Book Notes: Simone Beauvoir – Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

Simone Beauvoir’s autobiography Memoirs of a dutiful daughter describes in detail how she struggles with despair and loneliness on her quest to shape her life and free herself from the confines of her friends, family, religion and society.

Events

Several important events mark her journey – witnessing her parents arguing for the first time, her rejection of god, going out to bars and finally, meeting her dream companion in Sartre.

As a child, she divides the universe into 2 simple categories, Good and Evil. When she first sees her parents arguing, she is faced with the impossibility that her parents can be enemies. This ‘chaos which preceded creation’ troubles her. Instead of dealing with this incident, she chooses to ignore and forget:

Every real experience had to be fitted somehow or other into a rigid category … I could conceive of no gap into which error might fall between the word and its object.

Simone does not remark on the implications of this event, but the roots of her later love of Philosophy, a love she explains is because ‘it went straight to essentials’, can perhaps be found here.

Simone has a devout mother and also attends a school which places the purity of her soul above academic achievements. In such surroundings, she grows up as a pious girl. Her faith is tested when she is making confession and the priest replaces his usual elevated tone with more familiar words – ‘It has come to my attention that my little Simone has changed … that she is disobedient, noisy and answers back when she is reprimanded … ‘ This offends Simone because the representative of God on Earth is acting like a common ‘tittle tattle’. She decides not to attend confession again. Later, while reading forbidden books and eating forbidden apples she decides that she no longer believes in God as it would be bad faith to profess belief yet indulge in sins, however little. As an extremist, she cannot compromise – ‘Quibbling with one’s conscience, haggling over one’s pleasures – such petty bargaining disgusted me’. Simone’s clean break with god is significant for indicating her growing desire to live for herself, even if she must turn away from the circumstances she finds herself in.

Simone begins to frequent bars after Jacques first takes her to a bar. Spending nine to ten hours at her books everyday have turned her into a ‘disembodied spirit’, she craves the violence and crudity of the flesh that will save her from the ethereal insipidity of her life.  Sipping gin fizzes in the bars on Montparnasse, inhaling the smell of tobacco and alcohol, listening to women arguing with men over their rates for the night and the refinements of pleasure they offer, the bars give her what her books cannot, a sense that anything can happen, an opportunity to react against the authority of her parents, and acquaint herself with her ‘baser instincts’. She grows bolder, allows men to pick her up from the streets, drinks with strangers in bars.

… there is within me I know not what yearning – maybe a monstrous lust – ever-present, for noise, fighting, savage violence, and above all for the gutter.

She eventually gives up her life of debauchery and acknowledges to herself what she has been whispering all along, ‘what am I doing here?’ For Simone, this is not so much wasted time as a necessary exploration of the hidden and forbidden, putting aside the tedious rituals and conventions of society to seize an existence that obeys ‘no other will but her own’. A turning point has been reached, after which Simone will return to her books and leave the bars on Montparnasse behind.

Sartre is someone who personifies Simone’s aspirations. Unlike Garric who is a remote figure,  Simone is able to measure herself against Sartre in their day to day life. She concludes she is ‘simply not in his class’. For the first time in her life, she feels intellectually inferior. After being rejected by her family, not finding solace in Jacques, the bars nor in libraries, she has finally found the ‘dream companion’ she has longed for since she was fifteen.

People

The people we meet shape our self-images. Simone’s parents, Jacques and Sartre all played important roles in her intellectual growth, whether as role models or cautionary examples of what not to become.

Simone’s father is born between the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. He is a charmer, loves refinement and elegance, and disdains the tedious virtues of patience and application. His charm only relegates him to the lower ranks of the aristocracy where heritage counts above all else. When Simone grows to be a teenager, her father is disappointed in her as she is not pretty and elegant. Simone no longer believes in her father’s absolute infallibility. When she realizes that she has been thoughtlessly copying his attitude, she is no longer sure what the truth is anymore. Conversations with her parents become dangerous, they do not understand Simone and turn her words against her. She decides to become secretive to protect herself

Simone finds recognition of her struggles in the novels of a new generation of writers, who are revolting against parents, family and tradition, have no intention of overthrowing society, and are satisfied just to study their souls. These writers represent a Disquiet which she also finds in Jacques, and is attracted to. But she also has to admit to herself that they are different. He likes beautiful things and a life of ease. Simone needs to overcome difficulties and write a book, not live a life of luxury. She is still attracted to him because ‘apart from this love my life seemed desolately empty and futile’ and he is the only man she can have a serious conversation with, but he is alternately warm and cold to her. She will struggle with her feelings for him before deciding that she does not like him.

Sartre is Simone’s dream companion, her aspirations personified.

Confronted with an object, he would look it straight in the face instead of trying to explain it away with a myth, a word, an impression, or a preconceived idea: he wouldn’t let it go until he had grasped all its ins and outs and all its multiple significations. He didn’t ask himself what he ought to think about it, or what it would have been amusing or intelligent to think about it: he simply thought about it.

Apology

An apology is a psychological necessity. In our day to day interactions with others, we meet with constant approval and disapproval. We must necessarily create defenses to justify to ourselves why we are the way we are.

To Simone, the conventions of society are mindless and uninspiring. While others, even her closest friends, may by content to lead a mediocre existence, she must find an all consuming purpose. It is the intellectual life that draws her instead.

To have children, who in their turn would have more children, was simply to go on playing the same old tune ad infinitum; the scholar, the artist, the writer, and the thinker created other worlds, all sweetness and light, in which everything had purpose.

I found smiling difficult, I couldn’t turn on the charm, make cute remarks, or any kind of concession to polite chit-chat…. their way of life had nothing in common with mine: they were mere amateurs; I was a professional … I had set this heavy programme myself, for I found difficulties amusing … it was essential that my studies should not just represent an off-shoot of my life, but should be my entire life itself: the things people talked about did not interest me, I had no subversive ideas; in fact, I hardly had any ideas on anything; but all day long I would be training myself to think, to understand, to criticize, to know myself; I was seeking for the absolute truth: this preoccupation did not exactly encourage polite conversation.

Takeaway

In Simone’s autobiography, I found less of the feminist than a fellow human being going through the same universal struggle of self-expression.

I was inspired by the hard work she puts in – ‘nine to ten hours! every day at the library’, it is the kind of effort that again reminds me of the kind of work I have to put in if I aspire to mastery.

I also identified with the rich emotional life that she describes, especially her despair and loneliness while searching for meaning. It is comforting to know that I am not alone, surely that is one function of autobiography as well, to affirm as well as to inspire.

I had to be of service: to what? To whom? I had read, thought, and learnt much; I told myself that I was ready; I was rich; but nobody wanted anything from me. Life had appeared to me so full; I had sought with fanatical ardour to use my whole self in replying to its endless calls: it was empty; not one voice had asked for me.

I preferred literature to philosophy … I didn’t want to speak with that abstract voice which, whenever I heard it, failed to move me. What I dreamed of writing was a ‘novel of the inner life’; I wanted to communicate my experience.

I think Simone’s autobiography succeeds at this.

Highlights:

He appreciated elegant gestures, charming compliments, social graces, style, frivolity, irony, all the free-and-easy self-assurance of the rich and well-born. The more serious virtues esteemed by the bourgeoisie he found frankly boring

I couldn’t tolerate being bored: my boredom soon turned into real distress of mind; that is why … I detested idleness.

I thought it was wonderful that you could bring into the world something real, something new. There was only one region in the world in which I could venture my creative talent: literature… I knew how to use language, and as it expressed the essence of things, it illuminated them for me. I had a spontaneous urge to turn everything that happened to me into a story: I used to talk freely, and loved to write.

I had had the good fortune to find a friend … everything she had to say was either interesting or amusing.

In books, people make declarations of love and hate, they express their innermost feelings in fine phrases; but in life there are no significant speeches. What can be spoken is regulated by what can be done: if it isn’t done, it isn’t said.

I had always had a longing to communicate with others. In my friend’s album I cited as my favourite hobbies reading and conversation. I had also realized that novels, short stories, and tales are not divorced from life but that they are, in their own way, expressions of it.

I was delighted to escape from the ritual of family meals; by reducing food to its essential elements I felt I was taking another step in the direction of freedom.

charlotte

‘ok this is going to be a 10 minute meeting’

‘Down here, the pace will be different from Haw Par.’ She paused to think for a word, laughed, and cupped her face in her hands. ‘It’s different from AC, we don’t come in after lunch and work till 2am. We leave on time, and I’m a big fan of that. But since we leave early, we must also arrive late.’ I nodded mindlessly. ‘Wait, I mean, we cannot arrive late’

‘Ok, what else have I missed. The politics, ah. I’m not as strict as Peik Siam. Now with me and Derek, you can have your pantry breaks, just try not to take too long.’

‘Leave plans. I’m going on leave this thursday till next monday.’

‘Don’t call me’. All of us in the small meeting room laughed. It is a laugh of solidarity, it shows that we have worked late, one night or another. It is also a simple, friendly laugh, maybe we just want to dispel our boredom. ‘I will respond to your emails, but yeah, I don’t want to incur call charges again.’

‘All the SIR are sent to Oliver, because he’s the so-called team lead’, she said without malice. Oliver nodded with his blank smile. I thought about how our roles had been reversed, now, we were the ones taking orders.

‘Let’s go for lunch.’

‘Ah, no I’m skipping’

‘But why, isn’t it unhealthy?’

Here we go again, I thought to myself. ‘Yeah, it’s something I grabbed off the internet’.

‘Why, do you think you’re fat?’

I paused, hoping the silence would not imply that I was wondering whether or not to tell the truth. Yet, each passing moment could only increase the significance of a reply I would rather not give. ‘Yes’

‘You’re not fat! You want to know who’s fat? I can show you’

I laughed.

‘Ah, can we not discuss this?’ I mock shooed her away with my hands.

Book Notes: Erving Goffman – Interaction Ritual

Erving Goffman – Interaction Ritual, has a number of essays  on face to face behaviour. Goffman’s vivid prose made this a pleasure to read (see highlights) – I did not feel like I was reading a stiff, dry academic. This is not a cookbook of etiquette tips. Instead, these essays unearth the implicit rules of social interaction and enumerate them rigorously.

Knowing the rules helps turn everyday life into a game – I score points when I observe the rules, I advance or unlock different skill-trees when I put these rules into practice (I imagine different skill trees with schlock academic names, eg, three-set interaction, approach-opening, buying temperature, etc). Having a framework also helps put emotional distance on the mistakes I make because I can shift the blame from my self  to my performance.

Goffman discusses several ideas which I find myself unconsciously naming when I observe these in action – bowing my head at the cashier when I’m paying – deference; dressing smartly for work – demeanour; having my story challenged in conversation – face work. Summaries and highlights for each essay follow –

Where the Action Is

This is the best essay in the book. Goffman introduces the concepts of action and character and describes action as the sole means for men to create character for themselves, whether they find it through courting women, buying clothes, or kicking a football. Lacking action, men lack information concerning themselves – they fall short of significant expression.

Action is activity that is uncertain, consequential, and voluntarily taken, while character refers to how an inidividual manages himself during an activity – courage, integrity, composure being examples of character;  intelligence, speed, stamina etc being properties related to the task at hand. Mixing character and action, we have a character contest, a kind of interpersonal action that happens every day and where we have the chance to score points or be shot down.

Action is not be found at home or at work, but elsewhere. Goffman describes other avenues for action – sports, interpersonal action such as courtship or verbal/physical injury, or consumption and the mass media, a kind of diffuse action.

Highlights:

Any normal adult, if he so wills it, can be immensely disruptive of the world immediately at hand. He can destroy objects, himself, and other people. He can profane himself, insult and contaminate others, and interfere with their free passage… Personal development is the process by which the individual learns to forego these opportunities voluntarily, even while his capacity to destroy the world immediately around him increases.

Here is the Calvinistic solution to life: once the individual divides his day’s activities into ones that have no effect and others having a small contributive consequence, nothing can really go wrong.

When we look closely at … gamblers, front-line soldiers, we find that aliveness to the consequences involved comes to be blunted in a special way. The world that is gambled is, after all, only a world, and the chance-taker can learn to let go of it.

Action is much more the scene of male activity than of female … But, of course, females are involved in one kind of action in a special way; they are the fields of play for sexual and courtship action. Adult males may define a female as an object to initiate a sexually potential relationship with. The risk is rebuff, misalliance, responsibility, betrayal of prior relationships, or displeasure of other males; the opportunity is for the kind of confirmation of self that success in this area alone can bring.

Bargaining, threatening, promising – whether in commerce, diplomacy, warfare, card games, or personal relations – allow a contestant to pit his capacity for dissembling intentions and resources against the other’s capacity to rile or cajole the secretive into readability. Whenever individuals ask for or give excuses, proffer or receive compliments, slight another or are slighted, a contest of self-control can result. Similarly, the tacit little flirtations occurring between friends and between strangers produce a contest of unavailability – if usually nothing more than this. And when banter occurs or “remarks” are exchanged, someone will have out-poised another.

When a contest occurs over whose treatment of the other is to prevail, each individual is engaged in providing evidence to establish a definition of himself at the expense of what can remain for the other.

For the action-seeker, life is episodic. The rhythm of life is dominated by the adventurous episode, in which heights of actvitiy and feeling are reached through exciting and sometimes riotous behaviour. The goal is action, an opportunity for thrills, and for the chance to face and overcome a challenge … the action seeker pursues it with a vengeance, and lives the rest of his life in quiet preparation for this climax.

(on smoking) to various flavours can be added the extra flavour of not-giving-a-damn.

(on character) Because persons in all societies must transact much of their enterprise in social situations, we must expect that the capacity to maintain support of the social occasion under difficult circumstances will be universally approved.

Plainly, it is during moments of action that the individual has the risk and opportunity of displaying to himself and others his style of conduct when the chips are down. The self, in brief, can be voluntarily subjected to re-creation… here is the chance to show grace under pressure, here is the opportunity to be measured by Hemingway’s measure of men.

In our society, after all, moments are to be lived through, not lived.

Careful, prudent persons must therefore forego the opportunity to demonstrate certain prized attributes; after all, devices that render the individual’s moments free from fatefulness also render them free from new information concerning him – free, in short, from significant expression.

On Face-Work

This is interesting because it is an academic treatment of what the Chinese literally refer to as “face”.

A line is a pattern of verbal and nonverbal acts by which a person expresses his view of the situation and through this his evaluation of the participants, especially himself.

Face is the positive social value a person claims for himself by the line others assume he has taken.

Face is important because we tend to have an immediate emotional response to our face.

We maintain our face when the line we take is supported by others and the facts of the situation. When we are in face, we are confident and self assured. When we are out of face, we are flustered. Someone with poise is able to conceal his shamefacedness.

Face work refers to the actions we need to take to keep consistent with our face. Someone who is adept at face work is said to have savior faire, tact or diplomacy. We can choose to either avoid or correct threats to face. We need a repertoire of face saving practices for these threats.

Goffman goes on to describe defensive, offensive and cooperative face-work. Why the need for face work? Goffman argues that given that people have feelings for their face, and given that society requires its people to interact, face-work is crucial. Ordinarily, we call this people skills.

Highlights:

Approved attributes and their relation to face make of every man his own jailer; this is a fundamental social constraint even though each man may like his cell.

Usual objectives (of interaction) – gaining face for oneself, giving free expression to one’s true beliefs, introducing depreciating information about the others … are typically pursued in such a way as to be consistent with the maintenance of face.

Each person, subculture, and society seems to have its own characteristic repertoire of face-saving practices. It is to this repertoire that people refer to when they ask what a culture is “really” like.

What the person protects and defends and invests his feelings in is an idea about himself, and ideas are vulnerable not to facts and things but to communications.

Deference and Demeanor

A rule of conduct is a guide for action.  A rule of conduct may be an obligation or an expectation, and the two are intimately mated, for one man’s obligation is often the other’s expectation. Rules may be substantive or ceremonial. Deference and Demeanour are two components of ceremonial activity.

Deference refers to the activity where symbolic appreciation is expressed to affirm the relationship. Salutations, compliments, and apologies which punctuate social intercourse being examples. This is complicated by the many roles a pair of interactants may occupy with respect to one another.

Demeanor refers to ceremonial behaviour typically conveyed through dress, deportment, bearing, to express to people that a person has certain desirable/undesirable qualities – Is he a friendly person, can I interact with him?

Highlights:

(presentation and avoidance rituals are so-named because) the individual must guard and design the symbolic implications of his acts while in the immediate presence of an object that has a special value to him.

The individual must rely on others to complete the picture of him of which he himself is allowed to paint only certain parts. Each individual is responsible for the demeanor image of himself and the deference image of others, so that for a complete man to be expressed, individuals must hold hands in a chain of ceremony, each giving deferentially with proper demeanor to the one on the right what will be received deferentially from the one on the left.

While it may be true that the individual has a unique self all his own, evidence of this possession is thoroughly a product of joint ceremonial labor …

Alienation from Interaction

Conversation is an expressive act where we project an image of our character and attitudes through our gestures and words. Etiquette is how society governs this expression. Apart from its expressive function, conversation is primarily thought of as a social act. It is a declicate trance that involves joint spontaneous involvement. The speaker must modulate his spontaneity and encourage fellow interactants to be spontaneous as well. He must adhere to rules of conduct yet take enough liberties to ensure a minimum level of excitement. This is a difficult balancing act, so we expect alienation to be the norm rather than the exception.

There are three forms of alienation – attention is diverted from the conversation to the self, to other interactants, or to the interaction itself. Uneasiness is contagious because the initial offence draws attention away from the talk, which itself becomes an offence to the interaction. Spoken interaction between many kinds of people and on many occasions is necessary if men are to do society’s work.

Highlights:

As a main focus of attention talk is unique, however, for talk creates for the participant a world and a reality that has other participants in it. Joint spontaneous involvement is a unio mystico, a socialized trance.

While engaged in the interaction it will be necessary for them to have subjects at hand to talk about that fit the occasion and yet provide content enough to keep the talk going; in other words; safe supplies are needed.

Should one participant fail to help keep the interaction going, other participants will have to do his share of the work. An individual may acquire a reputation for this kind of labor, creating resentment.

Just as a witticism may do honour to the conversational moment, so the wearing of new or special clothing, the serving of rare or costly food, and the use of perishable flowers can draw attention to the unique value of a wider social occasion.

Embarassment and Social Organization

Embarrasment occurs when a projected image is threatened. Discomfiture is low status. One can either dispel it when it has occurred, or avoid it in the first place. The quality of dispelling it is referred to as composure or poise. One can also avoid embarssemnt to oneself or others. This is referred to as graciousness or tact. Removing embarassment is important because It affects the pleasure or displeasue of the social encounter and the amount of affection or hostility for the participants. The lack of embarassment helps other people to continue playing their parts.

Highlights:

In all these settings, the same fundamental thing occurs: the expressive facts at hand threaten or discredit the assumptions a participant finds he has projected about his identity. Thereafter those present find they can neither do without the assumptions nor base their own responses upon them. The inhabitable reality shrinks until everyone feels “small” or out of place.

network girl

A distinction between a woman’s soul and body is impossible, are her looks and smiles physical or spiritual? No one can say. – Lin Yutang describing a woman’s allure.

Testing the limits of attraction is a delicate matter. Patricia wears gloves in the office and has a schoolgirl fringe on a maternal face. I put the question, would you bang her? He pauses and smiles abashedly, “If you ask me, I won’t say no.”

Huixuan is not immediately appealing, she is pleasant. Her black-grey dresses, less a celebration of the female form than practical adornment. Would I bang her? I gaze at her back as she walks past my desk back to her cubicle. In my moments of boredom, I sit on my desk and survey the surrounding people. Maybe from my eyes she can tell that I want to put aside her chineseness and barrelness. In the elevator, as we’re leaving for home, I whisper in her ear, check out this guy in the lift, what a stupid haircut. I manage to insult her as well, enough for her to scuttle over to punch me before she goes the other way with a bemused Ik Tken.

I have a picture of my mother at work at her desk, typewriter sitting solidly atop as she smiles at the camera. This is 30 years ago, so I understand why Dad married her. He grumbles and jokes ironically about marriage, but he would have drunk her youth, her hips, her carefully blow dried hair. Looking at the picture, I confess to myself, time travel paradoxes notwithstanding, Westermarck be damned.

A spiritual layer lies above the layer of daily existence we inhabit, and the two meet where a woman’s smile begins. Ordinary time ends, a different space begins. – Robert Bly teaching.

I’m at Jason’s in City Hall, impatiently waiting in line. Here I feel that certain boring quality inherent to life. It should not make any difference how much time I am wasting when I already spend lethargic weekends watching George Clooney, Woody Allen, someone to teach me about mature masculinity, and running through the same male lifestyle websites, as if I can buy masculinity as well. No, avoiding queues is not the Pareto solution to what ails me. I eye a smartly dressed woman in high heels, and feeling my eyes on her, she swivels her neck and brazenly looks back. I turn away to see network girl queuing up just behind me. She laughs. I feel it now – replayed many times in the history of humanity – Man meets a woman, conquers his self-doubt, makes his move and asks her out. In a second I cross the 2 or 3 people between us.

It is a weekday after work, lining up in the queue, she’s dressed in jeans and a t shirt, carrying a bottle of milk in hand. Maybe her friends like to smuggle fresh milk into the movies.

“What are you doing here?”, glad I manage to say something.

“I’m going home”

I’m confused, “Do you stay around here?”

“Yes”, she smiles like she’s hiding something.

“Really?” Oh god, she stays here around City hall! But she doesn’t look rich. Just chinese. (and I know she’s Malaysian, already has a boyfriend and supposedly checks me out all the time)

“Noo, Queenstown.” she giggles.

Now I fumble for words and smile stupidly at her. She smiles as well but we have nothing to say to each other. George Clooney wouldn’t look away. His silence, reframed, is not uncomfortable, instead it hints at the possible, is atmospheric.

I look around to avoid her eyes. The queue cannot go fast enough. Thankfully, the cashier calls out for the next customer, so I walk up, then wonder how to excuse myself or how to talk to her again but make it appear natural. I do none of these things, self-consciously paying but not daring to look until I have to look. She is still paying and I walk past her, wondering whether to tap her on the shoulder to say goodbye.

Retold, the story sounds flat – I met network girl yesterday. She was in the queue, I asked her where she lived. Damn, I should have asked her out for coffee. But I left instead.

I see her walk past with the girls she always hangs with in the canteen downstairs. Reynold tells me he knows network girl, talks to her all the time. Apparently she hasn’t a thing to do with networks but the name feels apt to me anyway. He offers to introduce her but I feel danger again. It is tiring to curb the insistent animal appeal of network girl’s impossibly small waist, her swaying hips. When we walk towards each other down the corridor and I see her coming towards me, the tension builds, like how when I walk past her desk, her head is down but she surely knows I’m there. She looks up momentarily, and we catch each other in a standoff which lasts a second, maybe two.

I imagine this is like free falling. Risk, reward, not like balance sheets or portfolios. It is that moment when you jump on faith that it will turn out all right except I never feel her thrilling closeness. As liquid soap oozes out of coin operated plastic dispensers, she’ll say wait and walk up close, closer, except now I no longer have to see how thin she is because I can feel her thinness pressed into me, unpeeling my shirt, easing it off as I grip her arms so tightly I’m afraid I might break them. As she drags on her cigarette, I inhale deeply wondering how smoke never tasted so erotic before. She reaches for the clasp on my belt, but i hardly notice, I only marvel that the line of her jaw reminds me of my mother’s 30 years ago. But a woman cannot be confused with a mythological being. She must still eat, fart discreetly in the elevator, suppress the inner turmoil beneath the radiance of her face and golden hair. It is hard for me to see past this radiance, captured in the unassuming facebook photo of a second degree friend, replayed when I close my eyes and search for a comforting image.

Karen comes up to me and pauses. She exhales before beginning. “I have a friend who wants to meet you. Are you interested?” “She’s a girl.” I know who it is immediately. 2 weeks later, she comes up to me again, “I found out you’re being extended.” “Yes, why?” She walks away, I can almost see her running calculations in her head.

Nineteen 10™

Nineteen 10™ brings you the best of high altitude fine dining. Nowhere else will you enjoy views of bedok reservoir, luscious greenery, and a boy’s reformation home.

We are proud to present the latest fixture in Singapore’s cosmopolitan dinner scene, and ask that you clear your schedules for Sibling Saturdays. Are you a jaded diner who’s seen and tasted everything except the kitchen sink? Fret no more and come down for this Saturday’s Cook-Off to end all Cook-Offs. It isn’t personal, it’s forever.

Nineteen 10™ understands that the discerning diner does not bother with everyday trifles such as money. We insist that you bring nothing of the sort. However, do bring along brutal honesty, the kind that leaves any civility at the door.

The Stakes cannot be any higher. The loser leaves with hurt feelings, less money to shop at Forever 21, and will have to stop parading in leather clothing and asking for “opinions”. The victor gets bragging rights to last till at least Chinese New Year and a bounce in the step that will last forever.

Your vote matters. Decide who gets to be the sole survivor, and who gets to be voted off the island, only at Nineteen 10™.

Creating a Vision

Project 3: Get to the Point

One question has long intrigued and perplexed me. What makes me come alive? It’s a good question, because the world needs more people who have come alive. The answer – vision. How do I write this vision statement, improve it if needed, and use it to inspire myself? Looking about this room, I see a good number of you who are wiser than I am. I see a good number of people who are different. I do not presume to tell you this is the answer for you, but this is what I have found works for me, and I would like to share it with you.

I knew that my vision statement had to be emotional. Yesterday, I caught myself daydreaming about the macbook air. I imagined becoming sexier, more creative, smarter. Life in short, would be magnificent.  I wondered why I associated these qualities with the Macbook air. Steve Jobs has created a compelling brand vision and imbued it with emotions. I wanted to harness this emotional power for myself. So the first lesson is that, my vision has to be emotional.

It also has to be positive and in the present tense.  Whatever we focus our attention on grows. A bad example is this: I will lose the spare tire I have around me that makes me feel sluggish and tired. Instead, I am achieving a healthy optimal weight that looks great and feels vibrant. Keep it positive and in the present tense.

But these attributes merely make a good vision statement. How do I turn it from being merely good to great? This is how: read your vision everyday. As you read it, imagine it as if it is already real.

Notice your gut reaction to the vision? Give it a few days. Continue to read it everyday.

Sometimes, the problems with your vision are so deep it’s best to throw out the whole vision and start over from scratch with a totally different direction. That’s ok. A vision that feels off will never work, because the negative feelings will block you from making it real. Better to discard a vision that disagrees with you and find something that actually works.

Another possibility is that as you imagine your vision, your mind will begin to tweak it in different ways. Keep modifying it until you feel that the vision is right for you.

One possibility is that it feels right to you. You know you want it. You’re practically lusting after it. That’s great. This vision is a keeper. Continue to read it everyday to inspire yourself. This will help to imprint the vision onto your subconscious. Within a month or less you’ll see evidence that this vision is already becoming real for you.

Read your vision every day and use your gut reaction to tweak your vision until it feels right.

Let me show you what my vision looks like. This then is how I inspire myself. My vision is positive, emotional, I keep it in the present tense. Every morning, I read it.

At first our dreams might seem impossible. But if we create a vision, and if we read it everyday. We start to notice things everyday that make it seem only improbable. And as things start to shift  and we take decisions with those dreams in mind and take action towards those dreams, these dreams become inevitable.

fifty dollars

I wish to explain myself.

I believe in self-determination. It is my responsibility to decide the life I want to live, and to live with the consequences of my decisions. I should not let anyone else dictate my life for me.

I do not live in a vacuum. Very often, I will also need other people to do things for me. I try to create an arrangement where both people benefit. I believe in mutual self-interest. It is no good to force other people to do what I want.

To convince the other person to do something for me, I might use the excuse that what I want is “right”. Maybe I might say that it is only right that a mother cooks dinner for her son. Who decides that this is “right”. Do I decide? Does society decide? Is it “right” because it’s always been done that way?

Or perhaps I think that what I want you to do is “good” for you. I might say that you should exercise  three times a week, and I might feel very strongly that it will increase your happiness. However, these are only my standards, based on my experiences. You are your own person, with your own unique experiences and values, only you know best how to be happy. It would be presumptuous for me to tell you what to do.

I think it far better to let other people be. Let them do as they see fit. They are walking on their own roads to happiness just as surely as I am.

Consider how you wash my clothes for me, clean the house, buy food, prepare dinner for me, provide a room for me to stay in. Am I thankful? VERY! But I do not expect you to do this for me because it is only “right”, or because you have always done so. Mutual self-interest. Do what is best for yourself, and I will do what is best for me. If you do not like preparing dinner, if you do not like buying food for me, if you no longer wish to provide a room for me to stay in, I am sure we can both discuss our preferences and settle the matter in a manner that will benefit us both. Mind, I am not suggesting you kick me out right away :P.

Is this a heartless, calculating way to live? I let you decide. On the contrary, I believe that mutual self-interest creates more happiness. Instead of forcing someone else to grudgingly act under obligation, we would have more people acting in their self-interest. This is a wonderful thing.

I had already decided to stop giving the $50 monthly allowance when Valerie asked me before flying off to Korea for an advance. I wanted to change my mind then and give her the money. It would have been the easy thing, the nice thing to do.

When I started working, you told me that I should give Valerie $50 a month. I did it because you said so. It was the easy thing, paying $50 a month to avoid conflict.

A nice guy avoids conflict. A man makes a principled decision and stands by his choices.

Valerie, I would slip into your room and place the $50 under perhaps a sheath of paper on your cluttered study table so it wouldn’t fly away. Then I’d return quietly into my room and perhaps an hour or so later when you discovered it, you’d come over and say, “thanks, kor”, and I’d nod my head to complete the ritual. It was my way of saying, “hey, I’m here for you”. I don’t regret the money I gave you at all. Mom, you had this in mind when you wanted me to give Valerie an allowance. I understand that.

But now that Val’s finished her last semester, I thought I would make a small statement. I wanted to make a principled, thoughtful choice. Not because something is “right”, not because it’s always been that way, but because I wanted to live by 2 principles – mutual self-interest, and self-determination.