Massage Your Mind!: A Spontaneous Woo to You!
As I was driving to a friend’s house recently, I passed the Dublin Pub, a local watering hole known for its live music. On the reader board, one band’s name caught my eye: Spontaneous Woo.
Hmmm, I thought. What a great concept. There is nothing quite like letting out a joyous, spontaneous “WOO!” when things are going our way. We might personalize our woo, making it come out as “YESSSS!” or “Sweeeeeet” or even “Woo-HOO!” No matter what elicits this response, we know it means something good has happened.
What is good? How do we define it?
Good is a moving target, but one thing we may be able to agree upon is that it IS a target. Aristotle used the Greek word telos meaning “end or completion” and used teleology to refer to the study of the purpose of things. He believed that everything—not just people—has a purpose, or target. Nothing is random. The whole world is made up of these interrelated purposes.
“The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to know how to live to purpose.”
According to Aristotle, we were born to think. We’re supposed to use our brains to contemplate and to appreciate the complexity of the universe. Our purpose is to think in order to live a good life.
Ah…back to good. We use this word to describe everything from a haircut to a mathematical theory. Essentially, something is good if it satisfies a certain expectation we have of it—it hits the target. A “good cup of coffee” could be strong, weak, bitter, sweet, milky, black, or free, depending on what you value and what you want from your cuppa. But are there certain qualities that make a life good?
“Goodness is easier to recognize than to define.” --W.H. Auden
We know good when we see it, just like we know when something is woo-worthy. If, as Aristotle says, our purpose is to live a good life and be happy, why isn’t there some simple formula we can apply to everyone? What’s the minimum woo-quotient of a good life? How do we know if we have enough to be happy? We all know plenty of people who never seem to have enough of anything.
Aristotle believed that we need to use courage, honesty and moderation in pursuing pleasure. For him, moral goodness and enjoyment in life were the same thing. It’s okay to pursue anything you want, but don’t go overboard. This concept of moderation became known as the golden mean.
Not surprisingly, this became a popular idea, especially among the rich. It was just what they wanted to hear! We must remember that the majority of Aristotle’s students were wealthy—who else had the time to study philosophy all day long? Aristotle’s emphasis on moderation got lost in all the excitement about pursuing whatever you like.
Hmmm. Sounds a lot like modern life, doesn’t it? What kind of life would Aristotle suggest we live in the midst of all the stuff of the 21st century? What does moderation mean now?
First, let’s start on the far end of the stuff spectrum. Let’s talk about television. Instead of thinking about what is enough, let’s take a look at what is excessive. We can probably agree that having five big screen TVs with 150 channels is a bit much. What if we are fabulously wealthy? What limits our consumption when we can afford anything?
Wealthy people are not necessarily more or less moral than anyone else. However, they are tested more than the rest of us because they have the ability to live an excessive lifestyle. This is where we get confused between A GOOD LIFE and THE GOOD LIFE. One little word of difference but wow, what a shift in thinking.
Most of us have the good fortune(?) of not being tempted to live without limits. We simply can’t afford it. Still, there are many steps along the way to excess, and we are constantly presented with choices. What is reasonable? Is it not having a television? Perhaps having one, but not two? One big one and one small one? Or maybe having a TV, but no cable? How about just basic cable? Why should you deny yourself when it seems that everyone else around you is watching “The Sopranos” on HBO? Aristotle never had a television, so how are we supposed to use his philosophy to guide us in the real world?
Ethical living enables us to become stronger individuals and to produce stronger families and stronger communities. Morality helps us create the best life possible by being selective about what we honor. Morality facilitates GENUINE HAPPINESS and fulfillment. Aristotle agreed with his teacher Plato and Plato’s teacher Socrates when he said that genuine happiness results from living an excellent—and virtuous—life.
“Be less concerned with what you have than with what you are, so that you may make yourselves as excellent and as rational as possible.”
We need to develop our own philosophy, our own understanding of the morality that will help us become our most excellent selves. In the example of consumption, we must consider how each step up the TV scale affects our perception of living a good life.
What do we use as our moral compass? Perhaps it’s our passion for the planet and not wanting to use more than we need. Maybe it’s our desire to live without too much commercial influence. Maybe it’s our budget, or the size of our living room, or the fact that we are never home to watch television. Ultimately, it comes down to this: how does what we have affect our perception of who we are?
You might think that philosophy won’t be much help in defining this for yourself. Well, here’s a philosophical concept that you might want to consider. Immanuel Kant proposed what is called the categorical imperative, which basically says that we should act the way we would want everyone in the universe to act if they were faced with the same set of circumstances.
According to his deontological theory, good happens because we are acting on the basis of our sense of duty. He took things a little too far, however, by saying that if we derive pleasure or benefit from an action, it doesn’t count as a purely moral act.
Well, that takes the fun out of being a do-gooder, now, doesn’t it? It hardly seems fair to say that you may choose to go without TV because you don’t want to consume more than you need, but if it makes you feel sort of proud of yourself it’s no longer moral!
Still, this idea is worth considering. The next time you are faced with any sort of ethical dilemma, think about Kant. Forget “What would Jesus do?” and try this: “What should everyone do?” And all you wanted was to sneak that last piece of chocolate cake….
You can do this. We're all capable of rising to the challenge and becoming more excellent humans. It's why we have these big, beautiful brains!
Recognize what is good, embrace it and celebrate it.
A spontaneous woo to you!
About the Author
Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse. Her course, "Massage Your Mind!: Defining Your Life Philosophy", has inspired thinkers in over 60 countries around the world. Sign up for her free weekly e-zine, the Friday Mind Massage, at http://www.massageyourmind.com. Thanks for thinking!
Maya Talisman Frost