Foundations of a Life Philosophy | 1.8

Note: This article is one part of a series, "How to Rethink Your Entire Life | Foundations of a Life Philosophy"

When putting together a life philosophy, two questions come up.

First, is this process one of discovery, or creation?

Are we building a life philosophy, or discovering it?

“Creating” it implies that we’re building a life philosophy from scratch, starting from a “blank sheet of paper.”

“Discovering” implies that our life philosophy already exists, and we’re just digging it out, uncovering, and articulating something that was already there.

Which of the two are we doing here?

The answer, it seems, is “both.”

None of us start completely from scratch.

We all have life experiences up to this point that have shaped our life philosophy. (We’re all “philosophers.”)

Of course, none of us have formed our life philosophy consciously and deliberately at every step of the process, in all likelihood. For each of us, it’s probably been a least a little ad-hoc, to put it mildly. It’s unavoidable. Life is messy. We scramble around, improvising as we go along, and we generally do the best we can to make sense of life, sometimes in circumstances that seem to make no sense.

In this sense, the process here is one of discovery, or revealing what’s already there.

But the second part is more about construction.

As our current life philosophy gets revealed, we might discover that some parts are wonderful - and others, less so.

This can lead to a desire to do some inner remodeling.

These two approaches – discovering and creating – tag-team throughout the process.

This raises another question.

Second, is this process “telling someone what to think”?

In a word: “No.”

This process is about helping someone work out a life philosophy for themselves – not doing it for them. This process focuses more on how to think than what to think. The user is in the driver’s seat, and has full freedom and control.

These days, we don’t really need “answers” to questions. We’re drowning in “answers.” The hard part is sorting through the avalanche of answers to decide on which are legit and which aren’t. We don’t need answers as much as we need the experiences that led to those answers.

It’s something like chess.

There are two phases in playing chess.

One is learning the rules of chess, or how the game works.

The other phase is learning how to play well.

The first phase – the “learning the rules” part – lays the foundation that makes playing possible. It literally creates the game.

The other phase is more about coaching an individual player with advice on how to win the game.

The process outlined here is like the first phase.

It’s more about setting up a foundation of a life philosophy – like the “rules of chess.” It establishes the “rules” of setting up a life philosophy. Once you know the rules of chess, you’re fully free to play the game any way you want.

It could also be compared to writing. There are basic rules of grammar. Once someone knows basic rules of grammar (without which, there would be no communication, only incoherent noise) – anyone is then free to write whatever they want.

Same with music. There are basic fundamentals of music. Once you know those, you can play whatever kind of music you want.

(Technically speaking, someone can play music without ever studying the fundamentals. That said, again, this raises the question of the difference between “music” and “noise.” And at some point, it also raises the question of efficiency. But why reinvent the wheel?)

In this sense, there’s simultaneous total freedom and total "rigidity," side-by-side.

As August Turak described, these two modes of freedom and constraint don’t necessarily conflict. They complement each other. They coexist harmoniously, and even depend on each other.

In this sense, “rules” aren’t “oppressive.” They’re what make the game possible. If there were no rules to chess, the game wouldn’t exist. Without “rules” about touchdowns, out-of-bounds, first downs and so on, football wouldn’t exist. If we decided to award touchdowns for breathing (instead of a highly specific series of events), the game would soon evaporate.

In this sense, rules don’t stifle the game. They create the game. “Breaking” the rules doesn’t make the game more fun. It nullifies it.

The process here is like setting up the basic structure of chess, or writing, or music.

But instead of those, it’s setting up a life philosophy.

Once the rules are set up, there’s total freedom to play.

And the “playing” part is a lot more fun than “the learning the rules” part.

So, that’s a rough sketch of what we’re doing and what happens from here.

Soon, it’ll be time to play.

Previous: What to Expect From Here

Next: Part II (Coming Up)

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