The Harder Truths of Life

Katherine Phelps

We would like certain ideas about life to be true. Our culture would like certain ideas about life to be true. Because if these things were true, we would like to believe we would have happier and easier lives. The problem is these ideas are often glamors: enticing but empty. Chasing after them makes our lives worse. Believing these glamors are what life should be like and finding our life doesn't measure up is a sure recipe for despair.

Understanding and accepting life's realities, even when we don't like the implications, means we at least have more agency to create a difference. Holding onto a talisman and wishing for it to rain donuts will not get you as far as going home and mixing up and frying a batch of dough. That's not to say there isn't plenty of magic in the world, but you need the wisdom to distinguish between the truly miraculous and more glamor. Helping a village to keep itself from starving is a miracle of human love and kindness.

  • Life is not simple. We can and often should simplify our lives, but life will never be simple. Nor do we really want life to be simple. It would be boring and we might miss out on great joys such as families and friends.
  • It takes practice and skill to make things easy.
  • Our knowledge and understanding of life will always be partial. We live within our own skins and are bound by space and time. We cannot know all there is about the universe, world, other people, even ourselves.
  • Our control over our lives will only ever be partial. No matter how much money, knowledge, or power we accumulate, we will still be buffeted about by people, biology, circumstances, and time.
  • Good things will happen to you that you did not earn, bad things will happen to you that you did not deserve. This is true for everyone. Learn some empathy and hold out a hand in kindness.
  • Life will be an ongoing balancing act. We need to honor individuality and community. We need to work and we need to play. We need to focus on the past, present, and future in turn. We need arts and sciences, action and rest, questioning and acceptance, youth and age, rationality and spirituality, intellect and emotion.
  • Beware of absolutist thinking. Life is more than a simple on/off equation. Compassion only happens when you are able to see the bigger picture.
  • You personally can't fix the world. It was broken before you got here, it will be broken when you leave. You can help to make the world a better place, but it will take everyone to make the world the best it can be.
  • Waiting for a great man or a violent revolution to change human affairs will only ensure that change will be painful and often short-lived. We must all take responsibility for the changes we want to see in the world.
  • You have failed, you will fail, everyone has failed. Failure is part of the process of life, it's how you learn. In the end it's not worth measuring a life based either on successes or failures, but on the quality of a person's character. Do your best and enjoy life.
  • To truly succeed in life you will have to learn humility, forgiveness, listening, acceptance, responsibility, pro-activity, and most importantly, friendship and kindness. These are the qualities that lead to a life rich in learning, meaning, satisfaction, and peace.
  • We need each other. No one is self-made. Ask any mother.
  • Sometimes we will need to be dependent on another, that's all right. Sometimes we will need to be independent, that is also all right. Learn to be both dependent and independent gracefully, and work toward creating successful interdependent relations.
  • Neither excessive positivity nor cynicism lead to happy lives. Being overly positive is done to stop thinking. Being cynical is done to stop feeling. Both are done in a bid to stop suffering from the realities of life.
  • We cannot escape from the experience of suffering. Some suffering we will be able to take action to lessen or end. Some suffering we will have to accept.
  • All people and therefore all institutions are flawed. That does not mean either people or institutions have nothing to offer, just that you should always interact with a degree of awareness and discernment.
  • People will always judge you. No amount of status or fitting in will make that go away. Focus on the quality of your character, be kind to yourself and kind to others. Learn to allow people to be themselves. Anything less will break your heart.
  • You cannot make someone love you, nor can you make yourself love someone. It will always be the choice of each individual. Respect other's choices as much as you would like your own choices respected.
  • All things are temporary: people, living beings, objects, and circumstances will all come and go. You cannot halt the flow of time.
  • Things are as they are. Do what you can, then let it go. You have to live this life. Don't let it get you too down. Love, live, celebrate, and find a little inner peace. Be kind to yourself as well as others.

2014 June 21

Holding 4th

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