Whisper #360

There are two types of wealth creators which some of us confuse. We likely do so due to being overexposed to one at the expense of the other.

However, we must find comfort in distinguishing them, because each one sets a different tone and character to the relation between a business and the people it services.

The first type identify a need or issue and bring people together to create a service, product or solution. This type have a vision of how they want the world to be, which structures their actions and decisions, often tending them towards long-term gain.

The second type also find a need or issue and bring people together to create a service etc., but this type wants to maximise it to extract the most value. They are often reactive to events and emotional in approach, which often restricts their decisions to their short-term and limited gain.

They sound similar in their efforts and actions — many of us would see them as the same — but they differ in what drives them. One is driven by a vision of things while the other is driven by the current context and the emotional state(s) underpinning it.

However, both are great wealth creators who service us, albeit in differing ways and — we may say with a slight degree of confidence — with different consequences to the moral tone of the world in which we live.

Without demonising the one or evangelising the other, the moral view of their activities paints the first type as philanthropic and second type as exploitative.

What drives us and how it does so is as important as — and in some case more so than — what we do.

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Whisper #356

Statistics enable us to make mountains out of molehills, i.e., to gently distort the truth without losing it outright.

This is an important capacity for politically minded folk: it vastly increases their political flexibility, for good or for ill.

For many such folk, the use of statistics has become an art form, rather than a science.

Perhaps, art’s superiority over science is evidenced most not in what one can do with scientific facts, but what one can do with scientific methods to produce fact-like results . . .

Whisper #355

The psychological phenomenon that the more accustomed we become to something — i.e., the more we repeat a behaviour — the more disinclined we become towards it is a curious one.

No doubt it reveals something about what ultimately drives us: the need for change.

Loathe as we are to process the uncertainty any change brings with it, we still crave it, at least periodically.

However, and this is the curious part, what we become accustomed to we also associate with our sense of self. Its potential loss is a feeling closely associated with personal death, psychologically speaking.

How strange that human beings grow stale and irritable over order, consistency and habit, while at the same time they closely associate it with who they are, at bottom.

Whisper #352

There are important reasons for not using language correctly, that is, in accordance with a strict grammatical rule. The historical truth that languages change over time — not just in the meaning of certain words or introduction of new words, but in grammar — supports those reasons objectively.

However, we should avoid the temptation of assuming that changes in grammar over time imply some clear evaluative backdrop, i.e., improvement or degeneration. It is impossible to tell objectively, i.e., without assuming a particular subjective or inter-subjective standpoint, where improvement or degeneration has occurred. All that these changes tell us is that they were (or were seen as) necessary. A similar argument works for understanding the evolution of a species not yet extinct: We cannot objectively state that some branch in its evolution constitutes an improvement or degeneration, only that it was necessity and that a trade-off with its environment took place.

Nevertheless, the reasons for grammatical changes over time are multifarious: moral, political, aesthetic, physical, and maybe a combination such as social and-or economic. They stem from the complex interrelations between people within a linguistic context, which may be broad enough to span the entire international scene or as narrow as a household.

There is, however, one interesting aesthetic reason for changing grammar, which is to direct attention not to the meaning of words, but:

  • to the pace of the words as we read them, which brings us closer to the character’s or writer’s mood and reflects her perspective itself, rather than a description of it;
  • to the feelings certain words or sentences incite in us, not because of their meaning, but due to their sound and so the vibrations they send through our body;

These two reasons are understood best by artists and mystics.

They are especially understood by poets: the sensitive, rare and beautifully endangered creatures without whom we would more quickly descend into automation — in deed as in spirit.

Whisper #351

All of us have varying degrees of competence in respect to ourselves and to other people. Over time, we become so effective at and focused on one, that we lose sight of the other. To enrich our lives and so grow in our competence, we may need to change the direction of our focus and our efforts.

Some of us, for example, can grow by focusing more on others: we have to expand our competence over ourselves by applying the care and discipline we enjoy on others and gift others with the care and discipline we enjoy.

To do this, however, we must first nurture moments that motion us to build an emotional bridge between us and another: we have to open up and let someone in. We have to make ourselves vulnerable to another and thereby build trust, which is best achieved by pure, unadulterated truth, even after we have given over to lies, projections and transference in our interaction.

These moments often come from courtship and romance (but not necessarily: smaller cases of them are there in sibling relationships and friendships, but let’s leave that for the developmental psychologists). The emotional state that corresponds to this moment, however, is love (in its many forms; the ancient Greeks had eight forms) in the embryo that is attraction, admiration and fascination — hopefully all three of these fine dames at once in the interest of the biggest effect!

Then, as we become better at relating emotionally, we may effective share our discipline and care with them to enrich them and their lives. Finally, and after we’ve given the best we can to that one person and so attained harmony with them, we may more effectively share the same fruits with others, and so on.

This is how we may grow emotionally from the inside out and it is generally advised that we grow into the world in accordance with the above method: we must master and care for ourselves before we may then do the same for others and finally the world.

However, for some of us, the path is different.

Some are so effective at caring for and disciplining others, that they forget and neglect themselves. They are outside-focused problem solvers who get lost as they stubbornly and persistently apply their efforts on the world and on others.

Over time, there come moments when the pressures they incur and the challenges they face along this path, which are wider and more complex as they involve more people, become too difficult and insurmountable, for them. Instead of pausing to better care and discipline themselves in preparation for the pressures and challenges, they often double-down on the outward direction of their focus and efforts.

They hope that this approach will carry them through to the one solution. However, this approach usually yields a similar result as someone who punches a wall. These moments often come from loss, whose emotional state is grief (and, of course, there are degrees of these, too).

For these people, it is useful to outright sever or pause the emotional bridges they built and, for a short while, at least, reconnect with themselves. Once again, or maybe for the first time, they must apply their discipline and care to themselves, cater to their needs. For a short while, they must be selfish precisely so that, further down the line, they may more effectively be selfless. Their move is from the outside in before going back out.

Directing our focus and effort to others is ultimately what we want to do and where we will attain our fundamental meaning in life. But, we may have different paths to it.

Should we not recognise, express and accept these different paths without prematurely and thus detrimentally assuming that they pertain to different destinations?

A philosophical tip: When you begin to think about the soul, developmentally, i.e., as growing into and out of states and attributes, you learn how to love the worst and be suspicious of the best in people.

This love and suspicion borrow from the recognition that the expression of an attribute is not the same as its root, i.e., the attribute itself, or even of the soul itself, which possesses many attributes and which may play out differently over time as circumstances change.

However, this recognition allows you to cultivate a faith in people without which you cannot, fully or genuinely, love them.

On the Knight of Faith #3

Since the last post on this topic, where I analysed the difference between faith and hope in Kierkegaard, I have been unable to let go of the thought that something is not quite right with it.

I wondered in relation to the previous analysis: what makes Abraham great? According to Kierkegaard, he was the father of faith and the bible makes him God’s chosen. For a long time, I have not been satisfied with Kierkegaard’s propositions about Abraham’s greatness, however. He often settles on a) we cannot understand him, but we know that what he does is profound and a marvel, or b) the paradox that is faith, whose exemplar is Abraham, has significant implications for ethics and philosophy. I wonder if Kierkegaard left out the key part of the story, however, even though he did speak of it often in the metaphors he uses to make his point: God’s relationship to Abraham, specifically, Abraham’s love of Him.

Kierkegaard had the chance to put love first and faith second, that is, to see faith as an attribute of love, not the other way around. But, he chose to put faith before love at that crucial point in his argument where he explains why Abraham is not just a murderer or madman. In this passage, he makes faith the ‘main thing’ and then proceeds to speak as though it is the same as love:

“If one makes faith the main thing – that is, makes it what it is – then I imagine one might dare speak of it without that risk in this day of ours which can hardly be said to outdo itself in faith, and it is only in respect of faith that one achieves resemblance to Abraham, not murder. If one makes love into a fleeting mood, into a pleasurable agitation in a person, then one lays traps for the weak when talking of the achievements of love. Of course everyone has momentary feelings, but if those were to be used as reasons for doing the terrible things that love has hallowed as immortal deeds everything would be lost, both the achievement and those misled in this way.” — Kierkegaard, Fear & Trembling, p. 60-61

This lack of a distinction between faith and love in Kierkegaard runs throughout the book; he even uses love to make crucial points about faith. In so doing, he misses a very important aspect of Abraham’s story and passion, of his trial: his personal relationship to God, which God wanted to test. In this sense, faith is the outward expression of his love of God, that is, love translated into an attitude and action. But, why didn’t Kierkegaard bring this out? Why was he committed to faith being first, but then spoke as though there was no difference between faith and the love of which it is an expression?

The thought that there is more to Abraham’s story than what Kierkegaard said, but something which we can understand — something which is not too complicated to demonstrate — gnaws at me. It has been gnawing at me for a decade since I first picked up ‘Fear & Trembling’ to read it through, again and again.

Was it Abraham’s ‘faith’ in God, which made him great? Yes, surely and in a sense, but we can hear this truth at a Sunday sermon without really feeling moved or informed about ourselves, our lives, our relationships, our emotions or even God. Such statements are patronisingly banal and switch us off; ‘there is surely more to it than that,’ we are likely to think, and we are right to think that, because we want to go further and demand more from those who would tell us of God’s choices, of his chosen and the basis on which they were chosen.

So, what was it? Was it his ‘insane hope’, as Kierkegaard called it? Surely, hope played a role in his greatness, but we also recognised previously that hope doesn’t capture it. It is appropriate to recall that, assuming Abraham was driven by hope, he would expect God not to let him kill his son — even if he obeyed by drawing the knife. Hope was not good enough to demonstrate his faith in Him, his love of God, however. What, then, was good enough? Remember, we are dealing with a being which has everything and which can do anything . . .

Abraham loved God, but God wanted it demonstrated, approved — He wanted this love to fill every corner of Abraham’s body precisely when it mattered the most, when he made Abraham take away the most precious thing to him, his son, whom He promised to give him and through whom he promised to bless the nations of the earth in his covenant.

So, He tempted him to show his love. To show that it wasn’t himself that Abraham loved. To demonstrate that his devotion — the outward appearance of love in commitment and its corresponding attitude — was not to what God had given him, had promised him and delivered. He wanted to know that Abraham was not devoted to Isaac, his son — but to God . . . without whom Abraham would have no son, Isaac wouldn’t exist.

Did Abraham love God, or did he love His promise that the nations of the world would be blessed in His covenant through Isaac, his son, which He miraculously gave to Abraham and Sarah, his wife?

It is this dilemma which gives the whole affair its spiritual meaning.

What would a hopeful, rather than a faithful Abraham do when faced with a temptation of this sort, with God’s command that he abandon all hope, out of love? Think about that for a minute; put on Abraham’s proverbial shoes — his sandals, rather.

Would he not try to distort God’s image, to trick himself into thinking God would not let him go through with it and so continue accordingly as if he wouldn’t, as if this wasn’t real, as it was a test and all would be fine in the end?

Hope would lead him to make God assume the properties and character which Abraham needed Him to assume to satisfy his desire to keep Isaac — it is this subtle, but uncanny selfishness at the heart of hope which precludes it from entry into God’s chosen.

Hope is not enough precisely for this reason — it is not rooted in love. That’s why hope is paces away from faith and so, by this token, it is not the basis of Abraham’s greatness. But, then, is faith truly the condition for his greatness — or is that too simplistic?

I would argue that Abraham was great because of his love — not his faith, nor his belief, nor his hope, and certainly not his reason. The root of his action and so the faith which it demonstrated was rooted in his love for God: that beautiful, undeniably selfless and thus surrendered love. A love which shown brightest in just one moment, one action, and which gave Abraham’s faith its meaning, its appearance and holy shape in his thoughts and feelings. That one action which motioned him steadily to draw the knife over his son’s neck is just a representation of that love and what comes with it.

After that one moment, that one action, whereby Abraham showed the depth and extent of his love had passed, God would let him continue to enjoy life as before — both of them secure in the clarity of purpose and love they had for each other. He left Abraham secure and happy in his own love, but also in God’s love of him. Both knew that the nations of the earth would truly be blessed; God’s covenant would truly be eternal and be carried forward by Abraham’s seed.

Faith represents Abraham’s love, it is a symptom of it — it is love which made him great.

What is the difference between them? Faith is represents love; it is an expression of it. It is love’s representation in action — it is a love that is tested against toil and difficulty and tragedy, but which endures. It is the love which endures the torrential currents of life.

This relationship to love and its greatness is something which hope will not understand, because — often without its knowing — it places one toe of one foot in the torrential seas of love and their uncertainty, while the other foot in its entirety stays wholly and firmly rooted in the dry desert of self-concern.

But, all this flowery, biblical language aside, this story exemplifies that eternal battle between love and ambition. It is about how subtle and vicious this battle can become, but also how fruitful it is for the victor.

(Don’t make too much of a meal of God, this is not a science or philosophy lecture. This is about your emotions, the most precious one at that, love, or I should hope so, at least.)

On the Knight of Faith #2

I struggle to express the difference between faith and hope, in emotional terms, that is, in such a way as we can feel it, rather than merely understand it. That there is a difference, however, we might agree, at least intuitively. That we may begin to demonstrate this difference using psychological content, i.e., via thoughts, beliefs and so on, we may also agree. But, what I would like to try here is to find what this difference hinges on in the emotional sense, without focusing on a dry conceptual exercise.

Moreover, I believe Kierkegaard’s ‘knight of faith’ is apposite to flesh it out, because he reasoned in such a way that we not only could ‘conceptualise’ faith, but feel it, too, by our empathising with his father of faith, Abraham.

To start with, let’s reflect on his ‘Speech in Praise of Abraham’, where he first introduces hope alongside faith:

There was one who was great in his strength, and one who was great in his wisdom, and one who was great in hope, and one who was great in love; but greater than all was Abraham, great with that power whose strength is powerlessness, great in that wisdom whose secret is folly, great in that hope whose outward form is insanity, great in that love which is hatred of self.

The ending of the above quote suggests that hope is at least an element of faith or plays a role in it, but it also suggests that hope is not what made Abraham the father of faith, i.e., what distinguished him from all the other great people in biblical history: He was God’s chosen; the birther of nations under His covenant.

Elsewhere, he states the following:

But Abraham believed, and therefore he was young; for he who always hopes for the best becomes old, deceived by life, and he who is always prepared for the worst becomes old prematurely; but he who has faith, retains eternal youth.

See also:

But Abraham had faith. He did not beg for himself in hope of moving the Lord…

One of the most insightful representations of the emotional difference between hope and faith is where Kierkegaard sets the emotional stage by reminding readers that Isaac was a child like none other could be for any father.

God promised Isaac to Abraham as a token of His everlasting covenant — as the seed from which earth’s future will be blessed:

Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you… — King James’ Bible (KJB), Genesis 17:19-21

God nurtured the expectation in Abraham, made him wait for a miracle to beget in old age and delivered.

Then, just as He promised and as Abraham had faith that he and Sarah would against all odds bear children, so God tempted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac when he came of age:

Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you. — KJB Genesis 22:2

So, God promised Abraham a son through whom the earth would be blessed and tested him to endure his reason — Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah ninety when God made the promise of Isaac — until he delivered as He did.

Then, God let Abraham enjoy Isaac until he came of age, before commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his widest, most significant joy, his promising future.

To return to the difference between faith and hope, Kierkegaard lays the emotional stage for feeling this difference as follows:

Many a father has felt the loss of his child as the loss of the dearest thing he has in the world, to be bereft of every hope for the future; yet no son was the child of promise in the sense that Isaac was for Abraham. Many a father has lost his child, but then it was God, the unchangeable and inscrutable will of the Almighty, it was his hand that took it. Not so with Abraham. For him a harder trial was reserved; along with the knife the fate of Isaac was put into Abraham’s own hand. And he stood there, the old man with his only hope! But he did not doubt, he did not look in anguish to left or right, he did not challenge heaven with his prayers. He knew it was God the Almighty that tried him, he knew it was the hardest sacrifice that could be demanded of him; but he also knew that no sacrifice was too hard when God demanded it – and he drew the knife.

So, according to Kierkegaard, the father of faith was made to forgo that which he values most, more than anything else in the world, his hope of hopes, as a demonstration of his love for God. He forwent it not by surrendering to fate, to God’s will by his own hand, but to his own will by his own hand, he took it upon himself to forgo it as a demonstration of his love for God.

Abraham did it, no questions asked — because . . . well how may we possibly understand why he did it other than because God tempted him to demonstrate his love? Yet, we are still confused and dissatisfied by this explanation.

What ever could possess a person to offer up his hope of hopes as a demonstration of his love — what would his love mean after this? What would be left of it that would be of any value to him and, by extension, to God, after he offers it like this?

We cannot understand Abraham, and in many ways he inspires an uncanny dread in us. But, what we can understand is that hope is an ingredient of faith, since in faith we must accept that some things are beyond our power, as we do in hope.

However, faith does what we cannot understand: it empowers us immediately after we have given up our own power in hope, after we have given it up to a higher power or order, to circumstances which are beyond us and our efforts.

Faith gives hope the bone and sinew it needs — what we need — to do what is needed and so what we know we must. Faith directs our focus to what is needed after our hope has motioned us to forget what we need, because it is beyond us — that is the difference!

It is true that Abraham could have hoped God was testing him, that God wouldn’t let him go through with it; so, he may he have gone right up to the moment, drawn the knife, but all the while waiting for the lamb to appear, doubting that it was real. Abraham could have acted in denial. 

It is also true that Abraham could have hoped God would not hold it against him if he dropped the knife, fell to his knees and implored God to spare Isaac, that he could not do it and he should take the punishment he deserves. Abraham could have tried to bargain, plead and-or barter with God, to save his hope of hopes, his son.

But, God is all-knowing and would have recognised that Abraham had simply yielded to temptation, rather than passed the test and demonstrated his love. Kierkegaard adjusts the reader’s thoughts to these various emotional scenarios in the ‘Attunement’, so we do not need to go too far into them here. Let us focus on hope, instead.

Note that hope nurtures a doubt in us which crumbles our certainty over life, truth and the future, but at the same time — it does more than that. It gives us a kind of security over the three of them by eroding our responsibility — the longer we linger in hope, the further that erosion until there is nothing left. . .

Hope lets us place our responsibility elsewhere, on a higher power or order, which we then assume to be more benevolent, better and-or stronger than we are, or can be. It is in this security, this false security, that we find the difference between hope and faith. It is also here that we find the spiritual crux of religion, which is often lost throughout the ages, even if it is always present and yearning to be found.

Faith is the securest insecurity, the most uncomfortable comfort — it is the emotional and psychological paradox, par excellence.

But, let’s us return to the analysis for a minute to bring out the difference between them a little further into daylight.

So, people who hope are often tempted into action by their legitimate doubts over what could happen: they think they have reason to do what they want to do, but are not to blame for it, because nothing is certain and they didn’t know for sure and in advance things would turn out a certain way. Someone else is to blame for how things turn out.

Likewise, they are tempted into inaction by the same doubts over could happen: they think they have reason not do what they do not want to, because they never know what could happen, especially if what could happen is what they fear most. Someone else is to blame for how things turn out.

Hope makes one do what they want by forgoing their agency, their responsibility — and when a hopeful person says they are doing what they do not want, they are, at worst, lying or, at best, in denial. Hopeful people do what they want, but are not to be blamed for it, they find someone else to blame — even if it is a higher power or order, like God or fate or the devil.

Hope robs us of the certainty over what we have to do and tempts us into giving up our agency and responsibility — the doubt inherent to hope merely reflects to us, as a mirror, the fact that we are robbed of our agency and responsibility. If Abraham had hope, then he would not be God’s chosen, he would find himself among what Kierkegaard calls “life’s wretchedness”.

Abraham knew what he had to do, he was commanded by God, after all. He did not think twice or thrice — he drew the knife, no questions asked.

But, does this mean Abraham is a machine — that he just obeyed a command? What is the temptation, God’s test, worth if the person being tested is not subjected to any doubts or convulsions of emotion: misery, anguish, depression, fear, anxiety, grief and so on? Can we really empathise with Abraham if he was just a machine, obeying God’s command? Certainly not and the way he conversed with God, his mockery of God’s promise when he first heard it indicates he was closer to God than any of us could imagine:

Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? — KJB Genesis 17:17

A man who so reacts to God’s promise is no machine — he is no victim, either — and he is certainly not addressing himself to a commander. But, the problem still remains.

What is love if it is not subjected to these tests, if it bathes in those lukewarm waters of pleasurable emotions, if it becomes soggy in the sea of certainty and comfort as it tries to manage and avoid the crippling uncertainly over which it dances?

This is not the love God wanted to see in Abraham; He wanted Abraham to go through it all. God wanted his torment to be silent — between Him and Abraham. He wanted in the final act for Abraham to take that torment and let it permeate Abraham’s body, to make his hand steady, pure, clear and shimmering in God’s light, His love, as he drew the knife and begun to take away his hope of hopes by his own hand.

As it is with such things, the deeper we go, the more we find — for we are looking at the human soul, the most beautiful thing there is which we hope never to exhaust even if our mind and body, our finite energies, are shattered from the effort and concentration we apply to celebrate it. But, we must bring our reflection to a close at some point —

My impression of the difference between hope and faith is, per analogiam, that faith is muscular hope; hope with teeth; hope which gets the job done; hope which draws the knife to one’s hope of hopes; hope which moves the mountain, instead of waiting for someone else to move it for one . . .

Faith is the hope which does not rob us of our agency, our responsibility, it does not keep us from doing what we know we must. It does not nurture the victim in us only to then justify our victimhood by making us appear holy — that victim of circumstances who waits on God (a higher power or order) to deliver one from one’s torment, because one is convinced the circumstances are beyond one is still a victim, is he not?

Does God tempt victims to make them holy by forcing them to rely on his will or does he make victims of people to tempt them into demonstrating their inherent holiness?

Faith takes the torment that regularly births hope and makes spiritual art out of it.

Faith is to love what sunlight is to flowers: it not only nourishes love, but allows us to find it, to appreciate it, to be nourished by it —

— that’s why God asked faith from Abraham as a demonstration of his love.