Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Myth of Sisyphus and Child Play

Happy toddler boy dropping cars in his dumptruck

My toddler son has two main obsessions: his dump and garbage truck and more recently, the game “Angry Birds.” What both of them might have in common is the element and cycle of destruction and construction. My son would load his garbage trucks piece by piece with carefully selected rocks, marbles or toy cars, and moments later dump them all out in order to start all over again with the whole process.

In the second instance, he would “recreate” conditions and situations of the game “Angry Birds” by putting pieces of lego and duplo together, by building a house in which he would house the green piggies only to have it destroyed minutes later by a swarming attack of those wingless avian creatures.

Apart from a vivid imagination, there is another philosophical point at play here. It reminds one of poor Sisyphus. In this myth, good old Sisyphus was condemned to roll a heavy rock up a steep hill only to have it roll down again. Camus used this legend to highlight the absurdity of human existence. We must engage in trivial and senseless acts day in day out for no particular reason or without any visible or tangible outcome or result in view.

Life then is a mixture of ordeal and suffering that eventually only leads to death, the extinction of the self, a deep engulfing black of nothingness. Yet with a simple twist of attitude or point of view what may seem pointless and meaningless suddenly becomes engaging and fun.

My son would, in fact, re-enact the deed of Sisyphus out of sheer joy and pleasure. Imagine Sisyphus joyfully greasing or rather dusting up his hands, giving out a loud yip and pushing up that piece of rock with pizzazz and pitch-perfect enthusiasm. Then at the top, he would see it roll down again, clapping his greasy or dusty hands and be all ready for the challenge to push it up once again ad infinitum.

That it is senseless and absurd does not even cross his mind. It might be deemed as “senseless” as listening to music or lying on the beach on a sunny day. What is the point of taking off your clothes before a shower if you are going to put them on again after you are done? The question of reason, purpose, or utility can become absurd in itself.

For my son it is the act itself that is of value. It follows the simple everyday philosophy of what goes up must come down, what is built or dumped out must be destroyed or loaded up again. Try to tell him that he is “wasting his time,” that he could engage in behaviors that are more constructive, and you have completely missed the point.

Children use play in ways that we may regard dreams. For them it is a sort of meditation, and it is perhaps the moment when life makes most sense, a state that we often have lost touch and contact with as adults. Nothing, in fact, can be more important than play. Trying to replace or substitute play with work will make you a dull adult indeed.

In fact, many activities can be considered a “waste” of time. We tend to judge the value of an activity in proportion to its supposed benefits whether in terms of money (time = money) or self-improvement (so you can be better at making even more money). It is the material gains we are after and why we have such high disregard for computer games, for example. They wear out our eyes; they are not educational in the least; they are highly sedentary, and even addictive; they, in fact, foster violence in most cases.

Then we have others who come to its support: Video games enhance hand-eye coordination and reflexes, problem-solving skills, and the desire to compete with oneself or others. Yet it still ends up being the cost / benefits analysis that takes the positive variables “fun” and “pleasure” out of the equation.

Personally, I do not enjoy neither computer games nor would I myself engage in the activities of my son. Yet more often than not, I do join him. Partly because of a feeling of obligation, partly because I miss my own childhood games, partly because it makes him so happy, but for the most part because I feel that I am spending quality time with him. And nothing, no compensation, monetary or otherwise, can beat that. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Neurotic to the Bone? You're not alone! (A Haircut Analysis)

A comparison of different Japanese hairstyles of young women
Yōshū Chikanobu

It is interesting that the neurotic, similar to the paranoid, thinks that he is the only one suffering out there, that he is the emblem of neuroticism. Everyone else seems normal, leads a normal life, while he is not only left out but has been cursed with nervousness; everything he touches, including his hopes and dreams, upon contact it turns to jittery dust.

Yet from hearsay and personal experience, I cannot shake off the notion that neuroticism is, in fact, more common than you may think. The same applies to insecurity. On average -- and I am making up my own stats now -- most people out there are insecure, regardless of job, status and experience; whether they show it or not, express it or not, deep inside they are neurotic at heart.

I think, however, that waves of neurotic habits and insecurity come and go in different degrees. Some people are so neurotic that they turn everything into a nervous debate or fluttering question mark, ranging from breakfast to existence on the planet. In other words, the neurotic is always on the run and in conflict with himself and is extending Hamlet's famous question “to be or not to be” to every part of ordinary life: “to sleep or not to sleep” “to eat or not to eat” “to buy or not to buy.”

In fact, decision-making is probably one of the worst features for them. A decision means choice and with choice comes the idea not only of free will but a moral matter of right or wrong. Or at least some decisions have better, more fruitful outcomes than others. Also, keep in mind that decisions are either approved or frowned upon by others, so to a certain degree, they also depend and extend onto other people.

For example, let us say the neurotic wants to get a haircut. This decision stems probably from a sense of insecurity about one's looks and less a necessity. First, what kind of haircut would be best for me? The people in reviews are much better-looking, and the particular haircut might suit them, but what about myself? How would it look on me?

Then the train of thought continues derailing. Would that haircut be appropriate to my livelihood. Would short hair be accepted by my boss or clients? What will my friends think? Did not so-and-so get a similar haircut recently and would they not construe this to be a shameless copy and imitation of their looks? 

Would I be accused of being a copy-cat or, even worse, of attempting to usurp them, be like them in order to steal their identity like I saw in the movie Single White Female about the psychopath? Am I a psychopath?

And all this time, the qualifications and expertise of your chosen hairstylist will be put into question: Is this person qualified enough or what if they are distracted and give me a terrible end result? If the haircut outcome is a horrendous eye-sore, what are my options then? What can I do to hide it: buy a wig, wear a cap, stay at home, never see the light of day and do all my shopping online?

These are just a handful of possible ideas running around restlessly in and through a neurotic brain. If you recognize some of your thought processes here, do not be alarmed. Rather take refuge and comfort in a seemingly uncomfortable thought: Although it may seem otherwise, you are not the only one suffering from these levels of insecurity. 

Everyone does -- some more, some less -- and they might show it or know how to hide it; it may seep through their behavior or not, but deep inside we carry around the same fears and doubts, from panhandler to Wall Street broker, from writer to business-person, we are neurotic to the bone.