“Speak now, or forever hold your peace” could be traced back to the Christian wedding ceremony, where the audience is given the last chance to voice any objections to the marriage. It is one example where it is important to have an opinion and defend it – or else risk surrendering it forever.
Similarly, when it comes to philosophy of life, everyone needs to have their own version of philosophy – we either choose how to think for ourselves now, or risk forever surrendering our peace by letting others choose for us, by letitng others decide what is right or wrong, what makes life worth living, what our course of action should be.
To Swim or Not to Swim, That is the Question
That IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives.Hunter S. Thompson’s Letter on Finding Your Purpose and Living a Meaningful Life
Almost everything we do is a choice between floating (i.e., default to the curent of others) vs. swimming (i.e., chart our own course). Only those with a philosophy of life of their own knows how to swim.
Thomson goes on to say: “And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.“
Taking a step back, not everyone realizes we are in the water in the first place. There is a joke of two fish swimming along and running into a third fish, which asks them: “Morning, how’s the water?” The two fish stare at each other and ask blankly: “What the hell is water?”
David Foster Wallace’s comment in his 2005 commencement speech “This is Water” is very to the point:
“The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. […] in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.”
Wallace goes on to say “the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre” is that “a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about ‘teaching you how to think.’“
“Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.’”
Ayn Rand on Why Having A Philosophy Of Your Own Matters
As Ayn Rand puts it, everyone has a philosophy of some sorts: “As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation.“
In other words, we all have a philosophy whether we consciously acknowledge it or not – the choice we have is whether this philosophy is chosen by ourselves thanks to our mind (“swim”), or chosen for us dictated by others (“float”):
“The men who are not interested in philosophy absorb its principles from the cultural atmosphere around them—from schools, colleges, books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television, etc. Who sets the tone of a culture? A small handful of men: the philosophers. Others follow their lead, either by conviction or by default.”
How to Decide Where to Swim Towards?
Choosing a philosophy for ourselves could be harder than it seems. Charlie Munger shares his tip on how to avoid the trap of unclear thinking & decision-making:
I have what I call an ‘iron prescription’ that helps me keep sane when I drift toward preferring one intense ideology over another. I feel that I’m not entitled to have an opinion unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who are in opposition. I think that I’m qualified to speak only when I’ve reached that state.Charlie Munger
Hunter Thompson shares his advice on how to lead a meaningful life:
“A man has to BE something; he has to matter.
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. […] In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important.”