Gratefulness

I am grateful.

Not sure to whom,

Only somewhat sure for what;

But certain that I am indeed grateful.

 

I am grateful.

For rather than being able to see the future,

I am able to mold it to my vision.

 

I am grateful.

For though I cannot prepare for the unforeseen worst,

I am unable to lose hope in the unforeseen best.

 

I am grateful.

For instead of only experiencing perfection

And knowing only peace,

I am able to experience all life has to offer

And still find peace amid chaos.

 

I am grateful.

And whatever my end may be,

Whether I am to be raised up to heaven,

Damned down to hell,

Or left lying flat in my grave,

I shall hold no resentment towards my maker,

Whether they be a forgiving god,

A wrathful god,

Or a bunch of atoms.

 

For them,

My heart shall only hold

Gratefulness.

Search The Desert For Whales

There once was a hermit in the desert,

Who thought himself something of an expert.

When asked what his life entails,

He would say he searched for whales,

For whales could not be found in the desert.

 

A young man was so curious,

Was he mad or a genius?

So he got on a bus

Without any great fuss.

He thought it all quite ludicrous.

 

When he arrived at his destination,

He was laughing at his situation.

The hermit was soon found,

Are you mad or profound?

Was the start of the two’s conversation.

 

The hermit soon got to explainin’

The reason that he took up whalin’,

Because the desert has caves.

Believe me that caused shock waves.

The man did not find it bemusin’.

 

Having toyed enough with the younger,

The hermit went to explain further,

Life ain’t about achievement,

Nor it about acruement;

Life’s about the journey and wonder.

 

Say you achieve all that you were wantin’;

Would you start waiting to fill your coffin?

The seed needs no aim to grow;

Like the seed your life should flow.

What good is joy dependent on somethin?

 

Why do I hunt whales here, not in the sea?

I wanted something to keep me busy.

I don’t need it for my joy,

It’s not vital to my joy.

My joy is found in an aimless journey.

 

Joy is to be found in the steps taken,

Not in the path’s final destination.

Fill every step with love,

Each step peaceful like a dove;

Then joy you’ll have, whatever conclusion.

 

Sand whaling’s not just something I’d defend

But something I would highly recommend.

Content with all absence,

Content with abundance;

Contentment is this way of life’s stipend.

 

The young man had heard the hermit was mad,

That he was a completely crazy lad.

Their judgement he, now, did trust;

They had him completely sussed.

So, he became the hermit’s undergrad.

What Does Love Even Mean?

How many different definitions of love do you think there are? Then again maybe that’s the wrong question to ask since most people probably couldn’t even offer up a definition, and even if two people could give a definition and the exact same definition there’s no guarantee they would both mean the exact same thing, so let me try again. How many different understandings of what love is do you think there are? So, no need to use any words, all that is required is that whenever the person thinks of love they are able to conceptualise it, even if they can’t explain it to anybody else or even themselves. Now, I would wager that the answer to this question is about the same number of people alive that are able to form concepts. However, there are likely to be minimal differences between some people’s understandings of love so it’s perhaps best to only think of how many sufficiently different understandings of love there are that can form their own categories. My guess is that, even still, there are likely to be countless dissimilar categories when it comes to people’s understandings of love, and yet we are so ready to tell everyone to love either themselves or others without bothering to explain what we think loving entails.

This is a significant discrepancy. Ultimately, loving people don’t really need to be told what love is nor do they need to be told to love but it is likely that the people who are not acting in a loving way, and thus the targets of calls to love themselves and others, also misunderstand what is meant by the term “love”. There are plenty of abusive and excessively controlling people that believe they are being loving towards the people they abuse and control. Thus, it is incredibly important to make an attempt to define love, both to serve as a standard for how the abusive should behave, if they are under the illusion that they are treating others in a loving way, and to serve as a standard by which the abused can judge the supposedly loving behaviour of their abusers. However, defining love is not just important in the context of an abusive relationship as, given that even someone that physically abuses their children can think they are acting in a loving way, it is perfectly possible that we would have a false impression of how loving our own behaviour really is and so it would be good for everyone if there was a less subjective definition of love against which we could judge our own behaviour.

To me, love is the facilitation of that which satisfies the soul of the receiver. My definition is somewhat inspired by this video of Dr Maya Angelou and it applies whether we are talking about loving ourselves or others. To love yourself is to act in a way that allows your soul to be satisfied and to love others is to act in a way that allows their soul to be satisfied. As we now know that there is no guarantee people will understand this definition in the way I would like them to, I think it is best that I explain my concept of love a little more in depth and explore the aspects of love that I think this definition encompasses to better the chances people will understand it in the way I intend.

First things first, when I define love this way I am not talking about romantic love or familial love or the love you would have for your friends. These types of love are determined by the attachment the people share and their responsibilities towards each other. While I do think that the kind of love I’m talking about should be present in these relationships it is still separate from these kinds of love. The love I’m trying to define is more like what the Greeks called “agape” which is an unconditional love that a person should have for all people regardless of their relationship.

Another source of confusion might be what I mean by “satisfies the soul”. When I use this term I’m really talking about contentment. Contentment seems to only be attainable by accepting the reality of today and knowing that you are doing your best to work toward the betterment of tomorrow for all people. Without doing this, it really doesn’t seem to be possible for a person to find contentment, just try to find a person that wants others to be worse off or can’t accept the world as it is today that is or was content, in the case that they’re dead, because I haven’t been able to do it. And when I say all people I am including you, it does not seem possible for a person to be content without wanting the best for themselves tomorrow and accepting their reality today. It is not actually possible for you to completely change yourself in a day, the brain is just as physical as the rest of you, your habits are physically ingrained into your brain, and so just as you can’t expect to suddenly be able to run a marathon, you can’t expect to suddenly be a completely different person, changing your bad habits takes time and you can either hate yourself for that or accept it and enjoy the ride as you change those habits. Of course, if you can’t even fix yourself today, then the folly of thinking you could fix the world today is clear.

This focus on the facilitation of contentment inevitably means the love must be results driven and receiver-centric. Our good intentions aren’t really enough, we must be focused on what the consequences of our actions are and change them if they do not help satisfy the soul of the other person. We must also allow the other person to choose how they are loved because only they truly know what will bring them contentment. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t make people’s lives difficult. Obviously we should always challenge our loved ones if they’re being hateful or refusing to accept the reality of today, as they will never find contentment this way, but sometimes we see how people wish to better the world as being unrealistic or as being too dangerous or sometimes we just don’t like them doing something that’s neither here nor there when it comes to accepting reality or bettering the world, like their haircut (and yes, that example is from experience) or something of the like, and in cases such as these I think all we can do is voice our concerns and then leave them be about it. The only way to do any of this is to allow others to be honest with us. We can’t try to dominate our loved ones and become furious anytime they say something we don’t want to hear because then we wouldn’t be loving that person but someone that shares their face. The only way we can help to satisfy the soul of others is if we provide an environment in which they feel they can bare their soul to us.

The same also applies when it comes to loving ourselves. We need to focus on if we are actually getting closer to being content and make sure we’re not just fooling ourselves into thinking what we’re doing is making us content. It’s a little bit easier to love ourselves at least because we aren’t experiencing our contentment or lack of it through the words and perspective of another. Ask yourself one of these two questions, when appropriate, and you’ll know what to do to love yourself. Can I truly be content with doing this for the rest of my life? And, could I truly be content if I never did this in my life? Becoming more honest as you go along is also an important part of loving ourselves because which of us could truly be content having never been truly and fully ourselves with anyone other than ourselves? Also, the only way you’ll change things for the better is if you’re honest about what you want. What you don’t ask for you don’t get.

And so, that is how I view love. It’s focused on the satisfaction of the soul, focused on the results of our actions, focused on the receiver of our love, and, most importantly, the definition makes it harder for abusive people to think they’re being loving by abusing others. I’ll end this post on something else I find to be important. There is a reason I wrote that love is the facilitation of that which satisfies the soul and that reason is you cannot force people to be content. Us being content is on us. The best we can do is provide the right conditions for them to find contentment, but they are the ones that must find that contentment, no amount of our love can find it for them. It’s like a broken bone, we can put it in a cast and make sure the bone isn’t used but, ultimately, the bone has to repair itself, all we can do is provide the best conditions for the mending of the bone. This is another reason it’s easier to love ourselves because at least we can do the work, but we can’t do the work for other people. So that is the obligation of love: to facilitate that which will lead them to find contentment, be there for them as they struggle, and celebrate with them when their soul is finally satisfied.

Bible Study with a Spiritual Atheist: Genesis 2

In Genesis 2 we see a continuation of the story we are told in Genesis 1 in the first four verses and then the rest of the chapter is rather different. What comes after the first four verses can either be read as a completely different account of the creation of all that is, or it can be seen as adding flesh onto the bare bones of the Genesis 1 creation story.

In ending the story of Genesis 1, the first verses of Genesis 2 provides an explanation for the Sabbath, in God hallowing the day, and provides a model for how humans should rest, on the Sabbath day or otherwise. It can be safe to say that in the Bible the highest seal of approval for a behaviour is for God Himself to act out the behaviour and that is what we see in this chapter with the act of resting. This clearly shows that the Bible considers rest to be good, almost sacred, and also necessary. The manner in which God rests can also imply how how humanity should rest. The ideal model of rest, as formulated by the Bible, is one in which the rest is: limited, lasting only one day; deserved, having only occured after God did some work; and a rest in which the conscious being “turns off,” as God does not survey his work, whether to criticise or to praise, instead God simply rests.

The rest of the chapter retells the story of creation but it is clear why, despite some seeming contradictions in the two stories, this version was added into the Bible as it reaffirms the themes of Genesis 1. Genesis 2 serves to further assert the uniqueness of humanity to God and that God created the earth to house the humans. For one thing, the entire chapter depicts the interactions between the man and God, and later the woman, it doesn’t spend any time talking about how God ruffled the feathers of a parrot. Given the description of events in Genesis 2 – of the man being moulded by God, instead of simply being created like the animals; being given an entire garden that God makes specifically for him; and the care for the man’s social well being that God shows – then I think it is safe to say that the biblical God has a special interest in humans and considers them to be of the utmost importance when it comes to His creation.

The following verse can be seen as a perfect representation of how the Bible views the role and place of humans in the universe:

“then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” – Genesis 2:7

This verse illustrates that humans are bonded to, both, the earth and its creatures and also to God. Humans are part of creation and formed from the earth, so they share a commonality with the rest of creation, while at the same time the man is singled out to have the breath of life breathed into him by God, so humans also share a connection with God. It can be seen then that humans have a responsibility to both physical and spiritual matters and are the key to why God created physical matter in the first place, as this existence of the spiritual and physical as one was to be the key feature of humanity.

If we look at the terms used to describe the human in verse 7 – “living being” – and the term used to describe all the animals in verse 19 – “living creatures” – then a nice contrast can be found. If we accept that God is living as He is able to give the breath of life (after all how could God give this if God did not possess it Himself?) then that gets us a living God, living beings, and living creatures. These terms formalise the idea that there are differences between them but also similarities. The use of “living” is a marker that all of them are animated and their lives are important and sacred. The difference in the terms used after the word “living” for each – God, being, and creature – denotes that, in the biblical worldview, each have differences in ranks and differences in where they “belong”. The differences in rank are illustrated in the differences in responsibilities each rank has. God has a responsibility of care for all of creation, humans have a responsibility of care for the animals, and the animals have only a responsibility to care for themselves. The responsibility also goes up the ranks; the animals have a responsibility of servitude to the humans and the humans have a responsibility of servitude to God. This relationship formed between the humans and animals can be seen to help teach the humans how to act in their relationship with God; just as an animal will anger a human if they do not serve properly so too will God be angered if humans do not serve Him properly, also just as the human should not abuse their authority as it would weaken the animals’ service, neither will God abuse His authority over the humans. The differences in the hierarchy between God, the humans, and the animals, can be understood by the physical differences between them. God is pure spirit, animals are pure matter, and humans are of both spirit and matter which is why they are accountable to both spirit and matter, they must survive and answer for how they use their free will.

The commandments that are given to the humans by God in Genesis 1 can also be found in Genesis 2, if slightly spaced out. In Genesis 2:15, we are told that the man is to take care of the Garden of Eden, and then in verse 19, the man is shown to have power over all the animals of the Earth. However, there is a slight difference when it comes to the relationship between the man and Eve. Instead of God’s concern being their procreation, through the verses 18-24, we see that God is most concerned about the personal aspect of the relationship between the two humans as the biblical view is clearly that humans require a healthy and loving companionship, so much so that this romantic relationship is explicitly stated to be more important than familial relationships. This focus on the personal could also be a reflection of the more “personal” narrative style of Genesis 2 as opposed to the “impersonal” list of creation that is to be found in Genesis 1. Also note, in Genesis 2 there is still a certain level of equality between the two sexes to be found. The woman is said to be the man’s partner, not his underling or subordinate, and given the importance given to the body of man, having been moulded personally by God, we can consider this equality to be reasserted in the man saying, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”.

Genesis 2 also adds upon the themes of Genesis 1 and the clearest illustration of this is through verse 9.

“Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” – Genesis 2:9

In this verse, the trees can be seen to convey every aspect of God that was outlined in Genesis 1; creation, goodness, and immortality; while also revealing another aspect of God which is His knowledge of good and evil. As we can see, no aspect of God is hidden from the humans and, in fact, some parts were even on offer to the humans, even if explicitly forbidden, i.e. immortality and the knowledge of good and evil.

Combined with verse 9, verses 17 and 25 build tension and set up for the climax of this creation story in the next chapter. Imagine reading this chapter without prior knowledge of what happens. We would most likely consider the death foretold by God to be a literal one in which case not only would defiance mean the end of humanity but it would also mean that the entirety of creation, which happened so God could have a relationship with humans, would be a complete waste so clearly there are big stakes here. The final verse of the chapter acts to remind the reader of the innocence of the humans at this point in time and make the prospect of disobedience that bit more disheartening. And as we shall see in the next chapter, this fear of the loss of paradise is well founded.

Bible Study with a Spiritual Atheist: Genesis 1

The first chapter a person will see when they open up the Bible is Genesis 1. It begins at the beginning, helpfully enough, and attempts to explain how creation came to be while revealing the character of the biblical God and His purpose for the creation of the universe.

Two key aspects of the biblical God are emphasised throughout the entire chapter: His power and His goodness. Even with the very first verse, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” the Bible conveys the power of God. Not only is God the all-powerful creator but also nothing is outside His power. This chapter conveys all of creation to be the domain of God, there are no lesser gods in charge of being the sun or creating waves in the sea, instead everything happens because of the power of God. We are also given a sense of the magnitude of God’s power through the words “And God said”. Think of how much work humans have to do to build an IKEA bookshelf and the Bible tells us that God was able to create everything we see in the world with just a few words.

The other characteristic of God emphasised throughout the chapter is His goodness. The words “God saw that it was good” appear repeatedly throughout the chapter to show that goodness is important to God and we can then infer this means the biblical God is good because the goodness of the world would not be important to Him if He Himself was not good. Part of the reason the world is good when it’s created is its peacefulness. We are told that God gave the humans “every plant yielding seed” and the fruit of every “tree with seed in its fruit” for food and God gave the animals “every green herb” which means that not only were the humans not eating the animals, but they were not even competing with each other for food. The goodness of the world when it is first created serves to make the argument that evil is not an inevitability nor is it a necessity. Thus, it provides the hope that a world without evil is possible.

The majority of Genesis 1 almost reads like a shopping list for all of creation. It’s very dry and without purpose, we are told God makes the universe and the planets and the animals but not what the point in making them was. You could be forgiven for suspecting God simply created the world to serve as His own personal nature documentary. However, the purpose of the world begins to come into view with the creation of the humans.

While Genesis 1 clearly sets up all of life as being sacred to God, all of it is seen as good by God after all, human life is clearly singled out as being uniquely special to God. Only the male and female humans are created in the image of God which separates them from all the other animals, also note the sense of equality in importance between the sexes as both are made in the image of God. This unique importance of humanity would then suggest that it is the focus of the creation of the universe, and thus the rest of creation can be understood through the lens of this relationship between God and humans. So the question, then, for why the world was created can only be answered if we know why humanity was created.

The Bible clearly shows that humans were created to have a relationship with God, and the rest of creation is there to facilitate that relationship. The days in which God created the universe can be separated into two categories as they pertain to God’s relationship with humanity. The first four days can be categorised as being used to create the conditions necessary for life to be sustained. The light was created so humans could see. The firmament was created so humans could breathe. The land was created because humans weren’t made with gills. The plants were created so humans had something to eat. And, the sun and the moon and the stars were created so humans would have days and years and seasons. Meanwhile, the last two days can be categorised as being used to create parallels between God and humanity. The animals of the water, the air, and the land are created to be cared for by the humans, imitating the way God cares for all of creation. It is almost as if He wanted humans to have something in common with Him to give a basis to their relationship. The creation of humans in the image of God also informs the reader that humans have been made to be similar enough to God to be capable of having a relationship with Him.

The argument for viewing creation, as described in the Bible, in this manner is strengthened by the commands that are given to the humans by God. God commands the humans to care for the earth and its creatures and to have dominion over them and to “be fruitful and multiply”. The part about humans caring for the earth and its creatures has already been discussed as to why it is important to God’s relationship with humanity. Therefore, the focus will now be on how the procreation of humans should be viewed through its meaning for the relationship between God and humanity.

The words “be fruitful and multiply” appear twice in Genesis 1. They are first spoken to the fowl and the animals of the water, and then they are spoken to the humans. However, when God speaks these words to the fish and the birds they appear to be serving as a blessing, and thus part of God’s divine will, rather than as a commandment so it seems there is no choice in the matter on the part of the birds and the fish but this is not so with the humans. When God speaks the words “be fruitful and multiply,” to the humans, they are separate from God’s blessing and so the humans appear to have a choice in the matter. It appears to be accepted by this chapter that humanity must be able to choose to have a relationship with God for it to be meaningful. This difference between the blessing of the animals and the commandment of the humans gives us a clue as to the function of both utterances. The animals are to multiply so that the humans will have something to care for, no matter how many there are, and the humans are to multiply to produce more beings that are capable of having a relationship with God, and for this relationship to be meaningful the procreation must be the humans’ choice. The question, then, is how many humans are enough?

In Genesis 1, the God of the Bible is portrayed as being all-powerful, good, and social. He was able to create the universe, created it to be good and peaceful, and He created everything to allow for Him to have a relationship with humans. This understanding of why the biblical God created the universe and the similarities and parallels between God and humanity allows for a richer understanding of the meaning of humans being created in the image of God. Humans care for the animals and earth in the way God cares for the universe and humans are conscious beings that have the ability to make their own choices as God is a conscious being that has the ability to make His own choices. In these ways, humanity is made in the image of God and only by being made in this way can humanity’s relationship with God be true and meaningful, as they can also decide to not have a relationship with God.

Who Decides What Our Purpose Is?

For probably as long as humans have existed, we have questioned what the meaning of life is. We have constantly wondered about the purpose of not just human life, but all life. In trying to answer our own questions, we have often turned to either one god or several as an explanation, who have created everything we see in all manner of fantastical ways. This has led many people to come to rely on religious/spiritual leaders and sacred texts to explain the world to them and teach them the true purpose of their lives, and the true purpose of all life, for it is thought that purpose is as tangible and as real as the nose on your face. However, I have a problem with this reasoning and, more importantly I suppose, I have a problem with its outcomes.

There are really only two ways for people to be able to know what the purpose of their life is: feeling it or knowing it. The “feeling it” way is exactly what it sounds like, there is something in your brain that acts like a switch so when you have managed to find your purpose the switch flips and produces a feeling that tells you your purpose has been found and it’s just a matter of continuing to look for your purpose until the switch flips and you don’t have to rely on anyone else to tell you although they may be able to tell you what the feeling of finding your purpose will be like. Whether this switch was placed inside your brain by some sort of god or by a happy accident of evolution, or both I suppose, is really up to each person to decide for themselves. I really don’t have much of an issue with this way of finding our purpose other than being somewhat sceptical about the idea that there is some sort of mechanism in the brain to help us find our purpose but, ultimately, what our purpose is is for us to decide and who am I to tell other people what is going on in their own head without first sticking them inside a massive MRI scanner. Maybe we each only have one purpose in life or maybe we have any number of purposes that our brain will accept and it just so happens we tend to only find one, sort of like the questions surrounding the idea of soulmates. Although, let us at least accept that, with this way of finding our purpose, we will most likely find several “purposes” before we find our true purpose the same way people have several “the ones” throughout their lifetimes.

The other way people can find out the purpose of their life is by simply “knowing it”. There is no biological mechanism involved with this way or “sensing” you have found your path, no instead you are simply to be told what the meaning of life is and what your purpose in it is and you are to just accept it and follow the orders of your spiritual or religious leader without complaint, as it is God’s will. It is only with this way that I have any real problem. I don’t really understand how God’s choice for what you should do with your life is really any different from your own choice if there is no physical or psychological change that comes along with finding your purpose. And yet, those people that believe in this kind of purpose seem to simply take it as gospel (pardon the pun?) that God’s will for your life is objectively more important than your own.

Indulge me for a moment. Imagine yourself and I had a disagreement on the morality of a certain behaviour, let’s pick something contemporary and go with either abortion or homosexuality. If we were to ignore any argument that could be made based on the existence of God then you would be right in thinking that the righteousness of our moral judgements are the same in that they are subjective and, therefore, there is no real basis for either, in the same way there is a basis for the existence of gravity. While one of us may argue that following our moral rule will result in a healthier outcome, the judgement that this is a desirable outcome is still a subjective one.

Now imagine that I have ultimate power. Imagine that I have the ability to torture you forever, and however I see fit. Does this now make my moral judgement the righteous one? I would argue no. My judgement is still just as subjective as before I gained magical powers, and yet this is the main argument for the righteousness of any all powerful God and why we should follow their commandments. The argument goes that God can send you to hell and therefore they are moral but God’s judgement is just as subjective as any human’s, with the only real difference being in power levels. Thus, even in a world where an all powerful God does in fact exist, there is still no difference when it comes to differing moral judgements of humans as all of these judgements are still based on subjective opinion, it’s just that anyone claiming their moral proclamation to be that of God’s has outsourced their judgement to another being whose judgement is still subjective.

Bringing this back to how people know what their purpose in life is, we can now say that, if God’s judgement is just as subjective as your own, there is no real difference between you deciding your purpose for yourself and God deciding your purpose for you, through religious/spiritual leaders and books. People might argue that because God created you then you should follow the path that God has chosen for you. However, since there is no desirable physical change that comes from following God’s purpose when it comes to the “knowing it” way of knowing your purpose then there is nothing that actually makes following God’s chosen purpose better than following your own chosen purpose, and thus there is no more reason for following the path God has chosen for you than there is for following your own path, chosen by you.

The reason I have made this blog post is that it saddens me to see people continue down a path that makes them miserable simply because it’s their “purpose” and “what God wants”. However, this argument is only valid if it is accepted by us that God has more of a right than you do to decide what the path of your life should be, as a purpose chosen by yourself is somehow inherently more inferior than a purpose chose by God. I hope then that my arguments against this reasoning will weaken its strength in controlling the lives of others and encourage them to decide for themselves the path their lives should take. I don’t even necessarily think people shouldn’t follow the rules of their God, again it’s the person’s choice what they do with their own life, but in understanding that there is nothing “wrong” about going a different path hopefully you can then find peace and contentment in knowing that you have that choice and you have made it for yourself, even if it is a pain in the backside sometimes.

Never Trust a Ghost of Christmas Anything

Never trust a ghost to do its own PR. That’s the lesson I learned reading “A Christmas Carol”. Now, I am not talking about the Ghost of Christmas Past as it appears to be accurate enough in the visions it shows to Scrooge. Nor am I complaining about how transparent the Ghost of Christmas Present is about its own abilities in showing that year’s Christmas to Ebeneezer. No, the spirit I have a bone to pick with is the one known as The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

My problem is that by the time of the appearance of The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, the future of Scrooge would have been changed from the one shown to him. By the time of the third ghost, Scrooge has already learnt his lesson from the previous two and has changed from a cold, heartless man into someone that is kind and generous. Thus, when he dies in the future, people would no longer be glad but instead mourn his passing and be there at his deathbed. Clearly then, The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is doing a little bit of manipulation to try and “scare him straight” by showing him what his future would have been if Scrooge had not changed his ways before this night. Now this is fine, but it means the spirit’s name is a bit misleading. Really the ghost should be named The Ghost of Christmas Future Most Profitable For My Goals or The Ghost of Christmas That Would Have Been Your Future Christmas Before Tonight.

Although perhaps I am being a bit unfair to The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. After all, it was Scrooge that gave the spirit its name and it was Scrooge that told us what the visions were supposed to be showing us. Perhaps it was a bit of miscommunication and the nodding of the ghost that appeared to confirm what Scrooge was guessing about its powers was just it moving its hood to a more comfortable position. Maybe it was all just Scrooge making assumptions about The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come as the spirit was either unable or unwilling to talk.

Except, what if that is exactly what is happening? What if the entire book is nothing but Scrooge’s hallucinations and assumptions? Think about it. There is nothing described that can only be explained by ghosts haunting Scrooge. Jacob Marley was already known to Scrooge. The Ghost of Christmas Past only shows him things he had already seen. The visions of The Ghost of Christmas Present are never verified because Scrooge changes that year’s Christmas when he wakes up. The only part that could prove the ghosts were real and not just Scrooge’s hallucinations is that the people at his nephew’s house were the people he saw in his vision but if Scrooge had been to the nephew’s wedding then he would’ve likely seen those same people and it’s not a stretch to then think he would’ve hallucinated them being at the nephew’s house for Christmas. The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come has the same problem as all fortune tellers do, that is, the future changes and so visions cannot be verified. In fact, in this case, that is the entire point of the exercise.

On top of the visions, there are other issues with what’s described in Dickens’s story that suggest it is all nothing more than a hallucination. For one thing, why do these ghosts only visit Scrooge? The ghosts are clearly allowed to interfere in human affairs in a very direct manner so surely if they did exist they would have visited more people than just Scrooge, but the world depicted by Dickens doesn’t exactly seem like one in which benevolent ghosts are running around scaring bad people into being good. Their names would suggest they can only interact with people around Christmas time but then that brings up the question of why they would waste their one day of the year on someone like Scrooge. The ghosts complain about the cruel and immoral ways in which people are treated but then they try to affect positive change by haunting Scrooge, a person that could do more than most in affecting change, sure, but still not someone that would be at the top of my list if I was able to scare anybody I wanted into helping the poor, instead I would probably start with the politicians in parliament. But why do all these crazy things happen to Scrooge? Possibly because he’s the one hallucinating, and so of course everything would be happening to him.

Given the circumstances set up by Dickens in the book, it isn’t hard to believe that Scrooge would suddenly be hallucinating either. We are told Scrooge has a cold that he is not doing much to treat, other than eating gruel, and that he does hardly anything to heat up his house. I get a little deranged when I have a bad cold even if the house is well heated and I’m taking medicine, maybe if I didn’t I could get to see ghosts too.

Another thing that prevents me from believing Scrooge really was seeing ghosts is their timing. Scrooge is specifically told he will be visited three times on three different days and Scrooge is specifically shown that he has indeed been visited on three different days. Yet, lo and behold, when the visions are all over he wakes up and it’s Christmas Day and he had fallen asleep on Christmas Eve. It hardly instills confidence in the trustworthiness of the ghosts statements, does it? Scrooge is also very well rested after his visitations, oddly enough. Almost as if the whole thing was nothing more than a fever dream.

I understand that most people won’t think it important whether Scrooge was hallucinating or whether the ghosts that visited him were, in fact, real. “It’s just a story,” after all, and what Scrooge learnt from the whole experience was a good thing. While I agree that Scrooge’s change in behaviour was indeed a great thing, this is not a case of the ends justifying the means. Just imagine if the lesson Scrooge learnt wasn’t so nice. What if the ghosts had told him to smash up everybody’s houses or steal everybody’s presents? Scrooge would have no choice but to turn into the Grinch as he would just take everything at face value. This is why it is important if Scrooge is hallucinating and why need to learn to question our experiences and beliefs to make it harder for delusions and hallucinations to fool us. Can’t we just all agree that it’s best not to trust some ghost just because they tell us they’re real? And that it’s better to learn our lessons about morality some other way than getting haunted?

Doubt All That You Do, But Never Doubt You

Can you fix stupid?

This is a key question, the answer to which has widespread implications for how we should respond to challenges in our lives and how challenging our futures might be if we are unlucky enough to be born into the “permanently stupid” category. Luckily for those of us that would be born into the “unchangeably dimwitted” category, you can, in fact, fix stupid.

Doctor Carol S. Dweck has spent a lot of her life researching this question of whether or not our intelligence can be improved upon. She even wrote the book on it. A few of the conclusions she has drawn from the findings of her body of research are: people can be placed along a scale in regards to their views on intelligence, with one extreme being a “fixed mindset,” believing intelligence is based on innate ability and therefore fixed, and the other extreme being a “growth mindset,” believing intelligence is based on effort and learning; people with a “growth mindset” are more likely to work through obstacles when it comes to learning; and people with a “growth mindset” are less likely to fear failure or obstacles as they believe their performance can be improved.

Now imagine the ramifications for a person if they come up against an obstacle, such as long division, and are led to believe that they cannot improve upon their ability to do math as it is at a fixed level and was decided at birth. The likelihood is that, instead of concluding they simply can’t do long division currently but will be able to in the future if they keep persisting in trying to learn how to do it, the person will simply give up and conclude that it’s too hard for them and that they simply can’t do it. Dr Dweck has shown such ramifications of a child possessing a “fixed mindset” as she has carried out a number of studies in which a class of children, that are very low achievers, are taught to possess a “growth mindset” and then go on to score top marks on tests, all because instead of giving up when they came up against an obstacle, as they would if they had a “fixed mindset”, they persevered and managed to move past the obstacle.

This research really does bring into question how correct we are anytime we say we will never be able to do something. People with a “fixed mindset” are sure they will never be able to improve their intelligence but the research suggests they are mistaken so what about all the other times we say we can’t improve something about ourselves, we say we can’t improve our performance of a certain task, or we say we just outright can’t do something ever. Do we say this because we truly can never do whatever it is we are being asked to do? Or do we say this because we cannot do it at the moment and we believe that if we can’t figure out how to do something the first few times we try it then we can never do it? Are we trying to teach a goldfish how to breathe out of water or how to play football?

Given the evidence, the best course of action to take when we come up against an obstacle, when attempting to achieve a goal, is surely to doubt everything we are doing but to not doubt our ability to achieve our goal. The reasoning behind this conclusion is that there are clear issues with doubting ourselves but not doubting ourselves could also lead to problems if there is no critical analysis of our actions.

There are two main reasons for why we shouldn’t doubt ourselves. One is that it could lead to us quitting too early in our attempt to achieve a goal because we believe that we are unable to do it, instead of believing that we simply can’t do it now but we will be able to. However, even in the event that doubting ourselves doesn’t completely prevent us from achieving our goal, but just acts as a detour and we eventually get back to it, the doubt is still a problem. The reason being is, in this capacity, it acts as little more than a distraction and leeches the strength and resolve you will need to achieve your goal. It is not necessary to experience this sort of paralysing doubt every time we attempt to achieve something, in fact it is detrimental to achievement because we will begin to avoid trying to achieve anything as then we will avoid the debilitating self doubt that comes along with it. However, people will sometimes stop there and completely try to rid doubt from all aspects of their life but that is not what I am trying to argue, doubt should, of course, have a place in our lives but we should focus on doubting what we do not doubting what we can do.

The reason we should doubt what we do is that without doing so we would never grow. It would lead to the same outcome as doubting ourselves. Not doubting what we do would prevent ourselves from correcting mistakes and lead to us blaming everything on the actions of other people as if it couldn’t possibly be our fault, as we do everything perfectly, then who else could be at fault? Doubting our actions allows us to improve whatever it is we are doing and it also allows us to figure out if we should be doing what we are doing at all. It also allows us to blame things on others with greater certainty when it is, in fact, their fault.

It appears, then, that doubting everything we do but never doubting ourselves gives us the best of both worlds. We neither waste our energy on paralysing self doubt nor do we prevent any change in our behaviour in an attempt to improve upon it. However, people might be skeptical of this idea, and to those people I simply say to try it out for themselves.

If you’re trying to write something, be it a book or simply a blog post, and you come across an obstacle in your path, test the idea out then. Maybe it’ll be that you can’t get yourself to focus enough to write the next paragraph or that you’re not sure if that comma should really go there. Well if that happens, instead of spiralling into a pit of despair about your lack of focus or wasting time by questioning how you could possibly write a book if you can’t even use proper grammar, simply keep your doubt to the level of what it is you are actually doing. Can’t focus? Question what might be stopping you from focusing. It might be the open tabs in your web browser or perhaps you’re just not feeling it, in which case the best thing to do is take a break as just because you aren’t in the mood right now that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to focus later on. Can’t figure out where a comma should go? Google it. If there is a gap in your knowledge, fix it. That’s all that is necessary, any extra despair and self loathing is entirely optional.

It isn’t even necessary to try out this idea with anything major, say you just can’t understand how to do long division. Well instead of giving up on it or freaking out because now you can’t finish your homework, start looking for tutorials online about how to do long division, if you cannot do something, for the most part, it will be due to a lack of learning, insufficient learning, or a misunderstanding of how to perform the task. So, if we experience trouble doing long division then we should go through that checklist. Do I know how to do it in the first place? If so, do I have a strong enough grasp on it? And if so, am I making mistakes in my application of what I’ve learned?

Like I’ve said before, I really do consider doubting everything we do but never doubting ourselves to give us the best of both worlds when it comes to doubt. The reason I believe in it so strongly is because it frees us from the anxiety that comes along with self doubt, it stops us giving up sooner than is necessary, and it keeps us improving and growing. It really is a very powerful idea to me. “I am not the problem, my behaviour is, but that can be changed.”

You’ve a Hole in Your Heart, Dear Johnny

The young boy padded over to the side of the big leather armchair. He was just tall enough to lean his elbows comfortably on the armrest without having to stretch, his chin  would normally slot into his hand out of habit as the leather of the chair made noises of protest against the new weight but today he was here with a purpose. Sitting in the chair was a hairy, burly old man, his wide frame filling into the chair, his long white beard reaching down past his chest, seemingly in an attempt to compensate for the lack of hair on the top of his head.

The young boy proceeded to place his palms on the arm of the chair, pushing himself up off the ground until the only things keeping him in place were his arms straining from the exertion required to handle the weight, locked out at the elbows to ensure stability. The old man now turned his head towards the boy with a look that was a mix of loving admiration and confusion, the fat of his cheeks raising towards his eyes and making them close a tiny fraction. The child then began to tip himself forward, stretching out his neck and head towards the man’s chest. He lost his balance, however, and slammed his heavy skull into the heart of the old man, causing his face to twist from a look of confusion and love into one of pure pain, letting out a yell as it twisted. The boy, too, was in pain and quickly threw his head away from the chest that had caused it so much pain, but remembering his mission the boy quickly regained his composure, paid no attention to the man’s cry of pain, and moved his head back towards his heart, except gentler this time round.

The old man’s eyebrows raised and he held his jaw as the young boy was finally able to set his head upon his chest without causing any pain. The boy stayed there for a few moments, pressing his ear against him, seemingly trying to listen for a heartbeat. The old man finally spoke, “I’m not a zombie if that’s what you were wondering, Johnny.”

The boy quickly jumped back to the side of the armchair, not expecting the sudden conversation. He giggled at the assumption and opened his mouth to speak, “I know that Grandpa, you would’ve tried to eat my brains by now if you were. I was just trying to see if I could tell whether you had a hole in your heart.”

The grandfather’s eyes now squinted at his grandson. He considered joking that the boy had no brains for a zombie to be able to eat but decided against it as the second part of what he said was a much more pressing matter. He spent a little time trying to come up with an intelligent and careful response but, despite all his attempts, he could still only respond with a, “What?” His face contorting as the word escaped his lips to ensure his utter and complete confusion was successfully expressed.

Johnny took no notice of his grandfather’s exaggerated expression, obviously used to them by now, and attempted to explain himself. “Chloe was talking about people having holes in their hearts and I was wondering how she could tell. Do they have a weaker heartbeat? You would think so if part of it was missing.”

A slight indent could be seen in the man’s cheek as he held it between his teeth. He released it to respond to his grandchild, “Alright, I think I get it now.” After taking a moment to organise his thoughts, the old man once again opened his mouth to speak, “You see, when people talk about having a hole in their heart they’re not talking about an actual hole in their actual heart, at least most of the time anyway. Instead, what they mean is they feel they’re missing something in their life. It’s an imaginary heart and an imaginary hole they’re talking about, barring a few outliers.”

The young boy’s face was now scrunched up showing the hard work he was putting into trying to understand what his grandfather was telling him. “But then what are they missing that they have an imaginary hole in their imaginary heart?”

“Well, love.” Realising the boy leaning against the arm of his chair might not have an extensive knowledge of love, he began to make an attempt to list all the different kinds. “Romantic love, love between friends, love from your family.” The old man had to stop there as he couldn’t think of anymore, he thought that perhaps he needed to study the different kinds of love a bit more as well because surely there’s more than three. “Basically, anytime someone talks about the heart they’re talking about love except for when they’re talking about an actual heart.”

“So then how do they fill the hole in their heart? Does someone else give them a piece of their heart? But then that person would have a hole in theirs. And I thought having something jammed into your heart was meant to be a bad thing.” Johnny’s voice was beginning to reach higher and higher pitches, his facial expressions more exaggerated as a result of the strain caused by trying to understand how this whole “hole in the heart” business worked.

Johnny’s grandfather laid a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to calm him down. “It’s not that the other person gives them a piece of their heart but they share their heart with them and so the one that has a hole in their heart can get better that way.”

“But what if the other person’s heart can’t handle being shared? Or what if the person dies and now there’s no heart to share?” The young boy had now taken to looking off into the distance intensely as he questioned what his grandfather was telling him.

The old man hadn’t been expecting a question like that and was now going into panic mode except he didn’t at least have the opportunity to express this as it could upset his grandson. “Well… if that happens…” Stuttering over his words, he began to realise he was out of his depth trying to explain heartbreak and loss to an eight years old boy. He began to avoid looking at Johnny and started praying that something would happen that could get him out of the conversation. Thankfully the universe had decided to be kind to him today, probably to make up for the loss of hair. Although if that was the cost of escaping the questions of his grandson then he would take it.

Before the bearded oldie was able to stutter over his words some more, his wife walked into the room. The woman, her hair a platinum blonde in transition from its once natural colour to its now natural grey, took in the sight of her grandson leaning upon the armchair staring intently at her red-faced, red-eared husband and felt the edges of her mouth tugged up into a subtle smile. “So what’s going on here then?” she inquired, trying to ensure no hint of teasing was evident in her voice.

The old man saw this as the perfect opportunity to trap someone else with the child’s questions but before he could even utter a syllable Johnny had started to answer his grandmother. “Grandpa is telling me what having a hole in the heart means and how people with holes find other people to fill those holes or heal them or something. I don’t really get it.”

“Well no wonder you don’t get it, your Grandpa is telling you a load of nonsense.” stated the boy’s Grandma in a rather matter-of-fact manner.

Johnny quickly turned his head towards his grandfather to guage his reaction to what was just said. While his pride was slightly damaged by the remark, it was a price worth paying to get out of the situation, as apparently his hair loss wasn’t enough, so he simply replied with a “Your Grandma’s probably right, Johnny.”

His grandfather’s response caused the young boy to laugh, similarly to how he does when he’s watching Tom and Jerry. “Why’s Grandpa talking nonsense, Grandma?” the boy asked, not showing the same courtesy as his grandmother by ridding his voice of any signs of teasing.

The woman required no time to respond and almost began talking before Johnny had even finished his question. “Because when you have a hole in your heart nobody else can heal that but you. Think about it, when someone breaks their leg who has to heal it? Them or their husband?” Her eyebrows were now raised as high up her forehead as possible, “When you get a scratch can I heal that for you or does your body have to do that itself?”

“But then why do people go to the hospital when they break something?” asked Johnny. His grandfather had almost asked the same thing but feared it would lead to him being pulled back into the conversation and once more getting interrogated by the boy who’s curiosity seemed boundless.

“Well sure other people can help. When you break something the doctor can put the bone in place to make sure it doesn’t reattach the wrong way round.” The woman paused so her words weren’t drowned out by Johnny’s giggling at the idea. “And when you get a scratch I can put a plaster on it and kiss it to make it heal a bit faster. But, ultimately, it’s your bone that has to grow back together again. It’s your skin that has to scab over and knit your skin back together, no one else can do those things for you.”

“And it’s the same for having a hole in your heart?” inquired the young boy.

“Exactly.” stated the boy’s grandmother, “Other people can help the hole heal quicker and show the person how to heal their heart, sure, but ultimately the only person that can fill the hole in their heart and make it whole again is themselves.”

“But,” the young boy looked over at his grandfather with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes, the teasing in his voice back once again, “Then why didn’t Grandpa know any of that?”

“Oh, well that’s an easy one.” The old woman now looked over at her husband too, the same mischievous twinkle mirrored in her eyes. “It’s because he’s never watched Oprah.”