Style is a state of mind.
To strive (verb): to exert much effort or energy; to struggle or fight forcefully toward any goal
Striving and struggle precede success, even in the English dictionary. In modern, euro-centric culture, we revere ambition. And in many ways Stylobate could be seen as deeply invested in examining the activity of self improvement… But I’ve been pondering whether “striving” is actually a positive behaviour.
Gandhi is famous for having said that “infinite striving to be the best is man’s duty”. For a master of meditation, this struck me as quite an uncharacteristic position. In yoga, “striving” is seen as an affliction, an enslaving behaviour that makes you perpetually future-oriented. In fact, yogis believe striving is the antithesis of being present and mindful. Happiness is not something that is “over there” to be achieved. Happiness is actually when you strop striving.
Science, on the other hand, tells us that success is a basic human drive. Brilliant war and apocalypse-themed films like Fury and The Road use art to illustrate that we are designed to survive. But new studies reveal that the ironically labelled “New Age” philosophy of mindfulness is also a basic instinct.
A documentary by Tom Shadyac called I Am offers scientific evidence that human nature need not be reduced to mere survival (and by conflation, to the drive towards materialism and success). Through a series of interviews with scientists, religious leaders, environmentalists and philosophers including Tutu, Chomsky, McTaggart, Zinn and others, this documentary offers hope that in fact our very nature lies in being others-regarding; in giving back. And that happiness isn’t the goal, but something that reveals itself when we stop seeing it as a goal.
Having said that, goals have their place. They give us energy, purpose and direction. But focusing excessively on goals can cause aggressive behaviour in practice and persistent dissatisfaction. A fantastic book called Affluenza by Oliver James, published in 2007 just before the subprime crisis, explores this idea further by studying materialism as the root (and measurable cause) of depression. Meanwhile, Ruth Chang’s TED talk How to make Hard Choices helps to explain how it is irrational to compare values like Success and Happiness because they simply operate on different planes.
If we turn our attention back to Gandhi and his belief that striving is a duty, the question it raises now is somewhat semantic. Why does he describe striving to be the best as our duty? Why did he decide to leap from how we are (our nature) to what we ought to do (our moral goal)? We may need some goals, but isn’t it a fallacy (a linguistic one at the very least) to derive from this that having a goal to succeed, or striving, is worthy in and of itself?
Some goals certainly have their place.
All goals have a context.
Happiness, refreshingly, doesn’t.
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