We are deeply attached to some special people around us: our parents, friends, children, and partners in romantic love. This is among the most important and most valuable aspects of our lives. Being part of these relationships, and constantly getting involved more, and deeper, is one of the greatest (and perhaps most characteristically human) goods we can achieve.

At the same time, these relationships are also disturbingly at risk: any moment, we might be rejected; our dearest might have to leave us; or they might die. And what was of so much value to us - deeply affectionate, determinedly sustained, fiercely defended and at every possible occasion tenderly expressed - breaks away, ceases to exist (except in memories).

(Even if the other person is still there, that doesn't change much, for the value is in the relationship, in the participation of all those involved, and this is what has been destroyed.)

If we try to ignore that risk, we will be devastated by false emotions: some of the most powerful of them all are generated if we let ourselves be caught in this trap, both while the relationships still last (such as jealousy) and after they have ended (like distress). One way to make sure we are not taken by surprise is to systematically prepare: regularly contemplating the possibility, for each of our relationships, that it will end one day (a day which might be near already, for all we know).

Preparing ourselves, however, does not mean, and must not mean, attempting to secure us against the risk. This won't be successful at all - invariably it will only destroy the value in the relationship (and with it all the true love and affection which we brought into it). That value depends on our uncompromising stance. Avoiding the risk is as wrong as ignoring it: we would end up with a safe, but weak and shallow caricature of the real thing. We must be careful, then, not to drive our preparations in the wrong direction: yes, we acknowledge and make it clear to ourselves that all of our relationships must end, and that we can never know when and how that will happen; we open our eyes to that risk; but that insight must not prevent us even for a single moment from forming and intensifying attachments to those we love, to seek friends, to keep alive those connections we treasure. We mustn't shrink from bringing all our energy into them - but we mustn't close our eyes either to their inevitable ending. Take care.

Aim for a greater impact

In all the things you do when living your life: implementing projects at work, spending time with your family, fighting the bureaucracy, enjoying your favorite music ... have you sometimes paused and wondered how all this fits into a bigger picture, what point and meaning all these may have in the end? And when you went about reflecting so, did you have a clue how one would actually have to think about such things? There are no simple rules in these matters. (Simple rules are only for those who cannot think and choose for themselves.)

What you need is philosophy. Philosophy, in all its varieties, extends and refines your abilities in reflecting on your life, your broader goals, and their connection to what you're thinking and doing, day by day.

Engaging in reasonable and responsible activity is certainly part of living well - as you surely know if you found yourself somewhere in the list I've given above. Sometimes, however, you can have a stronger impact when doing something on a more general or more abstract level. The question is of course how to find these occasions, and how to get to the more abstract level. The study of these questions is what philosophers have done through the ages, and they have given answers (though no simple rules).

You may even observe that some of them have given up their chances to participate directly in the great game of life and withdrawn to work out their thoughts quietly, carefully documenting them for later generations. Sometimes it is good to spread insight on a more general level, and then (but only then) it may be preferred to engaging actively with the developments in the world.

And dispensing advice, as I'm doing here in my small way, will hopefully be helpful as well. True - it takes time and effort, but I think it's well spent. I can reach more eyes and ears that way than if I'd just apply it to my own life. There's a responsibility coming with that, of course. I must be certain that what I recommend is really sound, and effective. Otherwise, what would it be but another way of wasting your time (as well as mine)? Take care.

Counter the influence of the many

There is something uncontrollable about the influence that the masses can have on one, and it can't be completely avoided (i.e. consciously avoided). When you're among the many, chances are that you are swept away by that influence. Perhaps you have heard of the 'law of social proof', and similar phenomena?

The name already shows how dishonest it is: neither is it a law (it's only a bad habit many people have let themselves into, or have been conditioned into), nor is anything 'proven' by the mere fact that others had the same opinion. Most of the time, it's just the automatic pilot who's decided that drifting with the stream seems to be a safe option. It may be right, or it may be wrong - but it would be better if you decided that yourself.

The 'law of social proof' is, however, an actual phenomenon, and you'll find it everywhere, once you have learned to watch out for it. They use it actively: they'll make you think you want something by showing you how others have also wanted it.

But things are not desirable just because someone else desires them; make sure they have also value for you. Things are not funny just because others treat them so; isn't it actually a bit scary that someone else should have already determined what makes you laugh?

And then, have you noticed what stupid, boring and mindless stuff draws most of the attention in our world? Have a look at a random TV channel. Check out those newspapers and magazines with the large headlines and the stupid stories (they even use short sentences and simple language to make sure you don't have to be too bright to be a consumer). You'd be better off without this. Only think of all those hours of valuable time wasted on it - good, important time thrown away, invested in stuff you won't remember in just a week's time. True, lots of people do it - so does that make it a good investment? (Does it 'socially prove' something?)

You should not, of course, fall into the opposite error: don't take anything as wrong just because the masses have accepted it. When it comes to deciding what to think, there are no simple rules. You're not safe by just accepting what everybody thinks, but neither will you automatically be right by just opposing it. (Naturally, other people's view may sometimes be a factor in your considerations - but certainly not the only and decisive one.) Make sure that you are the one who is deciding what you want, and why you want it. Take care.


Making progress makes one see shortcomings one could not see before (it needed that bit of progress to see them, they can only be seen because of that advancement). But it also helps finding companions in what you are seeking - precisely because they share your sense of those deficiencies. The more insight you gain, the better friends you will be: you'll be having all the more in common. Take care.

Being different

Do you think that it is a good idea to demonstrate through your very appearance and behavior how different you are? Well, even taking for granted that you are different (and how many of those self-styled 'non-conformers' aren't) - what's the point of driving this into the perception of others?

It's also un-philosophical (if that counts anything for you). Having studied philosophy, one may have gained a bit of insight into what has made us what we are; insight perhaps into human reason and rationality, into the driving forces of societies or the laws of nature (and what it is that makes them laws, as opposed to just accidental regularities), and why truth, beauty and moral integrity are something worth our attention and our sustained efforts in gaining them.

Whatever your insights are - and assuming you have found them worth having - you may feel you are responsible to make them available to others, to communicate them somehow, and were it just by giving an example in acting according to them. But you can't convincingly suggest a better way of living to someone if you are demonstratively different, can you? Take care.
Copyright © 2007-2012 by Leif Frenzel. All rights reserved.