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Do we live for ourserlves or for each other?

  1. Jul 26, 2003 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    I thought to pass on a recent paradox of mine. I am curious about your thoughts on this.

    I have spent most of my life really working towards goals that seek to improve the human condition. I realized one day that I am really living for the future and failing to appreciate the present. If I spend my entire life guessing at how best to contribute to the future of mankind, then what of the joy of living now? I had nearly lost this. I worried so long about the problems to be solved that I had forgotten why we should solve them.

    Is our greatest duty happiness, or contribution?
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  3. Jul 26, 2003 #2
    No doubt happiness.

    I trust you were happy until this recent revelation? If you weren't happy then I think you would have rethought your priorities when you first became unhappy.

    IMHO, we live for happiness and much of the time we achieve happiness that is sufficient for the present, so we naturally turn to making others happy, and in many cases that involves happiness of future generations, wishful thinking perhaps:smile: I think the generation we seek to gladify (not a word) depends on the person, not necessarily any natural dispositions.
  4. Jul 26, 2003 #3
    If we are truly happy, then we tend to want to share it with others. While it sometimes entails "making the sacrifice." Ideally it would involve making a contribution while doing something you truly enjoy.

    As Joseph Campbell said, "Follow your bliss." :wink:
  5. Jul 26, 2003 #4


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    i think the question totally depends on what society you live in...
  6. Jul 27, 2003 #5
    I think we solve problems largely for own good and that as a consequence others often benefit too. Consider perhaps some lazy fellow who got to thinking that he could save himself some physical exertion by chiseling off the corners of the square wheels on his cart… It worked well for him and everyone else.

    Well, I wouldn’t want to end up with “A Beautiful Mind”, if you know what I mean. But even that man was driven by selfish thoughts too.

    I vote for happiness, believing that contribution may follow suit.
  7. Jul 27, 2003 #6
    I think we live for happiness too, unless there's really some outstanding reason that you must contribute to society instead and forfiet your own happiness for the greater good.

    and as for making others happy, i've always thought that a misconception. usually helping others or making them happy is one of too things, 1. more convienient than letting the suffer or be upset or 2. is actually an attempt at making yourself happy either by the attention you'll get for the good deed, or just plain self gratification. humans, by nature, are hedonistic, we always aim to please ourselves first, and if by chance someone else gets something out of it, you can feel even better about yourself.
  8. Jul 27, 2003 #7
    I agree on that.. being the "worldly" person I am, I've noticed that asian cultures tend to focus on making others happy versus american and europen nations which have the more contemporary view of focus of self. Of course, I've noted that the balance is swung heavily to the female side of the population on that..
  9. Jul 27, 2003 #8
    The motivation toward "happiness" and "contribution" are, perhaps, rungs on an ontological -- if not "spiritual" -- ladder.

    According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, human beings "pass through" a series of motivating factors ...unless we become "stuck" in one due to prevailing circumstance or ourselves.

    I can't remember all that's within the hierarchy, but it runs from basic survival needs (food, shelter) through the gaining of self-esteem up through "self-actualization".

    Example: if someone is starving, they are not focused on composing a symphony. They are "happy" when they find food.

    Self-actualization has to do with finding one's calling and making a contribution. When one gets to this rung, one is "happy" when one is fulfilling one's purpose.

    Sometimes, however, to fulfill one's purpose, we must choose to do things that don't make us "feel good" (like studying all night, as an example). Let us not confuse "happiness" with "feeling good" all the time, because the latter is NOT a worthy endeavor -- IMO -- while the former is a product of serving a purpose.

    Here's a website (if I can manage it): www.awareness.free-online.co.uk/maslow.html[/URL]
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  10. Jul 27, 2003 #9

    Ivan Seeking

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    I am not my brother's keeper?

    I have no moral responsibility to future generations?
    ie. If the actions of mine and other generations dooms the human species, I have no personal responsibility?

    Unless this happens to coincide with my happiness?
  11. Jul 27, 2003 #10
    It would take an act of will to doom the future of our species, such a huge thing wouldn't just happen by accident, i.e. you were a clean freak and sprayed too many aerosol cans and depleted our entire ozone.

    I would say you have no moral responsibility to future generations, why should you? You cannot accurately predict the needs of future generations. Using BouldHeads example for instance, the lazy guy didn't invent the wheel knowing that future generations would also use it, he simply wanted to use it so he could put out less effort. I find it fitting he used the example of a lazy guy, because we can assume the lazy guy didn't care much about the future generations due to his lack of interest.
  12. Jul 27, 2003 #11
    I know you can't be responding to my last post here, because I am making the case that to be "self-actualized" we need to be making a contribution to someone(s) other than ourselves.

    I come to this not simply for a moral point of view, but from an ontological one. With regard to "civilization" and the "human condition", let us consider what WORKS and what DOESN'T work ...as opposed to what "right or wrong" or "good or bad".

    To my mind it DOESN'T WORK to allow our reptilian limbic system to run the show ...that is, allowing our TERRITORIALISM to propel us into HOSTILITIES which are rather UNPRODUCTIVE for the human condition and the planet itself.

    What DOES WORK, it seems to me, is CONTRIBUTION (doing a little bit more than that which would just take care of oneself) and COOPERATION (allowing others to make their contribution ...as opposed to "blocking" them, just for the hell of it!). This way, there's an "overlap" of productive behaviors (farming, as a simple example) and an EMPOWERMENT of each person to find/create one's PURPOSE.

    This call to CONTRIBUTION & COOPERATION, however, entails employing our frontal lobes (as opposed to our limbic system) to make DECISIONS about how we are going to ACT in the face of how we might FEEL like acting.

    These "decisions" -- to conclude my thought -- would then be based not on immediate and temporary satisfactions (like shooting someone when one is angry) ...but would be based on pre-determining the RESULTS WE WANT (to retain a friendship; to stay out of jail; to promote peace in our corner of the world; etc.) then taking the actions most likely to achieve these results.

    And, IMO, "happiness" has more of a chance of making an appearance while we are being contributory and cooperative than it does in being territorial, hostile and naysayers out of habit.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2003
  13. Jul 27, 2003 #12
    I believe that though we may do things for our own happiness on day to do basis, our entire lives are defined by others. We define ourselves socially by how others see us. By what we do with our lives, how we relate to other people, how we interact with them. We seek other's approvals. What we do for a living defines us, but ultimately society makes the determination of what is "good" and what is "not good".
  14. Jul 27, 2003 #13

    Ivan Seeking

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    Oh I don't agree here. I think it is happening right now...at least we can say that many of the experts fear that this is the case. Also, we need not be talking about extinction...a drastic change will do. My dilemma was, if I believe this, then how can I do any less than to completely dedicate myself to helping however I can...how can anyone?
  15. Jul 27, 2003 #14

    Ivan Seeking

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    I will take it one step further...being a semi-ex-Catholic and all...

    How can anyone of good conscience buy a boat, or take a trip, or bet on lotto when children are starving all over the world?
  16. Jul 27, 2003 #15

    Ivan Seeking

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    No. Really I was responding to Kyle, Gale17 and Boulderhead.

    What is the source of "good"? You only reference negative concepts with respect to the limbic region. What about love? What about the feeling of doing good? What about beauty? Music? Birds and many beasts of the field like music. In particular cows prefer Beethoven to Metallica. Perhaps it is our frontal lobes that make us build nuclear bombs? I don't remember anyone feeling like building nuclear weapons. I think this was decided.
  17. Jul 27, 2003 #16
    My point is that, while emotions -- "positive" like love, or "negative" like hate -- might be generated via the limbic system, it is still up to us to employ our higher cortical functioning to make decisions with regard to how we are going to BEHAVE.

    For example, falling in love is nice. However, if one falls in love with someone else's spouse, then the ACTION we need to take is, probably, NO ACTION AT ALL. This we call "self-control".

    Even in the case of "doing good"...there are times when our desire to "help others" can become "enabling" or can for "dependencies " or can result in a lack of confidence on THEIR part that they can take care of their own business.

    While I believe that "spontaneity" is "good thing" , we must (IMO) guard against being REFLEXIVE in our responses...so that we can CHOOSE OUR ACTIONS based on the RESULTS WE WANT ...independent of what our emotions might call us to do.

    Or do you still not agree?
  18. Jul 27, 2003 #17

    This is a question I've asked myself in the past. It is an unfortunate fact that the world's wealth is not evenly distributed. I believe the statistic I saw from another post was that the US is 5 percent of the world's population, yet owns 25 percent of it's total wealth.

    So you need to ask yourself: What would it take to mak you feel better about that? Donating to a worthy cause to help out those less fortunate? Donating your time as well to such a cause? Selling everything you own and donating to that cause? Making philanthropy your life's work?

    These problems unfortunately can't be solved by just one person. The only way to improve lives all over the world is to make a descion as a society to do so. For me, I'm aware of the plight of the rest of the world outside of the US. I also recongize that while I do make my little contributions to society, it doesn't change the overall plight of the world as a whole.

    How many people's lives do you need to change for the better in order to feel like you're making a difference? 10? 20? 100? 1000? For me it all starts with just one person. If I can help that person out for the better,than I've made a difference. Don't think it large steps, think of small ones, and grow from there. If you focus on the largest problem, then you'll get vertigo. If you focus on just one problem, you'll solve it and move on to the next one;)

    That's my outlook on life anyhow
  19. Jul 27, 2003 #18

    Ivan Seeking

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    I do agree...but boy I sure hated that self control part when I was 16!

    Still there is the issue of responsibility; the degree of which if any is the point of the question. What responsibility to act directly, and of the time spent honoring this effort. I can name many people who gave it all for their dedication to this cause called humanity...many scientists also I think. We owe nothing to those go came before us and who gave so much?

    If we are going to reproduce, then don't we make a moral contract with our children? I made you therefore I will endure to ensure you a future.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2003
  20. Jul 27, 2003 #19
    It almost seems as tho you're asking whether we have a right to be happy until everything is "fixed".

    If this is the question, then my reply is this quote: "You've got to take care of yourself before you can take care of others."

    Preserving one's mental health is one piece of taking care of oneself ...so we've got to "opt for happiness" (Neil Simon? Seinfeld?) now and again.

    And to paraphrase Ghandi: "What you can do might not seem important, but it's important that you DO it." Thus, Ghandi and I align with Zantra on this issue.

    Regarding self-control @ 16: a recent documentary maintained that the cerebral cortex of teenagers is not completely wired. This is why they are impulsive and often demonstrate bad judgement. (Gee! I'm glad Mentat's not reading this!).

    But it also suggests (to me) that once we become fully wired, we're supposed (??) to USE our judgement before we act.

    Edit: Which doesn't mean controlling oneself gets any easier.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2003
  21. Jul 28, 2003 #20

    Ivan Seeking

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    Really, I agree with most of what you and others have said here. I agree that we must take care of ourselves and to try and find happiness in this world. However, I have heard no claim of responsibility other than to happiness.

    Am I the only one who thinks there are things more important than me and my happiness? .

    Where would we be if our soldiers considered their own happiness first; and their country only second or third? Also, what about the Mother Theresa's of the world? I know for a fact that at least some people who dedicate their lives to the service of others do so out of a sense of responsibility and duty...not for personal happiness. Some people are exposed to the horrors or the world and simply can't walk away. They may wish to, but after seeing what they've seen, pursuits of personal gain seem shallow and selfish. None of you seem to give these people their fair due.

    Please don't misunderstand as I live a pretty selfish life. I don't mean to preach from the pulpit. But I look to others with a sense of awe and sometimes even shame. I have given so little compared to others. Do we just rationalize these peoples sacrifices away with some psychobabbelic [ ] philosophy that seeks to avoid personal responsibility?
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