I’ve been away from blogging for a little while as work became quite busy and stressful as I was given a project that normally would take several months to prepare for and was given two and half weeks. I’m not complaining though, I am still very fortunate to have the job that I do, and in the end it was a very rewarding outcome. I had to organize a Science Olympiad tournament for 40 regional high schools and middle schools and it ended up going very well. I didn’t actually have to do this task, but if I didn’t a lot of kids would have been hurt, and a lot of teachers very angry and so it really wasn’t something that I took any time to consider, I just knew it had to be done, and I did it because it was the right thing to do.
It got me thinking a lot about stress on how much it affects our behavior. It cost me my spring break and I was bitter about that. In that time I was also certainly less attentive to others in my life. I was more moody, snapped a little more than I probably should have at people that I care about and had a lot of trouble sleeping. The guilt of snapping at people at being less attentive to others, and lack of sleep are positive feedbacks which worsen your condition. I am fortunate that it was only a rough few weeks. I am fortunate to even have a spring break. I am fortunate that even though the semester still has lots of work left in it, there will be summer holidays starting in early May. There are people who face what I face, every single day of the year, with additional stresses associated with finances that I do not face. When I reflect on how irrational I might be in times of stress I think about the cumulative effect such things must have some people. How hard they might struggle to find a way out, who they might time to blame their stress on, and wonder what things they might rely on to find peace. It makes a lot of irrationality in the world understandable.
At the same time it makes you really question why it has to be that way. We have the resources to feed everybody, we have the knowledge and ability to give good health care to everyone. We know a lot about the universe and how to give people quality education, and we know the things that make people truly fulfilled and happy. We know a lot about our own imperfections and biases so that we can avoid the pitfalls of our flaws. We know better ways to correct deviant behavior, we know better ways to reduce the possibility of criminal and violent behavior, and we know better ways to raise. We may not know everything, but we know better. “Civilized” society seems so counter to how we operate as humans that somedays I really question whether or not it is all worth it. Even though we might live longer on average than our hunter gatherer predecessors, and can avoid many of the deaths from natural disasters that our predecessors could not, sometimes I do wonder whether or not it was all worth it, and whether or not we shouldn’t all still be climbing trees to pick fruit. And yeah maybe it would be sad to lose a few people to drought, or malaria, but so much death nowadays seems to be preventable and avoidable. The destruction in Belgium and Turkey recently really makes one question whether all this is worth it. Has any of this civilization experiment increased happiness? Benefitted the home we call Earth? Given our evolution as a species perhaps this trajectory was unavoidable, but it feels so much easier to accept deaths caused by the pitfalls of living in the wild over seeing death occur from senseless acts of violence that will never lead to any gain, or seeing children die from hunger while not very far away somebody sits on a fortune of money and resources they do not even need.
Alright, I know this is not very cheery and I am not helping much to increase human happiness either, but I think many people share these thoughts. I of course do believe that this trajectory of civilization was to avoid human suffering and nobody really imagined the consequences we are facing now. Maybe these are the growing pains we must go through. I hope that our intelligence is great enough to get us out in the end. Perhaps the real shame is that our lifetimes are still too short to be able to see the end result of all this suffering. I wonder if a 13th century scholar who watched people die from plague after plague, and endless crusades and wars, could visit us now if he would actually be impressed with our moral progress. Maybe what we have now is further than he or she ever dreamed. Maybe they would remind me to consider myself lucky that I live in such times and that now that they have seen the change possible over the long march of time that there was every reason to continue to have hope and strive for more. And if there is one thing that I know for sure is that nothing has ever been made better by despair. And if I want a world in which people do not live in despair and have reason to be hopeful then I must lead by example, even if I only touch a handful of people in my world. Who knows how far the ripples of our impact will travel through time.
Lately and perhaps not surprisingly with a newborn in my arms I have been pondering love again. This, in addition with a psychology class I sat in on last semester about the subject, and some other articles I read recently, has led me to feel like exploring my thoughts a little. Not too long ago I was conversing with a fellow blogger who posted some writings from a Buddhist about love that said something to the order of “true love can only exist in the present”. As I paused for thought, I appreciated the truth of those words in an ideal sense, but it struck me as not how love seems to
When I’ve fallen in love before, and others that I’ve talked to share similar experiences, thoughts of the future seem to go with it. I often described it as painting pictures in your mind. You fall in love, you start to see happy times, future celebrations, children, growing old together. These pictures seem extremely vivid. Like memories you’ve built on events yet to happen. From a biological sense this seems to make sense because that is how love should work. Love builds attachments, and attachments in this world give you strength. If love did not make us feel this way it seems like we would lose an important part of what love is really for; to give us companionship and togetherness, and increase our chances of survival in a world filled with uncertainty. Feelings of security and visions of the future seem so tangible to me, I wonder if it is true to others who have been in love. Nevertheless, if you could truly stay focused on the present, maybe this could take away much of the pain when a relationship ends. And I think sometimes this is why a relationship ends. You focus on the future that you take the other for granted in the present. And the loss of a relationship leaves you with vivid visions of events that will now no longer take place. Those events are in your memory and I’ve always felt that recovery from a relationship literally requires erasing those memories.
As I look at my son in my arms, I am filled up with love. Of course this also makes sense from a biological standpoint. I think the love of a parent in animals is somewhat proportional to how helpless they are when they are born. Human children are completely helpless such that any indifference on our part would lead to less care and more infant mortality. Some creatures have the ability to “hit the ground running” parents are protective to a certain degree, but especially if you are born prey, the kid has to kind of take care of himself a bit too and learn to run as fast as possible. Love comes in many forms and certainly the love for one’s child is different than romantic love, but I started to ask myself, what is that I love about my son? If asked the same question about my wife I could point to a large list of qualities in her, I could recount numerous wonderful memories and happy moments. There are of course physical attributes too as a basis for attraction. The love has a clear basis. No quality is perhaps unique in her, but all together she certainly is unique. The fact that I love her is not surprising, and the fact that there aren’t others out there who I might love or have loved her is not surprising either. But as I look at my son I wonder what is it based on other than a biological drive to love my child. I find him beautiful of course. Every parent finds their child beautiful. Once again if we didn’t, we might be less likely to want to take care of them. But he has no personality to speak of. He hasn’t been alive more than a month yet and we have few memories together at all. We have nothing in common except some DNA. We can’t really do a whole lot together. It is a purely one sided relationship. We give and he takes. If this were anybody else, friends would say,” you need to get out of that relationship.” Lol
I then read a story about someone having twins prematurely and losing one of them and of course I naturally thought about how I would feel if
my son were to die. Of course it would be grievously painful, but I thought to myself what would I be grieving about? If I lost my wife, the pain of numerous past memories and a deep sense of loss over qualities she possessed that I would no longer be privilege to would flood my mind for many years to come, in addition to the loss of the future I dreamed of us having together. It seems that if I did lose my son the majority of my grief would be grieving the loss of his future. For as someone in love with his child I see a future filled with vacations, camping trips, teaching him science, helping him with homework, going to graduations, seeing him grow and hit milestones in his life as we all do.
The future is truly uncertain and so loving only in the present seems wise in some respect, but I’m not sure it’s possible. I think the best we can do is try not to build those hopes and dreams so solidly that we allow them take different shapes. Nevertheless a part of me feels like the love I have right now for my child seems less solid somehow because it seems largely based on a feeling completely intangible and dreams of the future. However, I know that as he grows and I spend more time with him it will simply gets stronger and I know that as we do build more memories and I do get to know him as a person that I will be more and more in love with him. Given how much I love him already the thought of that fills me with nothing but pleasure. That is at least one vision of the future that I can hold on to without fear.