12 Rules for Life
An Antidote to ChaosBook - 2018
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And once in Hell, it is very easy to curse Being itself. And no wonder. But it's not justifiable. *And that's why the King of the Damned is a poor judge of Being.* 2/2
Failure to make the proper sacrifices, failure to reveal yourself, failure to live and tell the truth--all that weakens you. In that weakened state, you will be unable to thrive in the world, and you will be of no benefit to yourself or to others. You will fail and suffer, stupidly. That will corrupt your soul. How could it be otherwise? Life is hard enough when it is going well. But when it's going badly? And I have learned through painful experience that nothing is going so badly that it can't be made worse. This is why Hell is a bottomless pit. This is why Hell is associated with that aforementioned sin. In the most awful of cases, the terrible suffering of unfortunate souls becomes attributable, by their own judgment, to mistakes they made knowingly in the past: acts of betrayal, deception, cruelty, carelessness, cowardice, and, most commonly of all, willful blindness. To suffer terribly and to know yourself as the cause: that is Hell. 1/2
But it's a temporary solution, for predictable and sullen obedience. Who can live forever with that? But negotiation--that requires forthright admission on the part of both players that the dragon exists. That's a reality difficult to face, even when it's still too small to simply devour the knight who dares confront it. 2/2
In many households, in recent decades, the traditional household division of labor has been demolished, not least in the name of liberation and freedom. That demolition, however, has not left so much glorious lack of restriction in its wake as chaos, conflict, and indeterminacy. The escape from tyranny is often followed not by Paradise, but by a sojourn in the desert--aimless, confused, and deprived. Furthermore, in the absence of agreed-upon tradition (and the constraints--often uncomfortable; often even unreasonable--that it imposes), there exist only three difficult options: slavery, tyranny, or negotiation. The slave merely does what he or she is told--happy, perhaps, to shed the responsibility--and solves the problem of complexity in that manner. But it's a temporary solution. The spirit of the slave rebels. The tyrant merely tells the slave what to do, and solves the problem of complexity in that manner. 1/2
The heightened knowledge of fragility and mortality produced by death can terrify, embitter, and separate. It can also awaken. It can remind those who grieve not to take the people who love them for granted. Once I did some chilling calculations regarding my parents, who are in their eighties. It was an example of the hated arithmetic we encountered in the discussion of Rule 5 (Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them)--and I walked through the equations so that I would stay properly conscious. I see my Mom and Dad about twice a year. We generally spend several weeks together. We talk on the phone in the interim between visits. But the life expectancy of people in their eighties is under ten years. That means I am likely to see my parents, if I am fortunate, fewer than twenty more times. That's a terrible thing to know. But knowing it puts a stop to my taking those opportunities for granted.
It is necessary to be strong in the face of death, because death is intrinsic to life. It is for this reason that I tell my students: aim to be the person at your father's funeral that everyone, in their grief and misery, can rely on. There's a worthy and noble ambition: strength in the face of adversity. That is very different from the wish for a life free of trouble.
Hating life, despising life--even for the genuine pain that life inflicts--merely serves to make life itself worse, unbearably worse. There is no genuine protest in that. There is no goodness in that, only the desire to produce suffering, for the sake of suffering. That is the very essence of evil. People who come to that kind of thinking are one step from total mayhem. Sometimes they merely lack the tools. Sometimes, like Stalin, they have their finger on the nuclear button.
In societies that are well-functioning--not in comparison to a hypothetical utopia, but contrasted with other existing or historical cultures--*competence*, not power, is a prime determiner of status. Competence. Ability. Skill. Not *power*. This is obvious both anecdotally and factually. No one with brain cancer is equity-minded enough to refuse the service of the surgeon with the best education, the best reputation, and, perhaps, the highest earnings. Furthermore, the most valid personality-trait predictors of long-term success in Western countries are intelligence (as measured with cognitive ability or IQ tests) and conscientiousness (a trait characterized by industriousness and orderliness).
Say what you mean, so that you can find out what you mean. Act out what you say, so you can find out what happens. Then pay attention. Note your errors. Articulate them. Strive to correct them. That is how you discover the meaning of your life. That will protect you from the tragedy of your life. How could it be otherwise?
If your life is not what it could be, try telling the truth. If you cling desperately to an ideology, or wallow in nihilism, try telling the truth. If you feel weak and rejected, and desperate, and confused, try telling the truth. In Paradise, everyone speaks the truth. That is what makes it Paradise.
Tell the truth. Or, at least, don't lie.
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