Friday, August 21, 2009

(22) Happiness II

"To be concerned with happiness as an end, the Stoics argue, is
to be concerned with virtue in the sense of what a person can
bring about through his own powers and rational agency. Accordingly,
they will argue, happiness is not a virtuous action...Rather, happiness
is virtuous activity in the leaner sense of skill and effort...whether or
not one successfully achieves the objectives."
BEHIND THE MILITARY MIND, Oxford University Press, 2005, p.33.]

Comment: This is an interesting statement, because it addresses
the subject of happiness. Probably one of the most misconceived
considerations about Stoicism circulates around this issue of
happiness. Lots of people imagine stoics wearing a "sour and dour"
countenance. This misunderstanding stands right up there with the
perceived "stiff upper lip" of stoics.

Now I cannot attest that each and every stoic, whether ancient or
modern, goes around wearing a "happy button," but probably most
were/are not adverse to happiness. If we can truly attain it, we might
discover happiness to be a natural human expression. The smile
has long been with us down through the ages.

But what Sherman is discussing in the quoted paragraph, I believe,
is significant for all of us. Yes, sometimes happiness just lights upon
our shoulders; but, more than often, happiness is a result of right
behavior. And even before behavior, there need be an under-
standing of this virtuous activity.

Just guessing, but I'm willing to bet that many of us *wait* for
happiness to drop in. And while we are waiting, there's this pall
of waiting. And within this pall there's "want." We wait for that
special person in our life. We want a great job. We want our life
to somehow be significant. This waiting and wanting is intimately
connected with a hoped-for happiness.

Somehow, when I think about the subject of happiness, Epictetus'
prayer comes to mind--that we need come to understand what
we can or cannot control in our life. As Sherman attests, happiness
is linked with what we "can bring about through his own powers"
and reason. This doesn't mean that we have to sell ourself short;
rather, it is about maturity.

So often I hear some poor soul hoping to win the Lottery, because
that situation will bring the idealized happiness they seek. It's
usually about money. Of course money isn't everything, but it does
loom *big* when it comes to living a happy existence. It's just that
there need be a practical approach, if you will. Waiting for the
Lottery just might not cut it. Making good money usually depends
on "skill and effort." The better qualified, the better job = usually
equals more money, and perhaps happiness.

Of course what we are discussing here is what I might call
"surface happiness." That's okay, it's a start. On the other hand,
some persons--as they grow older--start feeling a strange sense
of emptiness. They have begun to realize that money can't buy
everything, I guess.

So what might this portend, this strange emptiness? Usually it is
an ontological condition. In both philosophy and theology
Ontology is about the nature of being. Who are we, how do we
fit in our world, what are we supposed to become? According to
human development theorists, this ontological condition is
something that clicks on at mid-life.

Now I know people who were gripped by this ontological condition.
Sometimes it becomes an "angst" and really can cause problems.
Other of us might grasp at straws, imagining great callings, being
tapped on the shoulder to do this or that. And there's no denying
that occasionally we can "run" with our fantasies, perhaps even
making something concrete out of them.

However, finally, at the cusp of elderhood some of us finally realize
that we can "manage" happiness up-to-a-point. And that's when
a more stoic approach might become a better compass. Happiness
might end simply being a daily routine, a more composed
acceptance of Life, a deeper appreciation for our surroundings.
And, above all, maybe in the end happiness might not need be
chained to an objective.

Monday, June 15, 2009

(21) Seeds of Virtue

"I do not need to be told that all virtues are fragile in the beginning
and acquire toughness and stability in time."
ESSAYS AND LETTERS, W.W. Norton & Company, 1958, p. 76.]

Comment: Upon reading the little sentence above, by the great
Roman Stoic, I immediately thought about human development in
modern terms. I also thought about the philosophical concept of
*apriori,* the assumption that proceeds from deduction--or perhaps
knowledge which we bring into the world, already intuitively aware
from the very beginning of our wee consciousness.

Our memories really have to be jarred, if we can go back to our
first couple of years. Did we sit at our parents' knees and listen,
comprehending the nuances of Virtue--or did we simply respond
to Yes and No, sometimes emphatically expressed?

Still I can relate to some early experience, when not yet five years
old. It was about facing a "justice" issue, and somehow deciding
by my action upon what I considered a good and right course to
take. Over the years I have wondered about this event, wondered
how in the world I knew correctly what to do. Was this action on my
part something inborn? I knew that my father subscribed to a system
that caused a certain injustice to others, and by my small action I
took issue.

So was I perhaps acting out some sort of disagreement (or even
antagonism) against my father? Later, when I was lots older, yes
I disagreed with my father on this justice issue. But by that time I
was far more consciously aware about the history and concerns of
this issue. I truthfully cannot say that was the case when I took
action when still a very small child.

Now very much more mature in age, I have been long exposed to
my environment and its impact upon what is deemed Virtue.
Just me, but I'm inclined to wonder where our idea(s) of Virtue
come from. I believe that the "seeds" of Virtue are imbued in us,
already imbued as we are born into this world--thus, *apriori."
Many of us seem to know that certain high values are written in
our heart.

But like any form of talent or potential, it is left to our evolving
human development to hone our sense of Virtue and according
conduct. Hence Education is significant.

With this there is an abiding question: why is Virtue important?

I suspect it is strongly connected with Survival. As we humans
slowly developed socially, developed communities, unto cultures
and civilizations, we had to learn to live effectively with one
another. Our behavior toward the "other" had to be carefully
constructed, so as to produce a livable environment wherein
we did not harm (or even destroy) the other. Like tennis, what
we lob across the court can come back at us. The "Golden
Rule" is basic, so to speak.

Yet the wise Seneca noted we need stay strong when it comes
to Virtue. If we let such slip, we can quickly begin to see the
sad ramifications. Virtue need *stay* written in our heart, mainly
accomplished by continual testing of our individual and societal
behavior towards one another. As for Stability, well it surely is
helped along when we successfully practice Virtue.

It would seem that we need constantly to nourish the Seeds of
Virtue, lest we fail.