Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Critical Reflection for an Authentic Life

If there is one thing that can help individuals to live an authentic life, it is to reflect critically and rationally. And this is useful in all areas of our lives.
Over the next few weeks, I will be blogging about the different areas of our lives and how critical reflection is key to making us more self-actualized and knowledgeable individuals. I will argue that without reflection, each individual is reduced to whatever the media, society and other individuals want him/her to believe.
In other words, without reflection, an individual cannot make an informed and autonomous decision about any aspect of their lives. We simply become pones that people can manipulate and win over. However, if we want our lives to be much more than just a series of unreflective actions, we must learn how to be critical reflectors.
Before we could become critical reflectors in our lives, we must know our deeply held beliefs, desires, values, and long and short-term goals. These constitute our personality and character. And unless we are unhappy with aspects of our character and personality, we must accept our beliefs and desires as features that define our deeply held self.
Of course, many reflective individuals find that after they have determined what their beliefs and values are by perhaps writing them down that there are inconsistencies between their belief sets and their values. If such inconsistencies exist, then the particular individual may want to revise them in favour of beliefs and values that can define us accurately.
For myself, I discovered that I had a few contradictions between my need for organization and rationality and my religious views. I went through a period of revising my religious beliefs about a decade or so ago. I now have a much more coherent set of religious beliefs that don't conflict with my attitude of critical reflection. I now believe in much more humanitarian theological beliefs that I did before to accommodate this critical reflective stance.
The best way to achieve this is to sit down and write down about your beliefs and if they all cohere to create an authentic body of beliefs. Ideally, an authentic body of beliefs don't contradict each other; however, when I did this exercise with my students, I discovered that most of them had inconsistencies among their beliefs. Then they chose which ones to revdesires. Also include your values and what you believe in strongly. Then look over your beliefs and see ise and then found that they lived with much more integrity and they were much less likely to be manipulated to act in ways that they didn't believe to be conductive to being a reflective and consistent individual.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Lord is My Sheperd-book review

The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third PsalmHarold S. KushnerNew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003, 175pp., $29.95.

This is Kushner's most famous book after Bad Things Happen to Good People and Living a Life that Matters. Kushner's The Lord Is My Sheperd is about practical spirituality, inspiration, and encouragement gleamed from what may be the best-known and best-loved chapter in the Bible: the Twenty-third Psalm. This psalm has been the source of comfort in grief and courage in fear for millennia. In this book, Kushner discusses how we could live according to the strictures of Psalm 23 in our daily lives. Each chapter discusses one line of the psalm in the context of both the tone when it was written and the present day, and illuminates the life lessons that are contained within it. In this review I will discuss a few kernels of his wisdom in this book.
For Kushner, although we cannot control what happens to us, we can always control how we respond to what happens to us. We cannot choose to be lucky, talented or loved. However, we can choose to be grateful, to be ontent with who we are and what we have, and to act accordingly. To say The Lord is my Shepherd is to say that we live in an unpredictable and often terrifying world. It says that there is someone in this world who cares about us and tries to keep us safe. God is the presence that makes our world seem less frightening to us. God's promise is not that we will be safe but that we are never going to be alone. We will hurt, but we will heal. We will grieve, but we will grow whole again. How comforting a message is this!
Human beings often neglect their souls. We need to pause often in order to restore our souls. We must take the necessary time to nourish our souls by taking a Sabbath or insisting on a day of rest on Sunday. When we are most busy, we must define ourselves by something that is beyond our work. After a burst of creativity, we need to replenish our soul. After helping another person in need, we should take the time to restore our souls. God restores our inner strength so that we could carry on and be empathic and helpful to others. God gives us the strength of soul to be human and compassionate. The straight line between us and our goals can have hidden traps or land mines. We are brought into roundabout paths to fulfill our goals. When we repeatedly do an evil action, it becomes a part of our character. When we repeatedly do a good action, the same holds true.
However, we should refuse tragedy and evil to define us. When bad things happen to us, they can cause us to lose faith in God. No one could make it without God. There is evil in the world, but this doesn't matter, because this is part of God's plan. God is beside us in our problems and He is on your side but not on the side of the selfish, deceptive people who are embittering your life. God doesn't explain why this is the case; He simply comforts us. When bad things happen, the challenge is not to explain them, to justify them or even to accept them. The challenge is to survive them and go on living. And they key to surviving misfortune is the realization that, when bad things happen, God is on our side. When we choose to affirm life in the face of loss, to affirm goodness in the face of evil, we are on God's side. He is with us and we are with Him, and the future does not frighten us.
We must be realistic of what we expect from other people too. Some people are false friends because they cannot nourish anyone, including themselves. The source of the problem is within them but not within you. When you feel abandoned by your friends and all alone, pray and you will no longer feel so alone. When human beings fail us, when friends let us down, God is there to renew our strength and give us what we need to go on with our lives with integrity and compassion. Bitter people should not make our lives bitter. If they do we have given them much too much credence. Crabby people will always find reasons to be crabby about anything and everything. They complain because of what they are like. Instead, bitter people shouldn't affect us. Some people are not grateful because of a false sense of entitlement or because they need to feel self-sufficient.They are convinced that they don't need anyone. How sad not to need anyone!
We each have a responsibility to be a messiah in miniature. We each are unique in God's eyes. We have a responsibility of making the world a bit better than it would be without us in it. God is depending on us to do just that. God recognizes us and helps us to feel special. We are the messiah for somebody if not for everybody that we encounter in or daily lives. We are all special in God's eyes. And we should believe this with our whole heart and being. Only in that way can we prosper and raise above evil and human frailty.
Thus, we each should stop pursuing happiness so strenuously and just relax. Goodness and mercy will find their way into our lives if we just have faith that it will. Goodness is feeling good about life and oneself. We should be happy being who we are. We don't have to work hard to be happy, and to feel good about ourselves. We can't let bad things and bad people define us. We can choose to be happy with who we are. Because God is with us, we do find comfort. We are all invited to dwell in God's house and to live in God's presence. All we have to do is rejoice and be glad!

Reviewed by Irene S. Roth
Writer's Blog: Writer's Blogger: Philosophy Blog:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Autonomous Decision Making

What is autonomous decision making? That is a real challenge for many people, especially non-philosophers, to make sense of. However, I think that there is a relatively simple formula to determine whether or not we are making autonomous decisions.
In order to make autonomous decisions, we must determine what our beliefs, values, and desires are, and we must act on the basis of these beliefs, values and desires consistently. These beliefs, desires and values are usually defining aspects of our characters and personalities, making us who we truly are.
Once we determine what our beliefs, values and desires are, we must act consistently on the basis of such beliefs and desires. The more consistently we act on such beliefs and desires, the more autonomously will we be acting. The less consistently we act on the basis of such beliefs and desires, the less autonomously we will be acting.
A big part of acting autonomously is knowing our characters and personalities. For instance, are we honest by nature or do we lie by nature? Are we compassionate or is that something difficult for us? Are we generous by nature or do we have to work at being this way? Do we love unconditionally or do we have to work at that?
In other words, whatever arises spontaneously and naturally while we act is probably something that we are endowed with. For instance, if we act compassionately without much effort, we are probably compassionate. If we act honestly without working hard at being honest, we are probably honest by nature. However, if we are dishonest by nature, we are probably dishonest by nature.
Acting autonomously means acting on the basis of character traits and personality features that come to us naturally and that we are endowed with at birth. As long as we act on the basis of our naturally endowed features, we will be acting autonomously.
What if we aren't happy with our naturally endowed characters? What if when we reflect on our beliefs and values we discover that we want our characters to be better? Since this is a very difficult topic to answer quickly, I will reflect on that in my next blog entry.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thinking Beyond The Crowd

Last time, I wrote about the importance for us to think for ourselves so that we could make increasingly educated decisions about what we buy and what we will and will not tolerate when it comes to our consumeristic culture.
Today, I will reflect on what this really means for individuals in their daily living. How can individuals make sure that they are not manipulated by the media and by advertisers? Is it difficult to make our own decisions? Are we, as consumers, even encouraged or given the opportunity to make our own choices?
Well, I think that advertisers would really wish that we weren't overly reflective. This is mostly because if we are reflective, we may not buy some of the products that they are trying to sell. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Perhaps it is a bad thing for advertisers, but is it bad for the reflective consumer?
I would argue that it is not only a good thing for individuals to become much more reflective about what they are purchasing but it is necessary for financial livelihood. It is difficult, if not impossible, to save money or to afford to live comfortably if we are constantly buying the next best technological gadget on the market.
As reflective individuals, it is important for us to take our time and think about whether we need a particular product. To reflect, is to suspend decision about whether or not to purchase something until we have thought about whether we:
1. Need the product.
2. Can afford the product.
3. Can manage without the product.
4. Don't need right now anyway because it is a luxury item.
Once we have decided which category the particular product fits into, we should
suspend making a decision about whether or not to purchase the product for at least twenty four to forty eight hours so that we could make a more informed decision. This time frame should will give each of us a sufficient amount of time to make an informed and autonomous decision.
Wouldn't it feel better if you bought a product that you know that you really need as opposed to being manipulated by the media to buy things that you can't afford anyway?
Let's all start thinking beyond the crowd. You'll be glad that you did.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Importance of Philosophy For Our Times

Over the next few months, I will be blogging on the topic of the importance of philosophy for our times. We live in uncertain times, when the media has the upper hand, people are struggling financially, and the political and social unrest. Airports are plagued with the threat of terrorist attacks. People are scrambling, trying to believe in something that is beyond the here and now, something that is a bit more permanent than all of the doom and gloom that we are constantly exposed to.

But is this too lofty a goal or is it possible for us to 'escape' from the mundane and dangerous? Is there hope for humanity and human kind? Can we be more informed consumers, more educated individuals, more liberated and autonomous in the way we live our lives, more reflective of who were truly meant to be and how we are truly meant to live? I think we can answer all of these questions affirmatively. But we can only do so if we can be more reflective, autonomous, free, and authentic than the ordinary person.

So, how can we bring this about? I think we could each achieve this by inviting philosophical thinking into our lives. This doesn't mean that we each have to receive an undergraduate degree in philosophy in order to live more meaningful lives. However, it does mean that we should become much more reflective and autonomous than the ordinary person who accepts everything that is uttered through the media unreflectively and without question.

We are bombarded by media messages 24/7 about how we are to think and act, what success really means, and why we should buy every brand new technological gadget known to man in order to live happier and more fruitful lives. The media message is that we will be happiest when we have all the lately technologies and the newest computers and iphones.

Sadly, people who buy into this picture of happiness unreflectively usually become very unhappy. They usually have to go into debt in order to afford such luxuries, only to find that our consumer culture comes up with another new gadget a few months from now, promising us even more happiness. Is there a way out of this mire of consumerism? Is there a way that we could achieve meaningfulness without being part of this buying frenzy? Is there a way to think beyond the media culture and consumerism to emancipate ourselves from all of their shackles?

I think the way out of this mire of consumerism is critical thinking and reflective thinking. I'm not saying that ALL the technological gadgets lead to problems for us as individuals. I am just making the point that if we are completely dependent on the consumerism to achieve happiness, not only will we fall short of happiness, we will also become fundamentally unhappy and possibly emotionally and financially broke.

Over the next few months, I will be reflecting on the various ways that individuals can become more reflective and 'philosophical' in their thinking habits. I will be reflecting on how individuals can learn to make autonomous decisions about wh at to purchase and what not to. I will also be reflecting on how individuals can assert themselves in a world where assertions are sometimes countered with hesitation and a lack of authenticity.

Welcome to my philosophical blog. And until I write again, please make sure to not to accept everything that the media tells you without reflection and at least a bit of hesitation.

Irene S. Roth