We form beliefs to justify bad habits

Have you ever evaluated and revised your existing beliefs? You might believe some things simply because they allow your bad habits (this might be unconscious on your part).

According to one of the most useful and widely-used theories in psychology — ‘cognitive dissonance’ — we tend to form beliefs that are convenient for us because such beliefs resolve our cognitive dissonance, a mental discomfort we feel when our actions are not consistent with our values and beliefs.

This is also called ‘rationalization’. By rationalizing, we selectively find arguments that justify our actions or habits, even when a counter-argument is more objectively convincing (which we choose to ignore or dismiss by further rationalization).

A good example is the belief in ‘karma’ — the belief that people bear the consequences of their actions in a previous life. Therefore, a poor person deserves to be poor because of their misdeeds in a past life. This belief frees a rich person from the need to help the poor. Their suffering is justified, they believe, and so is the lack of help. A belief in a wise god or creator may act in much the same way — ‘we should not mess with god’s natural order of things.’

Another example is the belief that ‘the world is a bad place’. It goes like this: the world is a rough place with many bad people and therefore, if you are nice and kind, you will be taken advantage of. This then justifies bad behavior or at least the lack of kindness. However, it can very easily be argued with plenty of evidence that the world is a good place with generally good people.

Another example is the belief that ‘greed is good’. According to this belief, by being greedy one will work hard and help grow the economy, thus benefiting the society. Of course, the economy can grow just as much or even more when there is collaboration and helping — plenty of evidence here too. Either way, greedy people are surely not being greedy for the good of the society! It is a rationalization that eliminates their mental discomfort (guilt, etc.) that would otherwise be too strong to ignore.

Similarly, cognitive dissonance and rationalization applies to many beliefs that we hold. Of course, one can choose to ignore one’s convenient but faulty beliefs, again rationalizing that ‘nobody’s perfect’. It is very difficult to give up convenience, pleasure, and comfort and even more difficult to put in the effort to change for the better. But if one does recognize by being self-aware that some held beliefs are indeed there to aid bad habits and actions, it will be an opportunity to grow as a human being. Humans can indeed evolve in one lifetime.

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Hard work is not inherently good

Hard work has become the most lauded virtue of our time. “Work hard and you will achieve your dreams” is the mantra that every child grows up with – at home and in school – to the extent that it becomes the eternal and universal truth. Succeed and thank hard work; fail and blame the lack of hard work – such a simple formula for such a complex world. Hard work, we are reminded repeatedly, is the bridge between rags and riches: As every able-bodied person has the capability for hard work, every person can become rich and successful. What a wonderful meritocratic system, it seems. Things are seldom as they appear, though.

Undoubtedly, hard work is a virtue; but not when accompanied by ignorance. The worshipping of hard work by the sincere but uninformed majority has paid off handsomely for a very tiny minority, who let their money do the hard work while they toil away at golf courses and luxury spas. Presumed hard work has become the justification for systemic injustices such as the staggering income inequality around the globe. It is not uncommon to hear that the rich got rich by working harder than the rest – a claim that signals the success of hegemonic brainwashing and is not only obviously false but also detrimental to the vast majority.

It is no secret that most people – the poor – who work long hours in often unbearable conditions repeating menial and strenuous tasks work much harder than the rich few but they rarely escape a life of struggle. Even the so-called middle-class in so-called ‘developed’ nations work tirelessly but still barely get ahead. Research has shown the rags-to-riches story to be so rare that it is virtually a myth. But the myth is nonetheless perpetually propagated by the media and the film industry, which, of course, are funded by the rich who benefit from the entrenchment of the myth.

The other side of the same coin is that leisure is guilt-ridden, considered necessary only insofar as it recharges the batteries for the next long shift of hard work. However, again, the rich seem to be the exception to this rule: work is usually optional but engaged in nonetheless for the purpose of purpose amidst all the purposeless fun and relaxation. For the rest, it is: rest at your own peril.

There is one glaring historical fact about leisure that is rarely mentioned, let alone discussed: Advancing technology and booming productivity since the beginning of the twentieth century means that workers can work a lot less to produce the same output; however, workers work about the same hours now as they did then. This can mean two things: either that workers produce a lot more than they used to and thus are rewarded with a lot more income or they produce about the same and are rewarded with a lot more leisure time. Neither has happened. Almost all the reward – in the form of wealth – has gone to the owners of corporations; this explains the growing income inequality in the last few decades. Again, the myth of hard work has worked wonders for the rich. The workers do not dare demand more leisure time as they fear being labelled ‘lazy’ and so they keep working just as hard, making more money for the already-outrageously-rich, waiting in vain for a long-awaited raise or a much-desired holiday.

Let’s dispel this myth, once and for all. Hard work is good only when it is for a wisely-chosen realistic goal and not for the sake of hard work. Hard work is not the miracle-worker it is often portrayed to be. Further, we need to demand more leisure time – to be enjoyed guilt-free. What was, after all, the purpose of all the hard work throughout human history? Was it not so that life would become easier and more enjoyable? The reward is long overdue.


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The Death of a Lama

Cry he did

As his friend ended a life of suffering

His tears did not shimmer with joy

As they were taught to

They sprang from a well so deep in the heart that the mind could not reach

They fell on the earth and the earth changed

The indomitable mountains were turned into fragile waves of meaninglessness


Why do you cry, Lama?

Were you not taught that life is suffering?

Were you not to refrain from attachment?

Have you shed so carelessly the essence of your chosen path?

In the throes of separation, have you lost yourself?

Why do the deep vibrations from the funeral horns pull you into a sorrowful trance?

Why is your mind so darkly clouded by the heavy pine smoke that you rain without restraint?

Why do you waver like the prayer flags in the piercingly cold wind?

Escape from your thoughts

Cry, my friend, for I, too, am moved by your tears

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Thinking Your Way to Happiness

What do you do when every traffic light you approach turns red when you’re running late? And when gloomy weather and rain accompany you on your island holiday? When an injury robs you of your dream to become a top athlete, do you despair? Will you curse at your bad luck and cry at your misfortune? If you do, you are only human. Bad luck is responsible for so much misery and melancholy that one may wonder if it is the devil itself in disguise. What is perplexing, though, is not why bad luck exists but why people let it play with their emotions at will. If there is nothing you can do about red lights and rain, why fret over it? Why let the ‘devil’ drain your energy and spoil your mood when such reactions are futile? The red light won’t listen to your complaints and treat you better next time; the rain will not ask your permission on your next holiday because you wallowed in its wake. So why do it?

No one really knows for certain why we pointlessly despair at bad luck. One reason could be that we anthropomorphize the harbingers of bad luck – such as the red light and the rain –, irrationally believing that that they act with intention. Maybe we believe that it is not the red light or the rain but some anthropomorphic higher power that causes traffic lights and rain to terrorize us with unrepentant glee; some people call this higher power, “God.” Since ages immemorial, people have tried to cajole gods in order to control luck, believing that they can somehow influence it; even humans have been sacrificed in the belief that such sacrifices of the highest order may please the gods – synonymous for luck – that control the weather, among other things. But has it really worked? Did the sacrificed humans really bestow good luck upon their murderous civilizations? Evidence clearly points to the negative: the very civilizations that sacrificed humans were wiped out by famine and disease and it was not much different for civilizations that did not sacrifice anything at all. Why? It is because our creator – or god if you want to call it that – has no power over luck and does not care for us anyway because it has no mind or heart to care.

It is common knowledge now that our creator is no other than natural selection, which is based on random mutation – a completely chance-based incident. Natural selection is apathetic about human suffering and happiness; it operates objectively – coldly, you could say – and does not base its decisions on mood or volition like the typical ‘God’ supposedly does. However, through pure accident, it has endowed us with the capability for both suffering and happiness. Robert Wright, an evolutionary biologist, echoes this thought in The Moral Animal by calling natural selection the logical and unconscious mechanism behind our behaviors that, unfortunately, does not care for our happiness. In fact, lots of our behaviors, such as status-seeking and competition that are beneficial for our genetic success also bring us suffering and misery. He even goes as far as calling suffering an adaptive trait, without which we wouldn’t engage in behaviors that propagate our genes into future generations.

As most of our behaviors, if not all, were carefully selected by natural selection, it is very likely that our futile reactions to back luck also have an evolutionary basis. These reactions may be a by-product of a more obviously adaptive and evolutionarily beneficial trait such as the ability to recognize that others are acting with intention. If other people do something that we do not like then we get angry at them, thus reducing the chance that they will do the same again. This same tendency is likely to be at work when we fume at the red light, at rain, or any other unfortunate vehicle of bad luck that is beyond our control. Thus, this originally adaptive trait has not found its proper boundary yet. However, as humans, we have another unique trait that gives us the capability to overcome the misuse of this trait.

Natural selection has imbued us with such complex mental organs that we do not come quite as pre-programmed as most animals do and, therefore, have the greatest free will in the animal kingdom. Free will proved to be so fruitful in giving humans the capability to adapt to changing environments in the past that it was naturally selected. Ironically, and, fortunately, we now have so much free will that we are capable of acting in ways that have little to do with genetic success and more to do with other goals such as happiness that might be antithetical to genetic success. Importantly, using our free will, we can also correct the errors of natural selection such as misplaced anger at inanimate objects and futile frustration at bad luck. Simply by recognizing that we are acting irrationally, we can relax instead of explode at red lights and rain by exercising our free will.

However, while being aware and alleviating our frustrations might be relative easy to do when it comes to trivial things such as red lights, when certain uncontrollable incidents have devastating impacts on our lives – such as a career-ending injury to a professional athlete, the loss of a house due to a natural disaster – a flood of emotions completely swamp our rationality such that free will becomes impotent. During times of extreme bad luck when the things we cherish the most are taken away from us, we are simply unable to stave off emotions that drown out any sense of objectivity. It often happens that when non-believers encounter an extremely traumatic crisis that changes their entire life-course, they surrender to “God.” They refuse to believe that the traumatic event was random, a concoction of cold luck, because such a meaningful event in their life surely could not have come from a meaningless source.

Despite abundant free will, humans are nonetheless restricted by certain biological predispositions. For example, we cannot be happy just by wanting to be happy; we cannot will happiness. So many feelings stir in the subconscious that even when conditions are fertile for happiness, we can be constantly hassled by undercurrents that unconsciously drag us into melancholy. These feelings are remnants of natural selection: these same feelings that conspire against our happiness prompt us to behave unwittingly in ways that further our genetic interests. The ‘selfish gene’ keeps sabotaging our happiness.

According to evolutionary biologists, emotion, the very thing that makes us lose control of ourselves, is the favorite weapon of natural selection. It is through emotion that natural selection commands us to fulfill its purpose of furthering the interest of our genes. And sometimes, despite our conscious intentions, we are helpless against our commander and we simply obey, even when we know that obeying is wrong and even when we know that obeying will lead us to misery.

Emotions such as frustration and disappointment do evolutionary deeds in our genetic interest much better than our cognitions – thinking – can. While feelings evolved to keep us in line with evolutionary success, thinking evolved to deal with the here and now – to adjust to changing environments. This means that thinking, by going against feeling, has the potential to lead humans astray from the path of evolutionary success. Just like evolution can get in the way of happiness, thinking can get in the way of evolution. However, this may not always be a bad thing. The goal of natural selection does not have to be our own life goal. Evolution is random, purposeless, and meaningless but this does not mean that our life has to be purposeless and meaningless. Our interests might be very different from the interest of our genes. So, which interest do we give priority to? Our own interest, of course, because fulfilling our interests gives us satisfaction and meaning while our genes, which do not have a conscious mind of their own, do not really care if their interests are looked after or not. They are there simply by chance and they could care less if they disappeared by chance. Emotion is a tool designed to further the interest of our genes and cognition has the potential to further our interests. Thinking has the potential to steer us in a direction that ‘we’ deem worthy, so we have to utilize our thinking to get to a goal that we set for ourselves such as happiness – of self and of others.

With thinking, we can become more aware of what we are feeling and why we are feeling the way we are. And by being aware of our feelings that are unproductive and averse to our happiness, we may eventually learn to control them even if we fail to do so the first few – or even more than few – times as emotions are often more powerful motivators than cognitions. Even though thinking might lose its battles against feeling, it has the potential to eventually win the war.

This, of course, is not to say that all thinking is good and all feeling is bad. After all, happiness is a feeling and not a thought. Thus, the function of thinking is to nurture ‘good’ feelings and conquer the ‘bad’ and wasteful ones. We cannot consciously produce feelings but we can consciously produce thoughts. By producing enough good thoughts we can create a mental landscape which is favorable to positive emotions and averse to negative ones. A gardener cannot fully control which plants grow in a garden – many weeds simply appear – but by nurturing the right plants and regularly cutting the troublesome ones, she can create a beautiful garden. Therefore, just as the gardener is aware of which plants are good for her garden and learns with practice how to control the unwanted plants, we, too, by being aware of our feelings and learning to nurture the good feelings and curtail the bad ones, can create a happy life.

The greatest happiness-inducing cognitive gift we have is optimism, a ‘good’ thought to shape our mental landscape with. Optimism is simply exercising free will to think positively when presented with a choice of reacting positively or negatively. Every situation in life presents us with this choice: will you suffer or will you be optimistic? Our instinct – through feelings – makes the right choice for us when things go our way by making us cheerful but makes the wrong choice when things don’t by making us miserable. However, we can correct this wrong choice by simply calling forth our gift of optimism. Being human is reacting instinctively to bad luck with frustration but, at the same time, being human is also realizing that you’re only making yourself unnecessarily unhappy by doing so and then deciding to be optimistic. That sums up what being a human is: an instinctual animal with the ability to exercise free will and correct its instincts – to a degree – in the attainment of higher goals such as happiness.

In the modern world, a hectic lifestyle brings with it many opportunities to suffer bad luck, from malfunctioning alarm clocks to broken dreams and everything in between. In other words, we are constantly presented with a choice to despair or to remain optimistic. In the end, happiness is more or less a simple count of the number of times you choose to be optimistic minus the number of times you suffer disappointment every time you encounter bad luck or failure. Therein lies the human potential for happiness.

Smiling in the Rain

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Why We Seek Truth but Will Never Know It Fully

Humans are made up of a certain type of duality: free will and limitation (self-direction and fate). The free will comes from consciousness and limitation from physical existence. Thus, the free will-limitation duality is the reflection of the mind-body duality. Our ultimate goal is to have as much free will as possible and as little limitation as possible.

Limitation comes from the basic evolutionary need to survive and reproduce and from a physical form developed through evolution that is intrinsically limiting. Free will comes from the privileged ability of humans to ask questions instead of being fully guided by instinct like most animals. By asking questions, free will aims to uncover truths about the world. The purpose of free will seems to be reducing limitations. By definition, limitation is not being able to do, be, and know everything. Free will, by questioning and finding out truths about the world, enables us to know, do, and be more than before – it reduces limitation. Therefore, the ultimate goal of free will is full freedom from limitation – absolute freedom – which coincides with the uncovering of all truths.

Ironically, the physical body that has enabled us to have a mind has become a barrier to the attainment of all truths. Humans may eventually figure out the truth about the physical world through science but this will not answer questions about the meaning and purpose of life. We already know how humans came into being through evolution and while this has led some to adopt the stance of nihilism – the belief that there is no meaning or purpose of life – questions about existence persist nonetheless: why did existence come about and why is there change(time)? Therefore, even if humans can uncover all the truths about the physical world (the how questions) through science while remaining within the physical bounds of the body, the ultimate truths that we have been seeking since we became self-aware will remain elusive. Science is out of its depth when dealing with the question: “Why do I exist and why do I change?”

Can we, then, ever answer the fundamental ‘why’ questions about existence and change with absolute certainty? What is preventing us from finding these truths is that we do not know what we do not know. As a famous saying goes, “There are known knowns, known unknowns, and then there are unknown unknowns.” Humans are intrinsically limited by their physical body and the brain that evolved in this four-dimensional (space-time) world. Theories in physics have already discovered up to eleven dimensions. While this can be calculated by mathematics, we simply cannot grasp the concept of a fifth – let alone eleventh – dimension. This discovery was possible because there are tools – mathematics and science – to uncover the physical world that can go beyond human experience. The physical world – at least the one we know of – follows laws and things that exist within it have certain properties, which enable tools such as mathematics to discover truths about the physical world. However, consciousness is limited neither by laws nor by properties. In essence, all thought is possible – logical or not; therefore, there is an infinite set of thoughts, which can be called universal consciousness. In other words, the world of consciousness – the endless ocean out of which all thoughts arise – is inherently not fully knowable to humans because not only can we not experience it fully because of physical limitations but there also exists no tool to calculate and ascertain its ways.

Universal consciousness – a subset of which is the collection of all possible thoughts – by definition contains all truths. Only by tapping into the entirety of universal consciousness can we attain the ultimate truths about existence and change. Therefore, the only way to uncover all truths – to end the quest for knowledge once and for all – is to transcend physical limitations. However, it seems that without a physical container of the mind, the mind cannot exist as an individually identifiable mind. Further, an individually identifiable mind is by definition finite, which, in turn, means it is limited. Therefore, no individual person can ever uncover all truths because individuality can only exist in the physical world that is inherently limited. The only way to know all truths is to become only consciousness – without a body. By becoming only consciousness, one automatically becomes infinite – a set of all possible thoughts – as consciousness is not limited by any laws or properties. Therefore, the only thing that can know all truths – know the entirety of universal consciousness – is universal consciousness itself. The transcendence into a state of only consciousness by leaving the physical body is what the Hindus call Moksha and the Buddhists call Nirvana – considered the ultimate goal of humans, gates to absolute freedom, where the human journey forever ends.


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Can We Blame Those Involved for the Atrocities in the Israel-Palestine Conflict?

As Hamas indiscriminately fires rockets into Israel from occupied territory and as Israel replies with a callous show of force, killing hundreds of Palestinian civilians in a couple of weeks, you wonder who is to blame for the massacre.

Hamas fighters claim they care deeply about Palestinian casualties but they believe that without drastic actions the long-enduring and unjust plight of the Palestinian people will remain ignored by Israel and the international community. Many Israelis, in turn, sanction the assault because they believe that they cannot simply allow Hamas to keep firing rockets towards Israeli towns and the only way to stop the rockets for good is by eradicating Hamas – hiding in the densely populated Gaza strip. In an immediate sense, you understand why Hamas is firing rockets and why Israel wants to eradicate Hamas. What is more difficult to comprehend, however, is the lack of regard for the lives of those who did not choose to be a part of this conflict – especially children.

What is it, then, that drives people towards such a state of blind bloodthirstiness that they are willing to treat hundreds of innocent lives as mere collateral damage? One answer lies in the war itself: as civilians watch their homes being bombarded and their loved ones killed and injured by an enemy that they never personally provoked, their rage boils up to a point where they consider joining an organization like Hamas to retaliate for the unjust atrocities they personally witnessed. In a land of perpetual conflict, it is easy to see why an organization like Hamas exists and thrives.

Similarly, this hatred of Israel among the Palestinians is palpable to their neighbors – the Israelis – and it is reinforced by media depiction of violent acts such as suicide bombings as well as virulent rants by aggrieved Palestinians who blame Israel for their dire situation. This makes many Israelis stereotype Palestinians as raging ‘Jihadists’ who desire nothing more than the fall of Israel. This is not helped by the fact that there is a lack of human interaction with everyday Palestinians who are segregated behind massive walls, which ensures a concomitant lack of empathy for them. In addition, mandatory conscription into the Israel Defense Forces and the military propaganda further fans the flames of fear and hate in Israeli men and women.

All of this creates and sustains a view of Palestinians not as human beings but as potential threats to the physical safety of Israelis. This view leads to a lack of sympathy for Palestinians even in the face of a staggering and rapidly rising civilian death toll in the current Gaza assault. As an example, a poll published by Israel’s Channel 10 TV on July 27 – when the conflict had already caused over 1,000 deaths – suggested 87% of Israelis were in favor of the assault and just 7% wanted a full ceasefire. (There is, of course, a minority of Israelis that does not subscribe to the insensitive views towards Palestinians and even courageously protests in the streets of Israel against this popular assault – example: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/07/26/tel-aviv-rally-gaza_n_5623752.html).

When you go further back in history, it is clear how unfortunate circumstances escalated into this perpetual and seemingly worsening conflict. After centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust, Jews understandably fled from Europe into Palestine to seek refuge in their ‘rightful’ ancient land of Israel. However, this land then belonged to Palestine, which at the time was under British control after World War I. There was already a small group of Jewish Zionists – those who believe through religion that Jews deserve to reclaim their ancient land of Israel – who had been fighting both the British and the Palestinians since the 1920s generating increasing tension between Arabs and Jews. Sympathetic to the plight of the Jewish people after the Holocaust, the international community forcefully – and perhaps naively – partitioned Palestine equally into Israel and Palestine through a United Nations resolution despite the protests of Palestinians, Arabs, and the British – who were well aware of the potential problems of such a deal.

The anger at this forceful partition led to militant Palestinian groups attacking Jewish areas. The Zionist militia – the Haganah – was much more organized and powerful than the relatively small, scattered, and ill-equipped Palestinian militant groups. In response to the provocations of the Palestinian groups, the Haganah launched an all-out war on Palestine, which did not have an organized army. After one campaign by the Haganah in which civilians were killed in a Palestinian village, word spread that the Haganah was killing Palestinian villagers and many Palestinians fled from their villages. The Haganah easily captured Palestinian territory and claimed it as Israel’s, beyond what the already generous UN resolution had given them.

The Arabs – Egypt, Jordan, and Syria –, in a show of Arabic unity, then attacked Israel from all sides in 1948 and recovered large chunks of territories where Palestinians resettled. However, the Israeli military had grown very powerful by 1967 and easily reclaimed what it had lost to the Arabs. Despite Israel taking over all of UN-defined Palestinian territory, many Palestinians did not leave their homes in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Golan Heights. Due of the presence of Palestinians in these areas, which Israel deemed potentially hostile, they erected massive walls between these areas and the rest of Israel, establishing strict checkpoints for entry into Israel. Through the 1993 Oslo Accords, Palestinians were allowed by Israel to self-govern in these enclosed areas, although Israel did not and still does not recognize an official Palestinian state – many countries do – and maintains strong military control of the areas. The military presence, the strict checkpoints, economic blockades, and frequent episodes of military operations against insurgent Palestinian groups have created a claustrophobic and volatile atmosphere within the Palestinian territories where life goes on simply because life has to go on. Palestinians deem these areas occupied territories and find the occupation incredibly oppressive, which sometimes translates into violent resistance. The international sympathy for the Palestinian cause is partly based on the fact that Palestinians are now willing to accept the 1967 borders – a much smaller territory than the one designated by the UN in 1947.

On the other side, after a few generations, Israelis know no other home. They fear that if they did not possess military and political might, the surrounding Arab states sympathetic to the Palestinian resistance will simply engulf them. The Arab threat and what they perceive as biased international support for Palestine has made Israelis more patriotic and paranoid and willing to accept mandatory conscription into the Israeli army. Many Israelis believe that, firstly, the UN resolution legitimately established the modern Israeli state in 1947 and, secondly, that the disputed territories are also legitimately Israel’s because they won it in a war against the Arab states, much like how borders had been determined by war throughout history.

It is clear why Palestinians are fighting Israelis and why Israelis are fighting back with gusto: Palestinians want their own home and Israelis want to keep their home. What is perhaps not as clear is whether the current situation was inevitable due to the events that played out in history. If you had been born in place of the Hamas fighter and had been through all that he or she had been through, would you have done the same? If you had been born in place of the Israeli soldier and had seen, heard, and experienced all that he or she had, would you have done the same? Having lived in completely different circumstances, you do not think like they do. If they had been born in your place, they would perhaps think like you do. You were not born with your attitudes, beliefs, and values; you developed these in response to the world around you. You are nothing like you were as an infant, the Hamas fighter is nothing like he or she was as an infant, the Israeli soldier is nothing like he or she was as an infant; however, all three of you were almost identical in your attitudes, beliefs, and values when you were infants.

What is, perhaps, even more poignant is the fact that no infant has ever had any say in where and when he or she was to be born. In essence, when born, a baby is the representation of biological evolutionary history up to that point. By the time that baby becomes an adult he or she will have become a representation of his or her particular ancestral and cultural history. Just as we have deterministic biological genes, we also possess deterministic but invisible cultural genes. These biological genes, cultural genes, and our experiences combine to make us who we are.

Forgiveness is the key for a respectable and just agreement between Israel and Palestine. Forgiveness comes about by understanding that people are products of their genetic, cultural, and experiential history. Palestinians and Israelis may be willing to forgive if they can admit that they might have done the same if they were born on the other side. Only with empathy comes forgiveness and only with forgiveness can there be peace and respect for human dignity.

Does their cultural history and their experiences give the fighters an excuse to keep fighting as the civilian death toll rises above 1,000, though? Human will is not fully limited by biological genes, cultural genes, or experience – especially in making immediate decisions. One of the reasons is that all humans, regardless of their make-up, recognize certain universals such as justice, dignity, love, and kindness (Plato’s ideal forms). Humans have a natural tendency to recognize right from wrong. We can understand why Palestinians and Israelis are fighting each other and perhaps even admit that if we were born in their place we might be doing the same. We cannot, however, condone their callousness towards innocent lives. They know that the death of innocent civilians — especially children — is tragic and it is in their hands to stop the conflict. Especially the leaders of both Hamas and Israel who make the decisions to continue fighting must know that their decisions are responsible for these deaths. Despite everything they have been taught and have been through, when they had to decide between right and extremely wrong, they chose and continue to choose extremely wrong. They bear the responsibility for not stopping even when they had the choice — a ceasefire that the whole world is urging them to accept. Our patience with them can only go so far.






(I totally condemn to the greatest degree all killings of all people in this conflict. If only they could learn forgiveness and treat each other with the dignity they would like to be treated with. This situation will only get better once Israeli and Palestinian children start going to the same schools and start seeing each other as human beings with intrinsic value.)

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The Role of Ego in Humanitarianism

Bill Gates must be the epitome of the modern individualistic man turning into a through-and-through humanitarian. When contrasted with someone like Mother Teresa, judgments regarding which form of philanthropy is the better one surface automatically. In practical terms, Bill Gates has helped improve more downtrodden lives using his enormous personal wealth; nevertheless, there is an appreciation for the self-sacrifice of Mother Teresa and how her humanitarian spirit stamped an indelible universal belief in the goodness of human beings that make her rise above any practical considerations. Most would agree, though, that any kind of humanitarian effort is better than none.

There exists, quite abundantly, the form of philanthropy where people contribute to charitable causes to feel better about themselves – subconsciously, of course. These are people who want the world to know about their good deeds. Philanthropy reinforces their beliefs in their own goodness, which can turn some into lifelong philanthropists. However, just because there is a selfish component to their humanitarianism does not mean that there are no genuinely humanitarian elements in their form of philanthropy. Moreover, the contributions of these philanthropists often make it possible for others to dedicate their lives to humanitarian causes without selfish motives. Here is a form of philanthropy, while not ideal, nonetheless, does prove useful.

In truth, in today’s world, where minds are oriented from an early age towards materialism and power, it is rare to find a humanitarian without at least some selfish motives, no matter how deeply hidden in the subconscious – be it having pride in one’s accomplishments, wishing to spread one’s message, or feeling a sense of superiority through self-righteousness. Most of popular history revolves around the accomplishments of individual figures much more than collective accomplishments. In light of this, I believe that, in this world that worships individuals, ego and individuality play a prominent role in actions of virtually every person, including actions that are humanitarian in nature.

This is when the practical approach to humanitarianism becomes relevant. As you most likely cannot fully defeat your ego in your quest to become a completely self-sacrificing saint, as is only expected, it is best to channel your ego towards humanitarian goals, given that you are aware of what you are doing. If your ego motivates you to become a great speaker and spread the message of humanitarianism that would influence others to become humanitarian, then, by all means, use that drive that the ego provides, while always being aware that you are deliberately using your ego to promote and progress humanitarian efforts and not as a means to overinflate your ego or to fulfil other selfish purposes.

As long as you do not overindulge your ego, there is nothing wrong in feeling good about yourself when helping others, especially if you know that this feeling will motivate you to help even more. A happy humanitarian in control of his or her ego can do more than one plagued by an eternal struggle to defeat the ego. When you are trying to improve the world and make everyone in it happier, don’t forget about yourself as you are also a part of that world.Image

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