Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Self-empowerment through rational living

Here is a summary of the questions that I have answered this week:

QUESTION: A woman feels depressed because she cannot find a job.

ANSWER: The problems are solvable, but it's going to take some work and, above all, patience. A job can always be found if you search persistently, and remain flexible about hours and location. However, in order to improve your morale and motivation, I strongly recommend reading philosophy and history. It will help you gain perspective, self-confidence, and resilience. 

QUESTION:  Why are we not happy all the time?

ANSWER: Constant happiness would be a sign of mental paralysis, comparable to having taken some mind-altering substance. Human beings naturally want to improve their situation all the time, and this is a natural source of relative unhappiness. When you achieve A, you want to try to achieve B, and then you want to achieve C. Real happiness is never static. It is a dynamic feeling of satisfaction that comes from the pursuit of worthy, challenging goals. 

Rational living, rational working  
How to deal with a hostile environment

QUESTION: A young man hates his life, finds the environment around him hostile, and the people unfriendly and unreliable.

ANSWER:  The problem is solvable with some effort. First, check your values and make sure that they are rational and consistent. Second, define your long-term goals, not just for next year, but for a lifetime. Third, start moving towards those goals right away. If you do that, you will never again be bothered by people who are confused, negative, or erratic. Just follow your own way quietly and effectively, and you will do great. 

QUESTION: A man experiences sudden mood changes that make it difficult to him to lead a normal life.

ANSWER: Sudden mood changes can often be attributed to philosophical inconsistencies. Unless you check your premises and align your values, chances are that the mood oscillations will continue. The best way to attain a balanced, steady personality is to adopt a rational philosophy, but this takes some effort and dedication. 

QUESTION:  A young man feels extremely sad and cannot find a way forward.

ANSWER: I am convinced that you can massively improve your situation in the future, but it is going to take some effort. You may be able to improve your health through some natural treatment (herbal, vitamins, diet, exercise), and also improve your mood by studying philosophy and history. Do not be discouraged if you cannot turn the situation around right away, but with some effort and patience, chances are you will do better than can possibly imagine today. 

No need of exaggerated stress

QUESTION: Are worries and stress ever justified in life?

ANSWER: Yes, a reasonable level of concern for current and future problems is perfectly justified. However, you have to draw the line between reasonable concern and exaggerated stress. For this purpose, a rational philosophy is indispensable. Your long-term goals provide the criteria for assessing how much you should care about today's random noise and assorted little problems. 

QUESTION: What is the purpose of living? What is the point of life?

ANSWER: Happiness is the point, a deceivingly simple answer. Most people are only going to find happiness in the pursuit of an absorbing, fascinating long-term goal. Other aspects of life can be also enjoyable and pleasurable, but I would not bet of them as sources for long-term happiness. This explains why a teleological system of ethics is essential for allocating your time, interests, and efforts. 

QUESTION: How long does it take to find a romantic partner?

ANSWER: It depends on how hard you work on it. Most people cannot devote much time to dating and meeting new friends, and the whole process is somewhat driven by random events. How long does it take to find the right person? Between two weeks and two decades. If you want to shorten the time, look for the right environment, the right kind of people, and become socially active.  

Rationality is the way to happiness 
The key to long-term happiness

QUESTION:  What makes you feel happy in life? What are your best moments?

ANSWER: If you ask the question in subjective terms, it would not be of much value, since you would only get anecdotal responses. I would reformulate the question as: "What makes human beings happy?". Then I can answer that, in most cases, the greatest happiness is drawn from the pursuit of difficult, but achievable long-term goals. This explains why a system of teleological ethics is the most conductive to happiness. 

QUESTION: Why I am losing interest in life? Why do I feel void inside?

ANSWER: The key issue is to develop a long-term vision, a clear idea of where you want to be in the next decades, what you want to do. Without this perspective, it is just not possible to allocate your time rationally, and deciding whether you should be spending your time doing A, working on B, or pursuing C. 

QUESTION: A young man feels completely demotivated and doesn't know what to do with his life.

ANSWER: To a great extent, motivation is a myth. Having a rational philosophy, values, and self-discipline play a much more important role in getting things done. Without long-term goals, it is easy to lose the overview of where you are going. The real question is not about getting out of bed today, but figuring out where you want to be tomorrow, next year, and in the next decade. 

Zero anxiety about the future

QUESTION: A teenager feels anxious because he has no clear idea of the future. He doesn't know what he wants to be in life.

ANSWER: Fourteen years old seems to me a bit too early to choose a profession. At that stage, I would focus my efforts on acquiring a good foundation in philosophy, history, and sciences. Time will tell which path will be the best, but if you develop your intellectual skills, you will have no problem in finding the right place. 

QUESTION: Someone with an introvert personality wants to find a suitable occupation, a job or profession where he doesn't have to do things he doesn't feel comfortable doing.

ANSWER:  There are dozens of occupations where introvert people possess an advantage over extroverts. Jobs or professions related to knowledge management, design, planning, trend analysis, or investment might be particularly interesting. Otherwise, gardening, agriculture, and machine installation and maintenance would also fill the requirement.
For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living

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

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

The 10 Principles of Rational Living

Monday, 29 September 2014

Success is the best revenge against unfairness

Unfairness is everywhere and, if you care to look, you will detect more than your equitable share. Some people are born in the right environment, others possess powerful connections, inherit better looks, or simply draw the lucky number in a lottery.

Occasionally, your valuable work won't be appreciated and, instead, people will praise worthless nonsense. You may at times have to endure discrimination or ostracism, with the accompanying financial drawbacks. Disappointment, self-pity, and envy are frequent reactions to those situations.

Those negative emotions result from complex thought processes, which are as widespread as they are illogical. Imagine, for example, the case of an inexperienced person who is appointed to a high position within a bank thanks to his family connections to the detriment of a much better-qualified candidate.

The Philosophy of Builders
How to stay emotionally healthy

What will be the feelings of the person who has seen his rightful expectations evaporate in a cloud of unfairness? On the one hand, irritation and perhaps anger. In addition, discouragement or even depression. Finally, envy, together with an overall sensation of futility. Let us examine in detail the thought sequence that generates these feelings:
  1. The open position should be filled with the most competent candidate.
  2. The people who will make the choice should strive to identify who the best candidate is.
  3. The selection should be made exclusively on the basis of rational criteria.
  4. People should display extra care when they make such crucial decisions.
  5. When someone makes important choices for an organization, he should not let himself be influenced by personal interests and family connections.
  6. Since I am the best-qualified candidate, I should obtain the appointment.
  7. If a less experienced person is selected for the job, that would constitute a terrible injustice.

The ideas described above seem irrefutable at first sight, but they fall apart if we subject them to rational examination. In reality, we all know that some people carry out their duties in an exemplary manner while others are as negligent as you can be. For every person who possesses a strong sense of justice, how many will you find who prefer to look the other way?

Viewing mistakes in perspective

Even if you happen to be the best-qualified individual for that particular job, how much of that is the result of luck anyway? If you are reading this, I bet that you have not been born in appalling poverty, deprived of access to basic education, and neglected by your parents to the point of near-starvation. Do take a minute to assess if at least part of your success is the result of pure coincidence or good fortune.

My point is not to state that everything is relative, which is not. Equally, I am not trying to tell you that you shouldn't have ambitions, which you should, by all means. What I am arguing is that envy, a deep feeling of misplaced disadvantage, is mostly a logical illusion.
When everything  fails, try this
The rational response

In a world where millions of people are ignorant, thoughtless, and driven by nefarious ethics, what sense does it make to focus on the unfairness of the day? Lamentations and wishful thinking can bring about certain psychological relief, but they are essentially a waste of resources.

The rational response to unfairness is not envy, but relentless action. Given sufficient time, intelligent persistence tends to weigh off the influences of inheritance and chance. In our example, the person who has not been chosen for the job would do better to put on a good face and start to look around, discreetly, for a better position for himself at a rival bank.

Your time on earth is limited and should be used promoting your own cause in front of rational, fair individuals. For what concerns other people's mistakes, prejudice, or arbitrariness, you will be better off if you shrug your shoulders and move on. In the long-term, life often has its own funny ways to settle accounts without your intervention.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living

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

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

Sunday, 28 September 2014

How to develop self-confidence by identifying promising opportunities

If you want to guarantee your personal safety, and that of your family and friends, the best you can do is to look for inspiration in the writings of a man who turned self-protection into his life purpose, a man who wrote thousands of pages explaining how people can avoid physical and intellectual predators. His name was Desiderius Erasmus, but he is better known as Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536).

In the first year of college, philosophy students are presented with the Latin citation “Homo hominis lupus,” which means “man is a wolf to other men.” This citation, which is commonly attributed to the English author Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), was actually first formulated by Erasmus of Rotterdam in the early 16th century. 

A compilation of effective principles

The theme of self-protection against all kinds of predators permeated Erasmus' work and life from beginning to end. In fact, one could summarise Erasmus' writings as an attempt to compile and formulate the principles of effective self-defence. 

Erasmus was the illegitimate son of a priest living in Gouda, a town located in the centre of Holland, and his mother the priest's housekeeper. After becoming pregnant, she left Gouda and retired to her parents' home in Rotterdam, where she gave birth to Erasmus in 1466.

Later on, she returned to the priest's house in Gouda, carrying the baby in her arms. Despite the fact of being an illegitimate child, Erasmus was then raised and educated by his parents. At an early age, he was taught by his father how to read, as well as the rudiments of Latin, but that was as much knowledge as he could receive at home.

When Erasmus turned nine years old, his father found him a place in a Latin school in Deventer, a Dutch town located a hundred kilometres east from Gouda, close to the German border. At the Latin school, Erasmus followed the classical curriculum in grammar, rhetoric, history, and arithmetic.

Rationality is the way to happiness  
Identify your most useful asset

From all the things he learned at school, Latin was by far the most useful. At that time in history, Latin was the lingua franca in Europe, the language written and spoken by cultivated individuals in all European countries, used in all public records and official correspondence.

Learned individuals in England, Italy, Germany, and France were all able to read Latin, and compose letters, although in relatively simple sentences. Bishops, priests, and even lowly monks and clerics, all possessed a reasonably good command of the language inherited from ancient Rome. 

Erasmus made a very good use of the years he spent in the Latin school. All in all, his education had consisted of learning Latin grammar, repeating aloud what Roman writers had composed a thousand years earlier, and translating paragraphs for their books.

Indeed, the methodology of Latin schools was based on learning by rote, however boring and suffocating that may sound. Nonetheless, the dispirited methodology did not prevent Erasmus from attaining excellence in writing and speaking Latin.

After he finished school, he spent five years as a private teacher, but after realizing that the only way to secure a steady income was to become a priest, he opted for pursuing a religious ordination. For this reason alone, Erasmus became a priest in 1492, shortly after his 26th birthday.
Escape unworkable situations

Nonetheless, it only took him four years to develop a profound abhorrence of the priestly condition, and return to a scholarly life. In 1496, Erasmus convinced his bishop to grant him a scholarship to study in Paris, where he happily settled down as a theology and philosophy student.

By that time, Erasmus had already managed to read a large number of books in Latin, and was familiar with most titles available in bishopric and monastic libraries in southern Holland. After his arrival in Paris, he expanded his reach thanks to the Sorbonne library, which housed the latest theological treatises written in France, Italy, and Spain. 

It had not taken long for Erasmus to realize that it was much more interesting to spend his life reading books and philosophizing than working as a priest in the Dutch countryside. In Paris, he met students from all over Europe, exchanged ideas with them, and conceived a plan for earning a living as an independent scholar. 

When Erasmus reflected about his possibilities of earning an income outside the Catholic Church, he came to the conclusion that his best asset was his knowledge of Latin. Unsurprisingly, since he had devoted fifteen years of his life to learning and practising Latin, orally and in writing, he regarded his linguistic skills as his most promising source of income.

Facing an enormous challenge

Nonetheless, his plan to earn an independent living represented a major leap of faith, since you have to realize that, in the late 15th century, most teachers and professors were appointed directly by the Catholic Church. Despite Erasmus' optimism, it was actually very difficult to earn a living as a self-standing scholar. 
Undaunted by the enormous challenge, Erasmus came up with a brilliant idea in his early thirties, an idea that would allow him to earn money as a writer, at the same time that he continued his higher education. 
During his studies, Erasmus had realized that most people's interest in Latin was limited to memorizing a few citations to add weight to their arguments, impress their colleagues, and mystify their friends. 
Even Catholic priests, who were supposed to know Latin fairly well, were often unable to understand complex sentences, even if they were always trying to show off by citing ancient Roman authors in front of ignorant peasants.

Rational living, rational working   
Take advantage of the trend

Realizing the popularity of Latin quotations, Erasmus conceived the project of compiling several hundred of them them in a volume. And since he had access to the Sorbonne library, one of the best in Europe, he rightly concluded that finding Latin citations was not going to be a problem.

All he had to do was to avail himself of paper, ink, and a feather, and copy Latin citations one after the other. And that's exactly what he did. Erasmus sat for two months in the Sorbonne library, copying as many Latin proverbs and citations as he could find. By the time he had finished, he had compiled eight hundred classical quotations, more than enough to fill a hundred-page book.

A year later, precisely at the turn of the 16th century, Erasmus succeeded in having his collection published under the title “Adages.” The volume quickly attained great success, and became a standard textbook in Latin schools and universities across Europe. 

The “Adages” went thorough three editions in Erasmus' lifetime. In the second one, published in 1508, he amplified the collection to three thousand citations, which he continued to expand until they reached four thousand in the third edition, published in 1536. The “Adages” quickly became a classic of European literature, even if the book was nothing but a list of citations without much order or explanation.

 A clear list of priorities

All his life, Erasmus was a lover and collector of books. His passion reached such an extent that, on many occasions, he would confess to his friends that books constituted his most treasured possession, and that if he had to choose between purchasing new clothes or new books, his mind was already made in favour of the latter.

The “Adages” provide intelligent, entertaining, and often paradoxical advice on various fields of human activity, but the major theme that dominates the collection is the theme of self-protection. If I was asked to summarize Erasmus' entire collection of proverbs in one sentence, I would say that the best way to protect your life, family, and possessions against predators of all kinds is to learn the principles of effective self-defence.

In a sense, Erasmus Latin citations are nothing but a summary of lessons drawn from other people's mistakes compiled for the purpose of teaching readers how to behave. The “Adages” refer in particular to mistakes made by individuals in ancient Rome and Greece, but the conclusions remain universally valid. 

I regard the “Adages” as a masterpiece of self-protection advice because its usefulness, broadness, and beautiful language. Indeed, not all recommendations made by Erasmus are consistent, but they have the advantage of covering many different situations, and providing profound insights about human nature. 

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living
[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

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

Consistency: The key to permanent stress relief

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Building self-confidence in a hostile environment

I am always amazed at people's willingness to believe nonsense. This willingness seems almost infinite, virtually universal, and does not know any limits or restrictions. How is it possible that millions of individuals endorse ideas that are manifestly false? Who is forcing them to adopt strategies that are obviously doomed to fail? This is not a rhetorical question, but a major practical issue. You have to realize that those who support false ideas are not only contributing to their own demise, but also causing trouble for other men and women.

When people find themselves in deep trouble, it is usually because they have made some large mistake in the past, a mistake that needs to be recognized and remedied. Of course, when someone finds himself enmeshed in deep problems, it is not the right moment to engage theoretical discussions and make unproven recommendations.

Before problems become overwhelming

Yet, if you wait until your problems become overwhelming, you run the risk of getting severely hurt, financially, physically, and psychologically. Unfortunately, people will all too often begin to address their concerns only after those have reached a critical level, and have become almost unmanageable.

It never ceases to astonish me that so many individuals are ignorant of the basic principles of self-protection, and instead, they prefer to adhere to invalid ideas that are convenient in the short term, but disastrous for the future.

It goes without saying that self-inflicted blindness never delivers good results. Waiting for catastrophes to happen, and then trying to reverse them is a horrible way to live. In contrast, wise men learned long ago that disasters should rather be avoided, dangers averted, and crises prevented.

If you ever find yourself in a critical situation, you have to employ your resources to overcome immediate threats, and at the same time, make sure that you draw the right conclusions from the story, and learn to protect yourself in the years to come.

When everything  fails, try this 

A hugely underrated discipline 

Self-protection is a hugely underrated discipline. When people speak about self-protection, they usually mean a set of skills for close physical combat, or the practice of martial arts such as judo or karate. Those are very narrow conceptions of self-defence, conceptions that render the term almost useless. If you limit the concept of self-defence to learning to fight in the street, you turn the whole idea into something ridiculously dangerous.

Besides, even if self-defence is crucially important to get you out of dire situations, it plays even a more critical role in helping you avoid those situations in the first place. When it comes to self-defence, the kind of expert that is worth listening to is precisely the one who never engages in physical combat because he systematically succeeds in avoiding aggressiveness.

You definitely don't want to learn self-defence from someone who spends his weekends quarrelling with drunkards, fighting juvenile gangs, or engaging in other kinds of irresponsible behaviour. Aggressive people should not be your role models for learning how to protect yourself.

The role model you need

Instead, you should be learning self-protection and conflict prevention from people who know how to stay out of trouble. The principles you can learn from those experts are going to help you stay safe, and overcome whatever problems you might be facing.

Conversely, the kind of expert that teaches you to kick your opponent between his legs is making you believe that it's a good idea to engage in physical combat with aggressive people. My contention is that such an approach to self-defence is not only impractical today, but suicidal in the long term.

Wise individuals do not conceive self-defence as a set of techniques for fighting at close range, but as the science of staying unharmed, no matter what. From this perspective, the best fighters are the ones who discourage enemies from attacking, and systematically steer out of trouble.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living

[Text: copyright John Vespasian, 2014]

[Image: photo taken by John Vespasian, 2014.]

The 10 Principles of Rational Living

Self-development against all odds

The 10 Principles of Rational Living
by John Vespasian 

In order to improve your life, you don't need to place your hopes on a lottery ticket or wait for the world to grant you the perfect opportunity. There is a better way and it is condensed in the principles of rational living, principles such as “think like an entrepreneur, not like a crusader,” “ignore the noise and focus on results,” “stay away from high-risk situations,” “find people who share your values,” and “develop strong long-term passions.” 

This book presents the principles of rational living in great detail, with numerous examples of people who have applied them successfully. The principles of rational living are sound ideas that can dramatically improve your life. Learn all about them and start applying them today.


1. Think like an entrepreneur, not like a crusader
A recipe for getting ahead in good and bad times
Debating and arguing are a waste of time
The true believer is the one who preaches by example
Entrepreneurs thrive on trouble and inconvenience
Unlike resources, opportunities are infinite

2. Ignore the noise and focus on results
If one road is blocked, take another
How to keep calm when you are surrounded by nonsense
The effective way to handle work overload
Learning from people who never feel discouraged
A proven strategy against career stagnation

3. Live inexpensively and invest for future income
Why the stock market offers the best opportunities
Common traits of great businessmen and investors
What kind of companies should you invest in?
A simple strategy is all you need
Adopt a realistic and practical approach

4. Choose a simple and healthy lifestyle
Don't just eat well, eat wonderfully
What is healthy, tasty, and easy to cook?
How to reduce everyday risks to your health
Eating healthily when you are travelling
Is it possible to slow down ageing?
Why it is so difficult to lead a simple life

5. Find people who share your values
Why you should ignore most of what you hear
The ugly duckling story repeats itself every day
Overcoming the resistance to changing jobs and relocating
Don't be original, be unique
Proven strategies for building great relationships
Would you recognize yourself in the crowd?

6. Listen to your emotions, but check the facts
Beware of exaggerated romantic tales
In dating and cooking, choose natural ingredients
How far are you willing to go for happiness?
Conflicting values lead to contradictory behaviour
The short distance between infatuation and obfuscation
Do not waste your best years pursuing unworkable ideals

7. Accept the inevitable hassles of life
Putting an end to exaggerated fears
Extreme reactions are foolish and wasteful
In praise of caution and circumspection
Can you remain self-confident in times of trouble?
How impatient people become stoic philosophers
Never grant problems more weight than they deserve

8. Stay away from high-risk situations
Death statistics make great bedtime reading
Tranquillity seldom comes cheap
Do not make an obsession of the perfect profession
Three situations that you should avoid like the pest
Every archer needs more than one arrow
The jungle never sleeps

9. Acquire effective habits
An hour has sixty minutes, a day twenty-four hours
In praise of staying behind
How a proactive attitude helps you overcome difficulties
Let go of the dead weight of prejudice
Smooth operators get more out of life
Personal effectiveness depends on patterns

10. Develop strong long-term passions
Comparing yourself with other people makes no sense
Don't drink the poison of contradiction
What heroes are made of
The myths of the single skill and the unique opportunity
Become tolerant of mistakes, since you will make so many
The link between integrity and passion

The 10 Principles of Rational Living
by John Vespasian