Lamenting The One-Size-Fits-All Culture

It is time to stop designing the world to fit the “average” human. The utmost opportunities lie in regarding people as individuals with a set of jagged features or a summation that differs from every other person anchored in their distinct life experiences, strengths, skills, knowledge, interests, goals, and narrative. Todd Rose writes in The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness,

It is not that the average is never useful. Averages have their place. If you’re comparing two different groups of people, like comparing the performance of Chilean pilots with French pilots—as opposed to comparing two individuals from each of those groups—then the average can be useful. But the moment you need a pilot, or a plumber, or a doctor, the moment you need to teach this child or decide whether to hire that employee—the moment you need to make a decision about any individual—the average is useless. Worse than useless, in fact, because it creates the illusion of knowledge, when in fact the average disguises what is most important about an individual.

Catholicism: Shame and Punishment

American-Irish author Malachy McCourt writes in You’ve GOT to Read This Book!, a compilation by Gay Hendricks and Jack Canfield:

Ninety-nine percent of teenage boys admit they think of nothing but sex—and the other 1% are liars. It’s a universal phenomenon, and yet this natural human urge was made out by the Church to be sinful. Though the clergy blabbed on about the love of God and what have you, it was really all about shame and punishment. Catholicism—at least in Ireland—seemed to me obsessed with the sins of the flesh.

You had to swear you would never masturbate, touch yourself, or even have an impure thought. Otherwise you would end up burning in hell for eternity. You went to confession and did your penances, but you knew you were only postponing the inevitable: With that storm of impure thoughts raging continually in your head, what were the chances that you’d die in a state of grace? Suffused with remorse and weary of feeling ashamed and of considering myself doomed in this world and the next, I began to question what I now saw as the Church’s dogma.

Contribution = Happiness

We have to contribute because it is the only thing that will gives the highest happiness than any other thing in this world. From German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in The Wisdom of Life:

… what a man is contributes much more to his happiness than what he has, or how he is regarded by others. What a man is, and so what he has in his own person, is always the chief thing to consider; for his individuality accompanies him always and everywhere, and gives its color to all his experiences. In every kind of enjoyment, for instance, the pleasure depends principally upon the man himself. Every one admits this in regard to physical, and how much truer it is of intellectual, pleasure. When we use that English expression, “to enjoy one’s self,” we are employing a very striking and appropriate phrase; for observe—one says, not “he enjoys Paris,” but “he enjoys himself in Paris.” To a man possessed of an ill-conditioned individuality, all pleasure is like delicate wine in a mouth made bitter with gall. Therefore, in the blessings as well as in the ills of life, less depends upon what befalls us than upon the way in which it is met, that is, upon the kind and degree of our general susceptibility. What a man is and has in himself—in a word personality, with all it entails, is the only immediate and direct factor in his happiness and welfare. All else is mediate and indirect, and its influence can be neutralized and frustrated; but the influence of personality never.

The Greatest Artist That Russia Has Yet Produced

Vladimir Nabokov writes in Lectures on Russian Literature:

Steady Pushkin, matter-of-fact Tolstoy, restrained Chekhov have all had their moments of irrational insight which simultaneously blurred the sentence and disclosed the secret meaning worth the sudden focal shift. But with Gogol this shifting is the very basis of his art, so that whenever he tried to write in the round hand of literary tradition and to treat rational ideas in a logical way, he lost all trace of talent. When, as in his immortal The Overcoat, he really let himself go and pottered happily on the brink of his private abyss, he became the greatest artist that Russia has yet produced.

Theodore Dreiser’s Realistic Portrayal of Life in America

Approbation for Theodore Dreiser as a literary pioneer has been loathing at best. Dreiser has been castigated for his longwinded, unstylish style and crude manner. American writer and literary critic Alfred Kazin writes in his introduction to The Stature of Theodore Dreiser,

At a time when the one quality which so many American writers have in common is their utter harmlessness, Dreiser makes painful reading. The others you can take up without being involved in the least. They are “literature”—beautiful, stylish literature. You are left free to think not of the book you are reading but of the author, and not even of the whole man behind the author, but just of his cleverness, his sensibility, his style. Dreiser gets under your skin and you can’t wait to get him out again; he stupefies with reality.

Dreiser treated popular sentimental and realist subjects with a refreshing lack of moralizing. Philip L. Gerber, Professor of English at the State University of New York at Brockport, observed,

Dreiser was the first American to portray with truth and power our modern world of commerce and mechanization, the first to portray the dismal depersonalization of the individual which results from urbanization and intensifying societal pressure to conform, the first to draw us frankly and grimly as a nation of status-seekers.

The Power of the Mind and Thoughts

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche writes in The Easy Middle,

The mind is very powerful. There’s a tremendous strength there, and it makes such a big difference how this mind, this will, this intention is being steered. And everything depends on whether it allows itself to relax and be serene, or whether it allows itself to get caught up in anxiety, grasping, and fear, it makes a difference if you do something with a relaxed, easy going frame of mind, or if you do it in a harried and distracted way.

Living in Full Awareness of the World

Sarah Bakewell writes in How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer:

Mindful attention is the trick that underlies many of the other tricks. It is a call to attend to the inner world—and thus also to the outer world, for uncontrolled emotion blurs reality as tears blur a view. Anyone who clears their vision and lives in full awareness of the world as it is, Seneca says, can never be bored with life.

Rabindranath Tagore’s Literary, Multicultural Upbringing

English literature academic Mary McClelland Lago remarked on the literary, multicultural household in which Rabindranath Tagore was raised in her biography, Rabindranath Tagore: Perspectives in Time:

Goethe was read in German and de Maupassant in French, Sakuntala in Sanskrit, and Macbeth in English; poetry was written, upon models supplied by Keats, Shelley, and the Vaishnava lyrics then being compiled and appearing in Bengali periodicals; plays and songs were composed and performed. There were experiments in the writing of Bengali novels that drew on Bengali history as Scott had drawn on the history of England and Scotland; the French short story writers of the nineteenth century were the models for experiments in writing short fiction in Bengali. Journals were edited and secret patriotic societies organized. Friends, associates, and tutors came and went, all against a background of traditional Bengali life; the inner rooms were the women’s world; the boys were invested at the proper age with the sacred thread of the Brahmins, the spiritual life of the household was grounded in the Upanishads.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Characters

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s central characters are marked by a significance of “spiritual and mental self-division and self-contradiction,” wherein the offender turns out to be an prototype of a curiously modern psychological condition of alienation and self-destruction. American literary critic and essayist Philip Rahv wrote,

Dostoevsky is the first novelist to have fully accepted and dramatized the principle of uncertainty or indeterminacy in the presentation of character. In terms of novelistic technique this principle manifests itself as a kind of hyperbolic suspense-suspense no longer generated merely by the traditional means and devices of fiction, though these are skillfully brought into play, but as it were by the very structure of human reality. To take this hyperbolic suspense as a literary invention pure and simple is to fail in comprehending it; it originates rather in Dostoevsky’s acute awareness (self-awareness at bottom) of the problematic nature of the modern personality and of its tortuous efforts to stem the disintegration threatening it.

Source: Varieties of Literary Experience: 18 Eminent Critics Discuss World Literature

Avoid Snobbery and Misanthropy

Christopher Hitchens writes in Letters to a Young Contrarian:

One must avoid snobbery and misanthropy. But one must also be unafraid to criticise those who reach for the lowest common denominator, and who sometimes succeed in finding it. This criticism would be effortless if there were no “people” waiting for just such an appeal. Any fool can lampoon a king or a bishop or a billionaire. A trifle more grit is required to face down a mob, or even a studio audience that has decided it knows what it wants and is entitled to get it. And the fact that kings and bishops and billionaires often have more say than most in forming appetites and emotions of the crowd is not irrelevant, either.