What’s the Point?

Alfred CHAMBERS, Section Chief of Mental Health

Mencius was a 3rd Century BC Chinese philosopher who lived shortly after Confucius and as I will attempt to show here, had some important messages for our modern day situation. But of course history, like our memories, is shrouded in inaccuracies, biases and ever changing versions of the truth. So trying to give an accurate account of what occurred or what was thought three thousand years ago is fraught with as many arguable statements as any “He said, she said” disagreement is today. But I will proceed anyway.

One version has Mencius as a teacher with many good intentions who wanted to set out and educate the ruling classes on how to be “good” to the people. But after many setbacks and lots of bad luck he kind of gave up, moved back home and regrouped (these are always long and complicated stories). He reflected on his misfortune, flirted with self pity and finally concluded, perhaps wisely, that life is very capricious at best and that all we humans can realistically hope for is a simple life of kindness to others with all the other endless strivings as only temporary frivolity. Earthly concerns and desires will be unfilled he said, fleeting at best, and certainly not fulfilling. So don’t worry about point “B” whatever that may be in your mind (job, perfect grades, health, car, travel etc etc), it is an ever escaping horizon, it will not arrive.

Now fast forward to today and our anxious lives of intensity, stress and never ending deadlines. We seem to buy into the ideas of not Mencius, but rather Mohzi, a 3rd Century BC contemporary, who said we should keep our heads down, follow the rules, be greedy, look out for number one (me and mine) and all else is not really important. This path, which is constantly about the future and about achievement and zero sum games of win and lose may allow for that new microwave, conformity or rush of arrogance but does nothing to fill our hearts.

Simply getting to point “B” from wherever we are now does not create love or kindness, rather it blinds us to the real possibilities we have as humans. Yes, go ahead and plan for the future, be wise in your choices, set out on your journey, but remember “life is capricious” and whatever you think or feel today will be forgotten tomorrow, and the best laid plans are just that – the map is not the territory. We will lose everything we have today and everything we get tomorrow, it’s just a question of when and how.

I meet many people who are burdened with this idea that, “If only … , then …..” , which means if only … (I can get a baby, money, girlfriend, slimmer, new iphone ….) then … (I’ll be happy, relaxed, less angry, loving …”)! Mohzi would say go for it and Mencius would say that is a false path, instead slow down, be gracious and be cool to all – family or stranger.

If one pays attention to the state of the world now it is easy to be pessimistic, to hunker down and avoid the bad news and difficult decisions, to be self-absorbed. However so many great thinkers modern and classic disagree with that turtle-like strategy of eyes down, navel gazing and striving to point “B” and suggest that the opposite may have many more rewards.

I suggest that there is no point “B” that will somehow arrive us at that sought after fulfilling and settled destination. Rather there is only a series of unknown paths with unseen detours and the same destination for everyone. Mencius, Buddha, Jesus, Woody Allan and Louis C.K. all know this. We are not captured by the gravity of the spinning planets – we chose to hang on.

Perhaps with an open heart, our eyes up, and by stepping confidently forward into the future keeping in mind that something will happen, that change will come , we can create an attitude of caring, generosity and acceptance, as Mencius much more eloquently practiced and taught. As for point “B”, that thing in the future we wait for, sure it can be fun to try, but let’s not lose our sense of humor!

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