Saturday, 31 March 2018

Letting go of prejudice -- a prerequisite of fast personal growth

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You have to let go of prejudices that prevent you from developing your potential. You have to discard traditions that are not in line with current opportunities. We live in an era of abundant resources and unlimited possibilities, but those will remain unused if you allow prejudice to slow you down.

By throwing away ideas that do not work, you will open the door to realistic plans, workable solutions, and satisfactory results. Let us review briefly five widespread convictions that are at odds with reality.

1. The idea that the purpose of life is to serve other people.

The problem with this belief is that it is partly true. Interacting with other human beings and providing good service to them is highly rewarding. Men and women draw deep satisfaction from the gratitude of customers, patients, or clients.

On the other hand, helping strangers for the sake of achieving ethical perfection should not be taken to such an extreme that it destroys your life. Cost-effective service to customers can only be sustained permanently when it is provided commercially, that is, on a profit-making basis. Service rendered on the basis of personal sacrifice can be viable in some circumstances, but will face major difficulties in remaining operational in the long-term.

2. The idea that you need someone else's approval before you can improve your life.

Gregariousness is an essential component of the human psychology. We all love to be appreciated by friends and colleagues. On many occasions, honours and distinctions are as important as monetary rewards. Nevertheless, this is not the same as professing that individuals are incapable of affecting their destiny unless they have first obtained social approval.

In industrialised societies, personal initiative plays a determinant role in individual happiness. Innovation and change are disrupting traditional social structures, and we have to learn to cope with new challenges. It is no longer true that any person who deviates from standard behaviour will risks massive criticism and ostracism. Innovators frequently find psychological obstacles harder to overcome than lack of access to capital, but those obstacles can be surmounted if you work at them persistently.

3. The idea that you have to content yourself with your current situation.

Physical resources are indeed limited, but this fact should not prevent you from establishing ambitious goals for yourself. Money and other assets can be borrowed if you demonstrate that you can use them productively.

The global economy is a scenario where resources are continuously shifted from low- to high-productivity areas. Purpose and initiative play a crucial role in exploiting assets to the maximum. Innovative individuals are coming up with new business models, new uses for old technologies, and new ways to find customers for existing products. Even if material resources are limited, the only constrain to economic growth is human creativity.

4. The idea that you are too young or too old to improve your life.

Such restrictions never hold true overall, although they might apply to specific goals in certain contexts. For instance, learning to play the piano at an advanced age can be a lot of fun, but it will be difficult for a senior person to pursue a career as a pop artist.

Restrictions can often be lifted or circumvented by changing the context. Goals can be modified in order to pursue better opportunities. Personal limitations can inspire us to figure out more effective approaches to make or sell our products. Careers can be redefined. Professions can be re-shaped in order to serve clients in new, surprising ways.

5. The idea that you should give up because you really have no chance

Despite the fact that extraordinary achievements are reported daily by newspapers, few people possess the strength of character to pursue highly challenging goals. Psychologically, watching the outstanding performance of athletes on television is less menacing that starting up a business. Praising the latest film of our favourite actor feels less threatening than becoming a novelist. We do not mind being surpassed by those we have never met, but we dread the idea of taking risks in order to grow as persons.

Do no let those risks discourage you. Do not allow false ideas to paralyse you. There are opportunities enough out there for you to find the way. By using reason, prudence and persistence, you can immeasurably improve your life. Start today.


Image: photograph of classical painting -- photo taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

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Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Book review: "The Four Pillars of Health" by Dr Benjamin Page D.C.

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The best monographs are not those that contain only information, but those that convey readers a philosophy, a set of integrated ideas on how to improve one's life. The book of Dr Page falls amongst those that leave a philosophical imprint on readers, transmit practical knowledge, and at the same time, awaken the curiosity to learn more about the subject.

While most books on preventive or therapeutic medicine tend to adopt radical positions in one way or another (for example, "do not consume animal proteins"), Dr. Page's book shows an uncommonly realistic balance with solid scientific basis. It is the first time I read in a book about health, not only a description of how animals are treated in industrial farms, but also how to raise animals (in this case, free-range chickens) in a healthy, natural way.

The philosophy of individual responsibility that the book transmits is coming from afar. The author is a descendant of chiropractors. His grandfather was already a practitioner, and the book tells us how his desire to heal and help other people has been transmitted from generation to generation within the family.

The book provides practical advice gathered first-hand. When the author is describing how to organise a farm, he explains in detail the importance of dividing the area of ​​cultivation into five zones, planting herbs and vegetables near the house because those plants require frequent attention. It is obvious that the author has managed a farm itself, and that he knows what he is talking about.

The ideas presented in the book are rooted in a spirit of personal independence and self-sufficiency in the maintenance of one's health and well-being. It is a spirit that the author developed in his student days, and that he is now conveying convincingly, giving hands-on advice.

When Dr Page is writing that, in his daily life, he tries to go on foot whenever he can instead of using his car or public transportation, he is preaching with example. The same thing happens when he is telling us about his morning routine that includes a period of meditation, and drinking a herbal infusion. These are examples that every reader can immediately follow.

Another part of the book that is also providing immediately applicable advice is the chapter on sleep, and on the impact that daily rest has on one's health. Chiropractors are specialists in the nervous system, and they know how to handle psycho-somatic conditions. They know precisely what we have to do in order to improve our sleeping habits.

The book chapters that are dealing with a bad bodily posture (a sign of incipient or present disease) and a bad spiritual posture (what we say to ourselves when we are incorrectly interpreting reality) are providing readers with the necessary guidelines to address those problems, although making it clear that, in severe cases, the help of a specialist is necessary.

While the book begins by graphically describing the life of a sick person (tired, overwhelmed, disoriented), it ends up in an optimistic tone by talking about positive stress (eu-stress), and how it differs from detrimental stress. Dr Page is emphasising the importance of a positive internal dialogue as a basis for a healthy, happy and balanced life. A very interesting book for anyone who wants to take a step forward in his health and well-being.


Image: cover of the book "The Four Pillars of Health" by Dr Benjamin Page D.C.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

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Here are the links to three audio interviews just published:

Friday, 9 March 2018

A comparison between the three main theories of happiness

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From all branches of philosophy, ethics is the most practical. Values connect abstractions to decisions, and morality provides guidelines to surmount difficult situations and achieve happiness. It goes without saying that ethical systems are worthless if they are not aligned with reality and validated by facts.

History has produced hundreds of different ethical teachings that work well in specific circumstances but fail catastrophically in other contexts. Fortunately, by grouping those philosophies in three main categories, we can see if they pass the tests of veracity and practicality without having to examine them one by one. For the purpose of analysis, ethical systems can be grouped in three main types: the partial, the logical, and the teleological.

1. Fragmentary ethics

Fragmentary ethics consist of precepts that are not comprehensive enough to constitute a system of thought. The vast majority of ethical convictions held by people can be classified as partial ethics.

Let me underline that moral principles enunciated in this manner are not necessarily false. Sometimes, flawless albeit incomplete guidelines are predicated; on other occasions, utter nonsense is put forward as an ethical precept.

As examples of two well-meaning commandments, take for instance "protect the planet" and "help other people." Individuals who advocate such ethics will usually possess good intentions, but their formulations are so fragmentary that cannot be implemented consistently.

If you want to protect the planet, you have first to define "planet." Does it involve only animals and trees, or also insects and mountains? If the concept encompasses all living entities, should it not include human beings first and foremost ? And if plants and insects are both part of the planet, should you be protecting them from each other? Interesting questions, for which partial ethics cannot provide consistent answers.

If your only ethical principle is to help other people, how do you determine which individuals you should be helping with priority? If person A is expected to help person B, is person B then required to help person A? What happens if B has a different opinion? Who will settle disagreements on the meaning and scope of the word "help"?

Partial ethics are unsatisfactory because they do not work in all circumstances. Principles such as those mentioned above are correct if applied in a certain context, but cannot be stretched to a full-blown system of morality. Life is too complex to navigate if you know only one thing. Man requires an all-encompassing thinking methodology, an integrated formula for happiness, not just a few unconnected precepts.

2. Logical ethics

Logical systems of ethics represent a major step forward in human thought. Their purpose is to create a morality that answers all questions, a method that can be applied to all events without incurring contradictions. In history, partial ethics have often evolved into logical moral systems after it became obvious that man cannot make good decisions on the basis of isolated precepts.

In contrast to partial ethics, logical moral systems are consistent. Their principles and guidelines are linked to each other. Their conclusions aim at universality in space and permanence in time. A well-rounded moral system should be able to guide individuals in any situation they may encounter in their private or professional lives.

The "categorical imperative" originated by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is the best known system of logical ethics. According to Kant, true principles of morality must be universal, non-contradictory, and recognizable by reason. Decisions and actions are considered virtuous only if they can be elevated to universal rules for all men.

"Do not steal" and "do not murder" are two specific applications of the categorical imperative. Kantian ethics do not address only a few situations; they aim at covering all possible alternatives in human action. Logical ethical systems do not give recommendations only for isolated cases; they aim at providing a complete thinking methodology valid in all possible situations.

Nonetheless, logical morality systems suffer from a major weakness. Although they are superior to partial ethics because they are consistent, their consistency does not guarantee their usefulness. Kantian morality is an intellectual clockwork foreign to the richness of human experience; it is a cold machinery that functions without feelings, ambitions, passions, or hesitations.

Categorical imperatives rightly forbid us to aggress against our neighbour, but they don't tell us what we need to do in order to be happy. Logical systems of ethics fail to address the psychological aspects of human action. Kantian morality does not provide us with guidelines on how to define our goals, allocate our resources, and deal effectively with adversity.

3. Teleological ethics

Teleological systems of ethics are the best that philosophy has produced. On the one hand, they go beyond the isolated commandments of partial morality; on the other hand, they aim at providing a comprehensive and consistent methodology, just like logical ethics. In addition, teleological systems are rendering morality useful by linking ethical principles to happiness, which they view as the overriding goal of ethics.

The word "teleological" comes from the Greek "telos," which means "purpose or goal." Advanced systems of ethics go far beyond "do not steal" and "do not murder." They view the human condition as a combination of complex factors that need to be judged according to general values, and prioritized according to individual objectives.

A teleological morality based on reason provides a frame of thought that encompasses all our decisions and actions. This system of ethics aims not only at keeping us out of trouble, but also at helping us make the best of our life. The list of teleological virtues includes not only honesty and justice, but also independence, ambition and persistence.

If you want to make optimal choices, you should adopt a teleological system of ethics based on reason. Other approaches to morality will work in certain conditions, but fail to pass the tests of universality, permanence, consistency and comprehensiveness.


Image: photograph of classical painting -- photo taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

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Here is the link to an audio interview just published:

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Our endless search for safety -- and the value of flexibility, alertness and entrepreneurship

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Prosperity and happiness would be easier to achieve if we made safe decisions all day long. Imagine how efficient we would become if we never succumbed to seductive lies; how far we could go if we never got distracted by irrelevancies; how much we could profit if we never wasted time chasing impossible goals. The question is whether we can consistently ensure making such safe decisions.

Yet, an exalted view of safety can be a constant source of mistakes. Human beings seem to suffer from an ingrained cognitive distortion that makes them favour all things that are tall, wide, and long. If you think about it, you will find few exceptions to this distortion.

The groundless preference for tall, wide, and long applies equally to space and time. In cities, most people prefer to live in tall buildings rather than in small houses. In the countryside, hotels are built next to wide lakes, not little streams. In literature, most readers prefer long novels to short stories.

Our belief in safety is the culmination of our bias towards everything tall, wide, and long. We long for safety and solidity whenever, wherever we can. Children stories such as Three Little Pigs are teaching infants the desirability of solid homes. Career advisers tend to encourage youths to choose well-established professions. Dietitians will routinely recommend clients to err on the side of safety.

A better answer

However, more often than not, the safe answer is going to prove wrong. Safety is presented as the perfect answer to all questions, the solution to all problems, the meal that always satisfies. A temporary approach will be often considered unwise on principle. Anything transient is to be distrusted. Anything incomplete is to be viewed with suspicion.

Long live the mirage of permanence and safety, even if it is wrong and historically false. The truth is that human beings have been leading predictable lives since only ten thousand years ago -- since the inception of agriculture. During a ten-times larger period, during the time before agriculture, men and women had few routines --and were, in some respects, much better off.

Prehistoric hunter-gatherers used to move around frequently, carrying their household with them. A varied diet and daily exercise were keeping them healthy. Since tribes would rarely stay long in one place, they were difficult targets for parasites and predators.

In those days, man lived on the alert. Since the world was unsafe and disorderly, man's attitude was entrepreneurial. Each season brought him new challenges, each territory new scents. To danger, man reacted with prudence -- and to opportunities, with courage and self-reliance.

The concept of safety only made its entrance in human society with the inception of agriculture. Land cultivation and animal domestication brought humans a steady supply of wheat, rice, corn, milk and cheese. On the other hand, a sedentary life also brought humanity smallpox, influenza, malaria, measles, lice, and vermin.

As soon as human beings began to build permanent dwellings, rats became their companions. Insects multiplied, feeding on domesticated animals. Bacteria found a fertile ground to grow, and viruses nested and mutated. Sickness turned to epidemics, and disease to morbidity.

Safety possesses a downside of which many people choose to remain unaware until it is too late. Routine has advantages, but it can render you blind to innovation. Predictability has benefits, but it can make you passive. Steadiness has its charms but it can make you forget to enjoy the present moment.

Viewing safety as desirable at all costs can deprive you of independence. An exaggerated search for safety can overrule your perception of reality. If you long for safety too strongly, you will develop tunnel vision. Do not let your flexibility and entrepreneurship wane -- If you stay alert, change will never find you unprepared.


Image: photograph of ancient sculpture -- photo taken by John Vespasian, 2014.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

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Here are the links to five audio interviews just published:

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

How to make highly likely that good things will happen to you

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If you are prepared, good things will happen to you. Closed doors will open, opportunities will materialise, and jobs will become available. Preparedness brings not only material benefits, but also psychological ones such as self-reliance, a highly desirable trait.

Through education, apprehensive kids can become stars. Through training, people who are fearful of every shadow can learn to thrive in new challenges. Through preparation, men who used to be suspicious of every innovation can make themselves supremely confident.

We should all welcome means and ideas that help us face life courageously. While despair can make people retreat into disaffected tunnels, self-reliance can motivate them to figure out the shortest way to attain their objectives.

Look farther ahead

Training and education, reading and learning, enable us to see farther ahead. Preparedness helps us build the conviction that achievement is possible, and success within reach. The ability to look ahead with confidence give us an extra advantage. While some people are so afraid to slip that they keep their eyes focused on the ground, individuals with vision will continue to prepare themselves, and reinforce their self-confidence.

How long does it take for a person to learn to turn defeats into victories? While in the eyes of worried men, achievement is a receding point in the horizon, rational individuals will keep pursuing their objectives relentlessly. Since they know that ambitious goals will always involve difficult obstacles, they just keep trudging forward day after day.

If you talked to elderly men in the late twentieth century, you must have heard how they returned from World War II without any savings, sometimes physically or mentally wounded, and had to rebuild their lives from scratch. They trusted their ability to find opportunities, start families, build houses, accumulate wealth, and lead a happy existence.

The only way those men knew was the way forward. Each step was preparing them for the next. What they learnt one day, they put in practice the next. Training was done on the job. On many occasions, they resorted to evening education to get the knowledge they needed to move ahead. Their self-confidence was the result of their willingness to absorb new information.

Mental resilence

Preparedness helps individuals overcome shyness and develop mental resilience. A man who has acquired specific skills has been, at the same time, training himself to deal calmly and successfully with obstacles. Rationality enhances our capacity to solve problems and overcome life's perils.

Developing an active mind enables us to surmount adversity and avert danger. Self-reliance help us  assess risks prudently, and discard exaggerated fears. Preparedness and education, either formal or self-acquired, are going to reinforce our creativity. Imagination and innovation are characteristics of rational men. Those faculties are unknown to people living in ignorance and fear.

When things go wrong, unreasonable men will always blame the world. In contrast, obstacles are going to prompt self-confident individuals to reassess their options, choose the best alternative, and redouble their efforts. While ignorant people tend to see adversity as final, prepared individuals will view obstacles as manageable, and mistakes as part of the learning process.

Fertile ground

Trees planted on fertile ground will keep growing year in, year out. Learning and education constitute the fruitful ground where our self-confidence can take root. The conviction that new knowledge can be acquired and mastered is crucial to motivating us to further achievements.

Self-reliance is going to enable us to try new approaches, and ensure our long-term success. By the time a cautious person begins to move, a fearless innovator has already gone through a whole cycle of failure, recovery, and improvement.

In all fields, learning is going to involve errors, usually lots of them, until you acquire the expertise necessary to achieve your objectives. Self-confidence will help you not to pay too much attention to occasional failures. Resilience will prevent your doubts from ever turning into paralysis.

Mistakes are part of the learning curve in any endeavour, whether private or professional. Detailed, valuable knowledge needs to be acquired through experience. Trial and error will only build your self-confidence further. If you keep preparing yourself for life's challenges, it's only a matter of time before you'll see the tide turn in your favour.


Image: photograph by John Vespasian, 2015.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here are the links to two audio interviews just published: