“Our Journey Through Time and Existence” – A modern “De Rerum Natura”
– this Website’s Contribution – the Author’s Legacy
Origin, human mind, meaning-direction, guidance, support, practical advice, age-death, the future
See “www.schwab-writings.com” ã H. Schwab, Princeton, 2011/13
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Practical Advice for the Young
Practical and simple suggestions – with several complex footnotes
Human direction in life was presented in Chapter 3 of this essay as being dominated by not one but three different motivations:
- by “self-related” motivations, such as satisfaction of needs (then also, search for wealth), and natural self-expression in personal growth of mind, personality, and skills –
- by “altruistic” dedication to family, also pursuit of personal rank in society (power), and ethical-idealistic dedication to helping others or to community service – and, additionally,
- by search for “joy” about the perception of nature, the arts (also entertainment) and culture.
Furthermore, one can distinguish three levels of motivation:
o nature-given basic or lower motivations,
o average or “typical” motivations, and
o higher-ranking motivations.
This complexity of motivations, resulting from natural evolution and human character, is best described by a matrix:
Caring Service & Charity
Building a Better Society
Security and Dignity
Positive Significance in Society, Action Potential
Family and Clan
This Chapter 4, however, attempts to offer practical, simple advice for the conduct of life as one would present to one’s own children or grandchildren as they grow up. This theme is discussed on two levels – in basic, practical terms in the main text as well as separately, in more philosophical and complex terms, in various footnotes and the Appendix to this chapter.
Chapter 5 of this essay will present philosophical guidance for nonbelievers.
Chapter 6 of this essay will give supportive direction in life in moral and Christian/religious terms.
As is typical of the human mind, one finds throughout historical literature the attempt to arrive at the ultimate, single formulation for defining the best direction in life. This may include, for example, “set high goals, strive with dedication, never give up”, “treat (or love) others as you want to be treated (or loved) by them”, or “make each day a day of service”, or “if you think you can win, you can – and if you think you cannot win, you are also right, and have already lost the battle”.
More often, one finds a set of three thoughts of advice – for example, “whatever you do, do it passionately – do not be afraid of failing, learn and try again (or get up and keep going) – treat others as you want to be treated” – or “develop noble values, set yourself high goals, work very hard to get there”.
In a more sophisticated analysis, one would first define the categories of human goals in “work, hobby, personal life, and social life”, and select goals accordingly.
The above-indicated matrix of human directions results in three basic goals: “Growth, Service, and Culture”.
In a more comprehensive set, the ancient view of all humans being composed of mind, soul, and body plus their need for altruistic effort, results in four pieces of advice: “take care of your mind (learn and explore), soul (keep yourself psychologically and emotionally sound), and body (also in mental health), and be beneficially connected with others”.
The more one attempts to condense such advice into only one rule (or only very few rules), the more abstract and less practical such a rule becomes for daily life.
As in a fractal image – starting with a simple, large pattern, with this central pattern then leading to ever-smaller detail as one progresses to the margins of the image – one can start with the most general advice and then progress to more detailed and situation-related advice.
The following paragraphs present a collection of practical thoughts derived from a long life of observing people on many different levels of society and with different success or luck in life.
2. Practical considerations:
What brings contentment, success, fulfillment, and joy in life?
* Luck is needed not only in the received genetic configuration, but also in where one is born and how one receives the earliest formative influences. This observation results in an obligation for those who nurture and educate children or who guide subordinates to provide opportunities for them – and to provide advice commensurate with opportunities – or how to find opportunities.
* Early formation should include values, a sense of fair play, helping others, and balanced self-confidence (a healthy dose of self-confidence between insecurity and arrogance, thereby freshness in reaching out), curiosity, also creativity appearing as brightness, capability to focus, diligent perseverance, perception and judgment of opportunities and dangers, a healthy amount of restraint, and some flexibility in avoiding excessive risk and regrouping and reorienting after setbacks.
* As one’s own personality is allowed to develop, the striving for excellence, the effort beyond the call of duty, is the most essential attitude, in whatever field of engagement, based on its importance for success in life or its appearance of challenge to the beholder. Beware of special problems of your teenage phase of development. Many youngsters experience lack of focusing, fatigue, or lack of mathematical, verbal, or practical skills – leading to substandard performance. Seek advice how to overcome this phase and try every day again to catch up with your goals – while necessarily realizing your nature-given limitations in humility. But every individual with limitations in one area has special gifts to build on with greater effort in other areas!
* The conservation of health is important for a good life, in whatever dimensions – for success, fulfillment, contentment, or joy. Beware of temptations leading you into trouble! Avoid tobacco, drugs, and excessive amounts of coffee or alcohol! Pursue balanced exercise. Take care of your psychological health! Keep a “clean heart” (see Chapter 6)! Make room for joy (see Chapter 7)!
* The selection of the right set of friends becomes increasingly important, as children, then becoming teenagers, have a natural tendency to congregate with others of their age and to conform to that group’s expectations or standards, becoming detached from their parents. At worst, such groups are violent street gangs. More beneficial are athletic groups striving for excellence in their respective specialty and, therefore, for clean living. Be very careful in selecting your set of friends. To be embedded in a multifaceted network of friends renders your life warmer and more colorful and protects you from loneliness, which can be such a severe burden to so many people. Furthermore, consider the fact that the group of friends you spend considerable time with colors your own thinking and personality! This is the burden of street gangs and the benefit of attending better schools or working in better companies. Consequently, your group of friends should correspond to the path you want to take in life – value-based, performance-oriented, multifaceted, including a philosophical and joyful view of life.
* The most important selection in interpersonal association is that of a qualified spouse for life – leading to the challenges to overcome marital tensions, diversions, or disillusioning mediocrity – to always return to combining harmony and a mutual effort on a common, upward path through life – to achieve long-held ideals and, mainly, joy. The spouse should be attractive (resulting in first “love”), but should have her mind based on strong values, readiness to compromise in daily life, and be suited for practical life, including the usual setbacks of destiny.
* Youngsters! Be prudent in your relation with your parents or, later, with your children. Family harmony can be a very important part of happiness in life!
* A career can be developed like the growth of a tree, with, first, a strong tall trunk to reach upwards, then a branching canopy to reach the fullness of life. This begins with the recognition of some opportunity for the course of life and then steering that course persistently – while later developing diversified interests in a wider field of opportunities or worthwhile goals.
* Recognize your strengths and weaknesses of your personality and build your life on such recognition. Some strength can be enhanced, some weaknesses overcome, but a limitation of success or serious failure can result from lacking such recognition.
* Select your occupation, or course through life, in accordance with the recognition of your strength and weaknesses and in awareness of the opportunities or needs of the world – as if you were an executive attempting to market yourself as a product to the world.
* Most importantly, a reasonably reliable source of income has to be developed, one that quite consistently or probably provides a degree of security and dignity for oneself, one’s family, and the start in life of one’s children – and, hopefully, one that provides the means for some public service and charity – and savings for emergencies or old age! The arts, sports, and some other professions, where there are many players but only very few who reach good benefit (and even that only for a few years of their life), are seldom suitable as a source of income and more suited to merely become hobbies!
* Business associates should be selected to primarily be trustworthy in a basic cooperation of fair play – and should also be stimulating, dynamic, and performance-oriented.
* Skill in team management applies not only to a professional position gained in life, but also to informal configurations everywhere in life, also to family – all configurations requiring facilitation of common goal recognition –and their timely correction. Goals may be dictated – or, better yet, extricated through questioning and listening to others – or developed as one presents one’s own thoughts to others – requiring the learning to talk and to listen. Goals must be pursued forcefully and be flexibly adapted as situations change. Team management must occur more through motivation than threatened penalties.
* When working within an organization, one should connect up the ladder beyond the immediate supervisor (to be visible and protected) and down, beyond immediate subordinates (to be informed, known by the team, and actively engaged) – and sideways to colleagues (for company coherence).
* As one progresses – from school to college, then to an occupation – it becomes increasingly important to broaden one’s view to include the needs and problems of others around us. Our world can function benevolently only if we all contribute to society – and, most directly, help others – to reduce suffering or offer increasing opportunity – at best by resolving the causes for such suffering or inadequacy.
* It is a blessing if the observation of the beauty of nature and the arts can be included in life – along with some philosophical thought – but both are not suitable to become sources of income.
* It is a special blessing if a transcendental foundation for one’s personal existence can be found – to support, stimulate, and positively guide one on the path through life – as a blessing to oneself and to one’s surrounding. (This was the motivation for writing the book “Our Journey Through Time and Existence”, specifically the Chapters 1, 3, 5 and 6!)
* Retirement – not too early and not too late – can lead not only to traveling but also to diversity in continued learning, helping others, volunteering in not-for-profit or charitable organizations, public service, gardening, exploring nature, the arts – and to wisdom, then to be carefully communicated to later generations – where wisdom is defined primarily as the higher view, on an upper level of the fractal view of existence, with an uncluttered view of the most important goals, in a multidimensional view, including moral as well as practical aspects of life.
Where are the only three or four key thoughts of advice to the next generation?
As indicated at the beginning, philosophy, any other mental pursuit, and also this search can be presented in a fractal image, with a simple, basic structure at the highest level, which requires ever more detailed explanation when taking any steps forward. It is rather easy to question the respectively higher level by asking questions belonging to the next lower level – a typical debating technique.
On the highest structural level of advice, one can say to the young person:
· develop your mind and personality
· develop your “soul”, keep yourself psychologically and emotionally sound
· watch your bodily and mental health
· stay well connected with good friends or associates – or by helping others
By merely adding some more detail, this becomes:
o develop your mind through diligent learning and exploring and your personality through character training (following role models)
o develop your “soul”, keep yourself psychologically and emotionally sound, by knowing nature-given emotional needs and your potential strengths or weaknesses, and by pursuing your path through life accordingly. Mainly, focus your mind on what is ethically good (“keep a clean heart”)!
o watch your bodily and mental health through clear abstention from dangerous substances, prefer good nutrition, and always exercise adequately.
o stay well connected: Happiness can come primarily from harmony within your own family. A good life or success can also result from your set of friends – and with whom you do business – or by performing charitable work or public service.
Beyond that, read the much longer writing presented above or pursue
“Growth, Service, Culture”
Appendix: More detailed thoughts about the conduct of life:
The Introduction to this chapter indicates a matrix of three directions in life on three levels. The Conclusion above offers four (or three) basic thoughts of advice. Chapter 2 of this essay provides a detailed discussion of the nature-given capability of our human mind for ethics. Chapter 3 provides some reference to centuries of philosophical effort to provide better decision-making in situations of conflict or refers to the limits in decision-making in daily life. In sum, a view of seeing conflicts in life only between Christian values and Darwinian benefit is simplistic, since nature has evolved ethical (proto-Christian) behavior for the Darwinian benefit of groups and has rewarded such behavior by important emotions – which essentially count in the assessment of “happiness” or “joy” of any kind.
Following is a quote from Chapter 3 of this essay on meaning and direction in life:
“The fact that there are not one but three different directions for our life – personal development, dedication to others and the community, and joy about art or culture – on three levels – necessarily leads to conflicts between those preferences when time and resources are limited”.
Regarding the conflict between the three different directions indicated in the matrix (with possible trade-offs), one can note a variation in value of these directions proportional to accomplishments. The need for satisfaction of basic natural needs ranks highest when it is a matter of survival, but drops steeply as those first needs are met (along a curve that varies widely from individual to individual – where some crave good food all the time, even when they are already overweight). Then, for some individuals, seeking recognition and power may rank highest – up to a point. In the end, however, for the noble ones, mental growth and the provision of service may rank highest.
Regarding the quantitative emphasis on various directions in life, Christ indicated only extreme solutions – preference for celibacy and for selling all one’s belongings for the benefit of the poor. Historically, there were only two famous thoughts supposed to lead out of this predicament, Aristotle’s and Kant’s, both of which are unsatisfactory.
Aristotle sees virtue as being found in the right balance between two undesirable extremes, one usually being weak deficiency, the other foolish excess. However, Aristotle cannot indicate what the “right” balance is. This balance may be different from case to case. Nor does Aristotle provide guidance in situations of conflict between different values.
Kant, in his Categorical Imperative, indicates that one should act in such a way that “the guideline of one’s action could be used as a directive for general legislation”. However, all people and cultures are different. The situations of their lives are different; their cultures may be different. Therefore, your own Kantian maxim may not apply to others. If the guidelines were formulated universally for all people on Earth, they could become so vague as to be useless for decision-making in the practical situations of daily life. Kant does not provide guidance in trying to find the universally right guidelines, especially not in situations of conflict and within a limited amount of time
The above discussion of direction in life refers to positive goals and pursuit of positive motivations. Collections of the greatest sayings usually come from great personalities who were successful. It would be interesting to establish a collection of sayings from modest people or people who had to find “happiness” in lowly conditions (example: “when you walk more slowly, you see more of the beautiful small flowers along your path”). What advice can one give to people who suffer from failure? (Example: “When you give in to doing what you must do, even if it hurts, you may discover reserves to see or, better, to do good things, even if minor, but possibly counting much to somebody else”).
A starkly different discussion would analyze causes for misdirected lives: causes for crime (see the Ten Commandments), for revenge-seeking(!), or violence – some resulting from often occurring but unfortunate, psychologically caused rage (a major reason of violent crime), some from drug addictions, and some from other psychological weaknesses, the worst from political or religious activism, even wars. Then there is white-collar crime, which is so prevalent in our time.
This essay presents thoughts about “direction” in life, but not a collection and discussion of all the crimes to avoid – some simple to define, such as murder, violence, and stealing – others more abstract, as cheating and not communicating the truth – and, mainly, the gray zone of exploitation of others (behavior leading to the disadvantage of others while reaping benefit for you). The latter became the main theme of historical ethnic tensions and social upheaval in society – from the formation of democracies in ancient times to more modern liberators such as Garibaldi and Bolivar, to egalitarians such as Marx and Engels, to the struggle between the political parties in our time, or the question of social balance and fair taxation.
Ethical standards of inter-human behavior are a central part of our values. They provide the foundation of our human essence, hence our role in the universe, some subsequently formulated by gifted individuals or through “religious” inspirations. Originally, they were derived from the genetic fixation of ethical behavior in social animals and humans as caused by natural evolution (evolved as an evolutionary advantage through the resulting social coherence and group efficiency) – and subsequently expanded through our value-guided minds and emotions.
Ethical standards suffer from conflict with practical needs. Nobody will divide his or her property down to the lowest denominator of all the poor people he or she may encounter. There are moments when lying – even killing – is necessary for survival or to help others. Job obligations in an organization do not allow for the pursuit of personal ethical preferences, as in hiring and firing or in fighting off competition.
Fundamentally, there are different types of ethical judgment, discussed in much detail in ethical philosophy (and in Chapter 2 above). There is, in ethics, the conflict between “process” ethics and “goal” justification. Process ethics demands that each step of a process be ethical. Goal-oriented ethics allows ethical violation of some steps in the process in order to achieve a higher ethical goal – for example, the bombing of cities with the killing of large numbers of innocents in order to shorten a war.
Does the endpoint define the value of the process and of the life lived – whether it is a reached goal or an endpoint that happened by surprise? This is a very important point in the conduct of life, as well as important in the advice given to the young.
A quantitative aspect enters into this consideration, too. Neither philosophy nor religion give an answer to this predicament and leave it to personal judgment. Touching stories can be told. Moses did not reach the Holy Land, the other sinner on the cross was admitted to Paradise when repenting during the last hour of his life. A prisoner of war, who was allowed to return only after 11 years, lived only for that happy moment of return to his family and country. The end of the career of a famous cardinal was smashed by the late discovery of a sin he committed in his younger years. May our end be as good as some of the reported near-death experiences!
Furthermore, there is the conflict in ethics between trying to reach the greatest good for the most people and respecting all individual “human rights” at all times.
Lack of guidance in the dilemma of having to limit ethical behavior in practical life is the most disturbing problem – when there is the urgent need to clarify one’s convictions and to find a clear path through life. Celibacy and poverty for all is not the answer – and a philosophy of perfect ethics often fails. Conscience is not an adequate guide – nor is reason, philosophy, theology, or practical experience.
What is the conclusion? Compromise of ethical behavior with other demands of life is necessary – time and resources are needed for personal growth in knowledge, skills, and character development, for one’s family and friends, for the arts, a walk through nature, sitting on the porch as an old man and enjoying one’s blessings, pursuing one’s hobbies – all within limits. But which?
In any event, in searching for a compromise, one had better stay more on the demanding side of one’s ethical and personal standards.
Is that the final advice to the young?
 There are some fundamental aspects to clarify first: What should one expect a good life to be – simply a life in happiness and joy – or to say at the end of life that one had a “good” life, whatever that means – or that one conducted a valuable and “good” life in the pursuit of one’s personal, ethical, and religious goals?
“Happiness” requires further analysis – and is as useful, or useless, as the term “utility” as used in economic terms. More specific and common terms to be used are contentment, success, fulfillment, and, possibly, some joy. “Contentment” may indicate the by nature emotion-rewarded satisfaction of the most basic needs in food, procreation, shelter, and family connection. Happiness from contentment can be more easily obtained by humble people restraining their expectations accordingly. “Success” is commonly measured in practical terms, possibly in considering obtained wealth or rank (or recognition). Many occupations are not embedded in structured organizations (e.g., mothers raising variously gifted children, librarians, medical doctors). The question of recognition, however, is still meaningful to them – as from their families, customers, or patients. Pushing for progress is not meaningful to them, but excellence in their performance could be their form of success. “Fulfillment” is a more complex term indicating multidimensional richness of life in many dimensions, from mental growth and exploration to interpersonal love, accomplishments in public service, and, possibly, the arts. “Joy”, an emotional term, also includes the intense perception of inter-human love, of having been able to have contributed something positive to this world, but also includes the perceiving of beauty in the world, and also of humor.
 A more complex question is that of whether one should lead a strenuous life of work and saving in order to finally reach a high goal of security and happiness at the end of life, as compared to living on an ongoing level of somewhat elevated satisfaction and happiness without leaving any reserves for later years – similar to the question of process ethics versus goal-justified ethics, as discussed in Chapter 2 and in the Appendix to this chapter – much discussed by philosophers and variously pursued by individuals depending on their character and circumstances. A similar comparison to ethical philosophy can occur when comparing the pursuit of personal, individual happiness with the pursuit of happiness for the whole family or community.
Should different advice be given to individuals of different age? Young people, more than those of any other age, should exert themselves to learn, grow, and lay a foundation for later life, like a tree beginning to grow.
There could be differences in objectives between different occupations or career objectives in life – for a farmer, librarian, teacher, medical professional, businessperson, politician, or artist – or a stay-at-home parent raising children – or a handicapped person excluded from a career.
Not all people want to be, or are suited to be, fighters. Modest people are often the most valuable members of our society. Many humans on Earth have only very limited opportunity to pursue grandiose goals – being limited by their own gifts of nature, by the limitations of the schooling they were allowed to obtain, or the situation of the community where they grew up – merely observe the inhabitants of different sections of any large city. How wonderful it is if a town has a public library with a quiet, well-educated, helpful librarian. Great help was given to me by a modest grade-school teacher, a man I still admire! But politicians should hopefully have higher goals for their community. Artists try to excel and gain recognition.
Additionally, in spite of all modern attitudes, there are differences in advice between that presented to men and to women. Many women still would like to have children and plenty of time to dedicate to their upbringing, especially during their early years – while their husbands possibly must work 60 or more hours at their jobs. What if one of them becomes unemployed and the bills exceed income?
 Values, or virtues, were formed by natural evolution as the foundation of ethical behavior in the formation of effectively functioning packs or social groups of animals; see Chapter 2 of this essay. Historically, thinkers, religious leaders, or prophets expanded this natural foundation and often assumed religiously dominated guidance. Most philosophers through the centuries devoted thought to the subject of values and direction in life. Modern societies, however, developed systems of civil and criminal law to define and enforce adherence to a society’s values.
Remnants of older value scales still exist in codes of honor (even in simply calling somebody “honorable”). Some of these older codes are anchored in naturally evolved ethical behavior (also of animals) and are concepts and behaviors of loyalty, as well as the seeking of satisfaction – or revenge! How could all those Christian nations of Europe start World War I in 1914?
 Self-confidence and reaching out are more typical of our modern, innovation-oriented societies, enjoying not only progress but also fullness of life. But not all youthful personalities are suited for “struggle” in life. Some gain happiness from a modest position, in restraint and calmness – as did some holy men, hermits, and monks of various historical religions – or from contributing to the world in modesty.
 Health has a physical dimension, supported by proper nutrition (by abstention from damaging addictions or excesses and by habits of healthy nutrition in type and quantity) and, quite importantly, supported by exercise. Health also has a mental or psychological dimension. This aspect of health can also be actively supported, if not by psychology, at least by mental habits, as described in Chapter 3 or in Chapter 6, in the section on keeping a “clean heart”. The concern for health is an Aristotelian virtue – with unfavorable valuation at the two extremes of detrimental neglect of health and of obsession with health, which could burden oneself and one’s environment – with a zone of optimization in the middle.
 As you grow, the dominance of your parents diminishes in your mind. Beware of your own degree of wisdom, though. Your parents love you and have a wider view of the world. You may need your own space for thought and action; but you must retain your parents as your friends and supporters! Avoid family disruption, for which, ultimately, you pay the price. Rather, go calmly your own way and keep the doors open to return in harmony. All of this advice for young people counts in reverse in their relation with their own children later on.