Negativity is felt by us every now and then through depression, anxiety, remorse and all the other bad feelings that we experience. Our sense of what constitutes something as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is mostly dictated by society. Dictated because although we live in a free world, the effects of society are more coercive than we give them credit for. Also there’s a golden maxim in sociology which says: You are free to make your choices, but you are not free from the consequences of those choices. It’s true that life is harsh (or easy for some) and that there’s a distinction between feeling good and feeling bad. There is certainly duality, even it if it two sides of the same coin. But ‘negativity’ has now acquired a sociological importance for the fact that broken hearts and depressed souls now outnumber the trade deficits of our respective countries.
What is often profoundly ignored from our analysis, however, is that our experiences contain a chemical mixture (organic mixture as per Durkheim) of both happiness and depression, of opportunity and hopelessness and of what is in our control and what is not in our control. The mix is not mechanical which can be easily separated, but is infused in each other’s very constitution. Thus, sometimes the very best of events end up later-on bringing us regrets, and some very bitter past events tend to be the ones that later-on prove to be fundamental to our success. We are quick to judge and label something as good or bad and then we interpret our situations according to the slots that we have placed them in. One possible humble solution which Plato suggests is to try to see the underlying nature of the events, rather than how they manifest themselves (surface impression Vs underlying reality).
And this brings me to my metaphor of the cave of oil. When I enter a normal cave, I turn on the matchstick to lighten my path. That light hardly lasts long and still I am able to see very less of this dark cave. Now I enter a new dark cave of oil. I light the matchstick when suddenly the cave catches fire (this is a factual natural occurrence throughout caves in oil-rich geographies but it takes more than a matchstick of course, like lighting of ammunitions or using arms). The matchstick that was useless in an ordinary cave proved to be very potent and effective in the cave of oil. The matchstick is actually happiness and creativity and that priceless ‘spark moment’. The black oil in the cave is the underlying negativity that has woken us up from our slumber. A person who has not been in the dark hardly gets to appreciate life for what it is, but someone who is moulded by the darkness of negative experience requires just a spark of happiness to unleash the universe of potential for miracles that each of us have (setting fire to the cave).
“People do not want to hear the truth because they do not want their illusions to be shattered”- Friedrich Nietzsche. But that’s the thing; our present perceptions are so glossy that we shudder at even thinking about the truth. It is not of much use to have a person who is happy-go-lucky in the belief that ‘ignorance is bliss’ but it is also equally dangerous to have a person who sees and extrapolates only the worst of all sides in every situation that life offers him in the guise of being truthful. Nietzsche has clearly warned us of this:” Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you”.
What then should we aim at? Carl Jung, the seminal psychologist, has robust recommendations in this regard. “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens”. But hearts need training too; all often we follow our heart, fall flat on our faces and then swear a life-time oath never to trust our emotions, instincts and our heart ever again. No doubt, heart is the seat of intuition as well as knowledge but like the mind, it needs training too. “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”-Aristotle.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your whole life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung. This is truer than probably any other prophecy that you will get to see. This is the training of the heart that we have to aspire to; embrace all the pain we face as well as all the joy; accept our dark side along with the bright side in order to become whole. We all have our shadows, our dark side that we repress out of fear and guilt. In hindsight, this repression only enlarges and perverts the dark side we all have. “To find out what is truly individual in ourselves, profound reflection is needed; and suddenly we realize how uncommonly difficult the discovery of individuality is” -Carl Jung. We generally discredit intuition, favouring cold icy logic and try to make a structure out of everything. This indeed is the triumph of instrumental rationalism in this post-modern society. But then, here is where Nietzsche whispers in our ears: ”You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star”. This hits the core; we should have a healthy level of creativity, intuition and holy curiosity within us as well as this complements the scientific, intellectual and rational mind, not opposes it.
There is no need to be dead serious while undertaking this journey to our unconscious. The dancing star within us allows us to discover our depths while being cheery and light-hearted; for instance, I find listening to “Coldplay” songs to be very useful in uncovering my inner depths. We should be able to say to ourselves, with clear honesty that:” I am not what happened to me; I am what I chose to be” (Carl Jung). Lastly, but most importantly, do not be overly concerned by what people will say or think about when you start your inward journey. “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” Nietzsche. This has always been the case and it will continue being so.
Danish is studying for the BSc Sociology in Pakistan. The BSc Sociology is not available to new students, however you can still study for a Diploma for Graduates in Sociology.
More about our blogger
Syed Danish Ali is an actuarial analyst in a leading actuarial consultancy across Pakistan and the Middle East. Part of his job is to understand the mathematics behind insurance and convert them into useful financial numbers so that stakeholders appreciate the risks they undertake more adequately. Apart from giving professional actuarial papers, he is a final third year student of bachelors in sociology from University of London.
When asked to describe himself, Danish responded: “My world opened when I took 8 subjects in A levels. It was not that I had achieved 8 As, but rather the learning that came from this process. I realized that in order to become a philosopher, I have to treat all knowledge as one and the same. This is why I do believe in specialization, but not to the extent that I limit myself to silos or compartmentalization of knowledge where I am good in one area but I am not able to see the bigger picture involved. This is the reason behind the intellectual diversity I nourish in being able to do actuarial science along with social sciences. I also write poetry whenever I get the opportunity, especially on mysticism.”