something that crept into my philosophical thoughts without warning and left me sleepless at night, when the moon shines high outside of my window and the wind that visits me cannot take away feelings of helplessness. Something has come as an uninvited guest into my night to shed light where there was darkness and shade where the light was blinding me; an aide to help me deal with the pain of emptiness.
I was brought up in the belief that good deeds would make a person righteous and as a result this will carry everlasting satisfaction and inner tranquility. For many years I tried hard to go down the path of righteousness in order to achieve my inner desire to assist where there’s need. During the middle years I realised that one needs to want to do good in order to have any hope of being successful in achieving righteousness. Obeying laws or following orders or even philanthropy under fear of reprisal, should not satisfy one’s strive to be righteous; they primarily need to feel comfortable with themselves in the act of giving, and be filled with an instinctive desire to do good unto others from the outset.
By putting together these words I could not help but consider Aristotle’s writings who says in “Ethica Nicomachea” :
[stextbox id=”grey”]…Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge. And so the man who has been educated in a subject is a good judge of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round education is a good judge in general… (Ethica Nichomachea, translated by William David Ross, 1908, Book I, v. 1095a)[/stextbox]
Here I truly believe that am trying to discuss “things I know”, rather than “things I assume I know”. But do I know enough, and do I exercise integrity in all my thoughts and all my assumptions? Let the reader be my judge.
I examined my inner thoughts deeper at some stage of my life, and realised that I certainly feel good inside when I see a person smiling, when I see someone happy as a result of my actions; that’s when I also realised that these thoughts were positive for my personality and well-being. Perhaps it is my upbringing, or the recent years which have affected my character, but that’s how I really feel. I further realised that I was not only able to do good in society but could also feel gratification and content within me. The greatest satisfaction is the one of giving rather than receiving someone said, and I have experienced just that.
Now let us examine how something occurs: Heraclitus, 2500 years ago, told me that “everything happens in accordance with discord and need”. Heraclitus talks about need, not reason and there’s quite a difference. But it will be a lengthy discussion left for another time. Also mentions that there must be friction in order for creation to take place and there must be a need in order for thought to be generated. Without thought nothing can be achieved. This doesn’t mean there has to be war but antagonism, friction and need. Doesn’t this teaching throw all my previous thought up in the air? I wondered.
As a result for years I was delving in the discovery of myself, while at the same time trying to continue helping my fellow humans where I could, to do my insignificant bit in order to make this world a slightly better place for all, starting from my immediate circle. However, later in my life I sensed a type of disappointment. And I was disappointed because I realised not only I couldn’t change this world in the slightest, but the way society functions and reacts to my attempts of good-will was met with discontent and reactions fell beyond my expectations. My problem, most of the time, I was being taken advantage of by the devious and/or corrupt. As a consequence not only what good I did had gone to waste, but I also found myself in trouble, because someone exploited my most sincere actions, or taken me for naive.
This is when I started searching for reasons why the world is not readily accepting good deeds even though everyone is preaching it. Whether one reads religious scriptures or listens to a speech at random, it nearly always becomes a confrontation between good and evil; an antagonism and a clash in thoughts, in words and actions. And as to why the world would recommend you to be kind and helpful, yet when you do it many times you find that you’re aiding corruption and place yourself at risk was more thought-provoking than anything. “Is the world so corrupt, or is this friction between good and evil necessary for creation to continue?”, I said to a friend one day.
There cannot be a universal plot to exploit; can it? What I was experiencing could be something spiritual, further than the power of any man or system. What I was realising is how difficult it was to change myself, let alone those around me. However, I did not steer away from my aims to do good mainly because I was getting the satisfaction which made me happy. To this day I continue to be exploited.
In my early years I further thought that being honest would be a ticket not only to a popular existence and hence happiness but also to peace of mind. What I found recently is quite different:
- For a start never do I get peace of mind when I help others, because they keep asking for more. They’re never satisfied, never say thank you and be content with what I did for them. I don’t mean that I would rather seek wrongness, if there is such a thing, but I have found that good deeds (this also needs to be defined) are not necessarily the road to success and happiness.
- Furthermore, what I have come to realise in my life is that whether one lives righteously or not one could very easily find themselves on the road to loneliness. The problem stems from the original root where one cannot refuse to help a person in need, but when they do the requests for more keep coming pushing the helper to desperation because they at times omit completing their own work in order to assist others. These others may even be quite capable but can’t be bothered trying harder. In this way a helper (for a need of a better term) becomes less and less able to assist because there’s a hindrance to personal progress. And if the helper is a little more dexterous than the average person the situation has the potential of becoming unbearable. In the end it is society that loses positive and creative actions.
Wow, I thought when I first discovered this. It reminds me of the ancient anecdote: (all in good measure) by Kleovoulos of Rhodes! But it matters little to me who first said it, here and now I have experienced it. However, the above phrase about good deeds driving a person to loneliness stuck in my mind like a tattoo that would not, and could not be removed. I visited this phrase a number of times in bed at night, or when I woke up with a fresh and rigorous mind for a new day.
Now I remember Nietzsche’s words in Thus Spake Zarathustra:
- The hour when ye say: “What good is my reason! Doth it long for knowledge as the lion for his food? It is poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency!”
- The hour when ye say: “What good is my virtue! As yet it hath not made me passionate. How weary I am of my good and my bad! It is all poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency!”
- The hour when ye say: “What good is my justice! I do not see that I am fervour and fuel. The just, however, are fervour and fuel!”
Today was a different day in my thoughts. Today I readily concluded there may really be no answer. And there could be no answer because there are definite flaws in my original thinking. One of these flaws is that good deeds cannot be clearly defined since they’re a moving target for a start, and the same happens with bad deeds. Also that there’s a connection between good and evil which could not and will not be broken. Like everything else good and evil co-exist and men can never change this bond. Furthermore there’s no defining line or point on a map where one can say this side is good and the other side is bad or evil. Even further, there are times when bad can do more good than good!! I have seen it in my own family. Hence, because we cannot separate good and evil by using good or bad to base an argument on, reaching a conclusion is fraught with danger.
However, let me get back to the original thought that whether one lives righteously or not one could very easily find themselves on the road to loneliness. The phrase doesn’t claim these people are lonely, it actually says they can thread their lives towards loneliness, or they are living on the edge where loneliness is just a step away if they cannot take control. And why do these people ‘walk on the road to loneliness’, well let’s examine some of the reasons:
To be truthful I didn’t fully understand the phrase initially, even if I have written it myself, but as I grow older every day and as maturity takes its natural course I do several revisits to this idea in the hope of finding some untruth in it, hoping that I can dismiss it as false. By dismissing it as false at least I will cease to be tormented by that old sense of emptiness so much. However, over and over again I fail to discover any untruth as deeply as I can explain it. Again it does not mean there’s no untruth in it. It means that I have not been able to find it with the limited logical reasoning and the limited reading I did during my lifespan.
At thinking time the question that torments me most is why the righteous could be so lonely! The more righteous one is, the further away they move from the circles he/she belongs. And if they’re lonely (even if they don’t appear to be), given that loneliness is an unwanted state of mind, why should they continue striving so much for righteousness?
Whenever I participated in a public gathering where the speaker is trying to win over an audience (and who doesn’t) they nearly always speak about what is right or wrong and at times try to show the difference between what is good and what is evil. In fact what they’re projecting is what they perceive to be good and evil or what will help their own intentions; not necessarily what it actually is. And given that nothing is absolute, as Heraclitus said 25 centuries ago, words can never fully describe a situation since by the time the words are told and consumed that situation is not exactly the same.
There are further reasons why I could never have been right in my original thought of walking down the path of righteousness. I was wrong also because I never thought that in order for someone to lead a righteous life (whatever that entails) they would have to first be a lover of truth. Oops, here I dug up another word which could never be absolute. Truth can really never be true always, even to its name; despite what we believe. Everything changes, including truth… However if, just say if, we consider that truth is a subject which will make us walk on the way to righteousness then we may discover there’s another flaw. The new flaw is that righteousness cannot exist alone; if wrong doing doesn’t also exist, for then there’s no comparison. It becomes difficult or impossible to evaluate.
Further than that let’s assume righteousness is the right way to lead one’s life. In order for someone to feel they are walking on the road to righteousness they would need to feel comfortable in practising it every day of their lives, with every move and every thought and every action. Well, then one day as a result they may find themselves deep in loneliness because of their literal beliefs about righteousness which are not necessarily accepted by people in their circle.
Should the righteous always tell the truth for instance? Well, that is also debatable since by always openly telling the truth one is allowing themselves to become vulnerable and in danger of ridicule or an outcast since there are many times they cant, or when others involved in the action being discussed do not wish to be revealed. But if there are no literal beliefs can the path be righteous? In addition, before they can follow truth they need to discover the lie. Otherwise there’s no truth unless we know what a lie is. Also, after identifying the lie one needs to analyse where the lie can lead them. Usually a single lie would not be so negative in one’s life, but a series of lies can really put one out of their preferred course for the rest of their lives. But if there is a way to decipher most parts of that fibber journey then they can make an informed decision on what represents them more: truth or lies.
In my mind they should not decide on either. They’re both figments of man’s imagination, because nature does not have lies or truth guiding it. Nature does not condone kindness nor does it forgive. Nature only has facts and facts do not distinguish between good and evil. Righteous die as well as villains. Although socially acceptable behaviours can provide a better chance at living to a ripe old age, the end is always the same: (“Τα πάντα ρει”) “Everything changes” if I can consult my friend Heraclitus again. And he also adds:
[stextbox id=”grey”] sickness makes health look good, as hunger makes feeding time, as tiredness makes rest. [/stextbox]
One cannot be without its opposite when it comes to ideals, as I have discovered and I am surely not the first one.
All too often we find ourselves weak in following what we believe on account that our bodies are not as strong as our wishes and our mind finds it difficult to hold tight to certain values or beliefs. This can mean that we spend our lives chasing truth (when we feel we want to be righteous) and at the end we discover that all this trial we went through never produced any real results or gave us what we were seeking. We are more experienced, perhaps we’ve become wiser because of the journey, but we have not found the conclusive answer we may have set out to find. In fact we discover there’s hardly any difference between righteousness and wrongness in the same way between truth and lies. We cannot always be sure that something is true when we say it is and that something is a lie when we say it is that way.
The sooner we discover this, the sooner we can accept feelings of helplessness, discomfort in the constant search for truth, since we know that truth is less in what we do and more in what is inflicted or impressed on us.
But at this stage I would like to rest my reader. I have given him quite a load to carry. Please let me continue of my above journey in another essay. Not new but just a continuation of this unstoppable river of thought from above.
to be continued…