Prentice Mulford on Force

Force is the element which drives away fear. It is the element which gives you tact and address. As you increase it, you can stand and assert yourself before those who in the past have browbeaten you, bullied you, and overcome you by force of stronger will tyrannically exercised. This is the power constantly used against those who are trying to get up in the world. No matter how good, how amiable, how well-disposed you are toward others, if you lack force, if you lack the ability to assert yourself or get justice, if your wits are driven out of you temporarily by a snub, a frown, a sneer, you cannot succeed in the world; you cannot have that to which you are justly entitled. Force is that quality or element which, in case you receive a sudden shock, a misfortune, an unexpected failure, causes you quickly to rally, get yourself together again, forget all the trouble, in new efforts to push ahead. In the physical world there will always be accidents and failures. Houses will decay or burn; business may not succeed for a time according to our hopes; friends may prove wanting in the season of need. Trials must come in every phase of life, until they cease to be trials through your growing force. What now may be to you as mountains will in the future , through getting more force, be but as mole-hills. You may not today fear the person or thing which in your childhood was a terror to you Why? Because you have more force, more wisdom; and wisdom and force mean the same thing. But wisdom is seeing by the mind’s eye. It is not the knowing or holding in memory of a store of assertions or opinions gathered from books or men.

–Prentice Mulford, The Gift of Understanding

Alain de Botton on Love and Relationships

Krista Tippett Interviews Alain de Botton:

What if the first question we asked on a date were, “How are you crazy? I’m crazy like this”? Philosopher and writer Alain de Botton’s essay “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” was, amazingly, the most-read article in The New York Times in the news-drenched year of 2016. As people and as a culture, he says, we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. How might our relationships be different — and better — if we understood that the real work of love is not in the falling, but in what comes after?

Mr. Alain de Botton: We must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love, that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage as the creatures we are. It’s no fault of mine or no fault of yours; it’s to do with being human. And the more generous we can be towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.

Ms. Tippett: Alain de Botton is the founder and chairman of The School of Life, a gathering of courses, workshops, and talks on meaning and wisdom for modern lives, with branches around the world. He first became known for his book How Proust Can Change Your Life. His latest book is a novel, The Course of Love.

Ms. Tippett: So, we did speak a few years ago, but on a very different topic, and I’m really excited to be speaking with you about this subject, which is so close to every life. And as I’ve prepared for this, I’ve realized that you’ve actually — I knew that you’d written the novel On Love a long time ago, but you’ve really been consistently attending to this subject and building your thoughts on it and your body of work on it, which is really interesting to me. You wrote On Love at the age of 23, which is so young. And you were already thinking about this so deeply. I think this is the first line: “Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over knowledge.”

Mr. de Botton: Well, I think what’s striking is that our idea of what love is, our idea of what is normal in love is so not normal.

Ms. Tippett: Is so abnormal. Right.

Mr. de Botton: So abnormal. And so we castigate ourselves for not having a normal love life, even though no one seems to have any of these.

Ms. Tippett: Or not have been loved perfectly.

Mr. de Botton: Right, right. So we have this ideal of what love is and then these very, very unhelpful narratives of love. And they’re everywhere. They’re in movies and songs. And we mustn’t blame songs and movies too much. But if you say to people, “Look, love is a painful, poignant, touching attempt by two flawed individuals to try and meet each other’s needs in situations of gross uncertainty and ignorance about who they are and who the other person is, but we’re going to do our best,” that’s a much more generous starting point.

So, the acceptance of ourselves as flawed creatures seems to me what love really is. Love is at its most necessary when we are weak, when we feel incomplete, and we must show love to one another at those points. So we’ve got these two contrasting stories, and we get them muddled, and…

Ms. Tippett: And also — and I feel like this should be obvious — but you just touched on art and culture and how that could help us complexify our understanding of this. And one of the things you point out about When Harry Met Sally or Four Weddings and a Funeral, one of the things that’s wrong with all of that is that they — a lot of these just take us up to the wedding. They take us through the falling and don’t see that — I think you’ve written somewhere — and you’ve said, “A wiser culture than ours would recognize that the start of a relationship is not the high point that romantic art assumes; it is merely the first step of a far longer, more ambivalent, and yet quietly audacious journey on which we should direct our intelligence and scrutiny.”

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. We are strangely obsessed by the run up to love. And what we call a love story is really just the beginning of a love story, but we leave that out. But most of us, we’re interested in long-term relationships. We’re not just interested in the moment that gets us into love; we’re interested in the survival of love over time.

Ms. Tippett:  A lot of what you are pointing at, the work of loving over a long span of time, is inner work, right? [laughs] And it would be hard to film that. But I’m very intrigued by how you talk about the Ancient Greeks and their “pedagogical” view of love.

Mr. de Botton: That’s fascinating, because one of the greatest insults that you can level at a lover in the modern world apparently is to say, “I want to change you.” The Ancient Greeks had a view of love which was essentially based around education, that what love means — love is a benevolent process whereby two people try to teach each other how to become the best versions of themselves.

Ms. Tippett: Right. You say somewhere they are committed to “increasing the admirable characteristics” that they possess and the other person possesses.

Mr. de Botton: That’s right.

Ms. Tippett: Your most recent book on this subject is The Course of Love, which is a novel, but it’s a novel that actually I feel you kind of weave a pedagogical narrator voice into it. Do you think that’s fair?

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. Absolutely.

Ms. Tippett: Woven into the narrative. And you say, at one point, this is the relationship between Rabih and Kirsten. And you said, at one point, “Their relationship is secretly yet mutually marked by a project of improvement,” which I think we all recognize. And then there’s this moment where you say, “After the dinner party, Rabih is sincerely trying to bring about an evolution in the personality of the wife he loves. But his chosen technique is distinctive: to call Kirsten materialistic, to shout at her, and then, later, to slam two doors.” [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: That’s right.

Ms. Tippett: And we all recognize that scene. [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: [laughs] By the time we’ve humiliated someone, they’re not going to learn anything. The only conditions — as we know with children, the only conditions under which anyone learns are conditions of incredible sweetness, tenderness, patience. That’s how we learn. But the problem is that the failures of our relationships have made us so anxious that we can’t be the teachers we should be. And therefore, some often genuine legitimate things that we want to get across are just — come across as insults, as attempts to wound, and are therefore rejected, and the arteries of the relationship start to fur.

Ms. Tippett: Someone recently said to me — I’m curious about how you would respond to this. It was a wise Jewish mother who had said to them, “Men marry women with the intention that they — with the idea that they will the stay the same. Women marry men with the idea that they will change.” Which is obviously a huge generalization. But gosh, it made a lot of sense to me, even in terms of my own life and in terms of what I see around me.

Mr. de Botton: Yeah. I would argue that both genders want to change one another, and they both have an idea of who the lover should be. And I think a useful exercise that sometimes psychologists level at feuding couples is they say things like, “If you could accept that your partner would never change, how would you feel about that?”

Sometimes pessimism, a certain degree of pessimism can be a friend of love. Once we accept that actually it’s really very hard for people to be another way, we’re sometimes readier. We don’t need people to be perfect is the good news. We just need people to be able to explain their imperfections to us in good time, before they’ve hurt us too much with them, and with a certain degree of humility. That’s already an enormous step.

Ms. Tippett: It’s a lot to ask, but it’s so — it’s also — it’s sounds reasonable, right? If we could really have that in our minds early enough on in a relationship.

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. And almost from the first date. My view of what one should talk about on a first date is not showing off and not putting forward one’s accomplishments, but almost quite the opposite. One should say, “Well, how are you crazy? I’m crazy like this.” There should be a mutual acceptance that two damaged people are trying to get together because pretty much all of us — there are a few totally healthy people — but pretty much all of us reach dating age with some scars, some wounds.

And sometimes, we bring to adult relationships some of the same hope that a young child might’ve had of their parent. And of course, an adult relationship can’t be like that. It’s got to accept that the person across the table or on the other side of the bed is just human, which means full of flaws, fears, etc., and not some sort of superhuman.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. And I think that question that you said could be a standard question on an early date — “And how are you crazy?” — there’s also something that you’re getting at that — it almost seems like we must be hardwired to do this. Although, one of the wonderful things we’re learning in the 21st century is that we can change our brains. But a way you say it in On Love, in a scene in On Love is — boy meets girl, and they — you start to be enamored in details of this new person and find things in common like — I don’t know — “both of us had two large freckles on the toe of the left foot.”

And then you wrote, “Instinctively” — and this happens very quickly — “he teases out an entire personality from the details.” But also, what I know from my own life is you tend to — I think we — when we fall in love with another person, we magnify in our minds those things that are immediately enrapturing and craft our idea of the other person almost exclusively around those wonderful qualities, which is not fair to them or to us. [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. And we feel in a way that we know them already, and we impose on them an idea…

Ms. Tippett: And of course, we don’t. Right.

Mr. de Botton: We don’t. We don’t. Which also explains another phenomenon that I’m fascinated by — you probably would’ve noticed in both novels — is the phenomenon of being in a sulk, of sulking. Because sulking is a fascinating situation which takes you right into the heart of certain romantic delusions. Because what’s fascinating about sulking is that we don’t sulk with everybody. We only get into sulks with people that we feel should understand us, but rather unforgivably, haven’t understood us.

So in other words, it’s when we are in love with people and they’re in love with us that we take particular offense when they get things wrong. Because the kind of the governing assumption of the relationship is, this person should know what’s in my mind ideally without me needing to tell them.

If I need to spell this out to you, you don’t love me. And that’s why you’ll go into the bathroom, bolt the door, and when your partner says, “Is anything wrong?” You’ll go, “Mm-mm.” And the reason is they should be able to read through the bathroom panel into your soul and know what’s wrong. And that’s such an extraordinary demand.

Read more here

Krista Tippett is an American journalist, author, and entrepreneur. She created and hosts the public radio program and podcast On Being

Alain de Botton, FRSL is a Swiss-born British philosopher and author. His books discuss various contemporary subjects and themes, emphasizing philosophy’s relevance to everyday life

The Emotion Police – Agnes Callard

If you tell me to calm down, I probably won’t. The same goes for: “be reasonable,” “get over it already,” “you’re overreacting,” “it was just a joke,” “it’s not such a big deal.” When someone minimizes my feelings, my self-protective reflexes kick in. My body, my mind, my job, my interests, my talents—these are all “mine”—but nothing has quite the power to declare itself as “mine” as a passionate emotion does. When waves of anger or love or grief wash over me, that emotion feels like life itself. It wells up from an innermost core, like my voice, which it usually inflects. And so if you move to tamp it down, I parry by shutting you out: I erect walls around my sanctum sanctorum, to shield the flame of my passion—my life—from your soul-quenching intrusions. Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot feel?!

Now imagine a much more ambitious intervention—someone who doesn’t just want to quench some particular bout of anger or grief, but to put an end to anger or grief, simpliciter. Who could possibly have the gall to tell the entire human race what it should and should not feel? Philosophers, that’s who! Philosophers have been legislating emotional life since the time of the Stoics, and the newest vanguard of the movement is currently at work right under your noses. Allow me to introduce you to the Emotion Police.

First we have Rüdiger Bittner, a philosopher at Bielefeld University in Germany, arguing for the wholesale elimination of regret.[1] Sure, Bittner concedes, you should acknowledge that you did something wrong if you have, do what you can to rectify the situation and commit to future improvement—but what’s the point of feeling bad about it? Psychological pain clouds your judgment and misdirects your energies; there’s no sense in adding a second, unnecessary pain to the wrong already done: “double misery, the second for the sake of the first.”

Second, my University of Chicago colleague Martha Nussbaum, the philosopher and public intellectual, attacks anger—and not only the irrational, unjustified, vengeful kind.[2] Or rather, she thinks that all anger is, in the last analysis, of just that kind. Anger, she writes, is “always normatively problematic” in that it disposes one to seek payback, or to raise one’s status relative to the wrongdoer. Like Bittner, she thinks one should come to a calm, rational understanding of the wrong done, and then, filled with hopeful anticipation, take positive steps towards redress and prevention.

Third, Stephen Wilkinson, a philosopher at Lancaster University in the U.K., argues that the grief we feel at, for example, the death of a loved one fits the DSM-4 characterization of a mental disorder: “First, it involves pain or suffering. Secondly, it involves some kind of incapacity, or interruption of normal functioning.”[3] Grieving people are not productive members of society: they do not experience or generate value. And, just to that extent, there is something wrong with them.

Fourth, Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale, has written a book against empathy.[4]Yes, someone can be opposed to empathy; Against Empathy is the actual title of the book, the funniest line of which is Bloom’s comment on another author’s book: “His book is called Against Fairness. (Not to pick on Asma here, but can you imagine a more obnoxious title?)”

Bloom argues that “the exercise of empathy makes the world worse, [and] that it leads to more suffering and less thriving,” in comparison to rational, unsentimental do-good-ing.  Empathy is unfair; it is partial; it clouds our judgment. Bloom mines his own experience for evidence: “My worst moments as a father aren’t when I don’t care; they’re when I care too much, when I cannot disengage from my children’s frustration or pain.”

Satisfying all four philosophers at once requires following one simple rule:

The Simple Rule: Anytime you are grieving, or angry, or pained by regret, or suffused with empathy: calm down, quench your passion, ignore what you feel, be rational and productive instead.

That might strike you as crazy, but one doesn’t reject philosophical arguments solely on the basis of their conclusions. These four thinkers rightly point to the variety of ways in which negative emotions turn our lives upside down, make us miserable and divert us from pursuing what is good. To be violently angry with one’s mother is for that relationship not to be in a fully healthy state—this much seems true. The difficulty is that terms like “health” and “sickness” often have a double meaning.

Consider a fever. Having a fever means you are sick, unhealthy, not functioning at your maximum. But a fever is also a healthy response—to the presence of a bacterial infection in the body. If you didn’t have a fever under those circumstances, you’d be really sick. Likewise: bleeding. To bleed is to be in an unhealthy condition, but if you have a cut it would be a mark of even more serious illness not to bleed. Physically speaking, there is such a thing as a healthy way of being unhealthy; likewise, emotionally speaking, there is such a thing as a good way of being bad. This has a whiff of illogic about it, to be sure, but I suspect the ultimate culprit is the imperfectly logical character of life itself.

Consider, for example, anger. We are not perfect; we let each other down. When we do, anger gives us a halfway point between the joy of harmonious union and the indifference of permanent disunion. Anger is how love survives the bumps and bruises of innocent misunderstandings and the gashes and lesions of less innocent betrayals and disappointments. Anger is precious as fevers are: without them, the road from infection to death would be much shorter. The same basic argument applies to regret, empathy and grief—yes, they are ways of being psychologically wounded; and no, that is not a bad thing. When invulnerability is not in the cards, vulnerability can be a form of health.

But I am torn here. Although I can’t get on board with the Simple Rule, in spirit I am very much with Team Emotion Police. What is even the point of doing public philosophy if you don’t get to tell people what to think, do and feel? So I propose a new target—an emotion that is all bathwater, no baby. I suggest we philosophers adopt a united front in opposition to the emotion of hatred. Hatred has no redeeming qualities. It is a bad way of being bad. We should excise it from the human soul.

Philosophical surgery, like all other forms of philosophy, should begin with definitions. Here goes: to hate something is to have an emotional apprehension of it as bad, without thereby apprehending anything else about it as good. Hatred responds emotionally to badness as such, and we ought not to have any such response. Wallowing in badness—even by way of rejecting it—is a sickness of the soul.

Read more here

Agnes Callard is an Associate Professor in Philosophy. She received her BA from the University of Chicago in 1997 and her PhD from Berkeley in 2008. Her primary areas of specialization are Ancient Philosophy and Ethics.

Is Life Worth Living? —

‘The greatest use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.’ – William James, The Thought and Character of William James (1935) 

A year ago, on a late afternoon in November, I decided to walk the seven miles from my hotel in Manhattan to Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore. It was a cool day, on the cusp of evening, at a moment when things, even grimy New York-type of things, seem to glow, and I was so busy looking around that I almost didn’t notice the small white sign that someone had placed at the bottom of Brooklyn Bridge. The green lettering was newly painted and read: ‘LIFE IS WORTH LIVING.’ 

For many people, life’s worth is never in question. It never becomes a topic of conversation or debate. Life is simply lived until it is not. But something bothered me: if life’s worth is so obvious, why was the sign put up in the first place? It is because there are those of us who occasionally find themselves on the top of the bridge, contemplating a quick and fatal trip to the bottom. Decades after battling depression in 1870, the American philosopher William James wrote to the philosopher and poet Benjamin Paul Blood that ‘no man is educated who has never dallied with the thought of suicide’.

For the majority of people, free will can be exercised in any number of ways (which don’t have to include committing suicide), and in many of these cases one can choose to embody new habits of thought and action. If meaningful freedom seems evasive or unrealistic, most of us still have a choice about what to see and what to look past. This too can be worthwhile. ‘The art of being wise,’ James suggested, ‘is the art of knowing what to overlook.’ Maybe these possibilities could have kept Rose alive for even longer than they did. Maybe not. I don’t presume to be sure.

I think one surefire way to send jumpers off the edge is to pretend that you know something they don’t: that life has unconditional value, and that they are missing something that is so patently obvious. On the ledge, I suspect that they’d detect some deep insecurity or hubris in this assertion. And they might jump just to prove you wrong. Because you would, in fact, be wrong. In James’s final entreaty in his essay ‘On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings’ (1899), he reminded his readers that they often don’t have a clue about how other people experience the meaning of their lives. Better to leave it at ‘maybe’.

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Playlist of the Week

AC/DC   —   Thunderstruck
Twisted Sister   —   Don’t Let me Down
Sex Pistols   —  Pretty Vacant
3 Doors Down   —   Pages
Sabaton   —   In the Army Now
Ozzy Osbourne   —   Crazy Train
Rage Against The Machine   —   Killing in the Name
Coheed and Cambria   —   Welcome Home
Megadeth   —    Symphony of Destruction
Rush   —   Tom Sawyer

This week’s playlist is available on iTunes and Spotify. I hope you enjoy it. 

Fun Questions

What’s something you’ve done that surprised even you?
How have your priorities changed over time?
What lasting lesson did you learn from your parents?
If you could eliminate one weakness or limitation in your life, what would it be?


“All political action aims at either preservation or change. When desiring to preserve, we wish to prevent a change for the worse; when desiring to change, we wish to bring about something better. All political action is then guided by some thought of better or worse.” 
― Leo Strauss

Christine de Pizan’s Advice to Women

[The wives of powerful noblemen] must be highly knowledgeable about government, and wise – in fact, far wiser than most other such women in power. The knowledge of a baroness must be so comprehensive that she can understand everything. Of her a philosopher might have said: “No one is wise who does not know some part of everything.” Moreover, she must have the courage of a man. This means that she should not be brought up overmuch among women nor should she be indulged in extensive and feminine pampering. Why do I say that? If barons wish to be honoured as they deserve, they spend very little time in their manors and on their own lands. Going to war, attending their prince’s court, and traveling are the three primary duties of such a lord. So the lady, his companion, must represent him at home during his absences. Although her husband is served by bailiffs, provosts, rent collectors, and land governors, she must govern them all. To do this according to her right she must conduct herself with such wisdom that she will be both feared and loved. As we have said before, the best possible fear comes from love. 

When wronged, her men must be able to turn to her for refuge. She must be so skilled and flexible that in each case she can respond suitably. Therefore, she must be knowledgeable in the mores of her locality and instructed in its usages, rights, and customs. She must be a good speaker, proud when pride is needed; circumspect with the scornful, surly, or rebellious; and charitably gentle and humble toward her good, obedient subjects. With the counsellors of her lord and with the advice of elder wise men, she ought to work directly with her people. No one should ever be able to say of her that she acts merely to have her own way. Again, she should have a man’s heart. She must know the laws of arms and all things pertaining to warfare, ever prepared to command her men if there is need of it. She has to know both assault and defence tactics to insure that her fortresses are well defended, if she has any expectation of attack or believes she must initiate military action. Testing her men, she will discover their qualities of courage and determination before overly trusting them. She must know the number and strength of her men to gauge accurately her resources, so that she never will have to trust vain or feeble promises. Calculating what force she is capable of providing before her lord arrives with reinforcements, she also must know the financial resources she could call upon to sustain military action. 

She should avoid oppressing her men, since this is the surest way to incur their hatred. She can best cultivate their loyalty by speaking boldly and consistently to them, according to her council, not giving one reason today and another tomorrow. Speaking words of good courage to her men-at-arms as well as to her other retainers, she will urge them to loyalty and their best efforts.

― Christine de Pizan, The Treasure of the City of Ladies