Have you thought about (HYTA) making life harder for yourself and those around you?

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Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher and literary genius, wrote about one of his fictional characters in a cafe agonising about the state of life.

In this fictional setting, he despairs at the many people who, by his age, have already contributed meaningfully to humanity and served their due diligence through means such as the invention of the phone, bus, universal theories, various modern conveniences and literary progress. With a sense of failure, he asks himself: “And what are you doing?” He realised that it was impossible for him to compete with his contemporaries in making life easier. Searching for his mission in life, he finally comes up with an idea:

“You must, with the same humanitarian enthusiasm as your peers, undertake to make life for others harder rather than easier. For when everything is combined to be easier, there remains only one last danger. For when there is only one want left, people will want difficulty. Out of love for mankind, and out of despair at my embarrassing situation, seeing that I had accomplished nothing and was unable to make everything easier than it already been made, I shall conceive it my mission to create difficulties everywhere.”

Though initially absurd, Kierkegaard isn’t off tangent, especially when you consider he was at least a few centuries behind us. At our fingertips, everything buzzes with modern convenience, digital accessibility and raw information, and yet, you would think that we would be correspondingly happier and more fulfilled. Though we all live like feudal lords (they had no TV or any computational devices), personal contentment appears to have eluded us.

And there in lies the issue. Can you chart your way to a nebula within the galaxy if you did not have specific co-ordinates? Can you pursue happiness if you never understood what it meant?

Most people function single-mindedly, often uncritically and unassumingly. We talk about friendship as if we fully understood it, espouse our beliefs with a fervent ardour, and lead lives of certainty as if the universe itself is mechanically stable when it isn’t.

What does love mean, and are all types of relationships valid for love? How far should a friendship go and what does a friend even mean? Are funerals nothing but symbolic rituals of the past? Are your beliefs logically sound, and if they are, how do they compare with the rest of the world?

In a way, finding fulfilment is to be intellectually honest with yourself: To ask questions that lead to answers, then more questions; to live with the understanding that not all questions have answers, and that we shouldn’t settle haphazardly for convenient answers.

Sure life is more complex, progressively difficult and frustrating, but surely you can agree that it is as close as it gets to developing your humanity.

So, have you thought about (HYTA) making life harder for yourself and those around you?

Have you thought about (HYTA) learning a new language?

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A few weeks back, I took up intensive elementary classes of Japanese. At two hours a day with the occasional homework, an ever burgeoning list of vocabulary to memorise, the need to consistently maintain basic fluency with standard greetings and phrases, it has been nothing short of a humbling experience.

And I would it all over again, and then more.

A new language opens up new cultural pathways. If language is the soul of a human mind, then it follows that language is also the backbone of a society. Tradition, architecture and mannerisms are fashioned from the stone canvas of language, with time as its chisel and the people as the mallet.

Translations will suffice, that’s true, but as any translator will attest to, a number of cultural nuances, expressional subtleties and nuggets of verbal exposé are often left marooned. Anyone with a basic bilingualism will understand this much.

Reading is vitally important for me because I owe the bulk of my philosophical debt to the authors who invited me into their canvas of words. So imagine how I felt when I managed to form and thread a meaningful story from a very simple Japanese picture book.

Enid Blyton once wrote in one of her stories about new and mysterious worlds that would periodically be accessible to the children staying in a huge tree that reached the skies. Learning a new language is exactly that: a new world, an unfamiliar landscape, distant but inviting, waiting for someone’s intellectual curiosity to mentally excavate its secrets.

Just like philosophy, skepticism and rational discourse have given me the intellectual honesty to examine my beliefs, learning a new language has provided given me a periscope and an explorer’s hat.

So, have you thought about learning a new language?