What's the point?


'm fascinated by why people do what they do.

This is a scrapbook of the best things I've come across that explain people's purpose in life. I will add to it when I find new things.

Alfred Adler

From The Courage to be Disliked

Life in general has no meaning…But you can assign meaning to that life. And you are the only one who can assign meaning to your life.

If you feel lost, it is because you are trying to choose freedom; that is to say, a path on which you are not afraid of being disliked by others and you are not living others’ lives—a path that is yours alone. When one attempts to choose freedom, it is only natural that one may lose one’s way. At this juncture, Adlerian psychology holds up a ‘guiding star’ as a grand compass pointing to a life of freedom. That star is ‘contribution to others’.

Richard Hamming

From Learning to Learn

As far as I know each of you has but one life to lead, and it seems to me it is better to do significant things than to just get along through life to its end.

Thus in a real sense I am preaching the messages that:

  1. It is worth trying to accomplish the goals you set yourself
  2. It is worth setting yourself high goals.

Finally, I must address the topic of whether the effort required for excellence worth it. I believe it is—the chief gain is in the effort to change yourself, in the struggle with yourself, and it is less in the winning than you might expect. Yes, it is nice to end up where you wanted to be, but the person you are when you get there is far more important.

I believe a life in which you do not try to extend yourself regularly is not worth living—but it is up to you to pick the goals you believe are worth striving for. As Socrates (469–399 bc) said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Titus Lucretius Carus

From The Swerve - Lucretius wrote these over 2000 years ago

The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain. Life should be organized to serve the pursuit of happiness. There is no ethical purpose higher than facilitating this pursuit for oneself and one’s fellow creatures.

The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion. The principal enemies of human happiness are inordinate desire—the fantasy of attaining something that exceeds what the finite mortal world allows—and gnawing fear.

Why are humans so unhappy? The answer, Lucretius thought, had to do with the power of the imagination. Though they are finite and mortal, humans are gripped by illusions of the infinite—infinite pleasure and infinite pain. The fantasy of infinite pain helps to account for their proneness to religion: in the misguided belief that their souls are immortal and hence potentially subject to an eternity of suffering, humans imagine that they can somehow negotiate with the gods for a better outcome, an eternity of pleasure in paradise. The fantasy of infinite pleasure helps to account for their proneness to romantic love: in the misguided belief that their happiness depends upon the absolute possession of some single object of limitless desire, humans are seized by a feverish, unappeasable hunger and thirst that can only bring anguish instead of happiness.

Amanda Gorman

From her TED talk

Most of my life I was particularly terrified of speaking up, because I had a speech impediment,which made it difficult to pronounce certain letters, sounds, and I felt like I was fine writing on the page, but once I got on stage, I was worried my words might jumble and stumble.

What was the point in trying not to mumble these thoughts in my head, if everything's already been said before? But, finally, I had a moment of realization, where I thought, if I choose not to speak out of fear, then there's no one that my silence is standing for…

…The thing about poetry is that it's not really about having the right answers, it's about asking these right questions, about what it means to be a writer doing right by your words and your actions, and my reaction is to pay honor to those shoulders of people who used their pens to roll over boulders so I might have a mountain of hope on which to stand, so that I might understand the power of telling stories that matter, no matter what.

So that I might realize that if I choose, not out of fear, but out of courage, to speak, then there's something unique that my words can become. And all of a sudden that fear that my words might jumble and stumble go away as I'm humbled by the thoughts of thousands of stories a long time coming that I know are strumming inside me as I celebrate those people in their time who stood up so this little Black girl could rhyme as I celebrate and call their names all the same, these people who seem like they were just born to be bold: Maya Angelou, Ntozake Shange,Phillis Wheatley, Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Joan Wicks, Audre Lorde, and so many more.

It might feel like every story has been told before, but the truth is, no one's ever told my story in the way I would tell it, as the daughter of black writers, who are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world.They call me. I call them. And one day I'll write a story right, by writing it into a tomorrow on this Earth more than worth standing for.

Joseph Campbell

From Reflections on the Art of Living

What did you do as a child that created timelessness, that made you forget time? There lies the myth to live by.

Take what comes and be where you like. What counts is being where you feel you’re in your place. What people think is their problem. “What will they think of me?”—must be put aside for bliss.

When one thinks of some reason for not going or has fear and remains in society because it’s safe, the results are radically different from what happens when one follows the call. If you refuse to go, then you are someone else’s servant. When this refusal of the call happens, there is a kind of drying up, a sense of life lost. Everything in you knows that a required adventure has been refused. Anxieties build up. What you have refused to experience in a positive way, you will experience in a negative way. If what you are following, however, is your own true adventure, if it is something appropriate to your deep spiritual need or readiness, then magical guides will appear to help you. If you say, “Everyone’s going on this trip this year, and I’m going too,” then no guides will appear. Your adventure has to be coming right out of your own interior. If you are ready for it, then doors will open where there were no doors before, and where there would not be doors for anyone else. And you must have courage. It’s the call to adventure, which means there is no security, no rules.

My experience is that I can feel that I’m in the Grail Castle when I’m living with people I love, doing what I love. I get that sense of being fulfilled. But, by god, it doesn’t take much to make me feel I’ve lost the Castle, it’s gone. One way to lose the Grail is to go to a cocktail party. That’s my idea of not being there at all. My sense of it is that you have to keep working to get there. It may take a little while. Even when you have gotten there, it’s easy to get flipped out, because the world has things it wants you to do and you have decided not to do what the world wants. The problem is to find a field of action to give you that inner satisfaction so that you’re not thrown out.

As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.

As Schopenhauer says, when you look back on your life, it looks as though it were a plot, but when you are into it, it’s a mess: just one surprise after another. Then, later, you see it was perfect. So, I have a theory that if you are on your own path things are going to come to you. Since it’s your own path, and no one has ever been on it before, there’s no precedent, so everything that happens is a surprise and is timely.

It takes courage to do what you want. Other people have a lot of plans for you. Nobody wants you to do what you want to do.

Wisdom and foolishness are practically the same. Both are indifferent to the opinions of the world.

Henry David Thoreau

From Walden

We are acquainted with a mere pellicle of the globe on which we live. Most have not delved six feet beneath the surface, nor leaped as many above it. We know not where we are. Beside, we are sound asleep nearly half our time. Yet we esteem ourselves wise, and have an established order on the surface. There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we tolerate incredible dulness.

It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves…The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains.

Man spends the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.

Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright

From Tribal Leadership

Toward the end of our conversation with Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, he said, “I don’t know if you read Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford that went around the Internet.” The comic edge to his voice was gone. “I didn’t get him until that. He had a weird ability to influence people, and I read this and said, ‘This may be one of the best things I’ve ever read in my life.’ It completely changed how I felt the entire day. I thought, if you can, through your choice of words, make people feel different, and it even lasts awhile, you can change everything. You can get the best out of other people.”

While the efforts of such exceptional leaders cannot be reduced to a formula, they do share characteristics of finding shared values, aligning on a noble cause, establishing triadic relationships, and building a strategy to make history.

Without realizing it, Adams had given us one the best descriptions of Tribal Leaders we’ve ever heard: using words to get the best out of people, to change everything.

John Train

From Money Masters of our Time

In the last two pages of his book, having studied and presented the methods of the best investors ever, Train felt compelled to say this:

Understand the process, the way you should understand medicine and government, but don't try too hard yourself. The people who suffer the worst losses are usually those who overreach. And it's not necessary: Steady, moderate gains will get you where you want to go.

Furthermore, trying to achieve great wealth - far more than you need - is in fact irrational. You have to give up too much getting there, and having done it, you're often worse off than before.

Our nature, says Shakespeare, is subdued to what it works in, like the dyer's hand, and in pursuing great wealth you become a money person. You see the world through dollar-sign binoculars.

The exaggeration of any principle becomes its undoing, as the excess of a stimulant becomes a poison, and changing greed from a sin into a commandment dissolves the soul of a family.

And great wealth spoils human contacts. Everybody wants something. Of the Rothschilds it was said that they had no friends, only clients. The hurly-burly of humanity, from which great wealth fences itself off - its joys and trials, the texture of everyday life - is what we're designed for.

Philanthropy, while meritorious, on a large scale becomes a political act: The tycoon who extracts a fortune from the public to build a museum in one place rather than another has not created new beauty, only imposed his priorities on society.

The rational and virtuous approach is to trust in a sufficiency of wealth as a by-product of a useful life. Happy are those who find fulfilment in their families, their work, and their civic duties, and hope for the best.

May 20, 2021
One more point
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