Back in Philo 101, we tried to answer the question, “What is Philosophy?” only to come up with the explanation that it is not something that you can define without actually doing it. As Heidegger mentioned in one of his texts, to philosophize is to recognize that all being is in Being – that everything exists as they are. Philosophy, unlike other disciplines such as Biology, Mathematics, Management and the likes, is an attitude and a way of life in which human beings gain appreciation of themselves and the world in which they live in. Philosophy then is a part of a fabric of our very human nature.
The question now is why is it important for humans to keep in mind of this thought and how exactly, in this present day and age, does Philosophy (which is actually regarded as useless by some) help us become more human? To answer these questions, I will try to incorporate the movie “The Bucket List”, the lessons we had in Philo 101 and 102, my very own experiences, and some quotes from the speech of William Deresiewicz in Stanford University.
My synthesis statement then, is:
To philosophize is to submerge yourself into deep-thinking, reflection, and open-mindedness that can lead you towards the awareness of the existence of other beings and how they freely appear. By having the ability to recognize the existence of others, we remove the danger of thinking that we are the “ultimate subjects” and taking the appearance of other beings for granted. By doing so, we learn how to step out of our comfort zones and how to take risk by exercising our freedom to make our own decisions in the face of the unknown. To philosophize then, is to be free; and by being free, we are able to open ourselves up to innumerable possibilities which, when acted upon, would make our lives worth examining and make us more human.
Ever since we were brought into this world, we were taught to follow what we are told to do. We were taught how to read and how to write, how to speak and how to listen. We were taught about the difference between numbers and alphabets, between animals and objects. We were taught how to follow the rules and the regulation – be it in school, at home, or in the community, and how to do good and be good. We were taught how to educate our own conscience and be morally upright. Suffice it to say that these things were taught to us in order to assure that we will live a good and happy life. And from there, after all the basics have been mastered, we were taught how to dream and how to build it. We were taught how to find out what our interests are, how to enhance our strengths and work on our weaknesses. I remember at age 16, in preparation for our graduation, we were asked by our 4th year HS adviser to write an essay about how we see ourselves 25 years from now. I pondered about this and I made a list of the things I am interested in. From playing the piano, to dancing, to cheerleading, to singing although with much frustration, to fashion designing, to curing people (but my sister already beat me to it). And being the dreamer that I am, I put in my memorabilia “I wanna be a successful businesswoman and a car racer”. Businesswoman or anyone that’s part of the corporate world because I was told that they earn a lot of money and I grew up seeing what my mom does. And a car racer simply because I love cars. And because we were also taught that going to school would build the bridge to success and choosing which school to go to is crucial, I chose the one that specializes in business. I decided to pursue the former because I was told that if I earn a lot, I could be anyone I wanna be later on. So I opt for the one that gives me more assurance of having a steady flow of income. From being a 7-year old curious kid who can be so amazed with just a simple fluttering butterfly, I have gone under transformation to being a 19-year old woman wanting to specialize in corporate law, which by the way I only considered when my mom confessed that she secretly wanted to have a lawyer in the family. While there is nothing wrong with fulfilling your own dream (or your parents’ dream), and to be quite honest, I like what I’m doing right now. So far, I don’t have major regrets in life with regards to the path I chose to take, but, it’s just that looking back, I think I already lost the person inside me that wanted to become a pianist, a dancer, and a car racer. And true enough, I might have lost a part of me in the process.
“Now there’s nothing wrong with mastering skills, with wanting to do your best and to be the best. What’s wrong is what the system leaves out: which is to say, everything else. I don’t mean that by choosing to excel in math, say, you are failing to develop your verbal abilities to their fullest extent, or that in addition to focusing on geology, you should also focus on political science, or that while you’re learning the piano, you should also be working on the flute. It is the nature of specialization, after all, to be specialized. No, the problem with specialization is that it narrows your attention to the point where all you know about and all you want to know about, and, indeed, all you can know about, is your specialty… The problem with specialization is that it makes you into a specialist. It cuts you off, not only from everything else in the world, but also from everything else in yourself. ” – W. Deresiewicz
Suppose at age 40, I have already established myself a good name and a good reputation as a lawyer, I’ve already earned enough money to support my family and send my kids to good school. Suppose at age 40, I’ve already reached the prime of my life and I’ve exceeded everybody’s expectations.
And then, what now? After spending my whole life specializing in one thing, what else is there? After achieving all my goals, regardless whether I chose this particular specialization or not, I fear to wake up one day with the realization that I’m still seeking for something more. After trying so hard to narrow down my perspective into such a way that my specialization is the only thing that I can think about and needless to say, I’ll be lost without it, I am suddenly faced by a dead end. After giving up on so many things that aren’t in line with my path, what else is left? And most importantly, does being a lawyer define who I really am? And if someone were to write my epitaph or to deliver a speech in my funeral, would I want to be remembered as a lawyer who fought and won cases or as a human being who lived her life to the fullest?
At this point we sense the discomfort brought about being stuck in our comfort zones. I always feel the sense that there’s always more to life than just sitting behind the study desk and waiting for the results of an exam. We become tired yet we cannot bring ourselves to change the cycle.
Seinsvergessenheit – Forgetfulness of being, taking things for granted, which in turn leads to self-estrangement. I might be using the term loosely but case in point example. At one point of my college life, and I speak true to the heart, I have enjoyed Philosophy as well as History. I seriously have admired the way how we reflect on things (if I were to describe studying Philosophy in simplest terms) and studying the reasons why the society is today. But I have never really considered them directly in line with my chosen path. And I think that’s where the conflict is. The more I follow a certain path – and by this I don’t mean Heidegger’s philosophical path – the path that I selectively took given the things that were taught to me, the more I “forget” the person I once were.
There’s nothing wrong with setting and meeting goals. What wounds us is the way we build walls around us, being like trained horses with blinders, in order not to get lost. And if ever we were allowed to look at another direction in which we are most certainly free to veer in, we find it hard to deviate from our path…because it’s where we are accustomed and comfortable with…and most especially because we were already trained to walk this path.
And to veer away is to be selfish, to be self-indulgent, and to be prone to mistakes.
But what if someone tells you that you are to die tomorrow? The 40-year old lawyer me wouldn’t want to spend her last day on Earth in court, trying to defend a client who I only have a professional relationship with. Humans have an average life expectancy of 80 years, and it still depends on what side of the world you live in. And most of the time, they spend ¾ of it earning money, practicing their specialization, and doing what it is that they are accustomed to do. In the movie, “The Bucket List”, Carter and Edward were told that they only have 6 months to live, so they try to come up with a bucket list of the things they want to do but they haven’t done in the span of their lifetime. It’s like their whole life flashes back before their very eyes and they get this realization that despite all the achievements and goals met, what would make them feel human are actually the things that they overlooked or failed to do. Carter, despite having the intelligence and knowledge about things, realized that he has wasted away his whole life being a car mechanic when he could’ve been so much more. Edward, despite having everything that he wanted, realized that he still do not understand what it really means to live. It’s like only in the face of death do we finally allow ourselves to be stupid and make mistakes. I find it really unfortunate that in some instances, we only begin reflecting over our lives and if we have lived a worthwhile one when they’re about to end.
Here is where openness to mystery begins.
Even if we still aren’t faced by death (or should I say we aren’t lucky enough to know when will we die because death, for some people, comes like a thief in the night), we still have a chance to live our life to the fullest. And here is where philosophy comes in. Philosophy gives us the opportunity to live life, to exercise our human capability to think and appreciate the things that we have been taking for granted. It gives us the chance to ponder what is it that we have been missing and allow us to regain the vast imagination of a child. It requires us to have an open mind and an open heart for change and the courage to do it. By clearing our minds and seeing things that we tend to overlook, we make our own values, define our own success, resist accepting what’s readily available, blindly accepting what is handed, and in turn, we learn how to embrace our own freedom. It does not necessarily mean that we have to quit our jobs and abandon our responsibilities; it asks us to be open to the possibility of losing the material things we have worked hard for and to make revisions if needed. We most certainly do not need to wait for Death in order to understand and start life. By philosophizing, by deeply reflecting on our lives and trying to find meaning in it, we become free from all inhibitions and fears. It’s not about persuading people to become dancers and singers, it’s about making them realize that they have the freedom to do so. That even if some people will deem them crazy for even thinking that it could work, for even thinking of trying, they do not have the right to control your thinking. Choose something that someone hasn’t thought of before and don’t be afraid to do so.
“Moral imagination is hard, and it’s hard in a completely different way than the hard things you’re used to doing. And not only that, it’s not enough. If you’re going to invent your own life, if you’re going to be truly autonomous, you also need courage: moral courage. The courage to act on your values in the face of what everyone’s going to say and do to try to make you change your mind. Because they’re not going to like it… And most of all, don’t play it safe. Resist the seductions of the cowardly values our society has come to prize so highly: comfort, convenience, security, predictability, control. These, too, are nets. Above all, resist the fear of failure. Yes, you will make mistakes. But they will be your mistakes, not someone else’s. And you will survive them, and you will know yourself better for having made them, and you will be a fuller and a stronger person… don’t shy away from the challenging parts of yourself. Don’t deny the desires and curiosities, the doubts and dissatisfactions, the joy and the darkness, that might knock you off the path that you have set for yourself… Open yourself to the possibilities they represent. The world is much larger than you can imagine right now. Which means, you are much larger than you can imagine.” – W. Deresiewicz
After all, what’s wrong with being labeled as self-indulgent when actually it’s just a term some people use when you pursue something that do not generate income, yet would make you more in touch with yourself? Would it be self-indulgent if I one day, throw away my Ateneo diploma and decide to be a fashion designer? I might regret it at one point and I might hate myself for it, but these very mistakes, if ever they are, help us grow and mature. It is by no means an encouragement to constantly make mistakes but it is the openness to make one that is required.
But then does it mean that we can do anything we want, anytime we want, even at the expense of the other’s well-being? This is where the responsibility of the being comes in. In the movie, Carter tells Edward about a story of how the gods filter those who will go to heaven or who will go to hell. They ask two possible questions and the decision where the person will go to will depend on his answer. These are:
Have you brought joy to your life? Has your life brought joy to others? Life is a gift, but living it is a choice, and it is up to you if you choose to deduce the meaning of your being human to the amount of awards you get and the grades you have achieved. In that case then, you have missed the chance to be one. I presume that only by answering yes on both will you be able to say that you have indeed understood how it is to be human.
I will end then by disagreeing with the quote “Life begins at 40”. To some extent, it might be true. But regardless of the age, life begins simply when one starts to live and be free. (Like Philo, one defines Philo as soon as he starts philosophizing.) So that when the time comes that we have to face the greatest unknown which is death, we will be able to die with our eyes close but with our hearts open and know that we have lived a life worth examining.
Philosophy 102 final oral examination | April 14, 2012 | Fielle Ignacio