Thursday, December 29, 2011

Please, I insist you call me Count Pierre Bezukhov

I did it! I finished Tolstoy's War and Peace. It was a phenomenal read, and I recommend it to all those not of faint hearts (in literary situations). Tolstoy is a remarkable writer/historian and as the promotional paragraph on the back cover of the book states: he is a "master capable of portraying with equal power the clash of armies and the solitary anguish of heart."  Loved this book. However, I would have to say that my favorite characters were that of the little Countess Natasha Rostov and Count Pierre Bezukhov (Natasha and Pierre's Russian names are something like Natalya and Pyotr). SPOILER: It made it even better that these two end up married to each other. 

Tolstoy puts in a whole bunch of theoretical and philosophical insights, many of which I would have liked to blog about if I had not been in the mood to keep reading. However, since I'm finished, there was one chapter towards the end describing a change in Pierre's character that impressed me so much, I would like to talk about it. Seriously though. Read this book.

Pierre observing the battle
So, Pierre (a stout, plump fellow) has an interesting start as an adopted heir of his uncle's title and fortune (which is huge). Throughout the book he is searching for what really makes life pleasurable, and as you might expect, it takes him the whole book to find it. He tries philosophy, masonry, theology, and more and just can't seem to be content with life. Each new attempt proves desirable at first, but turns sour after a few weeks or months. He supplements this search of the meaning of life by experiencing all the facets of life that he can. For instance, War and Peace has somewhat of a historical story of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia woven throughout. Pierre, wanting to know what there is to be experienced, rushes to the battle and sits with the soldiers-and even fights some-just to know what it is like.

In any case, my favorite chapter (Chapter 13 of Part Four of Book IV, in case anyone wants to find it) describes Pierre best as a "kindhearted but unhappy man" and was "absentminded and seemed to be concerned not with what was before his eyes but with something exclusively his own."  I find myself fitting this mold many times as I reflect on my life. A "meaning of life" seeker, I've tried to find out really what makes life worth it and find my purpose. True, I have yet to rush to the battle lines and try drinking away my sorrows, as does Pierre at certain times, but I have tried to best explore my avenues and decide to follow a path that will truly bring me inner peace. However, there has always been something in the back of my mind that weighs on me, saying that I haven't got it right yet. I don't know what that "it" is, but I've felt that unpleasant unhappy weight in the back of my mind.

My favorite part is when the describe him as thinking always of "something of his own" rather that listening intently or observing what is in front of him. I do this ALL the TIME. People can talk to me and I am so engrossed in my own thoughts, that I just ignore them or feed their desires by vaguely participating in the conversation. I know this isn't the most thoughtful approach to relating to people, but I'm trying to change and the change that Pierre took in the book is the one I would like to accomplish.

Pierre, while frolicking around in Moscow with some vain goal to assassinate Napoleon, ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and becomes a prisoner of war in the French camp. During this time he meets quite the bubbly peasant gone soldier, Karatayev, who loves life because it is life. (This would be so much easier to explain if you had read the book.) Through their conversations, and being denied many of the basic necessities of life, Pierre finally finds the peace he was looking for. The satisfaction of needs are all that one "needs" to be happy. May I emphasize that these are legitimate needs that Pierre constitutes as necessary, not our perceived needs, which really are just wants. All we need is to be fed, watered, etc. He says "man is created for happiness, that happiness lies within him, in the satisfaction of natural, human needs, and that all unhappiness arises not from privation but from excess."

Oh how wonderful it would be to stop worrying about so much and just to enjoy life as it comes as I fulfill my needs. We take so much in preoccupying ourselves with items of such great unimportance, that by seriously reflecting on the people that we have become, it is somewhat sickening. How much did I hope that I would get an iPod Touch, but when I got it I realized that practically only added to the things on my list that I need to take care of. It did not augment my happiness, and I cannot say that it is making my life any easier. It does grant me with satisfaction (and mom and dad, I am very grateful for it and love it and you dearly), but honestly, it was not a need. I could say the same with having a car up at school. I thought that it would make life so much easier, and in many respects it has. However, at the same time it has also just increased my workload because I tend to accept more responsibility, believing that now I have the capability. But in no way has any accumulation of wealth or of "things" (besides maybe books) made my life any better. 

Well, this realization for Pierre changes his personality and the way he works with people completely. It is one that I would like to make and I wish it could come as instantaneously as did Pierre's.  This is the first paragraph of the chapter on his transformation:

"Outwardly Pierre had hardly changed at all. In appearance he was just the same as before. Also as before, he was absentminded and seemed to be concerned not with what was before his eyes but with something exclusively his own. The difference between his former and his present self was that in the past when he was oblivious of what was before him or what was said to him, he had ruefully furrowed his brow as if vainly seeking to distinguish something in the distance. Now he was just as unmindful of what was before him or said to him, but he looked with a scarcely perceptible, rather ironic smile at what was before his eyes and listened to what was said to him, though it was obvious that he saw and heard something quite different. Formerly he had appeared to be a kindhearted but unhappy man, and so people were inclined to shun him. Now a smile of the joy of life constantly played about his lips, and his eyes shone with sympathy for others and with the question: Were they as contented as he? And people liked being with him."

His search for happiness concluded, he started to change to searching for the happiness in others. He always wondered if others were content and pleased with their life. This is one of the reasons that everyone earlier in the book were so fascinated by Natasha, his soon-to-be wife. She loved living. She was always singing, dancing, and talking and every description of her carried the embodiment of what it meant to be alive. I feel that this is why Pierre was so drawn to her; she was one of the only people who actually knew the meaning of living.

Next, the transformation of Pierre is described as follows:

"[The new feature in Pierre's relations...with all the people he met now] was his recognition of the impossibility of changing a man's convictions by words, and his acknowledgment of the possibility of every man thinking, feeling, and seeing things in his own way. This legitimate individuality of every man's views, which formerly troubled or irritated Pierre, now became the basis of the sympathy he felt for other people and the interest that he took in them. The difference, sometimes the complete contradiction, between men's opinions and their lives, and between one man and another, pleased him and drew from him a gentle, ironic smile." 

Isn't that a great description of the thinking process of this man? I loved it and instantly knew that I needed to change the way I perceived other people. I remember that when I was young I had trouble understanding and believing that other people thought. I was sure that my thinking process was the only way to do it, and if everyone thought, then they would think like I would, and if everyone thought like I did, then the world would be awesome and it wasn't, so obviously, people didn't think. I concluded from that reasoning that I was a lone human among a sea of morally troubled robots. Don't ask me how this made sense in my mind, but for about an hour it did. I knew deep down that we each were creations of our Heavenly Father, but it didn't make sense.

Pierre made sense of it. He acknowledged that people think in their own way! They feel in their own way and perceive the world in their own way. We are not all of the same. I get irritated many times when people  don't understand me or the way I see the world, but that is because we are all raised differently and have many diverse life experiences that create a perception of the world. Pierre (and consequently Tolstoy) could appreciate and value the "individuality" of every person.  It even has become a source of ironic pleasure for Pierre as he sees when discrepancies arise, and I can just image him softly chuckling to himself.

I also love his realization that words cannot possibly change another man's way to think. There must be something more to it than that. I believe that there was a hint to the fact that we cannot change other people. We don't have the power to do it. Instead, people are 'agents unto themselves' and must bring about their own changes by acting on different possibilities of thought. They must act differently to begin to think differently. We can talk all about our different experiences all day, but your little children will never believe that the stove is hot until they touch it too.

Here is the last distinction of Pierre. Tolstoy is contrasting him with a man named Willarski who was a former Mason with Pierre and embodies the way of life Pierre used to live:

"During the whole period ... Pierre had experienced a feeling of freedom, life, and joy, but when on his journey he found himself out in the world and saw hundreds of new faces, his feeling became even more intense. Throughout the whole journey he felt like a schoolboy on holiday. Everyone-the stagecoach driver, the stationmaster or the posting station, the peasants on the road and in the villages-all had a new significance for him. The presence of Willarski, who was continually deploring the poverty and ignorance of Russia and its backwardness compared with Europe, only heightened Pierre's pleasure. Where Willarski saw deadness, Pierre saw an extraordinary vitality and the strength to endure-the strength which in that vast expanse and amid snows sustained the life of this whole, original, unique people. He did not contradict Willarski and even seemed to agree with him-ostensible agreement being the simplest way of avoiding discussions that could lead to nothing-and smiled happily as he listened to him."

I loved Pierre's reaction to Willarski's pessimism of the Russian nation: "smil[ing] happily as he listened to him." Why must we react angrily and bitterly against negative people. Pierre sympathized not with his views, but of him as someone who was missing the point. I can just see Pierre being everybody's best friend because he just enjoyed being with people and I wish I could see this scene of Pierre smiling his "gentle, ironic smile." 

Plus, Pierre has such a wonderful outlook on life that I so desire to formulate. I realize that too often I hold a negative view of others and I should be more prone to listen and appreciate all that this world has to offer. Let's not focus on the failures, but on the successes. Let's not talk about the problems, but of the solutions. We can make the world just as agreeable as Pierre saw it and I hope to start making the change within myself by acting as Pierre would think. You can't just leave it, you have to do something.

Wow, that was exceedingly long and I apologize, but imagine having deep conversations like this for 1300+ pages. That's how reading War and Peace was. Exceptionally fabulous if I do say so myself.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A New Way of Thinking...

I'm so glad that I love to read. Think o all the amazing things that I would miss out on if I was disillusioned on the fantastic-ness that is reading.

For my SOC 490 class, my professor wanted us students to read The Anatomy of Peace and suggested another book as a supplement, Leadership and Self-Deception. I had bought the latter a couple of months ago at Deseret Book and had only read about 70 pages (out of around 200), so I knew the basics of what it implied, but I didn't have all the material down. I decided to read Leadership before the other just so I can refresh what it was about and be more in the mindset to read Anatomy of Peace for class.

Well, let me tell you how completely awesome this book is. I suggest that everyone read it. I just looked on Amazon and you can buy it for 6.60 used. That's a really awesome price for such an amazing book. OR you can just borrow it from me. But really, this is a must-read.

What it talks about is fundamental for how people interact with each other. I felt that the way they did it was pretty cheesy, but the lessons they teach are too important to drop the book for a cliche plot. What it does is change the way that we react and think about other people. It makes us really look at them as people, rather than as objects.  I like this concept a lot because as a kid, it took me a really long time to recognize that everyone around me was a person. I had almost convinced myself that they could think, hope, or dream like I could. I almost was sure that they were all robots that were constructed to give me a semblance of life. That was pretty egoistic of me, thinking that over 6 billion people were placed on this earth so that I could grow up in this environment.

Yes, I'm pretty prideful.

Anyways, what it describes is how we start to blame people for our own unwillingness to do what is right. For example, if I feel that I should help my roommate clean the apartment, but I don't, I start to resent the fact that he is cleaning the apartment and start to blame him for my unwillingness to clean. Maybe I'll say that he doesn't clean enough and that I am so hard-working that I need a rest. Maybe I'll think that he is cleaning while I am there just to spite me and I'm going to stick it to him because I am better. Who knows, but the whole time we do it, we build up these false vices that other people have and foster our own deceitful virtues, that we don't really have or that are blown out of proportion.

If you think about it enough, you will see that you do it too. I recognized myself immediately, but unfortunately, I recognized that I do it in all spheres of life. I'm not just closed to those in my apartment, but I am this way towards everyone: co-workers, teachers, friends, people I date, etc. I have such a tendency to blame others for why I am unwilling to help them, that I have built up this false perception of myself. I am not as perfect as I claim to be.

Now, as I write that last bit, I can see my roommate roll his eyes and tell me that I'm fishing for compliments again, but I'm not. Really. I know that I have this problem and that I need to start working on tearing down these walls I put myself in and building up a more correct perception of myself and others.

What I felt the book emphasized to me, it may tell you something different, is two-fold: that we must always look at others as people rather than objects and that you must be willing to help others when that instinct comes up. I'd like to focus on the second one, just to show why that is so important. I know I touched on it a little bit, but I want to explore the implications more for my benefit than for yours (this is why I write the blog...to put my thoughts in a logical order, rather than the jumbled mess that they are in my head).

This morning as I was running some errands for my dad and returning home, I found outside a piece of paper blowing around our yard that I had noticed the day before. It was a pretty big sheet, but nothing major. I had a decision to make, and it is obvious what it was: pick it up, or let it sit. I actually fought myself to decide whether or not to go and get it. I figured that I don't live here much anymore, so it really isn't that much of my responsibility. I'm not the one who through the paper on the ground. The wind will probably blow it away in any case, so what's the use of me worrying about it? It will be someone else's problem soon. Then I asked myself, why don't I just go pick it up? Why not? It will take me all of 5 seconds to do. Why am I trying to justify something?

Then I realized: once you start justifying doing or not doing something, it means that you are in the wrong. Acts of goodwill need not be justified, because they are inherently good. They have the reasons embedded in their very "essence". However, acting or refusing to act in a manner contrary to this is void of all that makes you feel "warm and cuddly inside", and so you have to make yourself feel better by justifying. I didn't do it because.... I did it because...

I feel that lately I have been quite prone to choose the path of justification rather than just doing what is inherently good. But, now that I realize this, I have a warning sign that will help me pick the better path. The time I spend doing a good deed probably is about the same time I spend dwelling on not doing it and justifying my action, so I might as well do it. In doing something wrong, I spend more time than just doing it, but also in justifying it. This takes away double the amount of time in my day, which I am so desperately in need of, so why waste it?

JUSTIFICATION=WRONG.  Don't do it if you have to explain yourself. It's just wrong.

Anyways, this is my perception of the book Leadership and Self-Deception, but it does not do the book justice. You could probably read it in a day, but I hope that it will continue to be useful in my daily pursuits. I obviously won't be perfect at it at any time in my life, so don't judge me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The end is in sight...

I have 3 finals down, 2 to go! And no, I don't want to study. I want to blog. More like I want to do anything but study. Last night and this morning I had to bust my brains over this ridiculous sociology class I was in. The whole class was memorization based, so I did what I needed to in order to stay sane: I didn't read, didn't really apply myself. Instead, I just memorized the couple of days before the test, threw up all that knowledge on the test, and then never looked back. I'm done!

Anyways, a couple of the other classes I loved! For example, in my theory sociology class, I actually sit there and think about what I'm learning and I can apply myself. The best part? My teacher asked me to TA the class next semester! Yes! I get to go to class everyday and learn from one of my favorite professors ever. I only fear that I will burn out from listening to him. On MWF I am taking the second part of the class next semester and on MW I'm taking his 490 class. Then, I TA for two of his classes on MW and 1 on F, so I will be in his class for about 4 1/2 hours every day.  Wow! That's a lot of thinking. But I'm super excited, especially since 2 1/2 hours of that I am getting paid.

So, my classes next semester:
SOC 307 - Data Analysis and Presentation - 3 cr
SOC 311 - Contemporary Sociological Theory - 3 cr
SOC 490 - Sociology of Suffering - 3 cr
PORT 101/102 - First-year Porteguese - 8 cr
MUS 321 - University Orchestra - 1 cr

Yes, that's 18 credits. But I got this. Yes? Hopefully. Let's just say I pay the same amount for tuition if I take 14 credits or 18, so I'm just getting the most out of my money...right? Sure.

I'm sorry that this blog is going to be so over the place: I just needed to get some thoughts out. Can I just tell you, though, that the best way to study and get pumped for finals in the morning is to turn on your Pandora Station to "Disney (Children) Songs". Best station I have.  It is seriously making my day. It might be awkward when I start singing along in the middle of the Cougareat.

So, I was thinking about this Winter Break, and there is a lot to do. William, my favoritist little bro is going on a mission on the 27th!!!! That gives me only 13 days with him once I get home. 13 days!!! AH! Then, my best friend, Cy, is getting married on the 28th. I'm going to be a wreck those two days. I'm "losing" my little brother and my best friend within two days. Ouch. But, then Charlie and Michael will be there for the wedding and staying for New Years! Halelujah! We are going to have an awesome time! Plus, there is all that stuff about Christmas before and on the 25th. Don't forget that!

(Sorry, I temporarily got distracted as "My Favorite Things" came on Pandora)

However, along with all that excitement, I have some goals I want to make for the break. I want to finish War and Peace. I have about 500 ish pages left. Maybe only 400, I can't remember. I haven't had any time to read it, and now I will. Yes. Also, my professor for 490 hinted that it would be a good idea to read the books Anatomy of Peace and Leadership and Self-Deception. So, I'll read those (which aren't that long). But, the biggest one is that with my TA job for my theory class, I will also be TAing a Doctrine and Covenants class, which of all the scriptures, I feel most ignorant. So....I want to start studying that. It will be awesome, and packed. I also have to finish all my presents for my family and get everything ready.

This is going to be an awesome finals week and an awesome Christmas vacation.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gnomeo and Juliet ----- and Dating

I was working on my Christmas presents watching a cute little film, Gnomeo and Juliet, when I realized that some of what I needed for my family's presents is missing...So, what do I do? - Blog while finishing to watch the movie and then clean everything in order to find it. Ain't this gonna be fun?

While I was watching the movie, I started thinking how many unnecessary things actually do prevent perfectly acceptable love from forming. It doesn't even have to be families and friends that are the problem. We let so many things get in the way.

Of course, one is families and friends, and I unfortunately admit to be a culprit of this. Many times a friend or a roommate will start dating someone and I will give my opinion that ends up to be their determining factor that either encourages the end to the relationship or continuing on. Obviously, that may be good or bad, but sometimes we are pushing our own preferences instead of respecting those of the others. It is their relationship, so let them have it. If it is a terrible/abusive relationship, then there obviously should be somethings said. However, if you complain about someone's "interest" just because of something you don't like, shame on you.

Or, you could have the infamous 'list' of what your potential wife/husband has to comply to. Otherwise, they don't stand a chance. In meeting with a good friend of mine, we were talking about his courtship with his wife and he advised daters today to get rid of that list. Of course, their are essentials (temple worthy, etc.), the longer your list grows, the more shallow your pool becomes and the less chance you have of finding the person that could be perfect for you. After I ended one of my relationships, I started writing a list of everything I wanted in my future wife. I realized, however, that all I really did was try to make myself feel better for why the relationship ended. Really, it doesn't matter if my wife can play piano and has a certain major and a certain love for what I do. There are preferences, yes, but I think I will do just as well with a dance major as an elem-ed major. It really doesn't matter!

Lastly, I feel that we create an expectation of ourselves that we are unable to compete with. I, for one, have a really hard time feeling prepared for a relationship or marriage because of my imperfections. However, I need to put more trust in God's timing and accept when he knows that it is time. Will I ever be ready for this step? To make a decision that will impact the rest of my life and beyond? No. I don't think I'll ever be mature enough for that, but God is. And all I need to do is be ready to listen to Him and accept his will. If I do that for the rest of my life, He will prepare me for my part and then take care of the rest.

So, I don't know about you, but I'm going to start eliminating the capulets and montagues in my life so that I can "love freely". I hope that I can do it so that things will start working out in my relationships, because I always feel like I'm the one screwing it up. I think we all wish to some extent to turn back time, but all we can do is look forward.