Monday, May 21, 2012

The Human Condition: Part 2

We are social beings by nature, and we have evolved as such. When I reflect on myself, I am often reflecting upon my interpersonal relationships and their particularities. I used to think to myself, that I could live totally free from any strong relationships with others, and that I could be a total loner, and still remain happy. But I've found that when I am alone for too long, a certain depression begins to creep over me. It's the lack of happiness that stems from the enjoyment of the company of others. I also feel that I need in a way, other people's respect, to feel good about myself. I used to look down at this trait in particular, before realizing that it is a property of all human beings. As social beings, our social position in life, and the quality of our interpersonal relationships, mean a great deal to us, and I am certainly no exception.


I am often amazed at the few of us who can abandon all contact with others, retrieve into social isolation, and yet be content with themselves to such a degree, that even the most satisfying interpersonal relationship cannot produce the same happiness. The Buddha is one such person who is said to have achieved this maxim. I have been learning more about Buddhism lately. There is wisdom in all philosophies and in all religions. The best thing to do is take the best from all of them and use it for the benefit of yourself and others. Buddhism is a very malleable philosophy. I personally see the Buddhism as a philosophy, and not a religion, based on the teaching of "The Buddha", or the enlightened one. Siddhārtha Gautama was just a man, who when he reached "nirvana", achieved a transcendent state to such a degree, became The Buddha. He did this after years of punishing his body, and discovering that the path to enlightenment lies not within suffering, but in understanding and reconciling one's desires.


As an atheist, I of course reject the supernatural aspects of some of Buddhism's beliefs, but I cannot deny some of its wisdom. The transcendent experience exists for sentient beings, and I see the Buddha as one who sought out this state, and personified it better than any human being. The Buddha achieved this state  alone, under a tree after meditating for several days, according to the story. And since then, many have tried to seek this path to enlightenment by imitation. Although the Buddha achieved enlightenment alone, it was through the people around him that helped guide him toward this path. I cannot think to remain alone in this world and not expect mental and physical suffering.


The problem I have with social interaction is how my awkward personality, and my tendencies toward unpopular topics for conversation, lead to a disconnect between me and others. I'm a deep thinking, philosophical type, and that doesn't always mix in well with our cultural obsession for material and superficial gains. There are few people who I naturally get along with, and this has always been a strain on my sense of happiness. I've always felt a little disappointed in myself for not connecting with people in many social situations. I've come to learn to accept this reality, that I am simply not going to get along and have a connection with many individuals. My acceptance of this allows me to make certain changes with my regard to these people. It is very simple: avoid people I do not get along with as much as possible, and surround myself with people that I do get along with.

Now there are times when I am forced to deal with people that I do not like, such as with work. My response shall be in making the best out of the situation, and to not let my character suffer. In other words, be myself, whether these other people like it or not. To sacrifice one's character, to mold it into a form more compatible with those who one does not naturally get along with, is what I seek to avoid. I used to so freely pretend to be the person I thought others wanted me to be, when I did not naturally get along with them. I now look back at those days with great disappointment. What about pretending to act as others want you to act, to get something you want? We sometimes behave a certain way towards others to get what we want, and we all do this from time to time. I am quite aware of the lack of virtue that comes with being a pretender.  Considering how natural it is, I say that as long as one retains the core of their character, there is nothing necessarily wrong with acting a certain way to get what one wants.

As I have said before there are three basic conditions that make me happy: being in a place I like, with people I like, and doing something I like. If those three are met, I am a happy man (assuming I am not dying from a disease or the like). If I were to take out the second condition-being with people I like-and instead imagine myself alone, this lessens but does not destroy my requirements for happiness. The act of helping others can suffice the pleasure of being with good company, and helping others does not necessarily require being with other people.

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