In my previous post “When Disaster Strikes”, I talked about two types of disaster we face. One is the natural disaster, and the other one is man-made. We know the power of nature, and we will do our best to avoid natural disaster when it occurs. However, some of us do not hesitate to create our own disaster, just to ensure that the enemies suffer. Just look at top news, we have war, hatred, vengeance and arguments among human beings in many corners of the world.
These are the results of human actions, among people who do not share the same value, people who think they are threatened, and people who live in misery. I believe normal people would not want to harm others useless there is prolonged dissatisfaction that cannot be resolved. The effect of dissatisfaction is what I call “misery”.
Ever since we become aware of our existence, we start to learn about misery. Misery can only be felt. It cannot be seen or touched physically. It is hard for us to clearly define and understand how to deal with it. It is illusive and yet we cannot hide from it. When we face misery, our thoughts are filled with negative emotions: worries, anger and desperation. Physically, we may feel strain at the abdomen, pain on chest, giddy head or numbness spreading through our bodies. The misery will be even intensified if we are surrounded by unpleasant news and people with negative thoughts. Nobody in the world is able to bear the suffering due to misery. Hence one will act at all costs just to get rid of the feeling. Whether we like it or not, misery is a source of countless decisions and actions that we take.
To make things even more complicated, we are not only dealing with our own misery. Sometime we need deal with individuals and groups with different requirements. People’s misery will affect us, similar to our own. In my view, misery is the reason for people to act irrationally and decide to either harm others (aggression) or themselves (suicidal). It is the individual actions that affect the world. Therefore, the causes of misery cannot be taken lightly. We need to understand the source of misery, i.e. our dissatisfaction towards others, to the environment, or to ourselves.
This lead us to the question “why are we not satisfy?”
If we go back in time into the era when human beings have not existed, what was misery? At that time, only ancient animals like microbes, fish, reptiles and birds roamed the earth. The elements for misery that I can think of are basic needs like food, shelter, water, reproduction and constant struggle for survival. Although not easy, the means to satisfy the basic needs were simple (and it remains simple for the animal kingdom until today).
However, since human existed, we redefine our needs. Basic survival needs are not longer able to satisfy human lives. We not only need food, but huge variety of good food. We not only need shelters, but various types of shelters: houses, bungalows, mansions, or palaces. We not only need water, but large variety of drinks: coffees, beers and wines. We not only have a need for a companion, but desire someone good looking, rich and romantic. Of course, these are still very simplistic views about what we desire. Humans desire far more than that. How about nice dress, porch car, and great holiday? How about respect, ego, wealth, reputation, power, and fame? I do not think I will be able to completely define human desires. I used the word “desires” instead of “needs”. This is because we have asked for much more than what we need to survive.
You may argue that we as highly intelligent beings, hence our needs are far more sophisticated. Therefore we should not be compared to other animals. However, are we able to honestly ask ourselves, whether those are really what we need, or are they excessive? Are we asking more than what we need? We need to distinguish “need” from “desire”. What we desire can be excessive need that drives us towards more dissatisfaction and misery.
As an example of excessive need, instead of having a decent car that takes us from one place to another, we are looking for expensive car to represent status and personal taste. It is still acceptable if we can afford it. However, if we desire a car that is out of our financial reach, the dream could become prolonged frustration. Misery will slowly creep in. You can imagine what action one will take if the desire is so intense that he or she is willing to do anything to get it.
The advance communication technology, namely the Internet has helped us to communicate to everyone in everywhere in an unprecedented speed. While we welcome the positive impacts brought by the technology to bring the world closer, the close “contacts” are also creating even more “frictions” and conflicts among people who are different and disagree with each other. In this context, I am talking about differences in terms of wealth, cultures, social values and religions. Whether we like it or not, we are bombarded with information from all over the world that may have different values, which may affect us in many ways. We are struggling to decide whether to tolerate people with differences, or to defense our values. This is another source to misery that we have not encounter in the past.
Small desire will cause misery to oneself. Bigger desire may affect family and friends, and people around. Biggest desire will spell disaster to the nation and the world. You can find examples that leaders turned into tyrants, who exhausted national wealth to meet personal greed. Human with power will be tempted to use it to their advantage to fulfill their unsatisfied desires.
Having said that, not all dissatisfaction will yield negative affect. The sense of discontent can lead to new inventions, better living and richer lives to human. It becomes tricky when one has to decide whether his or her desires can be fulfilled. The key does not lie on whether the desire can or cannot be fulfilled, but it depends on whether the actions to fulfill the desires can create positive or negative impacts to the people around us. I think one has to decide whether what he or she wants should at least not having negative impacts on other people and the environment. In that way, one can avoid forcing misery onto others. For example, one aspires to get rich. If he put his whole family at risk for his investment, then he has created negative impact onto his family even though the objective seems to be good. Hence, in my opinion, he should not proceed with the plan no matter how positive he thinks the prospect would be.
This is a large topic that I do not expect myself to be able to address thoroughly. Nevertheless, it is an important piece of puzzle that we need to touch in order to understand human actions. It is the human actions that bring about changes to this world. We need to understand and be responsible for it.
As a brief summary, it is our desires that bring about our actions. It is our choices of actions that decide whether we will lead ourselves and the people around us to the path of misery. By being conscious about our actions, we will avoid pitfalls in our journey, at least not to create negative impacts to the people around us. If we want to lead a happy life, let’s understand our source of misery. Although we will not be able to avoid misery in our lives, we can do our best to minimize it, so that we can lead a happier and fulfilling life.