What is my joy if all hands, even the unclean, can reach into it? What is my wisdom, if even the fools can dictate to me? What is my freedom, if all creatures, even the botched and impotent, are my masters? What is my life, if I am but to bow, to agree and to obey?
– Ayn Rand, ‘Anthem’
Do you believe in choices? Do you believe that you should be allowed to live your life on your own terms, as you see fit, without having to answer to anyone else, without having to live up to another person’s expectations? Do you believe you shouldn’t let another person make your decisions for you? Do you believe you should be able to seek happiness from the activities you enjoy? Do you believe another person’s opinions on what brings you joy don’t matter? Do you believe that you should be allowed to fly as high or as low as you wish, depending on the moment you’re living in, without another person’s judgement? Then why do you think another person shouldn’t be allowed these same things?
What, then, gives you the right to tell someone else how to live? No, not to suggest, but to tell them what to do. What gives you the right to judge them for not living life the way you do? What gives you that sense of superiority? Why are the rules for you and for the other person different? Can you think of a term which describes that? Do you perhaps think your method of attaining happiness is superior? Why? Have you stopped to consider the fact that there may be someone else who thinks the same of you? Do you think that would be fair to you?
Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.
– Ayn Rand, ‘Atlas Shrugged’
We each have to find our own answers in life, our own paths to a happier, calmer, more peaceful life, and because we’re all such different people, our paths may vary. We must all live the way we think is best for us, which also means that it should be in a manner which does not hurt us or others. Although that should go without saying, too many people will take it the wrong way if not specified. It isn’t right to hurt another person in the process of finding our happiness. “Doing that made me happy, so why should I care about whom I hurt in the process?” is not a valid form of reasoning. Then you are acting in an manner irresponsible towards others around you and to yourself. You’re leaving yourself open to the same too. For instance, if you think it’s okay to hit another person, you’re telling the world that you are sanctioning the use of violence on yourself too.
I spoke with someone who pointed out, very wisely, that living for yourself, with reason and a sense of logic makes you more at peace with yourself. Think about it: Because you’ll be surer of yourself, you’ll be less likely to judge others. Judgement, I believe, comes from a sense of superiority which, in turn, comes from a sense of proving to oneself that one isn’t inferior which, eventually, stems from insecurities. The point is that once we know ourselves well, not only will we be more certain of our own actions and methods of living life, we won’t be as bothered by another person’s–if it doesn’t affect us.
Have you ever considered whether you are perhaps sticking too rigidly to a particular brand of philosophy? Feelings are based upon reason too. To feel something you must know the reason for it. To feel an emotion you must understand it, so that if it ever fades or ceases to exist within you, you aren’t left with a vague, inexplicable feeling of restlessness. Then, if and when you find that those reasons don’t exist anymore, you’ll know exactly what to do. You won’t remain rooted to the spot wondering what you’ve been hit with. Some people believe that if a feeling disappears, it probably didn’t exist to begin with. This belief is either created or validated by the following quote:
I’ve always thought that a feeling which changes never existed in the first place.
– Ayn Rand, ‘The Fountainhead’
Can you see what’s wrong with that statement? If we are to believe that people change, then we must believe feelings for them can change too! Let’s illustrate this point with an example–it is merely an example, so please do not take offense to this: Let’s say a man loves a woman because she is most kind and honest and loving. Let’s say they get married, have a child and the child dies. Let’s say, then, the woman’s life has changed due to this, and she cannot be the same person anymore because of this great loss she has suffered; she, then, proceeds to become extremely abusive and insensitive towards her husband. He cannot tolerate the disrespect anymore and his love for her diminishes. If he stops loving her because she has destroyed his self-worth, does that mean that he actually never loved her? Does that mean that she wasn’t once a different person whom he couldn’t help but love?! To negate that feeling which did once exist is to discredit one’s judgement completely. How will a person who believes such a thing ever be able to feel an emotion again when he or she is unsure of its transience? Can you imagine the discord it could create within a person who thinks that if they don’t love or feel for a person now, they never did?! Anger is a feeling too! It’s an emotion, isn’t it? Can you not be angry at someone today, understand their reasons for it and let go of the anger tomorrow? What about sorrow? Even when Rand said it, did she not think of an emotion such as sorrow? If you are sad about the loss of a loved one today, does that mean you must be sad forever?! It must, right? For if you aren’t, it means you never were sad! How, with that philosophy, will you make your peace with that? You will have to deny all emotion, all change of human nature and stubbornly claim that everything pertaining to the mind is permanent and anything that isn’t, doesn’t exist and never did.
Man’s first duty is to himself. His moral law is never to place his prime goal within the persons of others. His moral obligation is to do what he wishes, provided his wish does not depend primarily upon other men.
– Ayn Rand, ‘The Fountainhead’
Certainly, the brilliance of Rand’s characters mustn’t go unnoticed. I have heard people go on about how achievement in one’s career is the only thing one can be proud of, that if one is not the most successful being one can possibly be, one is only mediocre at best. But what if one doesn’t measure success by the grades one gets in high school or university? Will thoughts of those make you happy in the long run? What if one doesn’t measure success by the car one drives or the mansion one lives in? Will it make up for the fact that one isn’t living life to the fullest on their own terms?! The principal characters in Rand’s books are extremely intelligent in their own respect, but does one not see that they choose to excel in their fields for that is what brings them joy?! If there are people who derive their joy from altruism, why should they not indulge in that?! If they want to be rich multimillionaires just so they can help the less fortunate, does that make them immoral? Does that make their actions wrong simply because they’re choosing to let others benefit from it too? Yes, they cannot expect it from others, but are they not free to practise it themselves if that is what brings them utter satisfaction?!
I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.
– Ayn Rand, ‘Atlas Shrugged’
One of her best quotes, doesn’t it also mean that we must look for our happiness on our own? That we mustn’t put someone else in charge of it? So it’s we who decide how we’re going to achieve it. We form our moral codes which we must live by, so that we know what the philosophy of our own life is, so that we know what we are choosing to live by! If we ourselves have the choice to decide the details of our moral code–and if a moral code is, indeed, born of one’s choice, then by that same dictate, how can we be expected to live by another person’s philosophy if we don’t agree with it?! Should we not be free to live and act the way we choose to then? Yes, we all read the philosophies put forth by great scholars, but we aren’t forced to accept every word we read of each of those. Should it not tie in with all the factors that make our life what we want it to be, everything that brings us contentment and joy? Yes, there must not be contradictions, for those go against reason and logic. But, if you’re sticking with a stream of philosophy that isn’t making you happy…isn’t that a sign that there is a clash within, that there may be a contradiction somewhere?
People who force us to live according to their rules are going against the concept of moral codes. A moral code is of one’s own volition and so one cannot be forced to live a certain way. Even the people who judge others fit under that umbrella–the umbrella covering those people who’re trying to make others do what they think is right. I believe such an effort should come into play only if it is affecting the person making the effort to change another. People who tell you to live only for yourself and no one else, actually, have no right to tell you to do that. They may suggest it, they may show you their line of reasoning and why they think so, but they cannot tell you that is how you must live and that any other way of living is immoral. It is akin to making the rules for other people, handing them a list and saying, “These are the rules you must live by. There are 10 of them and if you break even one, the Almighty’s wrath will fall upon you.”
The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.
– Ayn Rand
Know what you want. Really know it. Then define your philosophy, your moral code, and live by it. It may not be easy, it may not be convenient, but it will be worth your life.