Most philosophers will tell you that truth is their goal. They want to know the truth about Knowledge or Existence or Justice. I’m sure this is—but I conjecture that ‘truth’ is only an instrumental goal. What these philosophers really want, I suspect, is certainty. They want to hold aspects of the world finally fixed in their minds, to make it the case that they cannot be wrong, at least about certain things. In service of this aim, they will jettison areas of inquiry about which certainty seems impossible. Hence, their category of the philosophical excludes the empirical, the accidental, and the historically contingent. What is left are the necessary truths—those that can be known to need to be true.
Many people do want certainty, but philosophy is not where they will go to find it. Religion, of course, is an ancient and numerically dominant certainty-provider. But a sense of certainty can also be found in political ideology. Or, increasingly, in science. Philosophy is trying to compete in the certainty marketplace, and it is not winning.
Buddhist teacher Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel wrote in The Power of an Open Question: The Buddha’s Path to Freedom:
The unique beauty and kindness of the Buddha’s approach is that it never suggests we need to experience anything other than what we experience. The Buddha never said that some thoughts are bad or wrong and we should reject them. Thoughts and emotions—all manner of occurrences—arise in our lives, and we can’t control them. Buddha’s first teaching begins with a deep exploration of suffering and its causes. Buddhist contemplation provides us with an opportunity to develop a new relationship to suffering as opposed to our usual approach of denying unwanted experience. In this way, challenging circumstances become gateways for liberation. In this spirit, the Buddhist teachings emphasize the practice of including and deeply penetrating to the nature of all things rather than rejecting experiences.
Trust is at the heart of today’s knowledge economy. With trust as a foundation, companies or groups within companies can share their know-how to achieve results that exceed the sum of the parts. Unlike formal contracts or rigid hierarchies, trust frees partners to respond to the unexpected, which is essential for mutual creativity. Trust also fosters enthusiasm, ensuring the best performance from everyone. Rather than being a matter of blind-faith, trust must be constructed, one step at a time. Building trust is all-encompassing. It involves people, politics, priorities, cultures, and structures.
Boccaccio’s works embrace medieval and classical literature, prose and poetry, epic and lyric, Latin and Italian, popular and “high” culture. He revived the pastoral romance, attempted a modern epic, established the vernacular ottava as the epic stanza in Italian, and then, later in life, renewed the classical epistle and eclogue in Latin, wrote biography, helped revive the study of Greek, and began formal Dante criticism. … The culmination of Boccaccio’s literary experience is the Decameron, which becomes perforce the touchstone for any consideration of his works. In it he proposes narration for its own sake, and in advocating amusement as much as improvement, his point of view becomes earthbound. The Decameron is Boccaccio’s human comedy, “the luminous and fully human epic,” that stands next to Dante‘s Divine Comedy.
Individuals are not stable things, they are fleeting. Chromosomes too are shuffled into oblivion, like hands of cards soon after they are dealt. But the cards themselves survive the shuffling. The cards are the genes. The genes are not destroyed by crossing-over, they merely change partners and march on. Of course they march on. That is their business. They are the replicators and we are their survival machines. When we have served our purpose we are cast aside. But genes are denizens of geological time: genes are forever.
British philosopher, mathematician, and social activist Bertrand Russell delivered his famous 1927 lecture “Why I am not a Christian” to the South London branch of the National Secular Society. Russell articulated his assertion that religion is based on fear, and that fear propagates cruelty with distinguishing precision:
Religion is based primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing—fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things.
Read: Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (1967)
Pick a situation of difficulty or conflict with others. Reflect on your last encounters and on the motivation from which you operated. How did this work? Now imagine you can bring the highest possible intentions to your next encounter. Take a moment to reflect. What would they be? Notice if they contain the elements of compassion for others and for yourself. Notice if they are wise and courageous.
Picture re-entering the difficult situation while staying true to these highest intentions. Finally, go and practice. Remember, you may lose track of these intentions. With practice they will become steady and strong.
Learning how to negotiate conflict demands that we become more present, more fearless. We may need to relinquish the hopeful image of ourselves as remaining serene under all circumstances, like sitting buddhas carved from wood or stone… Whether the results are invigorating or devitalizing depends on how consciously we work with ourselves and our circumstances.
We are uncomfortable because everything in our life keeps changing—our moods, our bodies, our work, the people we love, the world we live in. We can’t hold on to anything—a beautiful sunset, a sweet taste, an intimate moment with a lover, our very existence as the body/mind we call self—because all things come and go. Lacking any permanent satisfaction, we continuously need another injection of fuel, stimulation, reassurance from loved ones, medicine, exercise and mediation. We are continually driven to become something more, to experience something else.
In Work with Me!: Resolving Everyday Conflict in Your Organization, Gini Graham Scott writes:
Difficult situations, which include conflicts, come up naturally and inevitably in every workplace. They happen because people have different interests, goals, priorities; because resources are limited; or because there are communication problems, power struggles, mistaken perceptions, faulty assumptions, and personality clashes. Some people are simply difficult to work with. I created a three-step model: first to deal with the emotional fallout of the conflict, then to assess the contributing factors, so you can then determine the best strategies for solution by drawing on your faculties of reason and intuition.