American Author on Philosophy of Religion and Comparative Religions
Robert E. Carter, fully Robert Edgar Carter
American Author on Philosophy of Religion and Comparative Religions
We are fully responsible for who it is that we become. In the final analysis, there is no one else to blame. It is totally our own doing. We are always already free to remake our present and future by disencumbering ourselves of unwanted and unhelpful aspects of our past history. Freedom, choice, and responsibility are the ethical watchwords of existentialism.
What is between one person and another is emptiness, nothingness, a space or field in which we can meet, talk, love, hate, hurt, nurture, encourage, and otherwise engage in ethically significant activity with one another. The between is the place wherein we are able to interact with one another, and it is a field of possibility, an opportunity as much as an emptiness to fill. Leaving the notion of emptiness to one side for the present, the betweenness of men and women works itself out in the way called “ethics,” which occasions and is the description of the consensual rules and structures of social existence.
What is wrong with our culture is that it often offers us an inaccurate conception of the self. It depicts the personal self as existing in competition with and in opposition with and in opposition to nature. We thereby fail to realize that if we destroy our environment, we are destroying what is in fact our larger self.
When you abandon the expectation that certainty is possible, you open yourself to the proliferation of possibilities, to the proliferation of alternative visions of the “best” that are available, and you reconcile yourself to the realization that this process is without end. You can never get it exactly right. Every answer, every act is but provisional.
Whether or not you decide to emulate that which you have come to understand through empathetic identification, you will never be quite the same again. In learning to think and to feel, to understand and to value more like another you will have grown in your own self-understanding and in your capacity to speak and interact with others. You, and that which you are now able to embrace, may well find in one another nurture, respect, protection, and enrichment. It is in such qualities of living that true meaning will be encountered, however tentative and fluctuating that meaning may be. It is in the very midst of the flux of the meaningful that its perpetuation and its renewal is to be found.
With freedom goes responsibility, and from responsibility comes the possibility of life enrichment.
The ability to become bamboo is a metaphor for reaching beyond the perceptual, intellectual, and feeling habits, expectations, and assumptions of your own psyche and traditions in order to allow the embracing and the understanding of those of another. In actually becoming bamboo it is essential to listen to another with an open mind and heart, and thereby to embrace what you were previously unwilling or unable genuinely to encounter.
The achievement of meaning in life is akin to the gaining of knowledge: neither can be simply handed on; we all must gain each for ourselves
The enrichment of meaning is the enrichment of feeling, and the genuine enrichment of feeling capacity is both quantitative and qualitative. We must enhance our emotional life quantitatively and qualitatively.
The human situation is an unending tension between trying to figure out which point of view makes the most sense and the recognition that none of the alternatives make perfect sense.
The meaning of life is to be found in the living of it, and even for the individual a considerable range of possibilities and an unending flow of reflections upon your life constitutes part of that meaning. Play has no ultimate goal, no serious goal that will bring it to an end, but rather renews itself in constant repetition, with no repetition being an exact repeat of a prior instance. Living has a series of goals and is serious as well as playful, and yet the goals are always in transformation, or at least always in doubt. Circumstances are often similar, but it is not easy to specify exactness in your lived experience, even with someone with whom you have lived most of your life.
To free yourself is to know that all views are foundationless in that they can never remove all doubt, can never show conclusively that they are the justifiably favored views. Nor can any view separate itself from the flux of change, from alterations of perspective or of information, from the awareness of alternative possibilities.
Values change, just as the body of knowledge available to us changes, and it is imperative that we be not only open to the changes as they creep up on us but actually strive to play an important role in such valuational change.
All theories, all values, all reforms, all revolutions, all change, and all actions are built on the shifting sands of custom and opinion, and the winds of doubt and new circumstances and considerations are always blowing, always rising.
Values do not exist apart from our experience of them… what is not an experience cannot be of intrinsic value… intrinsic values, or immediate values, are subjective, or dependent on the state of mind of the beholder.
However complex the background of a so-called meaningful life, the meaning itself is directly experienced. And the ultimate ground or place of meaning arising is the individual human being, in the specific situations of his or her life. While the sources of meaning are almost predictably outside the individual self, the experiences of meaningfulness are necessarily someone’s experiences.
We are capable of finding unending meaning in a world of constant, shimmering, sometimes threatening change. The task is to keep the question of life in question, and to find in it an unending source of joy and possibility, even in the darkest of times. It is within the constant overcoming of our own limitations and habits, and of the established views of our age, that passive happiness and unreflective contentment are lost, then to be replaced by joyful activity and a glimpse of a broader, more enriching, and more responsible awareness than we have been capable of before.
If we persist in encouraging and educating only the intellect in our schools, we will inevitably create an instrumental conception of life, in which all human activity will be valued as a means to an end, never for itself.
In order to live we must decide on one course of action rather than another, moment by moment. We declare our values and take our stands in both small ways and large. Were we to admit that we are never certain that we have chosen correctly, and never reassured that this chosen course was the correct course of action, then we would be open to the unending exploration and revision in our way of living. We would have learned to put our prejudices and assumptions, our convictions and beliefs at risk.
Just as life is defined as biological change and death as its lack, so meaning in life is characterized by the application of stable patterns to changing circumstances and the replacing of old patterns of understanding with new and exploratory ones. Meaning is found in the losing of it, the searching after it, and in the finding of it again. The meaning in your life is in flux and is to be found in the flux (the flow) of meaning, which is therefore itself a source of meaning in your life. All this does require, however, the developing of a tolerance for ambiguity, of a willingness to accept the inevitability of change and the precariousness of your present vision, and of an openness to the unending richness of your experience of the world in its manifold variety and diversity.
Much of our ethical life is lived unthinkingly, for we do as we do by habit, custom, tradition, or because we have thought the pros and cons of similar situations. We must somehow be able to decide what is valuable at this moment while at the same time remaining open to future revisions in our valuational pattern. This willingness to revise, to be open to new possibilities of value, is for me a key to life and value enhancement.