Of Ethically Appraising Persons and People

Posted by Billy on Friday, March 12, 2010 in , ,
More often than not, persons are kind, well-intentioned, and loving - even if they express it poorly or are ill-informed.
More often than not, people are nasty, ill-meaning, and self-loving - even if they accidentally do positive things as a result.

Anyone who knows me can tell you I love almost everyone I know. This jives pretty well with the first of the two statements above. There are a few exceptionally mean people, but for the most part I posit that mean actions of persons typically correspond with imperfect information or ineptly expressed emotions. I'm sure we can all think of a few personal examples of both, and doing so helps to realize that it is likely often the same case in others. I believe most any individual can be said to "mean well" most of the time. One of the strong points of Kantian ethics is that good intentions are all that matters in ethical evaluation of an individual agent. It follows that most individuals are ethically good folks, even if they sometimes particiapte in ethically poor actions.

What anyone who knows me may not be able to tell you is that my optimism for the kindness of individuals does not extend to collective consciousness. Groups of people, acting together, tend to show characteristics like discompassion, nationalism/exceptionalism, greed, and destructiveness. This group could be a nation, a corporation, a political party, a club (a Klan, perhaps?), or even a social clique.

Taken together, I think these two statements constitute one of the most important "life lessons" I've come by since high school. That hateful people does not equal hateful persons is a vital realization if one wishes to go through life paying attention to the surroundings, but without becoming a bitter, solitary misanthrope. Conversely, it is also helpful to be aware that, despite perhaps knowing a multitude of beautiful persons, one oughtn't expect to see the same in the newspaper.

An important caveat is that this idea does not preclude culpability. If you (I use the general "you" here) participate in any sort of group hatred, you may be an otherwise kind individual, but you are still guilty of being hateful. That is to say, you are committing an ethically deplorable action, even if you are an ethically good agent. For whatever reason, you think your hatred is "for the best." Well, perhaps musing on the kindness of individuals and the contrasting nastiness of groups will help you realize that it is not, and be a little more accepting. And perhaps we can someday solve the mystery of how a collection of persons, who are each kind and loving individuals, can become a people that is selfish and hateful. The world may never know.


Years since high school: 7

Posted by Eli Horowitz on Tuesday, March 09, 2010

No, don't get me wrong - seven years seems like the absolute minimum amount of time it's been. Especially when you figure that I've got about six more of these seven-year periods left before I hit the average lifespan, it's hard to look at it all at once. And since I was ebriated* for practically the whole time - a rarity among my friends and acquaintances - it's hard to distill all seven of those years into "one life lesson that sticks out that I've learned since I graduated from high school." But fuck it, right? What's the worst that could happen.
*This is the positive form of "inebriated," is it not?

After much (okay, the bare minimum of) thought, I've decided that this is my life lesson:
If someone isn't listening, just give up on talking.
As with all life lessons and similar pieces of patched-together folk wisdom, do not try to apply this at all times or in all situations. Like, if you're talking to your doctor and somebody else runs up with an emergency, don't take that as a sign that you should find a new doctor (or, worse, abandon real medicine for homeopathy or Christian scientism). Okay? So don't sue me or my sometime hosts because you took my life lesson too literally.

Here's the thing, though: most everyone you'll meet is going to have working aural mechanisms** and interpretive linguistic faculties to match. Further, most of that high-functioning group will also know certain basics about how to think and relate to other people - logic, open-mindedness, deference to evidence, empathy, that sort of thing. They might not always use these basics, but even Michael Jordan screwed up now and then.*** Still, doesn't it seem like people should be reasonable? Doesn't it seem like they should be helpful, forthright, giving of themselves, and sensitive to others' needs? How, in short, can a rational, open-minded, evidence-respecting, empathic person not display a certain level of kindness?
**If those words are too big for you, substitute "ears."
***Another, related life lesson: playing baseball is always a misstep.

Damned if I know. But we manage somehow.

People, it bears repeating, are in general stupid, ill-mannered, lazy, and deceptive; put Hobbes and Sartre together and you'll get it about right: hell is having to deal with other people's nasty and brutish lives. Worse yet, other people are necessary. They're the ones who hire us and sign our checks, who farm our food, who build large cubes for us to sit in so that we don't freeze to death or get trampled to death by an irate ibex - fill in your own Fight Club-esque monologue here. Combined with how insufferable they can be, this reliance on people leads to a frustrating quandary: do you keep trying to get what/need you want from people who couldn't care less or do you settle for whatever they'll give you?

The line, tragically, is not nearly clear enough for me to define it - not with words, not with actions, probably not even if you and I shared a psychic link. But I know this much for sure: the returns diminish very quickly when you look to other people. (See, as a particularly brutal but well-formed example of this, the excellent A Serious Man.) The shades of this phenomenon are myriad and not worth discussing; you'll know it when you see it. And no, I'm not going to say that the answer is always "in you" the whole time or that it's all a matter of luck: the former is plainly a lie and the latter makes morality a joke. All I can say is that it's not your fault when the people around you are unwilling or incapable and that it's foolhardy to continue using a crutch that you know has rusted through. Fall if you have to fall, and don't throw good words after bad trying to purchase a service that was never for sale.


All the Kings Horses, and All the Kings Men...

Posted by Des on Wednesday, March 03, 2010
I despise silence and love it. The loud quiet, endless room for possibility, the unknown, future dreams. I can even, with focus, make the thoughts that trip over themselves in my head whisper whisper whisper until there is no sound in my mind beside the rasp of air as it moves through my lungs.

I treasure the shared silences more. You, sitting there. Me, here. And nothing need be said because, in that moment, we know it all already.

Most quiet is almost always interrupted by the near constant ringing in my ears. Due to years of loud music pumping into my ears, there is now rarely a moment without a buzz and I try to stifle this silent lack of silence with contemplation and, ever since liz posted the call for blogs on life lessons, i've filled the quiet thinking on what i've learned. I'm making lists in my head, measuring what lessons are worthy of writing, struggling to be honest with myself. I've learned a million lessons in the past five years and have had to relearn some of them until there's that final moment of ultimate realization and I can add up all the wasted hours relearning what i should have had down to begin with. Tres embarrassing. But, through much (near) silent struggle, I've mangled the list until there is one lesson left that I've learned and still fumble with regularly: You fall, and you pick up the pieces. I do believe Jimmy Eat World says it best---

It just takes some time,
little girl, you're in the middle of the ride.
Everything, everything will be just fine,
Everything, everything will be alright.

There have been moments, countless, in which i've let this depression strangle me until all i can see is what is lacking and what is broken. Instead of finding some emotional super glue, I would assume that what is broken is beyond repair and let myself flounder in self-pity and desperate sadness. Always, I'd cuddle up to this pessimistic world-view: happiness is ever unattainable and you flounder and drown until you find your way to the grave. Every failure was the end of the world. It is easy to live in such a world view because nothing is ever your fault. This and this happened. So and so broke your heart. No one understands you. No one loves you. It is all so tragically poetic to you, and that, at least, is something.

I think this might be a lesson everyone learns, or needs to, at some point, even if you are a happy, emotionally stable human being. Because, many times, we let mistakes we make go by unnoticed, ignoring the things we break, perhaps shuffling them under a rug. We let hurt pull us under.

You fall. YOU. And you are capable of putting your life back together again. Or your broken heart. Or your slightly damaged GPA. We are all in the middle of some kind of ride, whether it is some terrifying rollercoaster or a merry-go-round. We are in the MIDDLE, nowhere near the end and you have so much time to make use of, so much life to live that slight creaks and groans in the mechanics of it all shouldn't bring you down. There's always WD-40, you know. And, with work, everything can be just fine. But it takes work. You don't, for example, find out your grandfather has died and magically be happy one day somewhere down the road.

You have to make yourself better. And there's hard work there.

SUPERFLUOUS SIDE NOTE: every time i write a post for this blog, i jumble metaphors and allude to vague things that i never mention again. there is much confusion in what i write, but also much confusion in my head most of the time. So, let's just call this mess stream of conscious. Or something...


Time to put on your try hard pants.

Posted by Ryan R. on Tuesday, March 02, 2010
It's been quite a crazy start these last 3 months. I've moved out, suspending my employment, and made up for lost time. The weekdays have been spent doing school work, which I've never done before, and the weekends are spent partying. Sacrificing your weekend nights serving really puts a strain on your party life. So I've put some time into catching up on all the things I missed.

The apartment is still a naked shell with only shreds of furniture and objects in it. At least I have a coffee table I can put my feet up on, even it that means possibly spilling my water. There are still things that are missing; I would like to get a dinner table so I have a place to throw my junk mail or invite guests over for dinner. Also a nightstand to put a little lamp on and for someplace I can hit my alarm clock off. A bookshelf would be nice but not necessary, but I would like to display all my smarty pants books. I want all this stuff in order to fill up the empty void of space. I want to feel like I'm walking into a "home" and not feeling like a hotel resident. In time things will start to materialize, but I don't think I'll truly be satisfied until I buy my own home and there is a dog running around in the back yard. The future is a scary but exciting thing to think about.

Something to munch on for Tuesday's Lunch. Words are part of a balanced diet.

If you don't want a full meal, you can always check out my tumblr for little snacks during your day.



We Want You For Our Second Blog Series

Posted by Lizzie on Monday, March 01, 2010
March is going to have a theme. I'm really interested in life lessons. Let's all help each other and learn.

Matt had one of his high school yearbooks out yesterday and I realized how long ago high school was for me and for pretty much everyone else I know. I mean, long enough ago that we've all changed probably almost entirely but not so long ago that we can't summarize the highlights and remember the things we've accomplished and information we've processed and experiences we've had.

So, I want you to pick one life lesson that sticks out that you've learned since you graduated from high school or a life lesson that you think is the most important thing you've learned since then or a couple lessons that go together that you feel are particularly significant in some way that you picked up since then or anything else that goes along with that type of theme. I'm sure you get the picture. We're just using "since high school" as a somewhat arbitrary measure of time to focus these lessons a bit. This is the spot for all premature quarter-life crises, after all.

It's crazy to me to think about how after high school we kind of branch off and do our own things. We separate from the pack more than ever and start our life journeys. Whether you went to college or got a job right away or traveled the world or anything like that, I'm curious to know how it changed you. I want to time capsule this shit because in another 4-8 years, we're going to realize how long ago it was that we were in our early twenties and at that point, I'm going to hunt you all down again and make you reflect once again and then compare. Because in 4-8 years, we'll all be entirely different than we were all over again.

Also, with your entry, please include the number of years since you graduated from high school. I'm just curious about that. It's for my own personal self-indulgence. And maybe others will find it interesting as well.

Send any contribution or inquiry/comment/concern to bettermakeitfast@gmail.com or contact Ryan and/or I directly. If you have your own blog, we can add you as a blog contributor and you can post under your own account. Also, spread the word. Tell your friends to do it. I'd love to have a variety of entries.


I Wish I Could Do Better By You 'Cause It's What You Deserve

Posted by Lizzie on Sunday, February 28, 2010
Can I take all that back? Let's just forget Feburary 13th happened.

I came home from New Orleans. I drank a lot to have fun because Pittsburgh didn't seem fun enough on its own. The jobless misery set in again right away and I was bumming. Still depressed as fuck. It was like going away did nothing to ease that like I thought it would. I came home more angsty than ever. I still felt useless.

And I was totally ok with how I was acting. I was acting like a petulant child and I knew it and I had no intention of changing. I really had no desire to pull myself out of it. I probably dug myself in even more because I refused to accept the fact that I was back and it was still snowy and I still didn't have a job so then I decided to hate everything else too.

So, I kept up with this bitter thing for about a week. 'Til it all clicked in my head and I made one of those lists of all the things to be thankful for and it re-grounded me. Unfortunately, the aftershocks of the damage that I'd wreaked were yet to come...

On Friday night, I got PLASTERED in a way I've never been plastered before in my life. Earlier that day, things had changed and I was happy again. I was focused again. I accepted Pittsburgh and my life again. So, it seemed like a night that was fit for celebrating. And I started early and drank almost an entire bottle of vodka by myself and passed out by 10. I mean, I rallied again with the help of some friends and was back downstairs at the party by 1. But there were definitely parts I'm ashamed of. I hate who I am when I'm that drunk. Personally, to me, a lot of my drunk behavior is really kind of unacceptable. Blacking out is never a good idea. So, that night combined with two South Side outings last weekend during which I also said and did things I don't remember basically add up to me feeling like an immature piece of shit. I'm 22. Shouldn't I be over this by now? So, the first aftershock is a personal one. I feel like I've let myself down.

The second primary aftershock is the worst because it involved me hurting other people. Especially one of the people I care about the most right now. And we've all experienced that shitty feeling that happens after you've done that. And it makes you not want to do that ever again. If you're depressed or bitter or angry or sad and someone cares about you enough to be close to you and see all that and experience it in tandem, you kind of drag them down with you. Which is the most compelling incentive for not being depressed or bitter or angry or sad that I've ever encountered. Sometimes when you are that way, there's nothing you can do to help it. I know that depression is a real thing. And I'm still bitter and bumming. But hearing these things from someone that I care about makes me want to try 100,000,000 times harder to be better and happier and not focus on the negatives. And motivation is the first step in recovering.

And this blog was probably not of any use to anyone but myself, but it felt cathartic and like it brought closure to all that stupid angst that previously came out of my head.

But here's the take home lesson which actually may be of use to someone: Focusing on negatives and how you'd rather be anywhere but where you are or in any situation but the one you're in makes where you are seem even worse than it actually is. This can be anything from a physical place to a work environment to a bout of bad luck or anything else. Embrace the good people that are around you. It's been my experience that people can make anything worthwhile. Refusing to recognize all but the bitter aspects of life hurts the people you love the most. They'll help you (to the best of their ability) pull out of it, but 90% of the work has to come from you. You can push people away faster than you think. Ultimately, if you continue on in your depressed and bitter ways, you could lose them. And it will be just one more thing to be depressed and bitter about except then it will have been all YOUR fault. And that's actually really something to be depressed about. Finally, alcohol in excess is never a good idea, whether it be to take the edge off the bitterness or to celebrate that it's gone.

It's likely that I will continue to be depressed for some time because that's just the nature of this kind of thing. I'll still cry for no reason. I'll still feel absolutely frustrated and useless. But after dealing with these two different types of consequences, I think I'm ready to refocus and start to pull myself out of it. For the sake of my well-being and the fact that I owe it to the people I love to be happy. Because they're nothing short of wonderful. And there are still SO many lessons to learn. I kind of thought my growing pains were over until now.

I hate 22. It's hard.

"Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. Use the pain as fuel, as a reminder of your strength." - August Wilson


Farewell To The City And The Love Of My Life

Posted by Lizzie on Saturday, February 13, 2010
At least we left before we had to go
- Ryan Adams, New York, New York

Wow, two part entry tonight.

2 feet of snow will do this to you. Years of missed opportunities will do this to you. Plus, I have to skip sake bombs tonight because I'm broke. But then again, I'm only that broke because I'm going to New Orleans to live wildly with Julia next week and experience Mardi Gras for the first time. So, maybe that's not really a significant factor. But, I mean, bummed out moods make you do crazy things.

Moving on the actual point here, I've expanded my employment search. It's now a national search. Fuck you, Pittsburgh. One application to Oregon put in. That way I can get law school connections. Two applications to NYC are pending. That way I can be closer to my sister.

The world won't wait, so I better shake

I'm not wasting my time in this place. I'm not staying here until something happens for me. It's not that people don't matter, because they do. Experiences don't mean anything unless you can share them with someone. I learned that hardcore when I lived in Chile for a summer. So, if I get a job in Pittsburgh, I'll stay for sure. I don't actually hate it here. It just feels like I do right now. But I'm not limiting myself to staying. Who knows what could happen way out there in other places with other people. I sincerely love the people I know here, but Pittsburgh used to be a new place. Maybe I can fall in love with other people just as much or even more. Sometimes I'm afraid I'll love other places more than I could ever love another person. I wish I could just have both. I usually end up kicking myself in the face with regret with every decision I make which is why I'm hesitant to make them. But the pull to leave is there. And no matter how much regret arises, there is always something so substantially rewarding about a new experience that you can write off the regret as negligible after the memories subside. I really do feel almost absolutely nothing for WNY at this point. As sad as it seems to me right now, maybe I'll feel almost absolutely nothing for Pittsburgh someday.

"Loving is not just looking at each other, it's looking in the same direction." -Antoine de Saint-Exupery


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