Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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The School Of Practical Philosophy: Love - Week Two

By Ben Nadel on

As the second week of my course on Love at the School of Practical Philosophy has come to a close, I have been thinking a lot about Self. Pretty much everything that we do here at school is geared towards gaining a better understanding of Self and about the wisdom that we have available to us. As such, I've started to think of the term, "selfless," as being somewhat ironic. We often refer to selfless acts as being virtuous. However, if we act without regard to our self, it appears that we are acting in direct conflict with the search for wisdom and for self understanding.


 
 
 

 
Ben Nadel in front of the Sustainable Happiness poster put up in the New York City subway system by the School of Practical Philosophy.  
 
 
 

In philosophy, we posit that the beauty that we see in the world around us is a reflection of the beauty and the wisdom that we have inside of us. And, in fact, the more in touch we become with ourselves, the more beautiful the world appears to be. To keep in alignment with such an outlook, it seems only appropriate to conclude that the love we express outwardly is nothing more than a reflection of the love we express inwardly, at ourselves.

Given this context, the concept of "unconditional love" makes sense for the first time. If you concentrated only on the expression of love outwardly, unconditional love becomes frustrating and illogical. Our brains will jump through hoops trying to justify how one can love Evil; and when failing to do so, will chalk it up to a failure of character. However, if you realize that outward love is a reflection of inward love, then the only love that need-be "unconditional" is the love of one's self.

With this new understanding, you can start to see that the greatest potential for outward love must necessarily be founded, not in "selfless" love, but in "selfful" love. Of course, this is nothing new. Everyone is familiar with the cliche, "You can't love others until you love yourself." The problem with a cliche, however, is that it is so common-place that it is often ignored or not taken to heart. Much of this class seems to be about rediscovering things I already knew. But that's no surprise - I think the challenge of life is to be constantly rediscovering your identity, your values, and your principles.

The challenge of life is to unlock the wisdom that you already have within you.




Reader Comments

"The challenge of life is to unlock the wisdom that you already have within you."

That is a fantastic quote. I will be quoting that at people for years to come - and giving you due credit.

And I very much agree with your post, although I've always referred to selfishness, not selffulness... selfful sounds better and much more positive.

@Peter,

Thanks! It's nice to hear that this connects with someone. The terms "selfishness" is such a loaded trigger word. That's why I like "selfful", although it is a made-up word :)

@Peter,

Word up. I just use what ever I can find in order to bring about consciousness and deeper thinking... and sometimes you gotta make some stuff up in order to do that ;)

@Ben, I love making words up. But I do think that there is a distinction between what you describe as being "selfful" and downright "selfishness". I realize that there is in fact some level of self introspection in selfishness, regardless of whether you are being more selfful, as you described it, or just purely downright "selfish". When being selfful, as you described it, you are still having somewhat of a thought to others, as a part of looking into yourself is so that you can be a better "self" for others, and as it relates to how you interact with others. People who are acting just downright "selfish" are sometimes not looking at or even caring at all how others are affected by their actions. There is a huge difference in looking inward in order to improve yourself so that you can have better interactions with other people, and being so self-centered that you don't even take other people into consideration at all.

Also, even when people are being as "selfless" as they can possibly be...even when they are doing something almost soley for the other person, it's not like they are getting absolutely nothing out of it. They are getting the pleasure of seeing the other person pleased. They are getting the pleasure of knowing they did something good for the other person, that they made them happy. Without that, I doubt many people would do totally and completely "selfless" acts with absolutely no reward or regard to getting anything at all in return (even if it was that pleasure of knowing you did something really good for the other person).

As it relates to love, the downright selfishness where people care not at all or very little about the other person does not make for a good relationship at all. I have been in these types of relationships before, and they are not good at all. And sometimes, these people can pretend like they are wanting your happiness or doing something good for you, but even the things they do that are supposedly for you really have ulterior motives which utlimately are supposed to bring about the greatest good to them, not you. You are merely a pawn in their pursuit of happiness and advancement.

Sorry this ended up being so long. It originally was not. :-/

@Anna,

I don't want to get into a semantic argument. One could say that both "selfishness" and "selflessness" can be founded on a disregard for one's self (one in the long term and one in the short term). Despite the fact that this post was launched from a word, I'd rather not worry too much about what words mean.

@Ben, I hear ya. I was merely using the words to describe the actions without having to describe them explicitly every time I was trying to make a point about them. That would've made the comment even longer than it was. :-O I was really trying to just differentiate between someone being interverted in terms of looking inwardly and trying to improve themselves for the purpose of later having better interactions with other people versus someone who was completely self-centered to the point to where they did not even think of other people at all.

@Ben,

I think you have truly flipped selfless love on it's head to prove it's possibility or attainability...:) Love it!

I recently read a quote: Weak thoughts and feelings often feel strong but remember, real strength is never anxious, cruel, or punishing. ~ Guy Finley For me this explains how a selfless or true love should feel like. Since when we sometimes mistake our desire or wants as love and if we take a moment to reflect on those feelings we may notice that there might have been a bit of self died somewhere in there trying to attain the object of desire. The true love should be kind, pleasing and peaceful and harmonious.

@Ben,

Nice post. This if from the man in cloth, but this aligns perfectly with the saying 'Love others as well as you love yourself.', don't you think?

@Smita,

I absolutely love the quote that you posted. As usual, you added something to the conversation that could go much more indepth, but I won't add anything to it, because it would probably just water it down and make my comment way longer than it needs to be. I also read the one link you posted one time on right and wrong on one of the posts, and enjoyed the reading there as well. I always like looking at all aspects and sides of an issue.

I may be the only one, or there may be others like me, but in order for me to be in a relationship, it is almost necessary somewhat for me to give up or lose a little bit of self. But sometimes, this makes me a much better self. One of the reasons it is so hard for me to be in a relationship without letting go somewhat of self, and making some concessions, is because I love the ideal of traditional and conservative relationships.

I know that some people think that women who are traditional and conservative are dumb, and that we just don't want to work, but that is completely not the case. I love my job. I love working. I love the fact that I go to work every day and write ColdFusion and get paid for it. I love the fact that I get to go to work and mess with databases, and sometimes write little php...but the bottom line is that I get to do problem solving, and get paid to do it. I will always be a problem solver, and I will probably always do some level of programming. Probably ColdFusion, but depending on opportunity, it may be php. Regardless, I would do it whether I got paid to or not. I love the fact that I get paid to do it. I also love the fact that I am able to pay my own bills, take care of myself, buy my own food, and that I am independent of a man or anybody for life.

And giving up working doesn't really have to do with the concept of giving up self if I am in a relationship, even though I would give up working if I were married and my partner and I decided that it was what was best for the relationship, for us as a couple, and to some extent, for us as individuals. What I mean when I say I would have to give up some of myself to be in a relationship is that there are very few truly traditional/conservative guys out there. And so if I am in a relationship, especially with someone who isn't traditional and/or conservative as I am, I almost have to give up parts of that side of myself in order for the relationship to have a chance.

I can imagine there are other ways that some other people have to give up parts of themselves for relationships as well.

@Anna,

Actually I wanted to elaborate more last night, but my thoughts were all scattered and bouncing off all over the place…:) So by "self dies", I meant soul. Since I believe in each of us if we are truly connected or even if not-so connected with ourselves; our conscience and soul feels and hurts when we pretend or being manipulated. So my point was when you are truly in love you should not feel tormented… it should feel good not just outwardly but deep within.

When we say that we gave up something to get to something either a relationship or work or anything for that matter, it somehow always has a tinge of regret associated. So if you don't have regrets then those catalysts really helped you, so you really didn't lose yourself and rather gained or added to your self.

When it comes to love, I wouldn't disregard the feelings which sometimes either misplaced or mislead. Those are unreciprocated or unrequited love but very much true for the "self" that felt it and gave it all. But if one looks back it was never true for the soul since the soul was not in harmony with self. So the most ideal love should be harmonious and uplifting.

Now coming to traditional/conservative vs. liberal/progressive, these words are so limited and misused or confused while perceiving people. It's hard to categorize people into two broad groups. If I had to then I would label people as rational vs. irrational, stupid vs. intelligent, crazy vs. sane. I would also describe myself as "areligious" like @Ben mentioned in one of his comments. Areligious doesn't mean not religious or irreligious. It just means we don't give that much importance or concern to religion. So when one puts himself/herself against religion also becomes another inherent religion of opposite kind in my opinion.

I would end up contradicting myself every step of the way when describing love…:) The best way I can describe love is something in the lines of Socrates…If you ask me I know nothing. If you don't then I may know something. (Don't think that's the exact quote… but the gist I got out of one of his quotes).

@Smita, that's a good idea waiting until you were in a good state of mind and able to gather your thoughts. I should do that more often. If you had written a scrambled response, you probably would've sounded like a lot of my posts sound. All over the place. :^D

The way you describe being areligious almost makes it sound like I am, since it is highly personal to me, and something I do mostly as an inward thing. But I'd rather not go into the religion thing again other than saying that.

I've had feelings of unrequited love and unreciprocated, and looking back, sometimes I almost hold those up to being the most pure and true love, and definitely over other times when I may have thought I was in love but really wasn't. The key is that I wasn't mislead, nor did I mislead. They never knew I "loved" them, and I wanted it that way. They never led me on, so it wasn't like I was deceived or anything. Sometimes, there's just somebody and you just can't help but love them, whether they love you or not, and whether they know you love them or not. I can't explain it other than that.

Often, when it comes to love, I am at a loss for words and/or expression. It's kind of somewhat unchartered territory for me. I have rarely loved in my life, and especially the special rare kind of love which is both true and pure AND not unrequited or unreciprocated. My mother says I am a hard person to love. Maybe that is true and why it has been largely out of grasp for me.

About the giving up thing...giving something up for someone. I agree about it adding to you. I remember with my first love, I gave up a lot of things to become something else. I was in law school, and my mother would argue that he was at least 85% - 90% of the reason I gave it up, but that isn't true at all. There were tons of reasons that I gave it up, one of them being him, but he was probably one of the lesser important reasons. One of the bigger reasons was financial. That was related to him, but it wasn't that he directly was the most important reason I gave up law school.

When I got out of law school, I decided I wanted to go into a career where you could make enough to support yourself and at least another person. So I was looking at hot jobs where you could get enough education to get into the field, but not necessarily spend years and years at it, and then make a fairly substantial income...especially if you had to support another person. I did this, because he didn't have a career that could support himself hardly, much less me. I was willing to work so that he wouldn't have to.

So, anyway, that is what landed me in Computer Science. Computer Science was that kind of field back then. I knew many programmers who had little to no education and were working in the field with enough income to support themselves and their families. So I got into Computer Science then, and that is why I am a Developer now. Even though we broke up, I developed a love of it independently of him, so it became a part of me. So I am not regretful of all of that way that he "changed" me...I am thankful.

I like your Socrates quote. It kind of reminds me of the Supreme Court quote on pornography, although I'm not sure why. They used to hold sessions where they would watch porn in an attempt to define it. When they became frustrated with trying to define it, they came up with something like, "When you see it, you will know it". The empirical epistomological approach to something that just simply "is". You can't actually define it with words, or it may be very difficult to define with words, but it just simply "is".

@Smita,

I like your quote; and, it reminds me of something else we talk about in class - that Love is linked to Stillness. I think when we get agitated, things can feel very strong, and this is when we make decisions that don't necessarily align with our values. However, when we are still and centered, that is the point where we can dig deep into our wisdom and express love.

@Nico,

I like it!

@All,

My friend Iveth once shared a quote with me from Jalal ad-Din Rumi:

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

The old "me" would have thought of this quote in terms of building barriers against love coming *in*; but, the new "me" likes to think of this in terms of building barriers to the love going *out* of me.

@Ben,

That's a great quote of Rumi. Hadn't heard this one before. Like your current interpretation of it. I'm going to steal it ...:)

Thanks!

The unrequited love and feelings I mentioned before is very different from relationships and what I would like to have in a relationship if I had one. Oftentimes, when I choose to love someone and have feelings that I determine will be unrequited, it's a situation where a relationship and/or shared feelings would not really be feasible. For example, the current person I have a crush on lives thousands of miles away, with a whole nation between us. He's on one coast and I am on the other (well, I am not literally on the coast, but you know what I mean). I choose not to let him know my feelings partly for him -- I don't want to creep him out, and partly for the fact that it is infeasible, and also, why risk rejection and put up with rejection over something that is completely infeasible anyway? In this type of situation, I am totally cool with it being all about him. I'm not looking to get anything out of that. To be honest, I barely know the guy. I just know that I really like him a whole lot, and find him a valuable asset to the earth as a person. I enjoy the limited interactions we have, and that's pretty much it. And I wouldn't mind, really, if it stayed that way. Now, if he were to call me up and beg me to move out there with him, and it were feasible to do so, I might actually seriously consider it. But I am fine with the way things are right now.

With a relationship, however, I really appreciate the give and take of it. Call me selfish, but I like to get something out of the whole thing. With the guy I have mentioned before (not in this reply), I felt he and I both had this unselfish love for each other independently. I would say I did love him, more or less unselfishly, but I was only really able to do that because he loved me so completely unselfishly. I wasn't looking to get anything out of that relationship more than the unselfish love he was giving me. When I say I want to get something out of it, that's what I mean...love. I want to get love out of it, at least. Anything else is extra. :-)

I just really can't see being in an actual relationship with someone, and loving them, and trying to make myself a better person for them, and them not really loving me in return. I guess I just see love as cyclical, to a degree. It's like an exchange. An exchange of heat between people, for example. It's cold out. You have these two people. One of them generates heat and sends it to the other to keep the other person warm. The other person could return the heat back, and it could become a matter of passing the heat back and forth, and both people keeping warm. Or, in the case of love where one person is selfless and the other doesn't care about the first, then the first would have to keep generating the heat and sending it to their love's way. But there's always the chance of running out. That person could run out of heat...or steam, so to speak. They could become broken, uncapable of generating any more heat. I would say with love, most people need a return.

Of course we all remember the "Golden Rule"...do unto others as you would have them do unto you. with that in mind, I agree with your idea about our selfless acts being rooted from an inward self-appreciation. When we treat others like we would want to be treated...selfless acts...everyone wins.

@mvaughn,

I have absolutely been exposed to the golden rule, and I do agree with the idea and think it is ideal. Many times in life, I have contemplated this, though. The golden rule, as it is, states "Do unto others as you would have them do until you." I don't mean to be argumentative, and I think that under normal circumstances, it definitely is the way to go. But, I have thought many times...some people are very different from others.

I'll give you an example. In my life, I would much, much rather someone assume that a date was on, even if we hadn't touched base, if we had made plans. I would much rather someone "show up" for a date that we had 'tentatively' planned rather than just assume the date was off just because we hadn't touched based about it. But once, I had a date with a guy, which we were going to touch base about, but we had made a date, and both of us during the week were just too busy. But I thought it was still on. So I showed up, much to my detriment, because by the golden rule, I would have much rather the guy show up than stand me up. But it made the guy very uncomfortable, because he had expected us to touch base during the week, and thought the date was off. But how was I supposed to know this? This had never been communicated to me. I was penalized severely for this. I was called a 'stalker', and other things, and I was treated really badly, because I was attempting to not stand the guy up and go by the golden rule as opposed to just considering the date off and be on my merry way and let the date get rescheduled at some other point. And trust me, if I had gone on my merry way, it's not like I would have had nothing to do...I had plenty to do. I was a very busy person. But this person meant enough to me that I was willing to carve some time out in my schedule for him, and so I thought it was best to keep the date, even though we had both been too busy doing the week to make contact.

Another case of me being so very different from a lot of other people out there, and something I have had to learn to adjust along the way -- I grew up in a very small town, and we were all extremely friendly, knew everybody by name, etc. Well, for me, growing up, it was 100% accepted, and in fact expected, that people you knew would just randomly show up at your house at any time during the day, during regular waking hours. Of course it was considered rude before 9 a.m. (unless arranged), or after 10 p.m. (again, unless arranged), but any time during the day between those times, it was expected and accepted. I had to learn really quickly after leaving my hometown that this is not the way 'the world outside' works. lol. Apparently, in other places of the world, this is considered completely unacceptible...and you are expected to make definite plans before showing up at other people's house any time.

I have spoken with other women who have experienced similar things. Some women I have spoken to felt like if they were seeing a guy, it was 100% acceptible to show up at any time (because that is how they grew up), and so they would show up on him unexpected and he would be with another woman. Eeks. :-/

"The challenge of life is to unlock the wisdom that you already have within you."

On first read, I took a defensive stance against that. Having grown up in the church (protestant), that says to me, "You're your own God," and was always warned against that stadpoint.

On second read, I read that as saying, "You know what's right [for you], so just do it, the right thing." Still, I have some 'concern' for that because some people are just stupid and/or have no conscience.

What's wise to them isn't necessarily wise on-the-whole.

Regarding "love others," I recently was offered a job. I actually was planning on accepting it. Everything about it looked good: pay, the work, the boss... But I turned it down because even though the short term was right/good, I was concerned about the long term. So I 'loved myself' enough to decline, politely.

Along a similar-but-different vein, I dealt with this while being in the church. At some point, you have to "save yourself before you save another." Kinda like on an airplane when the masks fall and they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first. If we were truly 100% selfless, we'd probably not be alive. We wouldn't work, because we'd be helping someone else. We wouldn't eat, because that means I'm taking food from someone else and that's selfish. We wouldn't breathe, because that's depriving someone else of oxygen. Extreme example, but you get what I'm saying.

Thus, you must get your /needs/ met first.

Now the follow-on argument to that is, "If I need $2 to survive, but I earn $3, then should I give away my extra dollar? Or, should I take my $1 and invest it so that I'll then have >$1 thus being able to serve/help/love more people?"

If person A gives away his $1, but person B invests his $1, if a year later, person B has $36 to give away, is he better than person A who only had $12 to give away?

@Randall,

I was trying not to post a comment, but you know I can't resist this. Grrrrr...darn you, Randall. lol. Just kidding. Kind of. Anyway, that last little bit that you posted was like the parable of the talents, wasn't it?

The other part of your comment reminded me of my training as a lifeguard, my cpr training, and other first-aid type training. The absolute, first rule to remember when you are a rescuer of any sort is to survey the scene and make sure that it is safe before you even enter to help out. If we were truly 100% self-less, we wouldn't care if the scene was safe, and we would absolutely enter an unsafe scene to help out.

That being said, I don't think there are many parents who would hesitate to jump in front of a train going full speed, walk over fire, or risk their own life in any way in order to save their young if their young was in danger. I guess that's part of the difference between the love you have for other people and the love that you have for your son or daughter.

On the job, selfishness is almost always required. I am fortunate that at my job, it isn't required much, but I have worked at places where they would throw you under the bus in a new york minute in order to save their own skin and their own job. The current place I work is very team-oriented, thank goodness, but I have worked at places that were very competitive, and where they pitted employees against each other. In those environments, you have to be selfish to survive.

The job I work now, I love it, but the bottom line really is that if I lost my job, I have close to 100% confidence that I could find another job that would pay sufficient amounts for me to survive. Therefore, although I do love my job and want to keep it, I know it wouldn't be a huge problem if I lost it. I would miss it, and would be sad, but it wouldn't be the end of the world.

I have co-workers, on the other hand, who are really dependent upon this job. Their way of life depends on it, and it would be devastating to them if they lost it. Therefore, I would take the blame 100% for something if I had to, if it kept one of them from losing their job. Because I know that for me, it wouldn't be that difficult to bounce back...I know I could do it. For them, it would be much harder. That's why I would sacrifice myself and me being at this job in a minute if I knew it would save them from being let go.

Often, in relationships, you have to be selfish in order to survive, and sometimes in order for the relationship to survive, especially if the other person is really selfish (unfortunately).

About the thing with the wisdom. I read somewhere that some people are of the thinking that we are born with this wisdom, and as we live in life and pick up things along the way, that wisdom gets buried, and it is a lifelong journey to recover that wisdom that was buried. Also, in regards to the comment "The challenge of life is to unlock the wisdom that you already have within you"...I don't think that necessarily means that this wisdom was something that was never given to you, at some point, it is just wisdom that you might have been given but forgotten along the way. For me, it's reminiscent of the many times I sat in a sermon, and the preacher was talking, and he was saying things that I for sure knew or had heard before, but hadn't thought about in a long time. Sometimes you can get caught up in life, and things you have heard and taken to heart gets kind of sweeped under the carpet, and then, when you are reminded of those things again, for example, during a sermon, it brings them back to life for you again, you are reminded of it again, and you can re-commit to it once more, and try to make an effort to live it as you go on with your life from that point on.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

The old "me" would have thought of this quote in terms of building barriers against love coming *in*; but, the new "me" likes to think of this in terms of building barriers to the love going *out* of me.

Ben, this was so refreshing. I came across your blog on a google search for reviews of "The School" as I will be attending an introductory course in Fall. Greatly looking forward to it, after having read some of your posts. Thank you for the inspiration!

L