Why are you asking kiddo?
I heard that a rocket fell near your sister’s house in Israel. That’s scary.
Yes kid, it is very troubling.
Who would do such a thing? Why do they want to hurt people?
People who think it is the right thing to do.
How trying to kill people be the right thing to do?
That’s a hard question to answer, but I’ll try.
You see, we humans have this machine in our heads called the human brain. It has what is called consciousness, awareness and free will.
We get to know the world and choose our actions consciously every second of our lives. And that is not easy.
Right. Sometimes I think of how simple our dog’s life is. No homework – just eat, drink and play.
Right. Simple, yet limited. We get to experience so much more. But, as I said, it is hard.
In order to make decisions every minute of our lives, small to big, we need this machine to have some kind of an operating system.
Like a computer? Something like Windows?
Yes, something that will interpret reality for us and guide us on which alternatives to choose. Something to tell us what’s right and what’s wrong.
That is what we call philosophy. People call it in many different names – values, religion, way of life, beliefs, morality. etc.
We are born without any philosophy. Tabula Rasa, which means a clean slate.
We only have survival instincts guiding us to stay alive. Telling us that living is our highest value.
But then the mind takes over.
Influenced by our environment, our parents, our teachers, and everyone around us, we define for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. We learn to like or despise things. In a normal society, you learn that respecting other people’s rights for life and freedom is good and that killing and stealing are bad.
But the truth is that the human mind is so flexible and programmable, we can burn any type of philosophy into it. As awful as it may sound, a person can be taught that killing is good.
You can teach a person any idea, no matter how detached it is from reality. Look, most of the world still believes in supernatural forces that they never saw any proof of. Gods, prophets, food falling from the sky, men walking on water, reincarnations – you name it.
Our mind can invent anything and truly believe it is reality.
You’re right dad. People believe in weird stuff. You won’t believe things kids make up in school.
Wait till they grow up…
But anyhow, with this capacity to run on any kind of philosophy or morality, many people go in wrong directions. Radical Islamists, for instance, believe that it is good to eliminate non-Islamists because god said so. So for them, killing Jews in Israel is a positive thing. So positive, that god will actually reward them when they die. That’s a pretty strong thing to believe in if you believe in eternal afterlife.
That is so twisted.
It is. It is a twisted view from what truly is good for man and for his life here on earth.
But my point is, that once a person has this philosophy ingrained into his head – there is no effective way to change it but to continuously have him face the consequences of his twisted view of reality.
The German Nazis, Religious Extremists and other mystics who’ve developed philosophies detached from reality, are very dangerous and have to be stopped or else they will continuously drive to fulfill what they think is right and moral. Some claim that god told them what is right, some believe that it is the right thing for society or their race – it doesn’t matter – they will act like programmed machines, because this is how the human mind operates. We all act on what we believe is right.
So you are saying that Israel can’t make peace with the Islamic countries around it?
Not right now. Not until those societies will grow out of the primitive philosophies of Islam or other religious and collectivist views. Some people in Israel are sabotaging peace as well because they too hold extreme religious views that are just as bad.
So what should Israel do till then?
Fight hard. Fight with sheer determination and with no empathy for people holding deadly philosophies in their heads. If we do anything else – they will hurt us. The human history is filled with sad, deadly examples.
What about their children? Should we fight them as well?
No, we try as hard as we can not to hurt innocent people, but we should always have a clear set of priorities – our safety comes first. We shouldn’t fight anyone who sincerely wants to live in peace and with respect to individual and property rights. Those should be allowed to live freely in our free society – maybe by giving those who chose this path the reward of freedom, will show the others that there is a better alternative.
But as long as someone is out to destroy you and your way of life – you fight them as hard as possible because they are the most dangerous animal on this planet.
Not an easy option, ha dad?
No. It is not, but there is no other option. Some people on the left fantasize about fake alternatives which some time turn out to be costly.
But the values of most people in Israel is the core of its strength – reason, freedom and human rights. As long as we keep those – Israel and every other peace-seeking society, will be safe.
I hope so dad.
I know so kid.
Good night dad.
Good night my dearest.
Just kidding. Just make sure to read Douglas Adams one day.
That is the question of all questions, kid. I hope you’re not too tired – this requires a lot of thinking. And because it is such an important question, we’ll have to go about this slowly and thoroughly. Don’t fall asleep, you promise?
I’m fine Dad. So what is it?
Let’s start from the beginning. What is life?
Life is something that living things have.
True. But what exactly is it? What defines a living thing?
Hmm… They can move.
Right, living things can move, but what defines living things is that they move by themselves. What happens when a living thing dies?
It stops moving.
And it becomes inanimate like any other indestructible materials.
Like a rock?
Yes. And note that the ability of a living thing to move is conditional and temporary as they can die and become inanimate. An inanimate thing’s existence is unconditional and eternal. So what do living organisms have to do to stay alive?
Yes, they need outside fuel to get energy. But also look at the way they are structured. They have organs that are designed to sustain their lives like a heart, kidneys, blood and so on. Living things act to achieve something very specific – to achieve a goal.
You mean a goal to stay alive?
Exactly. Only living things have a goal they are trying to keep themselves alive. Life is the value they are trying to achieve and sustain. Now, is a life of an ameba looks like the one of a tiger?
No, they are very different.
Every organism has a proper way of action. That is its nature. A human being has a specific nature and a proper way of action to keep and enhance his or her life. Now here comes an important concept:
Life is the standard of value.
Not sure I got it Dad. What do you mean by standard of value?
Life is the ultimate goal and it defines the standard by which we judge any action. If you do something that supports your life, it is a proper action, like breathing, eating and thinking. Those are necessary to you as a human being. A bird needs to eat worms and learn how to fly, that is what is proper for it. Now nature made it a little easier for us to judge what is proper or improper for us. Every organism has a mechanism to tell it if it is doing well or not. It is the pleasure and pain mechanism. Pain tells you that something is wrong and you are failing in sustaining your life, pleasure tells you are succeeding.
So when I fall and hurt myself, that means nature is telling me that I just did something wrong?
Basically, yes. Hurting yourself is not good for you.
But what about putting that medicine that burns on a scratch? It hurts, but it is actually good for you.
You mean an antiseptic. Yes, this is the unique thing about humans, we have something even more sophisticated that pleasure and pain – we have a reason. We know that putting that antiseptic will hurt, but also that it is good for us in the long run.
That is pretty simple so far, but when you asked the question “what’s the meaning of life?” you meant to ask what is the meaning of a human life, your life. Right?
So what do you think is so different about humans?
We think. We talk.
Right. We can think and so our action is not automatic. Nature didn’t program us to instinctively know how to lead our lives like a bug or an elephant. We have awareness, choice and free will. So because man is a creature of free will, it has another mechanism other than pleasure and pain.
It has the happiness or suffering mechanism. That is the pleasure and pain mechanism of your mind. It is the mechanism telling you if your decisions are going in the right or wrong direction.
So if I do the right things to make life better, I will be happy?
Yes. And here’s your answer – Pursuing happiness is the meaning of life. Happiness is a long lasting state where your mind and body are doing well, are flourishing, and are healthy. Now, understanding what are the “right things” that will make you happy – that’s the more complicated question, but as long as you remember that life is the standard, it will be much easier.
So how can I know what are the “right things” that will make me happy?
You’ll have to evaluate every action according to the standard – is it enhancing your life? is it good for you in the long term? does it contradict any other action?
And here is the hard part – Our mind is a very sophisticated organ but it has a specific nature. The way it perceives, analyzes and understands reality is through concepts and if you understand how concepts are formed, you’ll understand what is the right way to form those concepts. This will allow you to understand, cope with and master reality that is all around you.
Our mind’s nature defines what makes us happy. It will take too long to explain why, but for now, I can just tell you that if follow the following principles, you’re more likely to be happy. Ready?
You should think rationally about everything. Experience and enjoy your emotions, but don’t make decisions using them.
Be productive and creative. Express yourself and allow yourself to experience success in mastering something.
Be independent. Learn how to take care of yourself. Learn from and enjoy other people, but don’t become dependent on anyone.
Be principled and have the integrity to always act according to your principles.
be honest and never fake reality. Evading reality will always hurt you eventually.
Treat your fellow men with justice. Judge them according to their value to you and always respect their rights.
Be proud and respect yourself.
There you go. I told you what the meaning of life. Now you can go to sleep.
That’s not enough, Dad. How do I do all of that?
That is another big question. How about we talk about it tomorrow?
Okay. Are you happy Dad?
Yes I am kid. My life is on the right track. Are you?
Yes Dad. I am.
Happy dreams kid.
Oh, I guess we got to that point, ha?
Dad, I am a teenager, what did you expect?
Nothing less, kiddo. I am proud you even asked me for my opinion, most kids don’t consult with their parents about this issue.
Well, I can’t seem to think about anything else lately…<smile>
Okay. Let’s start with what you think sex is.
You know, a man and a woman doing… the thing.
The thing. What is “the thing”? the act itself, you mean?
True, that is part of what sex is, but the physical aspect is only one part of what is going on during an act of love making.
There is a profound mental aspect going on as well that even precedes the physical act. First, the couple need to be attracted to each other and only then decide to stand naked in body and soul in front of each other and celebrate their values.
Yes. I think that sex is a profound act of pleasure that is about celebrating life, values and the fact that you desire someone and are worthy to be desired by them. It is a deep, intimate, physical manifestation of spiritual love, where mind and body are one in enjoying your partner through your own body.
I thought you’re going to give me an explanation of how sex “works”, Dad. You know, how the bodies are getting together and that I should be careful not to get someone pregnant. I didn’t expect it to be about celebration of values.
You’ll figure out how “it works”, that is the easy part.
What some people do not get about sex their entire lives, is that it is everything that you are bundled into one experience – your body, your values, your passions, desires and sense of life. Whoever views sex as a physical only exercise, meaning an act with no idea or value, misses out on the true enjoyment of sex. They see sex as “meat-rubbing” and treat it as a primitive or barbaric ritual.
The same goes for idea with no action, like the people who think that romantic love can be detached from sex – as if our mind is a separate entity from our body. Those people end up perverting sex into horrific acts that I really don’t want to talk about. I will just say that some religion beliefs has a lot to do with that.
And what about people who enjoy watching porn for instance? Where is the value there?
Sex IS physical, there is no question about it.
But it is only a part of the picture. You have to use caution when associating sex with only the physical aspect. You have to put it in perspective and think rationally about what is healthy and what is not. Porn can be erotic and arousing, but it can also include abuse and degradation – so you have to be very careful about those representations of sex.
On the other hand, you should think about sex, explore and experience all that the human body and mind have to offer.
You should also respect sex. It is a reflection of you and who you are. You can know a lot about a person by knowing who they sleep with and who they are attracted to. Choose the right partner, don’t ever fake it. Regard sex as a sacred experience reserved for those worthy of your romantic love.
What about being attracted to a girl I hardly know? How do you explain that?
That is a result of the potential values you see in her.
You see the way she looks, the way she moves, talks and behaves. All that information enables you to evaluate, even superficially, her character, personality and of course – how sexually attractive she is. Body and mind are one – it is a package and this is why you react emotionally and physically at the same time.
And when you get to know that girl a little more, then something extraordinary happens. You either realize she is a fake, and then your physical and emotional attraction to her diminishes, or hopefully, she turns out to be everything you dreamed of and more, in which case you mind and body react simultaneously.
This is the nature of human love and sexual attraction.
I knew I was going get a complex answer. I almost regret asking…
Man is a complex organism kid. It would be boring otherwise.
And by the way, sex would be the same as eating if it was only about the “thing”.
That’s true. Well, I guess I’ll have to ask that girl out and get to know her a little better…
Good night Dad.
Good night Kiddo.
Love, love, love.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game.
Dad, come on, stop singing – you’re hurting my ears.
Okay, okay. You have no love for my musical talents, ha? Never mind.
So what is love, you ask. I was wondering when you’ll get to that question.
Well, I did.
I can tell you from my own experience.
When I met your mother, I saw a beautiful, intelligent, proud and independent woman. She was tall, had the most beautiful long dark hair, amazing dark brown eyes, she had this sense of excitement about her that totally captivated me. We laughed together, we went for long strolls on the beach and talked. She made me feel like the luckiest guy alive for just being beside her.
My emotional reaction to her was an enormous attraction mentally and physically.
I wanted to be with her, to talk to her, to hold her. I felt a sense of joy whenever she was around and my heart was racing every time she picked up the phone or agreed to meet me before we were together.
So how do you know you are actually in love?
There is no way you can miss it, kid. When it happens, your whole being is responding to it, telling you – “go after this person, get her, be with her, think about her”. It occupies your mind and body till the next time you are around her.
So what exactly is it? An emotion?
It is an emotion. A very strong one. And if you recall we said that emotions are only a reaction to something else. Remember?
Yes, a reaction to values.
Right, so it is basically a PROFOUND REACTION to the values and character a person reflects. It is your judgement and appreciation of those values that invoke both mental and physical attraction like a powerful biological magnet.
So if you love someone, is it forever?
Not necessarily. This person has to continue and be your highest value.
Time is a good test to both your and your partner’s integrity of character – sometimes people find that the person they married is not exactly who they thought he or she was. But is other cases, love deepens and gets even stronger as the years go by and as you realize that you have found your true soul mate and both of you are going through the different phases of life with growing attraction and admiration to one another.
Can I tell you a secret?
You sure can.
I love this girl from my class. I think I want to marry her some day.
Why do you love her?
I don’t really know.
I think you need to know. But you can sleep on it… hmm… sorry, sorry, don’t sleep on it… I meant… just…
Dad, what’s wrong?
<smiling> Never mind. You’ll understand it one day. Just go to sleep and tell me what you feel about this girl tomorrow. Okay?
Okay Dad. I’ll sleep on it… whatever that means.
Good night my “growing-way-to-fast-and-asking-too-many-tough-questions” kid.
Good night Dad.
Why are you asking kid?
Most of my friends in class think it is the best thing you can be.
So, here is what I think:
First, choosing a profession and a career is a serious thing. You have to know exactly what you want to do in life. You are going to spend most of your life working, and it can either be a boring drag, waiting for workdays to end so you can go back home, or it can be a long-lasting adventure with you pursuing something that you can’t get enough of.
It is the difference between an awesome life and an average one. And most people lead an average life because they are afraid.
Afraid of what Dad?
Afraid of fear. Afraid of risk and uncertainty. They are trying to make life as predictable and safe as possible, and by that taking all the fun out of it. Think about the people and characters that you admire. For instance, what is the common denominator of all the super heroes you like so much besides their powers? What kind of life are they leading?
Are they taking risks? Do they follow their passions?
Yes, they do.
So, you see? This is what I wish for – to be a super hero! in whatever field of life it might be.
Thanks, Dad. And what about being the president?
It depends on what being a president means. If you read what our founding fathers meant, it was about managing the army, our foreign affairs and protecting our rights. But today it means something very different.
Let me ask you this first – what makes you proud of yourself?
I don’t know, maybe when I succeed in doing something?
That’s true. Trying something and succeeding, getting a positive feedback from reality and other people makes you proud of yourself. It tells you are competent, that you can deal with life and do even greater things.
Look around you. See this bed, the light, your desk, the laptop on it, your shoes, your toys?
Yes, what about them?
Someone made them. Someone thought, designed and built them so we can buy and use them. Those people created something. So how do you think it made them feel?
You got it. But they also got to make money and enjoy other things in life.
So let’s get back to being a president. Why would someone want to be the president or a politician now days?
To pass laws and manage the country?
True, but what is the reason they want to do it?
Make everyone’s life better?
Right, but the question is: CAN they and SHOULD they? Because you’ll agree with me that you don’t want to choose a career in which you are doomed to fail. Right?
I believe that pursuing a career for the “greater good” can lead to something VERY wrong.
I know it is the opposite of what they teach you in school, but that it the truth because this is how our mind and emotions work. Doing great for you and society is a little more complex than what people think.
That sounds strange Dad. What is wrong with wanting to help others?
There is nothing wrong with that.
The question is how do you REALLY help others. How do you ACTUALLY make their lives better.
These days, politicians, including the president, are trying to simplify those questions by telling us that we should just do things for others. Pay taxes, serve our communities, help the poor, the sick, the unemployed, the environment, and even the polar bears. Their equation is simple: Someone needs something, that means you need to help.
But that is NOT how things work. This is a recipe for disaster.
Why? What’s wrong with just giving to other people?
Let’s think about it logically.
If you want to help someone, you need to give them something.
If you need to give them something, you have to produce it or earn it.
If you need to produce something, you need to think and act.
If you want to think and act, you need motivation and interest – or otherwise you are enslaved to do something you didn’t choose to do.
If you need motivation and interest, you need to have some kind of passion or desire to do it, assuming you are a free man and not living in a society where they tell you what you need to be doing for society like in North Korea, Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany.
Where does passion and desire to do something come from?
From the things that you like to do.
Let me repeat what you just said. “the things the YOU, LIKE to do”. You didn’t say, what OTHER people need me to do. You said, what I LIKE to do. And that is a very selfish, self-centered thing to say… but it is the essence of what I am saying.
When YOU choose what you want to do in life selfishly, you end up creating something valuable that other people can use, making their lives better. The cars, houses, food in the stores, clothes – all were made by someone who CHOSE to do it for his OWN good, for his OWN self-interest, and by trading in a free market, he could then sell it and make everybody’s life better including his own.
That is the system that creates wealth and that lifts us all from being poor.
If you don’t follow this sequence – you end up with confusion, contradictions and unproductive, forceful laws. With politicians telling you what to do, how to do it, risking the subtle nature and the source of human productivity, and with poor people not being able to lift and motivate themselves out of poverty by hard work, because they get used to the idea that someone is obligated to help them.
But what about the sick people that cannot work?
Again, it seems like this begs a straightforward answer – right? Let the government take a little from each of us and take care of the sick, the old and handicapped.
But this NOT the role of government, because governments use force and force should be used only against force and not to motivate you to help. It is a fact that people want and do help WITHOUT anyone forcing them.
Really? Are you sure that people will help other people if no one forced them to?
Yes, and they did before we had governments in a much more efficient way.
What will motivate them to help?
Let me answer with a tough question. Did you ever see a hurt animal?
Yes. I did. I saw a squirrel that was hit by a car.
And what did you feel when you saw it?
Bad. I felt bad for it.
So what do you think you will feel if you saw a human getting hurt?
I would feel VERY bad. Much more that I would feel for the squirrel.
Why would you feel so bad?
Because it is a human being.
Exactly. We, by our nature, care for other members of our own species and we will help them as much as we can so they don’t suffer. We care about people because they make OUR lives so much better and we would like to see them prosper. There are people who do not care for other people at all, but most of us would like to live among other people and not on a secluded island.
If we had government step out from the role of forcing us to help each other, we would see a world of private charity that will funnel resources to the right people in the RIGHT way.
So let me give you the bottom-line.
You should focus on what YOU want to do in life and what will make YOUR life better. If you do that rationally, you will produce, make money, take care of yourself, your loved ones and anyone else that you care about. You might be so successful that you will be giving away a lot of money like many rich people do, because there is so much you need, and in the end of the day you do it for YOURSELF and YOUR CREATIVE MIND – not the money. Because money doesn’t buy you happiness – pursuing your values, including charity, will make you happy. And the truth is, that if we will be left alone by government to produce and take care of each other – everybody will be much better off.
So I don’t recommend being the president. I recommend choosing a real productive career.
Hmm… I didn’t think about it that way. Besides, I want to build an ice-cream company that makes the best ice-cream in the world. Better than the one we had in Italy!
You see? Without this passion of yours, how will people enjoy better ice-cream in the future?
They’ll just have to wait till I get older.
And if you want to get older, you need to sleep.
Good night Dad.
Good night Ben.
My name isn’t Ben.
You’ll get it eventually. Sweet dreams.
Are you kidding me, kid? I love being your Dad.
It’s such a hard job.
Hard? it’s not hard. It’s the best job in the world. And you know why?
Because I get to take care and be around the person I care most about . You.
Watching you grow. Playing with you. Having to answer all your hard questions.
But how do you know to be a good parent? how do you learn that?
Being a parent is being yourself. Parents are as good at being parents, as they are good at leading their own lives. We teach what we ARE.
Hmm. So you don’t need to know anything? just be yourself?
No, I didn’t say that. You need to know a lot about how to be a good parent. I said that being a good parent is a part of being a good person.
Let me explain what I mean. As a rational person, I know that my role as your Dad is to help you become a person with high self esteem, with an ability to understand and cope with reality, and lead a happy, fulfilling life.
So the first thing I have to understand is what makes a human being acquire self esteem, what is happiness and you get a sense of fulfillment.
So let’s start with self esteem. What do you think it is?
Believing in yourself, knowing that you are good.
Exactly. So the way I can help you is to show you that you ARE good as you ARE, that you ARE always important and able. You can always learn and grow your skills and knowledge, but I love, respect and accept you as you are right NOW.
Some parents have a set of expectations for their kids and they let their kids feel that they are good ONLY if they meet those expectations, only if they perform. That is bad for self esteem because the child feels that he is not good enough as he is now. Those parents say things like: “Why did you break that toy? you’re a bad boy!” or “You’re such a good kid, you cleaned you’re room”. Think about what it means. It means you are bad if you break something or that you’re good if you cleaned the room. A kid that hears those messages ends up thinking – “I am a bad person” or “I am good because Dad told me so”.
I think you are good regardless of your actions. Your actions might be good or bad, but I love you regardless. I believe that if you ACCEPT your child as he is than your child will develop SELF ACCEPTANCE – “I am a good person. I am loved”.
I also think that it is wrong to ask a child for obedience but rather for cooperation. To be able to motivate HIMSELF and not conform to what ever his parents demands at a given moment.
But what if I do bad things?
Then I criticize your behavior – not you. I tell you – “your room is a mess, it’ll be hard for you to find your things” and then I leave the judgement, evaluation and the thinking of what needs to be corrected, to you. If I told you – “your room is a mess, stop being lazy and clean it up right now!” then I call you lazy, I decide for you what you need to do about it and even force you to do it right now. That will not teach you to be responsible, trust your own judgement and that is also not very respectful – is it?
No. I hear parents yelling at kids all the time. You don’t yell often.
Why would I? Do I yell at my grownup friends that are coming to my house?
No. But they are your friends.
And who do you think is more important to me?
I am. <smile>.
You are. I try to be patient, and not lose my temper because it is very important for kids to have predictability. And if a Dad gets back angry from work and starts shouting on his kid for no reason, that kid will develop an anxiety because he could never know why he gets treated a specific way.
But even if I do lose my temper, what do I usually do after that?
Right, and that is because I respect you and I because I admit when I’m wrong.
So let’s talk about how, as a parent, I can help you become a HAPPY person. That is a little tougher because now I have to understand how someone becomes happy and how to instill that in my kid’s mind.What do you think makes people happy?
I don’t know. Making enough money to get all the things you want?
No. That is not how people become happy in the long term. So here it is, and I want you to think about this later:
Happiness is an emotional RESULT of pursuing and achieving your rational values and goals. It is a psychological EFFECT of knowing that you are doing the right things for yourself and your life.
So how do you know what you need to do to become happy?
As you grow older you will define a hierarchy of values and goals you’ll want to achieve or sustain like family, friends, work and hobbies. Everyone has to figure it our for themselves.
The primary value, for all of us, is life. To get food and shelter, clothes and other basic needs.
Then you’ll develop passion towards specific things in life and should try to spend most of your time around those things. Like inventing, drawing, racing cars, making music, building bridges – whatever fascinates you about this life. That will result in a sense of achievement and… happiness.
So whatever I choose to do will make me happy?
Not necessarily. Your goals need to be RATIONAL and not whimsical. You won’t achieve happiness by doing “whatever you feel like” – because whims and emotions cannot guide you and you won’t know why you are doing what you’re doing. That is why people drown in drugs or either get lost by random, contradicting actions just because “it feels good” at a specific moment.
And now that we’ve talked about what happiness is, how do you think a parent should teach his son to be happy?
Talk to him every night before he goes to sleep?
That too, but that’s not the main way kids learn. Kids learn from watching.
So that means that I need to practice what I preach. To exemplify what I think you should do to become happy.
So a happy father will have a happy son?
Not necessarily. We are two different human beings and it will be your own responsibility to make yourself happy. All I can do it to try and make myself happy and hope that you’ll find a way to do it as well.
Are you happy Dad?
Yes, I am.
So I’m happy too.
So I am happy three. Now go to sleep dear boy.
Remember we talked about values and how you should evaluate your options according to the values they represent?
“Yes, thinking about which value is more important to me”
Correct, so let’s think about sharing in the same way.
Is sharing important to you? what’s good about it and what’s not so good about it?
“One one hand, I want to share my things with other people because it is fun, but sometimes I just want to keep my stuff to myself”
You described two cases.
In the first one, it seems like there is no problem for you to share and you even enjoy it. The fun you get from playing with your friends and seeing them enjoy as well, is greater than your need to keep your stuff to yourself or play alone. It is a win-win situation. No problem there.
In the second one though, it seems like you feel obligated to share while you really do prefer to keep your things to yourself. Right?
“Exactly, sometimes kids tell me I am being selfish by not sharing, and it hurts my feelings”
OK. So let’s talk about this case. If you decide that you prefer not to share something with a friend because it is more important for you to use that something now than the implications of not sharing it – then it is totally fine.
“But then my friend might call me selfish”
Let’s think about what it means to be selfish.
Let’s go back to the idea of deciding what the right thing to do is, according to what value the alternative holds to you. So first of all, everything that you do should be contributing to your long-term life and happiness. It is not your job to take care of other people’s happiness unless they are a value to you, and in which case, they contribute to your happiness.
So all of us should be selfish in everything that we do – this is how we make our lives and the people we care about better.
“So what about other people? Don’t they count? Shouldn’t we care for them?
I didn’t say that. First, making yourself happy for the long-term might mean that you to take care of other people including your family, friends and even people you don’t know if you value their life and happiness. In most cases, the price and effort you’ll need to invest will be lower than the value you’ll get from helping out or sharing.
When you make a decision if to share or donate something, you should think about your long-term happiness. If you don’t share and don’t help, it might harm your happiness for the long-term. You need to be rationale about your values and your choices. It will be wrong to guide your choices by whims or impulses or without weighing the long-term consequences.
“So sharing is good if you decide it is good for YOU.”
Good for you for the long-term. Don’t feel obligated to give if the price you are paying is higher than what you gain from it. It basically means trading values, but we will talk about some other time.
“So I shouldn’t be offended when someone calls me selfish?”
If they call you selfish then it means you chose not to give them what they wanted. It means you are already paying a price. If this price is worth paying because what you’re being asked to give is of greater value – then it is totally fine not to share. And tell them that selfishness is a virtue because every time we eat or drink, we choose to keep ourselves alive vs. choosing to give it away to poor people in Africa or something. Selfishness is what keeps us alive. It is fine to help, donate and give charity because we want a better society to live in. But guess what? Why are we doing it?
“Because it is good for us – I get it Dad”
So, will you change something about the way you think about sharing?
“I think so, I will think about what it means to share or not and what will happen if I choose one way or the other”
It might not be an easy decision, but if you think about it hard then you will be good either way – if you choose to share, you’ll understand why you’re doing it and what good it brings you. If you choose not to, you’ll know why and will not be offended if someone calls you selfish.”
“That makes sense. So why are you sharing all of this with me?”
Because I love you and talking to you now makes me way more happy than reading my emails.
Go to sleep it’s getting late.
Let me ask you this – if a lion kills a zebra in the wild, will it go to jail?
“No Dad, that’s crazy. Lions eat zebras, they do it to survive.”
“So the zebra doesn’t have the right to live?”
“I guess not… wait a minute, actually, why doesn’t it have the right to live?”
First, we have to define what rights are.
Rights are a concept that people came up with to allow us to live in a civilize society. Rights are there to protect values– things that are most important to us, like living, being free and trying to be happy.
The only reason we have the right to live is that it is the highest value a human being can hold. Without it, a person does not exist and cannot have any other value. This is why the right to live comes first and is the most important one. Other values we need in order to live a human life are freedom and property. Animals do not have those rights – we put them in cages in zoos and they don’t own anything.
So now, back to your question – why is it okay to kill animals?
First, I don’t believe it is okay to kill an animal without a reason. It is a question of values. For instance, you should ask your self: what are the values that you are pursuing or contradicting when you eat a steak?
1. You are having a good meal and you enjoy it. It helps you to survive and it might even make you happy as you enjoy the taste of the steak.
2. You are promoting animal slaughter because you are consuming the steak. That contradicts your value of being kind to other living creatures.
So what should you do? eat the steak and enjoy it, or avoid buying steaks and fight against cattle slaughter?
“I really do like steaks…”
And that is perfectly fine. So you just answered the question – it is okay to kill other animals if the killing is serving a higher value like surviving, being happy and enjoying life. If you I told you that dog meat is tasty as well – would you eat a dog?
“Never! that’s so gross”
Don’t say never – if the dog meat was the only thing you can eat, at some point you will choose to eat it as the value of survival will become relevant. This value is higher than your value of dogs, their companionship and what they represent to you.
“hmm, so everything is about what values are more important to me?”
Basically, yes. As long as you don’t violate rights of other people.
And here is the most important point here – when you’re not sure what is the right thing to do, think about what values are behind the different options you are considering. Think about what values are more important to you and then the decision will become easier. Not always, but usually this helps.
“Give me an example”
So, I was just debating if to buy myself a new car or save the money for other things like my retirement. What do you think are the two values that are represented here?
“You want to enjoy a new car, but you also want to make sure you have enough money when you’re old”
Right. It’s not an easy decision. But I decided to go ahead and buy the car, because I decided that in this case the value of enjoying the new car is more important than the additional money I will have when I am old. And besides, I thought that since you are so smart, you’ll surely become so rich that I shouldn’t worry anyway…
“Hey, that’s not fair”
Just kidding. Go to sleep, it’s getting late. I love you so much. You are my highest value.
“You’re mine too”