Thursday, 29 October 2009

You have more options than you think (Part 1 of 2)

You should never believe anyone who tells you that you only have one option, in particular when that person tries to justify his view by quoting some trite anti-philosophical remark. Never pay attention to people who tell you that, in life, you cannot get what you want. The ability to find alternative paths is critical to get out of losing situations.

If your parts supplier tells you that you have no choice, find a new supplier. If your internet provider acts as though you have no alternative, change providers. If an expensive computer repair shop tells you that they are the only experts in your type of machine, throw away the old computer and purchase another brand.

Should your bank tell you that you have no other possibility, go and open accounts in three other banks. If your plumber tells you that your have no alternative, learn how to replace the kitchen tabs yourself. When a painter tells you that he is the only choice in town, hire someone else to paint your house.

The life of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) provides one of the best examples of how a man can create alternatives where none seem to exist. In his essay Ethics he wrote that “the human mind is designed for exercising memory and imagination.” Few men in History have shown such extraordinary courage as Spinoza, whose dismissal of conformity estranged him from his family and made him a social and financial pariah.

Born into a wealthy family of Jewish merchants and destined to a life of economic comfort, Spinoza's free spirit already began to outgrow the narrow traditions of his community when he was a young man in Amsterdam.

In July 1656, when Spinoza was 24 years old, the rabbi of the synagogue, after having consulted the elders, gave him an ultimatum. He was to stop asking questions during lectures. He was to stop talking to other young men about tolerance and individual freedom. In a word, he was to stop thinking differently than everybody else in the community.

To be continued in Part 2


[Image by Ashleigh Thomson under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]