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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Take a walk with me

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With Aicha A new year comes filled with new possibilities. What kind of type are you, dear reader; the one who says that ”the glass is half empty” or ”the glass is half full”? No one knows anything about the future, we can have an idea of what will happen but we don’t know for certain. Does that fill you with anxiety or anticipation? If you are the ”glass is half empty” type you might have lost hope even before you have started anything new. You tell yourself that there is no use of trying because you know that it is not going to work anyway. Maybe you have parts of your life that needs to be changed for the better, but ”you know what you have but you don’t know what you will get” so it is better to stay put. You will look at others and more or less live your life through them. If ”the others” have made mistakes by trying something new you will shake your head and tell yourself that if they would have asked you about the result you could have told them in advance. You live your life the way it has always been because then you at least are familiar with it even if you don’t like it. Does this sound very depressing? Ok, let’s look at it from another angle; the ”glass is half full” angle. The amount of water in the glass is the same, but the difference is your approach. You see possibilities, you see that there is still room for putting more water in the glass. You don’t lament the fact that somehow the glass is not filled to the brim, no, you look at the emptiness as a grand opportunity to fill it with something new. What that ”new” might be is individual, it depends of course on your circumstances, but you don’t need to turn your world upside down to create something new. Creating something new in your well known life can be as easy as taking one step back and look at things from a different angle. Creativity doesn’t cost you anything, it is only a matter of an open mind and an ability to find new solutions to old problems. If there is something you wish to change, but you don’t know how, ask someone who knows and then try on your own. For those of you who like to spend some time on Internet – skip the silly games or chatting about unnecessary things. Use your time to look at tutorials on Youtube, you can’t imagine how much you can learn there! You can learn everything from building houses, growing your own vegetables, sewing clothes or playing the guitar. Get inspiration from others and find your own way of making things you like. Do you know for example that if you want to grow tomatoes, but you don’t know where to buy seeds, that you can buy one tomato, slice it and put the slices in a pot of topsoil. Spread some topsoil over the slices and water it. Soon you will see small green sprouts begin to grow. If you need more space for the plants you can carefully take them out of the pot, divide the plants and put them in some new topsoil. After a while, you will have your own fresh tomatoes without almost any cost. You will find tutorials about this on Youtube and I can tell you that in time you will become addicted to them. There are so many interesting things to learn, the sky is the limit. Why I tell you about growing tomatoes is because I wanted to give you one example to show that you don’t need a lot of money to invest in new things. Your own ketchup factory might start with some slices of tomato in a pot of soil. The picture on the top of this column comes with a quote from a Chinese philosopher named Confucius, born in China 551 BC. ”It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop” What is it telling you? Is it speaking about a stroll on the beach and you walk until your feet bleed? No, of course not, it goes deeper than that. Confucius was a wise man who in time got many followers, even after his death. Confucius was a deep thinker, a man who spread a message about how to live life and that message is still valued. For those of you, dear readers, who are familiar with the Bible, you have heard about the Golden Rule. One of Confucius’ teachings was a variant of the Golden Rule called the Silver Rule owing to its negative form: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.” Zi Gong [a disciple] asked: “Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?” The Master replied: “How about ‘reciprocity’! Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” Analects XV. 24, tr. David Hinton Confucius puts the greatest emphasis on the importance of study. Far from trying to build a systematic or formalist theory, he wanted his disciples to master and internalise older classics, so that their deep thought and thorough study would allow them to relate the moral problems of the present to past political events or the past expressions of commoners’ feelings and noblemen’s reflections. One of the deepest teachings of Confucius may have been the superiority of personal exemplification over explicit rules of behaviour. His moral teachings emphasised self-cultivation, emulation of moral exemplars, and the attainment of skilled judgment rather than knowledge of rules. Confucian ethics may, therefore, be considered a type of virtue ethics. His teachings rarely rely on reasoned argument, and ethical ideals and methods are conveyed indirectly, through allusion, innuendo and repetition. Hmm…..allusion and innuendo were two words I needed to look up in a dictionary, I admit that. Not my choice of words but it is always interesting to learn some new words and add them to my vocabulary. Confucius is a historical teacher who made a huge imprint on Chinese people and the Chinese society. He has followers among the intellectuals until this day. I pray that I will be able to make at least some small imprint on my pupils, a prayer I think all of teachers are sending to God especially in these days when it feels like nothing is going right. All of us teachers struggle with our own hardships; it may be a lack of school material, low salaries or lack of discipline in the classes. Some of us are highly educated, others are not but they have learned a lot by studying on their own. A teacher who is passionate about his or her subject can make miracles, even without a fancy diploma. Often overlooked in Confucian ethics are the virtues to the self: sincerity and the cultivation of knowledge. Virtuous action towards others begins with virtuous and sincere thoughts, which begins with knowledge. A virtuous disposition without knowledge is susceptible to corruption, and virtuous action without sincerity is not true righteousness. Cultivating knowledge and sincerity is also important for one’s own sake; the superior person loves learning for the sake of learning and righteousness for the sake of being righteous. Let’s stay for a while at one part of the sentences above: ”A virtuous disposition without knowledge is susceptible to corruption…” What does that mean? If you are virtuous you should be as far away from corruption as possible, won’t you say? How can you be virtuous and corrupt at the same time? Well, what Confucius is telling us is that we must always be sincere in our thoughts and base our thoughts and actions on knowledge. We can’t just tell ourselves that we are virtuous, we must have thought it through and asked ourselves what it is to be truly virtuous. We must learn from others, have great role models and study to really finding out what it is to be virtuous and live that way. It must shine through our actions, as you know ”actions speaks louder than words.” If we wouldn’t base our virtuousness on knowledge, and instead wear it like a mask, we could easily be fooled to wrongdoings because of our vanity. What does vanity have to do with virtuousness, you might ask. Well, just look at my favourite example of bad behaviour – Donald Trump – and you will see how far vanity will take you. President Trump is well known for not being well educated, but he has the highest thoughts of himself. He is very vain and he thinks of himself as a virtuous person. From time to time, we have seen photos of him, in his office in the White house, where pastors and others surround him. These people, together with Donald Trump, appear to be praying. They stand there with their hands on their hearts, or on Donald Trump’s shoulders, deeply in prayer. Donald Trump loves to speak about himself as being a good Christian and here it is time to get back to the expression ”Action speaks louder than words.” Splitting up families at the Mexican border, jailing the children somewhere far away from their parents not knowing when or if they will ever see each other again. Are these the actions of a virtuous person? Shooting with tear gas over the wall at the Mexican border so that mothers and babies have to flee for their safety. Is that an action of a virtuous person? Interfering in a war here or threatening a despot who can easily start a nuclear war there. Is that an action of a virtuous person? You and I know that the answer is NO on all three questions, but still Donald Trump is responsible for these actions and believes he is virtuous. People who surround him know how to handle him and his vanity. They pull the right strings and make the ”puppet” walk and talk. Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand that he is a puppet and that someone is pulling his strings. It doesn’t matter how much he believes about himself that he is virtuous, he doesn’t own the knowledge that being virtuous is not only a matter of praying with your eyes closed or making the correct gestures – it is a way of living. My mind has been on a long walk, from China to The Gambia via USA. I am a bit lazy on taking walks, maybe that should be my promise for the new year. My ”problem” is (besides the laziness), there are always new books to read and new articles to write. I wish to thank all my readers for joining me on my round-tours in the worlds of psychology, philosophy, theology and so many others places we have explored together. Let our minds continue walking together and let us never stop. Happy New Year!]]>

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