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Self-Examination in the Midst of Existential Contradictions
I must warn you that this book features human contradictions. It exposes Suru's existential contradictions. Suru stands here for the name of the main character of the book, but this book is not fiction. I purposefully call all main actors by different names to keep their identities confidential. I also use false names (including country and city names) for the locations of scenes for the same concerns of confidentiality. This book is the first volume in a series I plan to write to conceptualize what I call existential contradictions. I do not expect you to agree with me on everything I say. The words I write reflect subjective human experiences. This book is merely a saga of existential contradictions. It mirrors a subjective phenomenology of existence. It presents a subjective psychology of some dynamics of anthropological contradictions. It unveils an anthology of relative ontological contradictions. It profiles human stories. It is the fruition of years of self-examination. In the following pages, I carefully try to unravel the puzzle of existential contradictions and happiness.
The potential to be happy is within each one of us. Yet happiness keeps challenging us with myriad existential contradictions. Every human being is a nexus of contradicting potentials. We all have the potential to be good, but our limitations often challenge our potential to be good. The key question revolves around the meaning of happiness and how we unlock such a potential in the midst of daily existential contradictions. To that end, you have already probably taken some important steps in your life. You are adding another significant step here and now by expressing your interest in this book and have made a meaningful decision by selecting it to read. Maybe you have been trapped by existential contradictions just as Suru has.
Sometimes, existence makes you become so attached to the things and people around you that you find detachment bitter and even unbearable. You faithfully respect and trust someone, but that person unexpectedly disappoints you. You are in a relationship where you care about someone deeply and wish that person could care about you in return, but that person does not care about you. You are shocked that a spouse who loves you becomes abusive to you, so you consider the options of dialogue, third-party intervention, counseling, family therapy, or divorce. You meet the love of your life, who cares about you and whom you care about. Unfortunately, your parents or relatives do not want to see you around that person due to some differences in culture, ethnicity, race, or religion. You love your children so much and wish they would listen to you and heed your advice, but they don't; instead, they cause you stress daily. You respect and love your parents dearly, but they do not want to respect your freedom. You are very happy in a relationship, but you lose your partner or spouse to a sudden disease or accident. You enjoy life, but death takes away a friend or loved one and warns that you might be its next target. You take good care of yourself to be healthy, but you still get sick, and medication designed to help you could hurt you if you abuse it. You want peace but get war and chaos instead. You get trapped as a refugee or an internally displaced person or an innocent victim in a war that you never wished for or expected, and you find it difficult to leave everything behind you, including your land and community, and run away for safety or head to the unknown. You leave work excited to go home and rest in your gorgeous house, but by the time you reach home, you hear that your beautiful house got caught in a wildfire or was unexpectedly taken away by a tornado or was wiped off the map by a flood, hurricane, or tsunami. Your business is doing well, but a sudden crash in the market turns it upside down or puts it unexpectedly on the verge of collapse, and you lose all the gains you made or everything you have worked hard for over the years.
At times, things might not make much sense to you, but you have to find meaning in them. Sometimes you may grapple with understanding others. At times, you might not understand even the people you trust. You might feel like even your friends are against you sometimes, but you need to trust them. You may not be able to always understand, but you need to always have faith. You cannot live or exist without it.
Some moments you struggle greatly with understanding yourself. You do your best to anticipate and prevent mistakes, but you still make them. You often think other people are the source or cause of your problem, but in many cases the problem is within yourself. You tend to blame others or yourself for your mistakes instead of accepting them as a reminder of human limitations, but you cannot always get it right. You will make mistakes, and you will be wrong sometimes. Even if you carefully think before your next step, you may still slip up moving forward. If you do not make a mistake here, you will make one there. If you make no mistake today, you will likely make one tomorrow. If you record no mistake in the present, you will certainly record some in the future, per a Latin saying, "errare humanum est" (making mistakes is a human attribute). You want to always win, but you often lose. Existence teaches you cannot always be the winner.
You struggle sometimes with doing the good things you intend to do. You even fail in doing them at times. You may get caught up or trapped in things you do not want. Maybe you want to always be positive or optimistic, but you get negative or pessimistic sometimes and settle down in negative feelings instead of moving past them. Maybe you want to always tell the truth but catch yourself lying sometimes. Or you want to always show love to people but get trapped in hatred every once in a while. Or perhaps sometimes you get jealous of others instead of being happy with them and for them. People may also get jealous of you sometimes instead of celebrating with you, and you find yourself cursing them instead of blessing them.
You may judge others but not be ready to get a taste of your own medicine. You may tend to condemn others instead of showing compassion and forgiveness. Maybe you're under the impression you know somebody well, and you find out you do not know that person at all. You may think you know a lot about a situation, but it turns out you do not know much or even anything about it. You think you are wise — only to find out you are foolish. Maybe in the workplace, you respect your supervisor and everyone, but your supervisor disrespects you at times. In performing your duties and through your interactions, you display honesty and deontology, while your supervisor requires loyalty or a cult of personality. You might work hard to satisfy the people you serve, but all you harvest from them is frustration and dissatisfaction. You wish you could get some credit for your good deeds, but you get no credit for them. You expect promotion in the workplace but get demoted instead, or anytime you hope for credits, you get discredited. Or unexpectedly, you lose your job or have to quit. You might want to do well and succeed, but what you get in the process is failure. You might prepare very well for an exam and expect to pass yet end up failing. Or due to structural and systemic reasons, you have to keep paying interest on a loan whose principal you think you have completed paying — at least as you figure it with elementary math.
Some days, you do what you are supposed to do, but other days, you do things you should not be doing. You speechlessly witness your strength becoming your weakness. You lose control over a situation you thought you had control over. At times, you feel cold when you are supposed to be warm and vice versa. You are often quiet when you should talk and noisy when you should be silent. You laugh when you need to cry and cry when you need to laugh. Sometimes you speed up when you are supposed to slow down. You keep going even when your safety and health require that you stop or take a break. Or you tend to move backward when you should move forward. You sit down instead of standing up. You stay awake instead of sleeping and vice versa. You selfishly spend and waste your time, money, and energy even when you have good reasons to save them.
Sometimes people reject you when you expect them to welcome you, even your own people; you feel like a stranger in your own home. Some moments you are harsh when you are expected to be nice and nice when you are supposed to be harsh. You become reluctant, doubtful, or distrustful when you thought you would be confident. You are hopeless when you should be hopeful. You want to get something, but you do not know how to ask for it. You hope to find something, but you do not know how to seek it. You want a door to open, but you do not know how to knock on it. You ask but do not receive. You seek but do not find. You knock repeatedly, and yet the door does not open.
Sometimes you might disappear when everyone counts on you to appear. Maybe people put you on a pedestal and look up to you, but you fall so low that you disappoint them. You highly think of yourself, but existence makes you discover your shortcomings and lowliness. You know firsthand how it feels to be a victim, yet you keep victimizing others. You know how it feels to be defamed, yet you keep defaming people. You would not want anybody to abuse or mistreat you, yet you abuse or mistreat others. You would not want anyone to cheat on you, yet you cheat on others. You would not want to be hurt, but you hurt others. You tend sometimes to demonize others instead of finding the image of God in them. You struggle sometimes with sharing with people what you have and who you are; you try to keep it all for yourself.
People are hungry next to your table of abundance, but you would not feed them. They are thirsty next to your water fountain, but you would not give them a drink. Some could die from hunger or thirst, but you could also die from greed, for eating or drinking too much. Homeless, refugees, and strangers keep knocking at your door, but you would not welcome them in your home. Not too far from your closets full of clothes, some people are naked, but you would not clothe them. Many people are sick around you, but you would not allow them health care. People are in prison or marginalized around you, but you would not pay any attention to their conditions. You preach tolerance and forgiveness, but you are not always so tolerant or forgiving of others. You say so much about change, but you do so little to bring it. You are so vocal in wishing peace, but you are not so keen on working for it. You advocate for unity but engineer division at times. You tend to build or erect walls instead of bridges between people. Your words fly high and fast, but sometimes your actions go low and slow. You intend to help people, but you end up hurting them in some cases. You do harm sometimes as you try to do good. You wish existence was easier, but it gets hard sometimes. You wish you had more time for rest or fun, but you have to work hard daily to earn your living.
You wish people could treat you based on your personal and moral character, but they look at your ethnic, racial, national, or religious origin. They quickly judge the book of your existence by its cover without first reading its content. Society tends to compartmentalize us into rigid groups. We often create or use standards to judge you and your group without looking at the dynamics of individual personalities. We tend to apply the same standards to all groups across the spectrum without carefully taking into account the weight of cultural differences or contexts. We might be aware of contradictions inherent to such paradigms of social grouping — or even make notable efforts to counter them sometimes — but the facts remain. We are often inclined to look at others through those same social lenses. You hope people would always understand you, but they do not seem to sometimes.
You are nice to others, but they are mean to you sometimes. You love them, but they display hate for you. You help everyone but get ingratitude in return. You do many good deeds but do not get rewarded accordingly. You smile at people, and what you get back from them is anger and mockery sometimes. You send everyone your best wishes, but you find out that not everyone wishes you well. You show compassion to all; it turns out that some people do not feel sorry for you. You make sure you take care of everybody but yourself. You care about everyone, but no one seems to care about you. You get arrested without deserving it. You tell your story, but no one listens to you. You only present the facts as they are, yet people criticize you bitterly. You tell some truth, but no one believes in what you say. You are innocent but judged as guilty. You get condemned for the wrong you did not do. You are a victim, but you are treated as an offender. You treat others fairly and expect to be treated fairly; instead, they treat you unfairly. You want to be treated as a human subject, but they dehumanize you and force you into categories of an object.
You want people to respect or appreciate you, but not everyone respects or appreciates you — just as you also struggle sometimes in respecting and appreciating everyone. You want people to agree with you, but not everyone agrees with you, just as you may disagree with people sometimes. Sometimes you value what may not have any value in other people's sight. Sometimes we embrace or worry about so many things instead of focusing on one thing and doing it well. At times, we tend to focus more on what is accessory instead of focusing on what is necessary or needed. How do you approach all such contradictions? What do you do in the midst of existential contradictions?
By existential contradictions, the book means any conflicts that divide self into opposing parts, contradicting motions, thoughts, or actions standing against each other or against the self. Existential contradictions imply conflicts splitting subjectivity. They unveil a self with conflicts inside and outside. In these pages, the two words of contradiction and self-conflict can be used interchangeably to mean the same thing.
Existential contradictions encompass all contradictory motions, conditions, or situations more or less inherent to human existence, whether they are natural, cultural, social, structural, or systemic. Such contradictions also include what the book coins to be conceptual conflicts of misrepresentation. By conceptual conflicts, the book intends to mean conflicts that are over a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation of the conventional meaning or definition of the concepts we use in daily communications.
We often use the same words in our conversations, but unfortunately, we do not always mean the same thing. We do not always mean what we say. As a result, we create confusions and even contradictions over the meanings of concepts. Conceptual conflicts of misrepresentation can resonate in poor choices of words, lack of understanding the conventional meanings of concepts, manipulations, and lies.
Once upon a time, a notorious political leader was confronted with handling a hostage crisis for his country. When the news media asked him about the development of the situation, he suggested his government was talking to the kidnappers for the release of the hostages, but he concurrently insisted his government was not negotiating with the hostage takers. Unfortunately, the news media did not do enough pushing back to understand how one could talk in that situation without negotiating by the same means or at the same time. When you understand that negotiation means talk, you do not believe in that political leader's manipulative statement. Ironically, many followers would delightfully swallow that kind of statement without any further questioning. People would all believe in that leader's statement, except you. You might be all alone with the correct understanding. What do you do in that situation? You should stand for what you believe in. That example illustrates what the author means by conceptual conflicts.
Suru once had an interesting conversation with a good friend. That friend's name was Ewo. Ewo once suggested he was exchanging text messages with someone but was not communicating with that person. Suru summoned Ewo to clarify what he meant. Ewo explained that he had not spoken with that person since they had only exchanged text messages. Suru disagreed with what Ewo meant. Ewo did not equate texting with communicating; Suru's friend failed to take one for the other one. When you understand texting as a means of communication, you cannot believe in Ewo's suggestion.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Facing Existential Contradictions"
Copyright © 2018 Jacques L. Koko, Ph.D..
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Self-Examination in the Midst of Existential Contradictions, 1,
Happiness or Peace of Heart and Mind, 39,
Pulled Away from Inattention to Attention: Listening, 55,
From a Disorganized to an Organized Existence: Planning, 73,
Eating and Drinking Healthy or Tasty, 91,
Pulled between Indecision and Decision: From Fear to Courage, 115,
From Inquietude to Quietude: Contemplative Meditation for Peace of Mind and Heart, 129,
Bridging the Gap between Dreams, Professional Reality, and Vocations, 157,
Troubles over Punctuality: Be on Time and Earn Peace of Mind and Heart, 175,
Nature-Structure Dilemma: Sleep a Lot, Dance, Smile, and Laugh often, Cry as Needed, 195,
Leadership as Authority or Service: Greatness from Humbleness, 219,
From Competition to Collaboration and from Resistance to Negotiation, 245,
From Authoritarian Rule to Democratic Freedom, 279,
Wandering between Greed and Generosity, 307,
Religion of Heart and Mind, 335,
About the Author, 369,