A (Third) Open Letter to My Daughter

Hi, Peanut. This is becoming a regular thing, isn’t it? By the end, I should have quite a collection of rambling wisdom for you to ignore.

A few things have been on my mind. First, though, I must say how much your existence has benefited me, or, more specifically, how it has benefited my thinking. It’s been said that small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, and great minds discuss ideas. I’m a firm believer in this, but I believe an asterisk has to be added. Small minds can become average minds, and average minds can become great minds; or, rather, can become like great minds.

It is often said, too, that, in order to become a better person, you must surround yourself with people who are better than you. The same can be said of media, though: you are what you consume. If small minds begin to discuss events, then they become better. If average minds discuss ideas, they become better.

Since I became your father, it’s become second nature to think about and discuss ideas. Perhaps there was a predisposition towards this, but you’ve underscored it. When I think of the world, I think of it in terms of how it will affect you; ideas, then, are the only thing worthy of discussion, because they are the only way to improve the world you will live in. Ideas are only the springboard, of course; execution must follow, but execution is merely the food we swallow; ideas ensure we have the stomach for it.

All that is to say: thank you. You’ve made me a better person, merely by being.

Now, then, onto the imparting of wisdom (or, perhaps, the illusion of it).

I’ve become fascinated recently with an idea conceived by a German philosopher named Hegel. It’s the triad of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. A thesis is a proposition, usually an intellectual one, but any will do. The antithesis is the reaction to the thesis, usually a negation of it.

So, here you have the two extremes: thesis and antithesis. What arises from the clashing of those two concepts is the synthesis. The synthesis finds the truths that the thesis and antithesis have in common, reconciles them, and puts forth a new thesis, beginning the process anew. Essentially, it’s the evolution of thought.

The concept has made me feel a bit better about the world in which we now live. I think about the Civil Rights movement: a proposition was brought to the table (equality), opposition rose up (violently), and the (relatively) peaceful world we now live in is the synthesis of those two ideas. The same thing is happening with the gay community now. By the time you read this, I suspect that it will be considered as ridiculous to persecute the LGBT community as it now is to be racist. I see this process unfolding with religion and politics at the moment. A secular movement is underway, and the opposition is substantial, loud, and ludicrous. I hope to see the synthesis arise.

That’s the process as macrocosm, but I think it can be turned inward. We often take things to extremes as kids (I see you do this all the time- makeup obsession, anyone?). I did it, too; I was into gangster rap, for cryin’ out loud. There comes a point, though, when you realize how ridiculous you’re being, and the reaction is usually to distance yourself from that type of behavior, so you go the opposite direction. Eventually, you find that ridiculous, too, and slide somewhere towards the middle.

It’s that sliding towards the middle that is at the heart of growing up.

The middle, for our purposes, is just another way of saying “balance” or “moderation.” It’s that balance that’s been on my mind for some time, because it seems to me that moderation is the key to everything.

You hear that word being tossed around all the time, but I don’t think most realize the implications of it. To quote the great Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It’s often used to talk about drinking, or TV, or anything that can be taken to excess. Again, we tend to project these things externally, but turning them inward has a much more profound effect.

We are animals. Civilization (let’s call it) has decided that its own job is to propel us as far away from our animal nature as possible. I don’t think that’s 1) healthy, and 2) living up to our potential. To say that we are animals is not a condemnation; it is only to explain the way things are. We eat, we have sex, we exert ourselves for fun. These are very fundamental truths; they are the building blocks of our being. Everything else arises from that. So when we deny those aspects of ourselves, we pull away from who we are, until we’re barely able to recognize ourselves.

Catholic priests are a good, if extreme, example. Anorexic models are another. Workaholics are busying themselves into that category.

Deny yourself your basest sexual instincts, and they will conquer you. Deny yourself food, and it will conquer you. Deny yourself leisure, and work will conquer you. Of course, taking things to the other extreme is no less harmful (look up Caligula on Wikipedia).

These are all obvious examples, but if you look closely, other, subtler variations on this theme exist. Jealousy, for example, is a natural human tendency. At first glance, the emotion seems to have no redeeming qualities. It seems utterly useless, in fact.

But it can be harnessed. Jealousy (and envy, if I may lump them together) is simply your desire to have what someone else has. That may be a person, or it may be a quality. If it is a person, it’s helpful to reflect on precisely why you want what you want. Maybe you’ll find that a current friendship feels lackluster, and what you really want is a true connection with another person. If that’s the case, you now know what you want, and can go about getting it.

If you’re envious of another’s position or success, you can study them- find what quality they possess that helped them attain what you desire. Cultivate that quality in yourself.

It must be said that all this cannot be undertaken without a sort of apprenticeship to life. It takes an extraordinary amount of self-awareness to apply what we’ll call the Moderation Principle with any sort of efficacy. Most people, I’m sorry to say, lack this self-awareness to an alarming degree.

Consider that your job, then. The unexamined life is not worth living, true, but to examine life is to examine yourself. Think of yourself, of the stuff inside that makes you you, as a clock. When we’re born, that clock keeps perfect time with the rhythm of the world. As time passes, though, our clocks become less and less accurate. That feeling of being out of sync with the world is just that: your clock and the world are keeping different time, different rhythm. You’re ticking when the world is tocking. So what are we to do? You must fix the clock.

But it is a delicate process. Not just anyone can fix a clock; it takes years of practice, of dedication to the craft. Like the clockmaker studies his craft, you must study yourself. Then, with a steady hand and the appropriate knowledge, you can set about the task of fixing the clock- and it’s a glorious thing to do so, and realize that, once again, you and your world are keeping perfect time.

PS- The only exception to the Moderation Principle is love. When you love, love with everything you have, even if - especially if - it comes at the cost of your broken heart.