Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Rational living - You have more options than you think

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 seems 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.

Although the rabbi uttered his threat in a soft voice, he painted clearly the consequences of non-compliance. Expulsion from the synagogue was tantamount to lifelong ostracism. If Spinoza refused to conform to social conventions, all doors would be closed to him.

"We expect your answer on the last Sabbath of the month," concluded the rabbi, already anticipating his victory. In his view, no one would be foolish enough to throw away a bright professional future in an established community for the sake of some nonsense about truth. On July 27th, Spinoza returned to the synagogue. The rabbi and the elders were awaiting him. "What have you decided?" they asked. "Are you with us or are you on your own?"

"A man must be guided by reason, if he is to remain fully a man," answered Spinoza. "Without the urge to understand and the freedom to search for answers, neither truth nor happiness are possible." After leaving Amsterdam, Spinoza moved thirty kilometres south and created a new community from scratch: a group of free-thinking intellectuals who would spread around the world his ideas about tolerance.

If Spinoza had believed that he had no options, he would have remained in his traditional community and led an obscure life of conformity. As he wrote in his Ethics, "the essence of human thinking is the ability to identify true ideas." When somebody tells you that you have only one way to go, give yourself a break. Don't get upset and don't give a snappy reply. Don't bother. Instead, nod, smile, and move on. You have more options than you think.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by docentjoyce under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]