“Absence of Quality is the essence of squareness.”

This quote is out of context, but then that does not matter so much. One might have to explain the use of “squareness” here as it is not really as much a part of common vocabulary these days as it was once upon a time[1].  But then taken in context this actually fits the argument rather well. The statement is part of a… well an argument I suppose, one that involved the “value” of the sometimes common greeting “What’s new?” As I recall, the gist was that perhaps asking “What’s best?” would be preferable. Now this whole paragraph is out of context. *sigh*

OK, so I have been thinking some about “values” recently and last night came across the following quote in a fine little book that I am reading:

“I don’t think we should judge the value of our lives by how efficient they are.”
Haruki Murakami

This really fits quite well into my thought patterns of late and one of the things that struck me about it is that while questioning how we might best “value” our lives, it sort of implicitly challenges us to question the values we use to measure our lives. Similar word, but slightly different meaning. There is another blog that I have mentioned recently that would likely due more justice (given that the author had the time and inclination to do the necessary research) to this linguistic, or at least semantic question… actually I am not really sure how best to classify this; that is the relationship between the word value and the word values. Same word in some respects, yet in regards to definition the former implies “the importance, worth, or usefulness of something” while the latter refers to “a person’s principles or standards of behavior”[2]. Does one rely on or beget the other? Are they two sides of the same coin, as it were?… ugh, sorry about that.

Anyways, to get back to that quote. Is how we value our lives defined by the values we hold? I guess it makes sense but I am not sure that I have really thought about it before in quite those terms. While I was pondering this the question, “What’s best?” popped into my head and I realized that I have in fact (sort of) been here before. All of this has happened before and of it will happen again I suppose. The question and the title quote, if you had not ferreted it out on your own, are both from the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAAMM for laziness’ sake) by one Robert M. Pirsig.

I wrote once about experiencing a similar quandary in life in regards to trying to understand morals… you can read about that here if’n you have not and care to. Anyway, that particular quest involved a word and a book. The word seemingly came out of the ether and the book was suggested to me by my father. Turns out they were the same…in a sense. My father also suggested the book noted above (not the one that I am currently reading, although I bet he might get something out of that one too), but really that does not have too much to do with the current discussion.

Actually I am starting to lose track of where this was supposed to go…

Ok, so Pirsig’s book happens to be all about values. I sort of forgot that until that question popped into my head this morning. So naturally I chased the thought down the rabbit hole as it went flitting off. It has been a long time since I read that book. I tried to read it several times, but it is a bit of a bugger and this was in my late teens and I was a bit scattered. Actually, a couple of things happened before I was able to get through it. First, I picked up and finished a different book; Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon. Second, I took a long motorcycle trip. I tried to get through ZAAMM while on the trip because well… you know. I did finally plow through it once I returned and remember having grand ideas as a result. That is about the time I really started writing in those now tattered notebooks I have referenced here more than once in the past. There was a lot of angst back then for a lot of different reasons. I am not sure that I really addressed the question of values however.

Looking back on it all that was a time of big change; of casting off old ideas and struggling to find a place in the world… Although in thinking about it now, I was much more concerned about meaning back then. Now I think I am more interested in… well, just getting along, in finding my way. Hence the values questioning I guess. What is it that guides my sense of SELF and the decisions and/or choices I make? I tried good ol’ western philosophy for a while, but did not follow that too far. I guess I turned next to a sort of new age Taoism, books like Way of the Peaceful Warrior and The Tao of Pooh.  That carried me pretty far I think and still holds a pretty big influence[3]. I then starting mucking around with Zen Buddhism and Martial Arts and rather than illiciting any sort of changes it just added to the existing repertoire, but it still was not quite right. Turns out the god of Israel isn’t doing a whole lot for me either, but the church idea is really great and I am really enjoying the community and friendships made through this new foray.

So why am I telling you all of this? I am not really, I am just writing what comes to mind and for some reason rather than just let that mill around on the hard drive here, I chose to post it to the cyberverse to give it a home I guess. That said I always enjoy a good discussion…

So what IS it that guides… well, me? I was going to say us, but I do not have the where-with-all to ask these sorts of questions of, or about, the rest of humanity. I have a difficult enough time with the SELF. It is a funny thing though because one of the themes that keeps coming up while I traipse through this navel gazing wonderland is the concept of connection. You know like The Force, or whatever they called it on Pandora. We are all in some way or other a part of everything else. Like some universal, mutual… inter-influence or something. But it goes beyond things like “causality” or “synergy” or “the butterfly effect” or whatever. It is in no way related to “string theory” or “42”. I don’t know how to explain it, but somehow it is what makes sense to me. Ok, that sounds a little bit insane, I admit. I guess what I am trying to say is that the way I sort of fundamentally understand my experience (not quite the same as my existence as that is a different question I think) probably would not really make sense to anyone else as it does for me. Ok, let me try that another way. Everything is unique and individual, that is why there is such a concept as SELF, and I do not believe for a second that this is just a human “reality”. Grains of sand in the desert. The desert is a thing in and of itself that is made up of a whole damn bunch of other things. All unique and individual. Or perhaps, the mountain and the glacier and the river and the ocean and the silt and the fish and the clouds and the rain and snow… same thing…different things. Does the fish influence the mountain? Well maybe not until you find a fossil of a fish at 20,000 feet. Time and space and matter and the rest of it all, one big experience that is one big tangled up beautiful mess.

What does that have to do with values? Well for me, everything. Sometimes “things” have to work together – have to all be in their right place – for another “thing” to happen or to be. I cannot explain the how, nor necessarily the why of it. But then I do not feel the need to. That is why I am maybe not the best scientist. But somehow, “knowing” that this is right is truly a guiding force in my life. I like to put things in order because sometimes that is what makes sense to me. Just don’t try to tell me what that order is because that is impossible. Without the things the order does not make sense, maybe does not exist. THEREFORE, there can be no right way. When something makes sense, it just works. When it doesn’t well, then try something else. That said, I understand (from personal experience) if you do not put an engine back together in JUST THE RIGHT WAY, it will not work. But I think that this proves my point more than detracts from it… but I am not going to argue that further at the moment.

I realize now that in some ways I did not address the idea of “quality”, as in “What’s best.”  Neither did I address the idea of “efficiency”. On the other hand, maybe I did. There is no one true “best” thing, no universal “quality”.  At least in the way I understand things. But then that was not Pirsig’s point… or maybe it ways. And efficiency? Well that is essentially a concept designed for defining some sort of measurement and is variable depending on what is being measured and so is more of a tool than a value….best not to bring that into the business of assessing one’s life. In some ways it all comes down to the problem of the shim… for those of you in the know you will get that. For the rest, you will have to find out on your own.


[1] Once upon a time the opposite of “coolness” or “hipness”, or something.

[2] Interestingly when I called up the word “value” on the interwebs the main part of the result page presented the definition, in two part harmony as it were, while on the right hand sidebar there was an ad for a local thrift emporium known as “Value Village” with which I am quite familiar. This might say something about the expression of both definitions in my own life…

[3] Interestingly the interaction – or clash if you will – between Western and Eastern frames of thought and reference is a pretty big element in ZAAMM.

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Absurdity is the Spice of Life

 

I was recently challenged[1] to investigate and/or identify my values. “Sure” I said, “I can do that”. So, I started, as we all do these days when attempting to “research” something… I went on-line. Mostly there are long lists that one can sift through and pick out the “values” there identified which would seem to fit one best. How weird is that? I looked at a few of these lists and noted similarities and of course differences among them depending probably, on the purpose of the list I suppose. In addition there were often exercises attached to said lists, the gist of which all amounted more or less to the same thing. Pick out the “values” you most identify with, and then make a new list. Come back to that list at another time and gradually whittle it down, depending on the purpose of the exercise I guess… I am uncertain if the point is to somehow identify that one, singular, Holy Grail of values that once identified can be the guiding light for everything in one’s life. I am dubious. It all seems a bit absurd.

Where do our values come from? Are they tied in some way to our morals (wherever those come from)? Might they not change depending on our situation? Might they not be influenced by our state of mind at a given time? Also, might we not have certain values as relates to home life, personal life, work life, our past, our families, our friends, our faith? Might they not be influenced by any and all of those experiences as we go through life? Then, pending that one carries out said exercise and identifies either a list of values, or potentially a single, exclusive value… then what? Is one supposed to then evaluate how one’s life, behaviors, actions, pursuits, desires, what-have-you, relate to those values now identified? Or conversely is one then armed with the means to alter one’s pursuits and/or behaviors to presumably become more content with one’s life and self?

In addition to lists, there are tests. Well, that is not quite right as there are still lists, but in the case of these tests, one is typically directed to go through the lists and rank things, a process which is typically followed by some sort of computation whereby some sort of result is derived in the form of some sort of classification; a personality type or style, or some such.  Earlier today I was thus defined as a near equal split between being “Concrete Random” and “Abstract Sequential”.[2] I am still not entirely sure what to make of those… The next one was about identifying “work values” and I was thus identified as being “Conscious” and “Compassionate” in my views of how life at “work” (read in this case “a job”) should be… or something. The next one asked me to rank a series of statements based on how important they were in my view of life… or something. The scores were then tallied up and grouped into “10 broad domains of values”[3]. The scores are then placed on a scale within the categories which “graphically” place one’s score into areas of low, medium, and high importance. I had one score on the boundary of medium and high (Universalism), two in the upper range of medium importance (Self-Direction and Benevolence). I tied in the low end range between Conformity and Tradition, and bottomed out the lowest end in the Power domain.

So then I did go through one of those list exercises. There were a hundred plus words and I set a three minute timer and circled the ones that seemed important as I went through the list. Then I copied those to another list and crossed out a few either for clarification or seeming duplicity. I was left with twelve “values”. They include such concepts as Wisdom, Romance of Life, Respect for Individual and Others, Meaning, and Orderliness.

So, at the end of the day what do I have to work with? Well it would seem that there are themes of equality and order, of structure yet without control or confinement, concern for others but with an emphasis on individuality, a desire for understanding and appreciation of “the world”…

And then I stumbled onto this…

absurdity

…for me, Dismay

I started the day by going back to work after an extended “furlough”. That is, due to the shenanigans of certain “lawmakers” in Washington, myself like many hundreds of thousands of… oh, never mind. I am sure you know all about it already. The reason I brought that up is not to highlight the going back to work but rather the reality of not having “work” to go to for over two weeks. As I discussed with a friend and coworker this morning, this experience was really quite different from taking a vacation. With the latter, if nothing else the timing is planned. There is a defined end date and throughout the whole time one is ever increasingly aware of the painful fact that this time will end. This recent situation was different however in that it was not scheduled, and thus there was no planning. Also, there was no defined end date, and thus no sense of duration.

It was – for me at least – glorious. I fully recognize the problems it caused for the country and for many thousands – even hundreds of thousands – of people. Yet I was offered a guilt free time to not go to “work”. I did not have to be concerned about having enough vacation time or that there were things not getting done at the office. It was not my choice. And I loved every minute of it. When the news came over the wireless last night that the game was on again I could almost perceive the collective, nation-wide sigh of relief. The feeling for me, Dismay…. And this said a lot to me. Especially given the thoughts I have been juggling in relation to the a fore mentioned “challenge”.

So now, I have but to ask, “what’s next?” for, it would seem that in the present something is a bit off kilter…


[1] This is the wording that my counselor uses when she gives me some sort of “homework” as I call it…. Yes I go to counseling. With the way that I experience the world I am uncertain why everyone does not go to counseling.

[2] This test was the Gregorc Style Delineator which is “designed to help reveal a special set of qualities and mediation channels available to you for handling the demands and opportunities of life.”

[3] According to the Schwartz’s Values Scale… I will refrain from making any obvious references just now.