QA 3. (Mar 08) Are we coping yet?

stressWe mostly notice it when we’re losing it, already at the edge. Overburdened camels observing the arrival of one. more. straw. We gird our loins, call out the reserves, hope for a second wind (or a third or a tenth). Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

Medical literature describes babies who don’t gain weight as “failing to thrive”. Maybe the positive description would be “babies who cope”. Just coping: not ideal, just the best one can do right now.

I don’t disparage the courage and fortitude of “just coping”. It is always a genuine accomplishment to come through adversity, no matter what a scramble it’s been. In heroic mode, Nietzsche wrote, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” What he forgot to add was: what has made me stronger damn near killed me.

Read more

QA 2. (Feb 08) A question of shame

A Cape Town woman, convicted – yet again – of fraud, was sentenced to stand in a public street wearing a sign that listed her crimes, and apologise to those she had harmed. A higher court reviewing the sentence overturned it on the grounds that such public shaming violated the constitutional principle of human dignity.

A preacher on the train was shouting about violent crime in the townships. How can these people do such terrible things? he asked. His answer: Because they have no shame.

A friend of mine said that shame is always useless and we should learn to get by without it. (Contrary to the preacher, he would have us all be shameless!)

Read more

QA 1. (Jan 08) Far too important to leave to philosophers

beyondPart of my mission as a counselling philosopher is the desire to encourage the revival of philosophy as it was originally practiced, as a way of life. To encourage people to think more deeply about what matters to them. Philosophy is not just an academic endeavour of the very few, engaged in arcane arguments about matters nobody in their right mind would ever care about (although it has its moments). Our own lives provide plenty of material for philosophical examination, and this examination can in turn enrich our lives.

Philosophical practice simply means that we engage with our world, with attention and care and presence. We are all philosophers already. We all have points of view and beliefs and values that guide our judgements and our actions. And as Amilcar Cabral, leader of Guinea-Bissau’s anti-colonial forces, wrote: “We have been capable, and must constantly be more so, of thinking deeply about our problems so as to be able to act correctly, to act strongly so as to be able to think more correctly.”

Read more