A nearly universal belief most people seem to share is that we all like to think that we are the “good guy” in the story of our lives. We like to think that we are doing our best in life to be a positive influence in the world. No one likes to think that they are a villain; all our actions – even the questionable, harmful ones – are justifiable by our intent. Even Hitler thought that his massacre of the Jewish people and other horrible deeds were simply a means to an end to provide an environment where his own people could flourish.
But there comes a point in our lives where we are faced by a situation that challenges this belief. More often than not, it is when someone close to us, such as a friend or partner who we trust in to know us well, criticises us. Not superficial things such as critiquing your fashion sense or correcting your grammar, but digging deep and shining a bright spotlight on a flaw in your person, pointing out how much you have hurt them because of what you said or how you acted.
Such an event typically shocks us to the core. Because of the invisible social contract, we rarely point out people’s character flaws out of politeness and to avoid hurting them. This means we do not always know our own deepest flaws. However, sometimes enough is enough and people will explode in a fit of rage to let you know that you have hurt them through your behaviour. You have not been the good guy. You have been a villain.
Our response to this type of situation defines who we really are. An appropriate response is to listen to this criticism, have a period of introspection to understand your flaw and make an effort to try and correct this and improve yourself. This is a display of maturity. But if you become defensive, reject all criticism and continue to act in a way that hurts those around you, then how could you call yourself a hero?
Remember that life is not a story revolving only around you. You are simply one of many characters, like other people, in the grand, unifying story we call life. Whether you develop your character to be a mature hero willing to accept and improve on their flaws, or an immature villain deluded that they are always good, is up to you.
Common belief is that Newton discovered gravity after an apple dropped on his head. Although there is no historical evidence to support this myth, it has become a popular story. There are two common responses to this story: the first is “Wow, Newton was a smart cookie” and the second is “Pfft, I could have discovered gravity without an apple, it is such an easy thing.”
The latter group of people are idiots. Newton did not “discover” gravity. Human beings have known that objects fall to the ground since the dawn of time and have utilised it in ways ranging from sports to killing other people by crushing them with giant rocks. Even animals know of the concept as seen by eagles dropping turtles on rocks to crack the shell. In fact, if you could not figure that out, then you would really be an idiot.
The reason why Newton is famous is not because he found that apples fall from trees, it is because he observed the phenomenon, noting that it was always perpendicular to the ground, which in combination with the knowledge that the Earth is round suggests that objects tend to fall towards the centre of the Earth. Again, Newton’s brilliance was not that he simply observed an apple falling, it was that he pondered it and spent years researching it until he discovered the way gravity behaves. He devised formulas to estimate how gravity functions, even applying it to predict how the moon orbits around the Earth. Thanks to Newton, we are able to model the world around us and send rockets to the moon without launching our astronauts in to the depth of space with no hope of recovery.
Interestingly, physicists still do not know what causes gravity. There are many theories, such as particles called gravitrons attracting two objects to each other. Although the mathematics of two objects attracting each other has been accurately calculated, it is unknown what causes it. Only after you discover the truth behind how gravity functions can you say that “I could have discovered gravity in my sleep” (actually, even then you probably spent decades just trying to grasp the concept).
Before you criticise, know what you are criticising.
According to ancient Greek mythology, a person’s soul must cross five rivers to enter Hades’ underworld after death. Charon ferries souls across the first river, Acheron, also known as the river of pain. To use Charon’s services, one had to pay a silver coin (obolus). If one could not pay the fee, one could not cross the river and would circle the Earth for eternity. Thus, the ancient Greeks had a custom of putting a coin in the deceased’s mouth for their journey.
Even for something as unavoidable as death, Charon asks for money. This not only shows that the ancient Greeks had a good understanding of market economies, but also teaches us something important about capitalism.
Just as the reaper takes a fee, nothing in the world is free. A market is the most effective economy system that man has devised and no other system (especially communism) has overcome it. But we have a tendency to denounce corporations for only taking advantage of poor, helpless citizens. Although there is corruption in reality, corporations are still subject to the invisible hand and bound by the basic principle of capitalism, supply and demand.
We only see the negative sides of capitalism and decry Charon’s greed. “How could you ask a helpless soul for money? Is that not robbery?”, we cry. But such words can only be said by someone who has devised a better system than the market, or found a way to keep Charon well-fed. Instead of criticising the economy or policies, it is far more efficient to think of a way to improve the market system. Blindly criticising and trying to destroy capitalism like Karl Marx did will only result in splitting the world in two and cause everyone to starve to death.
The reason being, money is an invention as important as fire to mankind.
Contemporary artists say to the public: “Art should make people think and feel some kind of emotion. Therefore, we make provocative art to invoke the negative emotions too.” To them, I say: “Life is ugly enough to give you those emotions every day – what’s wrong with just looking at paintings that bring out some positive emotions?”
Parents say to their children: “Why can’t you get good grades like others? Why don’t you listen? Why can’t you do anything right?” To them, I say: “We will all be insulted plenty throughout life, do you have to criticise us even more? Can’t you give us even a few words of encouragement, something society will never give?”
Religious people say to atheists: “How can you understand true happiness without God, faith or the belief that there is heaven after death?” To them, I say: “Knowing that I will return to nothing after a short but content life rather than going to hell for even the smallest thing simply makes me ecstatic.”
Pessimists say to optimists: “What’s so great about life? Unless you are a fool, there is nothing worth being happy about.” To them, I say: “And that is why I try to think more happy thoughts and be nice to others. Otherwise I would never make it through this rotten world. People all have enough going on in their lives – why bother making it more difficult when you can make it a little better at no added cost? The time we have is short, so what’s the point of only thinking negative, depressing thoughts? I would rather laugh like a fool, admire the little beauty left in the world and make other people’s lives a little happier before I go.”
Everything in the world depends on your perception, so why not think positively and live happily? No matter what, we can only live a certain time, no more, no less. The key to happiness is to enjoy appropriately, learn as much as possible and to love infinitely.