On The “Why?” Of Things

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If a mariner sails in a calm ocean, he will never get better.

The protagonist in this story is a mariner who does not see himself as a professional in the sense that he sails for 8 hours a day and calculates his income on a weekly basis. He chooses to live as a sailor; for him, sailing is not a remunerated activity inasmuch as it is a lifestyle he has pursued for years. And, since the past is multifactorial and multi-causal, he is right now sailing for any reason you could give him. It is part of the objectivism that can be used to approach reality: take it as it is, not as you would like it to be.

So this mariner is completely alone in his ship and a powerful storm is firmly approaching – yes, with tall waves, heavy rain, strong wind and a big etcetera. Why is the storm getting closer to his exact location? That is like asking why the sun is yellow from Earth and white from the Space Station: Nature, something you cannot control nor dispose of. In fact, you may think that Nature has enforced the heaviest karma upon you, for many sailors are conducting business as usual, and this particularly strong storm has been targeted solely and specifically on you.

We need to establish some assumptions first: for example, we need to assume that the sailor’s ship can actually resist the storm, provided our mariner does what needs to be done; we need to assume as well that the mariner had no notion whatsoever that this powerful storm was in fact coming at him – he had only partial warnings like birds flying rapidly to the shore or the ocean waves increasing their force. These warnings only communicated the proximity of the storm, not its intensity. We have to assume as well that our sailor is not completely inexperienced; he has at least some knowledge about how to deal with a storm based on other sailors’ experience and his own, how he will engage with his chances of survival. So in this aspect, he sees himself as a continuous learner and not as an absolute, finalised product of sailing. He chooses to believe in those chances, not in myths or established rules based on other sailors’ experience.

If our sailor keeps asking “why?” he may find the answer in the interminable hours in which his mind would get lost in, while the storm ravages his ship and tears him apart. Focusing on the “why?” makes us think about the past by trying to make logical connections to what is going on in the present, employing a cause-and-effect logic. This may come in handy provided we know all the premises of the equation, but you and I know that life is a little bit more complicated than a maths exercise. And, as much as this way of reasoning may explain some things in life – such as why you got your dream job (perhaps due to your own merits), why your computer is slow and often freezes (because you have some kind of malware or failed equipment) or why people make inappropriate comments on Facebook or Twitter (because they can and we have all said something incorrect, bad or even insulting) – it cannot fully explain your current situation in itself, let alone help you explore the meaning of it.

Returning to our example, the mariner may have some knowledge or even an intention as to why he was sailing in that particular area, or as to why he was sailing in stormy weather but he cannot figure out why in that particular day at that particular time he had to go through the storm or even why he was sent to do it; or, if he was purposely and freely doing It, why he had to do it under such terrible and counterproductive conditions. In fact, you could hypothesise that he wanted to test himself, show off or simply get caught by it.

The fact here is that we simply do not know. You may have heard that some conspiracy theorists affirm that the Vatican has possessed since the sixties a machine called the “cronovisor”. It allegedly has the power to take pictures of past events by allowing you to see them. It is unable, though, to transport you to the past, it just lets you watch it and take pictures of it. The “Why?” driven towards the past can get you precisely that: a picture, not a reason.

The sailor, when faced with the difficulties and complications of his journey, could blame it all on the ocean (just like a student who blames his teachers – after all, it releases us from responsibility and empowers our sense of free will by making us think that if the right conditions existed, we would do everything successfully). So yes, external-oriented control is sold to us as a mighty tool to influence people, when in reality it is a mechanism to weaken us and make us more dependent on outside factors. These ‘factors’ are the things that affect you to which you exert almost no degree of influence.

Our mariner could let himself be part of a devastating depression attack or let himself get by. He has a variety of options at hand to make it happen, with most of them leading to a potential death. He could throw himself into the ocean, do nothing and hope the storm passes him by, lead the ship directly into the storm in a suicidal fashion screaming something unintelligible at God, but instead – whether by his survival instinct or the desire to see his family, again, the reason is irrelevant – he is taking a chance to do something about it. Not to fix it, not to make it stop, but to endure it. He is making the choice that no one else can face, the right choice in an adverse context. Endure.

So the tasks he needs to perform are not objectives in and on themselves but instruments driven to a greater end. The mariner tying himself to a mast and “hoping” everything will be fine is not the same as the mariner performing everything he can in order to survive the storm by enduring and overcoming its negative and to some extent degrading circumstances. Moreover, he sees the ship itself as something that can be sacrificed if it is what it takes to survive the storm because he simply values his own life more than anything else aboard the ship and he does not have to possess a doctoral degree to know that if he can get through it, more and more chances will come to face new storms or to build stronger ships.

At this time, enduring is a choice and not an obligation. It is a choice in the sense that it is voluntary and can bring purpose to a determined assignment. Notice that he is not giving “a 100 %” in what he does, but he is doing what could take him to face new and exciting challenges. He is creating the only future he can (but it could also be true to some extent that if he endures this test he will be able to create it in his own style, while he can).

It would be patronising to say that all our events in life should be lived to the limit and the only possible emotional choice is to endure. Some moments in life – hopefully more and more in the future – are to be enjoyed and cherished. Nevertheless our mariner is confronted with a situation in which inaction will inevitably condemn him. And remember, for whatever reason, he wants to survive. So for now, he must amass enough bravery to execute some tasks and endure the storm.

Why? Not because he has to, but because I chooses to.

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