The late Robert Nozick, who taught philosophy at Harvard and wrote many acclaimed books, said this:
Imagine that every human being is graded on a 100-point scale. You get 50 points for being alive and another 30 points for being human. So now you’re up to 80, which is often a B. Then, you get another 10 points if you’re basically able to function and get through the day. Now you’re up to 90, often an A.
So I’m pleased to announce that you’re already getting an A in life!
What about those last 10 points? Nozick says, those are the things we think about and worry about most of the time. Just think about that for a moment.
Then Nozick adds: maybe, if we thought a little deeper about what an incredible thing it is to be alive and to be a human being, we might handle that last 10 percent of life’s issues a little better.
Did you hear the good news in that? As human beings, we already have a lot going for us! We have human consciousness. We have the ability to think, communicate, change our minds, laugh, love, forgive, create—and on we could go.
We have about everything we need…except depth. Life goes so fast and sometimes we’re like little speedboats that go skimming across the surface of the water—when once in a while we should be like ocean liners that go slower but plow deeper.
But what does it mean to think deeper about ourselves and our lives? Well, I don’t think it requires big philosophical words or psychobabble. That only gets in the way.
Maybe it starts with just a moment of real quiet when we stop all the noise rattling in our brains. A moment when you think about what truly matters to your life today.
Start with your To Do list for the day. Put at the top of that list:
- Be alive.
- Be human.
- Be yourself.
Really, that’s your job. And you have what it takes to do that job.
Then complete your list. Just make sure you have a quiet moment in the morning to reflect on the first three items and maybe think about those during the day. Even if the rest of the list goes haywire, you’re already at 90%!
NOTE: Over the next few months, we’ll look at the mystic poets and what they have to say that can help us think a little more deeply about what it is to be alive and be human.
We exercise our bodies and our minds. But Hafiz (who lived in Persia in the 1300s) reminds us to also exercise our “heart’s knowing.”
He’s talking about being present in the present, about affirming life each day, and I think his words are still worth reflecting on—so I’ll share them without comment. The poem is titled: “If It Is Not Too Dark.”
Go for a walk, if it is not too dark.
Get some fresh air, try to smile. Say something kind
To a safe-looking stranger, if one happens by.
Always exercise your heart’s knowing.
You might as well attempt something real along this path:
Take your spouse or lover into your arms the way you did when you first met.
Let tenderness pour from your eyes
The way the sun gazes warmly on this earth.
Play a game with some children. Extend yourself to a friend.
Sing a few ribald songs to your pets and plants—
Why not let them get drunk and wild!
Let’s toast every rung we’ve climbed on Evolution’s ladder.
Whisper “I love you! I love you!” to the whole mad world.
Jump to your feet, wave your fists, threaten and warn the whole Universe
That your heart can no longer live without real love.
Someone did a study and found that little children laugh, on average, about 300 times a day? Adults? About fifteen!
Obviously, something happens to us. And the poet Rumi was all about trying to reverse that trend—as we see in this poem:
Your laughter turns the world to paradise.
It tears through me like fire. It teaches me.
Last night the spirit of dawn came to my room
and gave me a lesson in laughter.
Our blazing roars lit the morning sky.
When I brood like a rain cloud, laughter flashes through me.
It’s the habit of lightning to laugh through a storm.
“Prove you’re no fake! Laugh even when you lose.”
What does laughter teach us? That’s worth chewing on.
And maybe that last line has something to do with it. If our approach to life lets us laugh even when we lose, maybe we’re making some progress as a human being.
Coleman Barks, the writer most responsible for making Rumi popular in America, tells this story about his granddaughter, Briny Barks.
Coleman had gone with Briny to a soccer game. Things got out of hand and Briny’s team lost 10-0. After the game, Coleman and Briny went back to his convertible. As they got in the car, girls from the winning team came marching up the sidewalk chanting: “We won! We won! We won!” Briny stood up on the seat of the convertible, hands on top of the windshield, and started yelling, “We lost! We lost! Big time. Ten to Zip. We lost!” This stopped the winning girls in their tracks and silenced them all. They stood there abashed.
Coleman commented: “We discovered that losers don’t laugh last. They laugh all the way home!”