“Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.”
Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy
So. Every once in a while you get asked a question that makes you think about yourself and reflect on how you have changed. I was asked one the other day <a seemingly harmless question>.
What was your favorite class in college?
My answer was easy. Philosophy.
Now. I would like to think I have become more of a philosopher late in age. Okay. Maybe just more philosophical. I imagine mostly because I would like to think I finally have the knowledge and mind adeptness to grasp such intangible concepts … things I just couldn’t do in youth.
But as I type that I am reminded of a quote from Game of Thrones:
Tyrion to Cersei:
“There’s nothing worse than a late blooming philosopher.”
Oops. I have become what Tyrion hates — a late blooming philosopher.
Another piece of information about my favorite class Philosophy.
Despite being my favorite class — I got a D.
But I loved the class.
I didn’t know it at the time but it began my love affair with ambiguity. In general, academically, I was a relatively indifferent student but I worked my ass off for that class. And, yeah, still got a D.
Oh. Once again. I loved that class.
I loved it all despite the fact that philosophy is all about logical thinking, yet, ending with sometimes illogical ambiguity. In hindsight at that age I was too linear a thinker and while I loved the thinking I ultimately scorned the ambiguity. Or. Maybe it scorned me.
As a moth to flame I was drawn to it and got roasted as I got too near the flame. But. It was definitely the beginning of my true love affair with ambiguity. All that class reading and studying hovered in the back of my head for years. Never really moving to the forefront, but always lurking.
Ah. And then my next memorable date with ambiguity. It was in business school where I entered b-school lore.
“I am indifferent.”
During a case study discussion the professor says “so Mr. McTague, what solution do you believe is the proper option here?” Me…“I am indifferent.” <I may have even said “I don’t care.”>
The poor choice of words aside <which stayed written on the board at the front for the remainder of the semester> I was beginning to grasp the fact there is rarely one best solution — just several better, or worse, solutions any of which will get you to where you want to go. Philosophically this was a HUGE business lesson. It is really practical useful learning assuming you can actually implement it in the workplace. Philosophy continued to lurk sometimes moving to the forefront in the form of philosophical quotes or random thoughts I gathered in the development of speeches I gave.
Interestingly this love of ambiguity has served me well in business.
Inevitably it meant that I never really got hung up making decisions. I kind of figured out making a decision somewhere in the spectrum of “the better decisions” was better than dicking around seeking the ever elusive so-called ‘best’ decision.
So I pulled out my high school year book and looked at some things teachers wrote in it:
– My Spanish teacher … “muy perezoso “<very lazy> … but I got an A in her class.
– My wacky English teacher wrote something in Latin <and the extent of my Latin knowledge revolved around ‘cogito ergo sum’> pulchra manu. pulchra cogitandi. I thought she was a wackjob and never bothered translating it until maybe 15 years later: “beautiful handwriting. beautiful thinker.”
– My history teacher: Most interesting student I have ever had.
– My physics/chemistry teacher: Pursue physics. Physics will never be the same if you do.
– My guidance counselor <who, in hindsight, I probably caused him more gray hair than anything or anyone he ran into in his entire life>: I hope you find what you are looking for. <note: because he, nor I, had a clue what I was looking for>
** note: I highly recommend pulling out your high school yearbooks and read what your teachers wrote about you. It is humbling, terrifying and satisfying (all at the same time)
Well. I imagine I was a very frustrating kid to my teachers and parents. I know I was a very confused kid. In hindsight I was just as frustrated as them, but I wasn’t mature enough to be actually frustrated just confused.
Now. Some adults handled me better than others. Some in their frustration tried to force me into some decision or tighten the boundaries. Others simply tried to widen the boundaries to show me how far I could go.
Regardless. I am sure I frustrated both and all.
In comparison, in some ways I envy my sister. I am relatively sure she was, and is, intellectually sharper <and smarter> than I. In addition I sense she figured out how to focus her brain <and intellectualness> much earlier than I did. Ah. That focus thing. She could have been a world class engineer (if that is what she elected to be) or lawyer, shit, I believe she could have been a world class anything if she elected to pursue it. She could focus, and still can, her brain power. That is a talent. She has it <I do not>. Oh. Separate note. Instead of engineering or law she selected almost an opposite direction and has done quite well.
Her strength? Focus.
My strength? Ambiguity.
** note: but I believe we both have a strong low tolerance for bullshit … which philosophy can sometimes hover around
Anyway. I am sure any specific strength, with its correlating weaknesses, is frustrating to adults which makes us <as kids> frustrated with adults.
But I imagine that is how it is with adults and children. Each disappoints the other in ways that neither recognizes nor intends and it takes time to overcome the disappointment. In the end a child doesn’t always understand the complexities of adult choices and an adult rarely understands the complexities of what a child is going through and the choices they make or don’t make.
A child’s best hope in life is that parents, and all adults, try to do the best for the child. That doesn’t mean that making those decisions on ‘what is best’ is easy and, in fact, it is a difficult process and the choices made for you imprint you … maybe mark you, in some way, that is, if you permit it to. If you deal with it, you move on and progress and it may even mark you positively.
We end up growing up the best we can under the circumstances given us.
I would suggest it does us little good to second guess ourselves years later. To me it seems a better option to simply try to understand why we are as we are, who we are, and then try and better ourselves by learning from that.
Anyway. My path was, and is, certainly winding. I imagine it is winding not because of capability, or the lack thereof, but rather because of my inherent love of ambiguity. I do know that as I have grown older not only have I become a ‘late blooming philosopher’ but also recognize I seek opportunities wherein lies ambiguity.
I philosophically, and tangibly, like finding solutions within the ambiguity <in business and in Life>.
All that said.
“A musician must make music, a painter must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.”
Maslow was a smart guy. I do not believe I am a deep thinker nor am I a philosopher. And I am absolutely sure that I don’t have it all figured out — that includes myself, Life and business. Even today, of later age, I am a work in progress. I imagine that means I live a Life somewhat constantly in ambiguity.
I imagine in a broad sense that being philosophical is something I do as I seek to understand fundamental truths about myself, the world we live in <and the wacky people residing in this world> and, interestingly, business itself.
In the end I would still bet that I would get a poor grade in philosophy. I am too pragmatic to be a philosopher. I like, far too much, actually finding an answer <or at least the best answer available> within the ambiguity. That doesn’t mean I cannot be philosophical, just not a philosopher.
Well. No ambiguity there, huh?