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Don’t Trust Anyone Under 500: Dale Davidson’s Unconventional Advice for Graduates

June 4th, 2015 · 79 comments

My friend Dale Davidson runs the excellent Ancient Wisdom Project blog, where he chronicles his experience with 30-day experiments, each dedicated toward living a practice from an ancient religion or philosophy, pursued in the service of deep personal growth. I’m always impressed by Dale’s thinking, so I asked if he would provide me something provocative to post for graduation season.

Fortunately for us, he obliged. Below is an open letter Dale wrote to the graduating class of 2015.


moon-500px

Don’t Trust Anyone Under 500

By Dale Davidson

 

To the class of 2015,

With graduation season upon us, you have likely been hearing a lot of advice about how to live your life. Regardless of what anyone tells you, I ask that you do one thing: consider how old it is.

***

I graduated college in 2009 fully intending to become a Navy SEAL. I was accepted into SEAL training, and several months later, for reasons I’m still not sure about, I quit.

I was thrust back into “civilian life” and felt aimless. What should I do now? I first turned to the Internet in search of wisdom (always a risky endeavor). I read The Four Hour Work Week, a book by lifestyle designer Tim Ferriss who advocates becoming incredibly productive and minimizing doing work you dislike and spending most of your time doing only things you enjoy. I followed travel bloggers who quit their jobs to spend a year traveling around the world and fantasized about doing the same. I discovered the pop psychology advice genre that turns psychological research into advice on becoming happy.

This advice didn’t work. I ended up more confused and lost about what I should be doing with my life.

So last year I decided to try something different. I decided to look to ancient sources of wisdom for advice on how to live a good and meaningful life and created what I call The Ancient Wisdom Project.

The rules of the project are simple:

  • Choose one ancient religion or philosophy that is 500 years old and that stills exist in some form today
  • Select one practice from the religion or philosophy that would help cultivate a desirable virtue (compassion, humility, etc.)
  • Perform the practice for thirty days and write about it

The results of these experiments were powerful, certainly far more powerful than anything I found in modern self-help literature. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned that I hope will encourage you to take a similar approach to evaluating the advice you receive in the coming months.

Pursue virtue, not success

The core belief in our meritocratic culture is that you can achieve great success if you work hard enough. The risk of this thinking is we become too attached to our desire for success, rather than the cultivation of a coherent and virtuous moral character.

Stoicism, an ancient Greek philosophy, is premised on the idea that there are certain things within your control, and far more things that are not.

My practice and study of Stoicism, which included daily ice baths and negative visualization exercises, confirmed that this ancient insight is still relevant to our modern lives.

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

– Epictetus

You can control how hard you work and how virtuously you behave; you cannot control how fast you receive promotions. You can control how you treat others; you can’t control how well others treat you. They knew the rewards for cultivating strength in heart and mind are far greater than the rewards of pursuing worldly success, which will always remain just outside of your control.

Modern advice tells us to pursue accomplishments.

Ancient wisdom tells us to live virtuously.

Forget yourself

Last year, I wanted to quit my job. It wasn’t that it was particularly hard, rather, it was incredibly boring and seemingly meaningless. Though it was tempting to follow modern career advice and quit to do something more interesting, I resisted, and dived into my Catholic month.

My experiment with Catholicism, which included Jesuit spiritual exercises and daily attendance at Mass, taught me that giving oneself to the service of others is far more gratifying than pursuing self-interest. I came away acknowledging how much energy I was spending on obsessing on my own desires for the perfect job, energy that could be better spent, perhaps, thinking of ways to serve others.

A few weeks later I started volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen. A few hours per month serving breakfast to the homeless, while certainly a small contribution, has made me feel like at least some of my work is doing some good in the world. More importantly, doing something for others lets your forget your own desires, which is a relief! Thinking about what you want all the time is exhausting.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

– Galatians 5:13

It’s also important to not think too highly of yourself. During my Islam month, I practiced Salat, or prayer, five times per day with the goal of cultivating humility. These prayers, inconvenient by design, acted as a sort of check against my arrogant tendencies. I became aware of how much I resented my co-workers as idiots or sheep. Though I can’t say that those feelings are gone, I find that simply acknowledging them allows me to be more open and less frustrated with others.

Bring anger and pride under your feet, turn them into a ladder and climb higher…

Don’t become its victim you need humility to climb to freedom.

– Rumi

A commitment to humility and service requires a systematic emptying of the self, a practice in which ancient religions excel.

Modern advice tells us to enlarge the self.

Ancient wisdom tells us diminish the self for others.

Get a real life

As new graduates, you will have to work hard as you start your careers. But at some point you will realize that work can’t fulfill all your needs. You might think you need more “work-life balance,” but simply reducing the amount of time you spend at work is not sufficient for creating a life.

During my Judaism month, I attended daily Minyan services (a type of prayer service) at a local synagogue. The Minyan was mostly filled with retired people (it was a 7:30 AM service, after all), and it mostly consisted of regulars.

While they all began attending for different reasons, they all found that actively setting aside time each week to communally study and pray added a layer of depth to their lives that is increasingly rare in a rushed society that promotes passive rest rather than spiritual recovery.

These voluntary obligations outside of work are necessary and difficult. I attempted to observe Shabbat (the Sabbath), which begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Shabbat advocates a powerful combination of removing the profane distractions of everyday life and adding active participation in sacred rituals that allow us to connect more deeply with our humanity.

Ban yourself from using your laptop or phone during Shabbat and you will find time to read, take long walks, and contemplate. If you make the necessary preparations to host a Shabbat dinner, you will renew your relationships with your friends and family over food and wine without the distractions of a noisy bar.

The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work. ‘Last in creation, first in intention,’ the Sabbath is ‘the end of the creation of heaven and earth

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

While not as easy as ordering a pizza and turning on Netflix on a Friday night, committing to this ancient system of sacred rest and spiritual renewal is far more rewarding.

Modern advice encourages us to achieve work-life balance.

Ancient wisdom tells us to work hard at building a life.

***

I chose the 500 years criterion somewhat arbitrarily. I figured if a particular philosophy or religion has survived at least five centuries there must be some value to it. It’s not perfect, but after a year of experimenting with this heuristic I find it works remarkably well for evaluating the advice I receive.

So the next time you are looking for advice on the way forward, you might turn to a theologian, prophet, philosopher, or saint before any modern-day blogger (except for me, of course).

Don’t trust anyone under 500.

(Photo by Hartwig HKD)

79 thoughts on “Don’t Trust Anyone Under 500: Dale Davidson’s Unconventional Advice for Graduates

  1. It seems doesn’t work for atheists.

    1. Greg B says:

      What is there in the tenets of stoicism that makes it not work for atheists?

      1. hlynn117 says:

        I don’t think you have to treat all ‘ancient wisdom’ equally to engage with it. Stoicism and some Eastern philosophies got it ‘more right’ than any of the monotheistic religions. I would also encourage the practice of mindfulness, which is a religious-free update to meditation.

      2. “The very idea that we get a moral compass from religion is horrible. Not only should we not get our moral compass from religion, as a matter of fact we don’t.” -Richard Dawkins.

        Richard Dawkins is Militan Atheists. he explain that more clearly than iam.
        I’m more Agnostic like Neil deGrasse anyway 🙂

    2. Dale says:

      Hi Fiki,

      That’s a good point you bring up. I’m not religious, (more agnostic), but ancient wisdom and rituals will likely still work for you even if you are an atheist. One of the things I’ve discovered in my experiments is that doing the religion is far more important than believing it.

      For example, during my Islam month, I prayed five times per day. I don’t necessarily believe in God, but the prayers acted as a frequent reminder that I should be less arrogant in my dealings with others.

      Or during my Catholic month, going to Mass made me realize how I should focus on others, not myself.

      Belief doesn’t really matter. Understanding the lessons of ancient wisdom and implementing them is far more important.

      – Dale

      1. “Doing the religion is far more important than believing it.”
        “Belief doesn’t really matter. Understanding the lessons of ancient wisdom and implementing them is far more important.”

        I agree with that, since im agnostic too, i cant against your comment, and during my observations, atheists is completely against religion, and more believe in something that can be explained and meassureable.

        hope theres an atheist out there can explained that in this comment.

        1. Duncan Smith says:

          A religion can be dangerous when people believe that none of it can be questioned, which unfortunately has been a common way to approach religion over the years. People like Dawkins think the best approach is to get rid of religion entirely. That’s not very realistic given the place that religion has in society, and the lack of alternatives. There are a few groups like the Church of Freethought that try to take the place of religion, but they’re a tiny minority. A better approach is moderate/liberal religion, where people aren’t as concerned about dogma and are tolerant/welcoming towards different beliefs.

          It seems to me that Dale is approaching this from a scientific mindset. Take a religious/philosophical practice. As a hypothesis, assume that it will improve your life. Try it out for 30 days. Write up the results. Move on to the next one. If there were more people involved in the experiment, one could imagine a psychologist writing a research paper using a similar approach. The practices happens to come from religion, but the experiment is not based on a religious premise (do this practice because God says so).

          1. Dale says:

            I love the idea of a bunch of people testing out these different ancient wisdom practices and writing about it. It would be a fascinating research paper.

      2. Tjerk says:

        Atheism does not imply that one could not have similar values and practices or strive for similar character traits as theists. It is called a-theism, not anti-theism. (People like Dawkins are not typical atheists: as they enter into extensive discussions with theists, they tend more to be anti-theists)

        The main point is that atheists decide themselves how they should live their life. As such, there is nothing preventing them to take inspiration from ancient religious practices if it helps them to pursue what they value in life, and as we are all the same biological species, these are surprisingly similar things as theists value: happiness, a meaningful life, social connectedness, … Is it then so weird that atheists tend to benefit from similar behavior as theists who have attained these things? The only difference is that atheists chose themselves to follow the moral code they follow, nothing obliges them to do so.

        1. Dale says:

          The thing I’ve found with the atheist friends I have is that they it seems they’re mostly indifferent to committing to or building their own philosophy of life. They’re willing to latch onto to the easy tenets of atheism (there are no supernatural beings), but struggle with building meaningful practices for themselves.

          This is why I think religion is so powerful; they built all the rituals and commitments you need to flourish into the religion itself. Through my experiment, I found that these are more important than the actual beliefs (though the beliefs do become attractive once you practice).

          Basically, to make a tenable and attractive atheism, I believe it will require some sort of institutionalization.

      3. HarveyLM says:

        As a lifelong militant atheist, and after falling in love with a practicing Catholic woman, I decided to “experiment” with Catholicism. I did this to become more tolerant as I didn’t like the negatives I was feeling, thinking it would interfere with my loving relationship. So, I accepted her invitation to go to Mass with her each week. I started learning about her religion and, just before Lent, I decided to start this experiment (didn’t think of it that way though) by giving up my atheism for Lent. I figured 40 days is not a big deal, so why not. My hope for increased tolerance was a good motivation.

        So, I started joining her in prayer (praying for belief, etc.), reading the Bible every day, thanking God for a ton of things during the day, thinking only positive uplifting thoughts instead of negatives about religion in general, squelching anything negative, following the 10 Commandments consciously, learning the Catechism and trying to live by them, enrolling in a Bible study group…the whole thing.

        By the time Lent was ending, I didn’t want to stop! I was actually enjoying it all. More than that, I actually loved it. I became clearly split in that, emotionally, I couldn’t get enough but intellectually I was still an atheist. I’ve since learned that this is common, even among believers, so I’m praying for belief every day.

        It’s been quite humbling for me and I don’t give advice, now, to anyone else as this is just my own experience. And whether I’ve “brainwashed” myself (as some who know me have stated), I’m OK with that and am not concerned as it’s been a positive experience for me, and my (now) fiancee.

        I’m planning on joining the RCIA class and converting.

        So, be careful what you experiment with, you may find it’s not so bad after all.

    3. Andre Kibbe says:

      Sure it does. Just stick to philosophical discourse and skip the religious counsel.

  2. Courtney says:

    As someone who lost the better part of her teens and twenties to a conservative religion I find this advice disturbing. Are there nuggets of wisdom that can be discovered in ancient religions? Certainly. Can bringing your focus off yourself and onto community be beneficial? Of course. But just as passing off pop psychology as truth does real research an injustice, promoting ancient religions simply because a few of their practices made someone feel better is naive at best. At least half of the religious texts referenced support slavery, the subjugation of women, the idea that mankind is inherently evil, and capital punishment for homosexuality or extramarital sex. In short, I’ve bought (and loved) several of your books, Cal, and am a regular reader of your blog, but I find this particular guest post to be off from your typical content.

    1. Dale says:

      Hi Courtney,

      Thanks for commenting.

      The religious texts in question were certainly products of their time; what’s more interesting is why the religions themselves have survived and are practiced with sincerity and devotion by billions of people? I don’t think it’s ignorance; I believe it’s because these religions and philosophies speak to very deep and human needs that still can’t be addressed by modern secularism.

      I also think it says something that most of the current forms of religion do not advocate slavery, stoning people to death, etc.. They have evolved over centuries and millennia and continues to do so. It’s quite remarkable, thus, I think they’re worth paying attention to. Perhaps we will come up with a new religion of science that will eventually replace all of the current religions, but until then, I say we’re better off studying the ancients than hoping the next wave of neuroscience research will cure us of our spiritual ills.

      Thanks again Courtney.

      -Dale

      1. Courtney says:

        A “religion of science” is a contradiction given that science consists of systematic, testable knowledge of the world around us whereas religion pertains to the belief and worship of the supernatural/divine, typically in a prescribed manner. These two things are completely at odds with one another, and I’m certain you could find more than a few scifi/dystopian novels exploring the negative effects of the combination of them.

        As to the ‘why’ these religions have hung around for so long I think fear is a prime component. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have serious consequences for abandoning worship of god or living in a manner opposite of his dictums, both eternally and within the community. Fear is a powerful motivator even in the face of serious doubts. When you say that you ‘practice’ a particular religion for 30 days you are not in truth practicing it if you do not fully submit to at least the primary beliefs of that religion. What you are practicing would be a particular discipline, and I would argue it is not in the state most practitioners of that religion would accept as genuine.

        You also mentioned ‘spiritual ills’. Is it safe to assume by those that you mean a fast-paced, disconnected, self-obsessed culture? I think that is an important point on which to be clear, because those things point to tangible issues that can be addressed, rather than some invisible, spiritual aspect of humans that require an equally invisible spiritual component to the universe. In the case of the latter we’d be forced to start finding the right or true religion among the bunch, and then we’ve really ventured into murky waters.

        Finally, your point that religions have and continue to evolve beyond their disturbingly violent past may seem to be the case from your environment, but does not paint an accurate state of the world. One of my few remaining friends from my 15 years in religion is a missionary in a more tolerant region of North Africa (by tolerant I mean she probably won’t be executed if she’s found by the government). She has received multiple death threats from the families of the girl’s she’s spoken to and on one occasion was held in a home while a male family member decided if he would kill her and his niece for converting from Islam. At least one major Christian outreach organizations in the USA funded and supported key people in reinstitution of stoning of homosexuals in countries overseas. And the constant wars and terrorist groups in the middle east at their very roots are centered around the religious beliefs you are raising up to be a source of wisdom and relief. Even within the USA you can thank religion for giving people a good reason to dig in their heels to the legalization of gay marriage, scientific education in public schools, the provision contraceptives, and environmental policies (because if god is going to end the world, why should we bother caring for it?).

        I am very much aware that my comments have little bearing on what you promote or believe and usually do not engage in this type of discussion, but the placement of this particular topic in a venue I’d found not a drop of ‘spiritual’ directives in previously was too surprising to go by without comment.

        1. Dale says:

          Hi Courtney,

          Lots of good points you bring up. I’ll try to address them coherently.

          Re: Science of Religion
          I agree with your definition of science. I don’t think that is stopping us from treating science religiously. For example, scientists have been trying to figure out what parts of the brain cause people to be violent. Behind that investigation is the noble goal of trying to stop violence. Where we start treating the science as a religion is when we start revering the scientific solution of finding some sort of magic pill that will prevent people from becoming violent. This kind of thinking started during the enlightenment period and has continued to this day. Again, I’m not against science, I just think it still falls short in proposing a framework for debating enduring moral issues. I believe religion does this much better.

          As an example of a secular, scientific, religion, some radical fringes of the environmentalist movement come to mind. They seem to be quite religious about the belief that humans are pests and that we should prioritize the environment over people.

          What this says to me is that humans have a deep need for religion, and we will find it everywhere, including science.

          Re: Survival of Religion
          Religion, fear, and violence have a complicated history. I’m in the middle of reading a book about the history of religious violence (Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong). Basically, it’s hard to extrapolate religious violence from socio-political forces.

          In addition, fear doesn’t seem to explain why people continue to practice religion. Though I’m sure it’s a factor for some, there seems be a significant positive draw for many that is not explained by fear.

          As to my sincerity in religion practice, I would never claim to be “truly genuine” through this experiment. However, I think religious practice is complicated, and people are drawn to it for different reasons and it doesn’t always start with a belief in the supernatural. I’m finding more and more that the practices matter quite a bit, and that the dogma and belief system grows on you the more you practice.

          Re: Spiritual ills
          I do include the fast-paced, self-centeredness of modern life in this category. However, I also include bigger questions about the purpose of man and greater metaphysical questions. I think ancient religion and philosophy do a better of job of engaging with these issues than modernity does. For an agnostic like myself, thinking of the teachings of religion metaphorically rather than literally have been far more fruitful than reading the latest self-help book about slowing down.

          Re: Religion’s continued evolution
          It’s tragic that some religious groups and religious cultures advocate violence. But evolution is not always so linear, and again, I will reiterate the point that the relationship between religion and socio-economic/political factors is quite complicated. There has always been conflicting viewpoints with each religion about the role of violence and when it is and is not justified. The internal debates are quite advanced.

          As to the specific issues you mentioned (contraceptives, gay marriage, etc.), I found that while I may not agree with some conservative religious viewpoints, they often do seem to be internally consistent and well reasoned if you start with certain premises. It’s not as random or incredulous as the educated liberal crowd makes it out to be.

          Like you, I don’t want to get into debates about whether religion is good or bad. My main goal is to direct people to sources of wisdom that I feel we are beginning to neglect but could help us navigate our modern lives. Just because there are teachings and literature about super-natural beings should not discourage us from embracing the time-tested lessons that are contained within these ancient traditions.

          Thank you again Courtney for the thoughtful comments.

          -Dale

    2. Carl says:

      Courtney, compared to U.S. Supermax prisons, exploding jail populations, stop and frisk, etc. the ancient Hebrew systems starts to look pretty good. To carry out a death penalty back then, everyone participated. This would be like requiring the jury who gives the guilty verdict to carry out the sentence. No passing the buck. Slavery of Hebrews was a replacement for prisons. Compare the terms of Hebrew slavery with U.S. prisons. You got to be with your family. You got capital to make a fresh start when you were done. Yes, said slavery included debt slavery, but those debts were zero interest. We have easier bankruptcy, but wage serfdom is the norm.

      Military rules were definitely more brutal. There was a technological reason for this. When men fought with pointed bits of metal, the only way to disarm an enemy was to either get rid of the men of fighting age or keep a close enough watch on them that they didn’t get said bits of metal or time to train with it. In these days of high tech weaponry, you can render an enemy mostly harmless by getting rid of their planes, missiles and tanks.

      1. John says:

        You’re forgetting the other forms of slavery condoned and commanded in the Hebrew Bible: women were slaves for life, and could be sold by their fathers; any slaves bought from surrounding nations were slaves for life and were to be handed down as property; beating slaves were explicitly allowed (no penalty if the slave survived); any people captured in war (say, the virgin girls spared after every young boy and post-pubescent woman was executed) were slaves for life.

        I might take the Supermax, thanks…

      2. Anon says:

        Agree with you Carl. A lot of these rules make sense in a society that has its social fabric torn apart (wars, hard economic times etc). If the population is starving, I doubt you are going to make a prisoners life bearable. Even harsh punishments, like cutting off a hand for stealing (not sure if its for just bread), make sense to enforce the rules on a desperate population that could break into anarchy. Polygamy (Note: have little desire to practice it) makes biological sense as well; a man can spread his seed many times, while its not possible for the woman to do so the same way (NOT saying woman are not as intelligent as men, cannot drive etc! Don’t misquote me)
        Stuff to think about.

  3. Jenn says:

    I agree very strongly with Courtney. The last thing young graduates need to hear is how to be more self-abnegating. Religion has said this for more than 500 years, and people have been all the more miserable (or dead) because of it. Time for something new, not ancient.
    I have been a longtime reader of your blog, Cal, and this is where I unsubscribe.

    1. Brian Emery says:

      Came here to say what this comment and Courtney have put very clearly. Not trusting anything less than 500 yrs old is terrible advice.

      Unsubscribing is a bad idea though. This is usually a great blog – and almost all the wisdom it contains is less than 500 yrs old!

      1. Anon says:

        Working hard is less than 500 yrs? Though I agree that not trusting ANYTHING less than 500 years is too much. Courtney & Jenn are making wild assertions (i.e. people ascribe to religious principles live in misery), and seem to be overreacting.

  4. Lu-Hai Liang says:

    Great post.

    “Pursure virtue, not success” – that’s something that could lead to greater contentment as well, and is something that David Brooks has been writing about also in his column for the New York Times.

    I also use the word contentment (and satisfaction) deliberately. I think the modern obsession with asking yourself “Am I happy?” is a very recent phenomenon, and actually counterproductive. I think that state of mind, of constantly worrying about our own happiness, leads to unhappiness.

    Actually, I am deeply wary about the concept of “happiness”. It’s such a temporary feeling and so unimportant, really — your own happiness. The ancient religions much address this feeling.

    The part about “Get a real life” — was most interesting, but was underdeveoped. Even if we forsake modern distractions, the answers to ‘getting a real life’ are not obvious. I guess in this case the journey may be more important than the destination. Helping others is a good thing, and yet I cannot bring myself to morally judge those others who concentrate on building a comfortable life for themselves. We only have one life, after all. I think changing focus on pursuing small ambitions (like tending a garden, for example), might be one answer.

    And yet I still have trouble reconciling the withdrawn practice of finding spiritual self-fulfilment, with the more outwardly useful professional and personal development. The two things are still not enough. If you add helping others, more contentment is possible. But the question I am asking is– is there more?

    1. Dale says:

      The cool thing about religion is that one of its features is engaging with both the material and and the spiritual worlds. There is always this conflicting desire to withdraw from the world (become a monk) and engage with it (build heaven on earth). It’s fascinating.

  5. Stef says:

    Jenn and Courtney – don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

    1. Anon says:

      Lol. I’ve also wondered, if the social fabric in our society disintegrated (like in wars, hard economic times etc), what would hold us together? If people don’t believe in the unseen, and don’t believe they would pay for their bad actions (as many religions >500 yrs say), what would stop people from committing crimes? Not sure if ‘reason’ would have any bearing on starving, desperate person..

      1. Brian Emery says:

        The answer: human nature. We are inherently altruistic. Science has demonstrated this.

        1. Anon says:

          That’s true to some extent, but I’m not talking about living in a time with enough resources (tho how much “altruism” do we have if veterans are living homeless & as drug addicts on the streets?). Talking about war, famine, disease, i.e. when society breaks down; researching this now, but it seems religion fills that gap bc believing in the unseen is more enforceable and sustainable that ‘reason’ in that time. Thats why people are radicalized by war, they seem to see what holds people together during the hardest times. (Knights of Templar, early Zionist, Islamists etc)
          Still researching tho…

  6. Nazish Hina says:

    I just don’t understand.. for whom is this advice supposed to be good.
    For atheists..No
    For Religious people…No
    For agnostics…Maybe
    How can this advice be for graduates. It’s telling us to slow down and build yourself first. The better your self is the better you life can be….This seems Okay
    But It’s telling us to do that through religion, by reading and understanding religius texts…. This seems fine too.
    But the fact that somehow practicing salat made you feel more humble is beyond me. Or that religious practices are the major source to restore peace in our lives.

    They can restore peace in the lives but only those who actually believe them. Not to those who are merely following them to become at peace and humble. It doesn’t work like that.

    The religions have been around for 500 years.Then why has human life been so miserable?

    And the religions still support polygamy and cutting of hands for stealing of bread. In Saudi Arabia, people are still flogged and stoned. And women can’t drive cars and they eagerly give religious examples to justify their misogyny

    You don’t need to take ice baths to find balance in your life. You need to work to achieve it. To find a balance between work,family and personal happiness we have to organize ourselves…Find the way to change the world.

    There’s no purpose for our lives but we can create purpose if we want, by helping humanity , by eliminating hunger, by spreading education, by doing WHATEVER we can !!

    1. Dale says:

      A lot of things don’t make sense until you do them. In regards to Salat, I don’t think I became more humble. Rather, Salat was a reminder of how arrogant I was towards others, and sort of of “shamed” me into attempting to be more humble.

      I don’t agree with your comment implying that humans have always been miserable and that religion hasn’t done much to alleviate that misery. If all religion does is cause misery, I’m 99% sure humanity would have done away it by now.

      I also don’t believe you should reject the exploration of religion as a source of wisdom just because it has become associated with some extreme practices. I can easily point out secular governments that have slaughtered its people, but I don’t believe it was the non-religiousness that caused it.

      Anyway, you don’t have to accept or believe everything about a religion to perform it’s practices, or believe anything. My primary point is that surviving ancient wisdom is often a better guide to life than anything I can pick up off the self-help section of the bookstore.

  7. P. W. Uduk says:

    I heard my mentor say: “wealth is the abundance of virtue. Fill up your virtues and you’ll become wealthy”.

    Dale, your systematic approach to filling your virtue is quite profound. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Awesome article!

    In my own personal life and through my work with coaching clients from all backgrounds, ages, and nationalities, I’ve found that it’s the simplest things that make people most happy.

    Nothing is more important than love and connection with yourself and others.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

    1. Jim says:

      Thanks for the advertisement, Liz.

  9. Sam Yang says:

    Weird to see so many upset comments. Loved it Dale and subscribed to both of your email lists and Twitter. Thanks Cal for bringing this to light.

    1. Sam Yang says:

      As a side note, had no idea people thought human existence was so miserable.

  10. Sportacus says:

    I see many posters above reacting in unwarranted anger to Dale’s post. There is a wisdom in the virtues exemplified in these ancient practices and they can lead you to the right path if you have the courage to follow it.

  11. Jenni says:

    Dale, as a Christian, I appreciate your insight that actually practicing the tenets of a particular faith can bring about change, even if you don’t believe it. I don’t think that God gave the parameters randomly – it was because they were actually ways that brought life and abundance if you followed them. But one of the points of Christianity, at least, is that just obeying the laws could not bring internal life and freedom – people were unable to do that on their own, and so they needed Jesus’ power and work on the cross.

    I studied Leviticus and Deuteronomy last year and had to wade through all of the troubling passages and laws that many commenters here raise as reasons for why religion is worthless. I’m not saying that I understand all of them myself, but I also realize that a lot of the good we have in the world, and values we have in our own culture such as justice, truth, service, freedom, etc. came from the religious viewpoints of generations before us. William Wilberforce, for example, was a major player in the abolishment of slavery because he was a Christian, not in spite of it. For those who wonder why the world is so broken if we have religion, I would ask, “What would the world look like if people had actually obeyed the basic tenets of these faiths? If everyone told the truth, for example, or didn’t steal/cheat/covet other people’s possessions? What would the world look like if we treated every person as someone made in the image of God? If our own interests were not the main pursuit but rather the good of others? God has a lot to say about justice for the poor, the orphans, the downtrodden . . . I could go on, but I just wanted to point this out as well.

    I don’t agree with some commenters that humans are basically altruistic and would do the right thing either without the burdens of religion – Stalin was not religious, neither was Mao. I just think that this whole thing is much more complicated than “religion is categorically bad and atheism is good” because it doesn’t explain why there is evil among people who have never really been religious.

    I didn’t really want to turn this into a comment on religion, but I felt like a lot of good discussion was raised in the comments section and wanted to provide my own perspective.

    1. Anon says:

      Stalin & Mao hated religion, and had Atheism as the official state doctrine. They closed many Churches, Mosques, Synagoges etc & killed many, for the sake of ‘progress’. Its only recently that Russia & China allowed religion back into the public sphere (Russia is developing a close relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church).

    2. Dale says:

      Hi Jenni,

      Thank you for your comments.

      I’m curious to learn how you’ve engaged with the more troubling passages of the Bible. Did you have an experienced and knowledgable guide to help you interpret it?

      I ask because it a big part of almost all religious traditions is to constantly re-interpret ancient texts to meet the needs of contemporary life.

      -Dale

      1. Longinos says:

        A book that interprets, explains and gives more detail on much of the Bible is “Mystical City of God” by Maria de Agreda a Spanish nun from the 1600s.
        The book is freely available from the web at this link:
        http://www.themostholyrosary.com/mystical-city.htm

        A challenge Dale, just pick one chapter on something from the new testament that you want to know more about or understand.

  12. Sophia says:

    Awww, flirting with religions! I suppose that for some people, keeping their involvement with a religion temporary and superficial … really helps … kind of … and can nevertheless be called “involvement with religion.”

    And pffft — so that man went to Catholic mass for a month? Did he also get baptized, receive the first three sacraments and so on? No. He just flirted with Catholicism. And Islam, and so on.

    Quote: “Belief doesn’t really matter. Understanding the lessons of ancient wisdom and implementing them is far more important.”

    One cannot understand a religious lesson, much less implement it, unless one believes it.

    Very post-modern experiment, though.

    1. Dale says:

      I see you’ve embraced the ancient tradition of sarcasm. Well done.

      Naturally, one cannot fully grasp the entirety of a religion in 30 days. I hope it’s obvious that was not my intent.

      My discovery is that religion and ancient philosophies are powerful when practiced, regardless of your level of belief at the outset.

      1. Anon says:

        You might want to check out Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman. He was also planning to write a book on the rituals of religion, and their impact society & individual psychology (not sure if he has already).

        1. Dale says:

          Just googled him. His books look interesting.

          Is the rituals book this one: Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation?

          1. Anon says:

            Not sure, he mentioned the coming book in The Craftsman. The book was to be titled ‘Warriors and Priests’ – here is a link to the exact paragraph: http://www.dailyblaguereader.com/blog/?p=752

      2. Sophia says:

        “My discovery is that religion and ancient philosophies are powerful when practiced, regardless of your level of belief at the outset.”

        That’s just it: It’s not clear whether you have actually practiced anything from those religions, in the way those religions actually intend those things.

        You took some ideas that nominally are part of those religions, you took them out of the context of those religions, and practiced them, as you saw fit, in a decontextualized manner, without supervision or guidance from people who actually are members of those religions.

        You were, basically, “just doing your own thing.” More power to you if that helped you somehow. But it wasn’t religion, and those ideas you practiced were not religious.

        The suggestion to consult ancient wisdom may seem novel or strange to a “modern person,” or to an American, perhaps. In Europe, at least where I come from, it is standard to consult the classical sources of wisdom. (Although certainly not in the form of “experiments.”)

        “So the next time you are looking for advice on the way forward, you might turn to a theologian, prophet, philosopher, or saint before any modern-day blogger (except for me, of course).”

        … under the proviso to not actually believe or take seriously anything that that theologian, prophet, philosopher, or saint say.

        1. Dale says:

          So how would you then say, personally “experiment” with religion? I ask because it seems like your expectation be that I fully convert to each and every single one of the religions before moving on to the next one (or never moving on, period).

          My project is limited by design, but I don’t believe I’ve done anything that contradicts what these traditions in advocate. Basically, I didn’t just “do my own thing.” And I did consult experienced practitioners (rabbi, Jesuit priest, an imam, etc.).

          So, read into my project what you will. If you don’t find value in it, that is fine. Please move on.

  13. John says:

    Meh,

    Read Ayn Rand… read what she means when she uses the terms value, purpose, virtue etc. … she truly is a breath of fresh air!

    1. Dale says:

      I have. Her individualist philosophy is quite exciting, but unfortunately, doesn’t take into account all of our very human needs.

  14. Al_de_baran says:

    “you might turn to a theologian, prophet, philosopher, or saint before any modern-day blogger”.

    Yeah, no need to bother with those silly poets. What did fools such as Homer and Shakespeare know, anyway?

    1. Dale says:

      They are beyond the scope of my experiment in that these ancient poets and writers did not start a philosophy or religion that has survived until today.

      Obviously worth reading though for good ideas on how to live life.

  15. AG says:

    1. The “Don’t trust anyone under 500” idea might look great on the surface but there isn’t much substance to it.

    “I figured if a particular philosophy or religion has survived at least five centuries there must be some value to it.”

    The problem is that the same exact reasoning can be applied to a lot of things that most of us vapid moderns would agree are terrible.

    Slavery has survived for more than 500 years. Subjugation of women has survived for more than 500 years. Killing homosexuals because of their sexual orientation has survived for more than 500 years.

    Are you saying that since all these things have survived than more than 500 years (in fact, forget 500 years, they have survived for millenia), that means that “there must be some value to it”?

    And if you don’t agree with slavery, subjugation of women, and killing of homosexuals because of their sexual orientation, can you please provide why do you disagree with all these things, given that they have indeed passed the “test of time” which you seem to perceive as an accurate way to evaluate the validity of ideas?

    2. “I read the 4-Hour-Workweek (…) I followed travel bloggers (…) I discovered pop psychology…”

    I’m not entirely sure how dislike of advice in 4-Hour-Workweek, travel blogs, and pop psychology books translates to writing off anything that is less than 500 years old.

    I mean, I can see why you decided that the self-help and lifestyle design niches lack substance, but have you tried taking a look at, for example, secular humanism?

    There are plenty of modern secular thinkers that are worth looking into. For example, in my eyes, Singer’s “The Life You Can Save” is much more powerful than a lot of religious texts. Yet, you seemed to have overlooked modern ethical philosophy and secular humanism entirely, simply because it’s modern.

    3. Also, I wonder why you seem to ignore the reality that the world has changed, and although a lot of ancient wisdom still applies, we modern people deal with a lot of problems that are unique to our times.

    For example, I’m 25, and my generation, at least those of us who won the birth lottery by being born in developed countries, have more opportunities than any generation had in the past, and older people often can’t relate to that.

    So, don’t you think that when it comes to practical problems, such as which career to choose and how to progress in it, it makes sense to seek advice from those who have dealt or are dealing with similar challenges?

    I mean, it’s easy to write off “4-Hour-Work-Week”, but the reality is that my generation has a unique opportunity of being able to support themselves while travelling the world, and if someone’s considering that option, then they should seek advice from people who have managed to pull this off, not someone who lived in ancient India or Greece or Israel.

    I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as time-less wisdom, but again, the don’t listen to anyone under 500 advice doesn’t make any sense. You know, my grandparents lived in a drastically different world than I do, and while their advice might have made sense in Soviet Union, a lot of it doesn’t apply anymore in 2015. So if what worked few generations ago doesn’t work now, I don’t see how it’s reasonable to think that the best place for a young person to seek advice (especially practical advice!) is in centuries and millenia old texts.

    CONCLUSION: This whole idea of “test of time” doesn’t make any sense if you really think about it.

    A lot of my criticism might seem unfair, because you can say “Well, of course I don’t agree with slavery, or subjugation of women, or homosexuality being a capital offense…” or “Well, of course I’m not saying that there are no modern secular thinkers worth paying attention to…” or “Of course I’m not saying that Bible is where you should look for advice on launching your startup…”, but you brought it onto yourself by promoting an idea that lacks substance + using sensationalist wording.

    “Don’t trust anyone under 500” – I’d say that unless you “don’t trust” such ideas as abolition of slavery, gender equality, racial equality, homosexual righs, etc. – all of which gained prominence less than 500 years ago – then maybe you should use less sensationalist and more accurate phrasing, especially considering that this is supposed to be advice to young people.

    P.S. Also, and this is an excerpt from one of your comments:

    ” Again, I’m not against science, I just think it still falls short in proposing a framework for debating enduring moral issues. I believe religion does this much better.”

    This seems to be a category mistake – science is not meant to be a framework for debating enduring moral issue.

    Ethical philosophy provides frameworks for discussing those enduring moral issues, and science can be used to back your claims, since ethics should have grounding in empirical reality.

    For example, if someone says that homosexuals should not be allowed to adopt kids because that is detrimental to the well being of those kids, we can point them to the several studies that show that children that were raised by homosexual couples seem to be as healthy and well-adjusted as those raised by heterosexual couples, which should make the person to reconsider his or her position on homosexuals adopting kids.

    And, just for the sake of comparison, let’s see how homosexuality is addressed in the Bible:

    Do you really think that ethics based on ancient mythology and superstitions are superior than ethics based on rational thought and empirical facts?

    1. Dale says:

      You miss my point that the ancient wisdom has survived until today and is more than 500 years old.

      Slavery is more than 500 years old, but it didn’t survive until today. It was weeded out. I understand human slavery still exists today, but it has been forced underground and universally acknowledged to be immoral outside of a few fringe groups.

      I’m also being hyperbolic when I say “Don’t trust anyone under 500.” Of course you can find wisdom that is under 500 years old. I’m just saying it’s harder, and it’s likely to draw on wisdom traditions that are more than 500 years old.

      I haven’t looked into modern, secular philosophers because it is beyond the scope of my experiment. I’m sure there are some good thinkers. Secular humanism is interesting to me, but I don’t know much about it. If you can point me to a surviving secular humanism tradition that is > 500 years old, feel free to e-mail me at dale@dalethoughts.com.

      And regarding your point about modern times being different and requiring different wisdom, I agree it is different, but the discover of my project is that ancient wisdom is still relevant and necessary to modern individuals.

      Feel free to follow the advice of lifestyle designer/bloggers. In my personal experience, it was somewhat unsatisfactory. Hence, why I started my project.

      -Dale

      PS: You misunderstood my point about science. I agree with you that science should be separate from religion, but that modernity tends to make a religion out of a science. I think it’s findings can lead to some fascinating ethical/moral discussions, I’m just wary of an approach to morality that says “the scientific research says X, therefore X is the law of the land.”

      And yes, if you look at ancient mythology and superstitions metaphorically, they often have the same or even greater insight into human nature and morality than many post-enlightenment, rationalist thinkers have had.

      1. Anon says:

        Can POW camps be regarded as slave camps? True, they are not owned by a single person, but in many cases it is forced labor for being in the ‘wrong’ side of the war. The alternatives are usually execution, ransom (if your lucky), and being set free (lol). Think slavery has too broad of a definition (many cultures had diff versions), but think forced labor is a common theme.

        1. Dale says:

          I’m not sure I can comment effectively on why homosexuality is illegal in the 75 countries you mention without specific context and history. However, do you really think it’s as simple as “Oh we read this one passage in the Bible and have interpreted it literally and we will just implement it without question?” I don’t. I imagine the explanation for why it has survived is complicated. But I’m also confident that kind of thinking will eventually disappear.

          And you’re incorrect to say that people who advocate looking to the ancients don’t seem to provide a framework for evaluating those ideas. They are constantly being evaluated and assessed and interpreted. Every religious tradition has a long history of exegesis that continues until this day. To continue with your example of homosexuality, the Catholic church has an official position, and then they have internal debates between those who agree and disagree. They debate these within the constructs of modern life and without abandoning the ancient texts upon which the church is based.

          It’s exactly this process that gives me confidence that over time, only the best and most useful ideas will survive. It seems absurd to me to abandon the ancients simply because you disagree with some of the interpretations that people have brought to the table.

          To your other points:

          – I’m not a scholar in post-enlightenment thinking, but like many people, I’m familiar with the works of post-enlightenment thinkers. Don’t quiz me though 😉

          – Juxtaposing ancient wisdom against lifestyle designers makes sense as many young people, including myself, seem to look to these bloggers as a model for how to live good and meaningful lives. I think the ancients did this better. If people simply looked to the bloggers for technical or logistical advice (how to set up an e-commerce store, how to earn free travel, how to interview for a job, etc.), there wouldn’t be an issue. But, lifestyle designers tend to encourage a way of thinking that looks awfully like a (underdeveloped) philosophy, which I believe many people become disappointed with after testing it for themselves. I believe for those disappointed folks, ancient wisdom is a good source for ideas on how to live a good life.

          1. AG says:

            “However, do you really think it’s as simple as “Oh we read this one passage in the Bible and have interpreted it literally and we will just implement it without question?”

            Homosexuality being a legal offense does seem to correlate with religious beliefs of a particular variety – I’d say to the point where it’s reasonable to think that religious beliefs are one of the main causes, if not the main cause, of it (it seems that countries where the dominant religion is not Christianity or Islam are unlikely to have these laws, and in Christian and Muslim countries the more secular the country, the less likely they are to have these laws, also it appears that homophobia is highly correlated with religiosity in countries like US).

            “They debate these within the constructs of modern life and without abandoning the ancient texts upon which the church is based.”

            Yes, but do you see that this attachment to an ancient text is slowing down the progress, if they’d be free to simply ditch the text, and instead keep the ideas that make sense, they would catch up with the rest of the developed world quickly on issues like contraception, abortion, gay rights, etc.

            “It seems absurd to me to abandon the ancients simply because you disagree with some of the interpretations that people have brought to the table.”

            Well, some things you call “interpretation” I call “mental gymnastics” because there’s not much to interpret in, say, the Leviticus passage that I quoted – it says homosexual men should be killed.

            Once again, if people would let go of irrational clinging to old texts, they could just say “this is BS!”, instead of “interpreting” a passage that is rather straightforward – the same way you’d approach any other book. “Adapt what’s useful, reject what’s useless, and add what is specifically your own” – not “Adapt what’s useful, “interpret”/rationalize what’s useless”.

            Anyway, I agree with a lot of what you said in the article, my worldview is heavily influenced by some ancient philosophies/religions (Buddhism and Taoism in particular), and while I like the idea of lifestyle design, I think that getting caught up in it so much that you lose sight of more important things is detrimental to one’s well-being.

            The main target of my criticism wasn’t necessarily the main idea of your article itself (though I disagree with the heuristic you are proposing), but the way it’s presented (especially the “Don’t listen to anyone under 500” clickbait line), since it comes across as unexamined (or at least no examined enough) infatuation with ancient ideas and practices, which, at least from what I’ve observed, often has severe negative consequences.

            I guess I just don’t like this modern trend of oversimplifying nuanced topics 😉

      2. AG says:

        “You miss my point that the ancient wisdom has survived until today and is more than 500 years old.” <- Fair enough. My bad. Apologies.

        Can you then please explain to me on what grounds you disagree with (I hope?), for example, homosexuality being a legal (and often capital) offense, given that this idea is both more than 500 years old and still widespread?

        There are 196 countries in the world, out of which homosexuality is illegal in 75+, and a capital offense in at least 5 countries.

        These laws largely stem from either Bible (Leviticus 20:13):

        "'If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

        or the Sharia law under which homosexuality is illegal (and in some places the punishment is death).

        Couldn't someone argue that we in the developed world lost our way, and that we should go back to "ancient wisdom" of the Bible and the Q'ran/Haddiths, and make homosexuality illegal once again?

        What I'm getting at is that idea of "Don't listen to anyone under 500 years old" sounds great on surface, but people who promote various incarnations of this idea never seem to provide a framework on evaluating these old but surviving ideas. So I'd like to hear how one should determine whether an ancient idea/practice is indeed valuable and we should keep it around or whether it's an abhorrent barbarism that we should get rid of?

        P.S. "And yes, if you look at ancient mythology and superstitions metaphorically, they often have the same or even greater insight into human nature and morality than many post-enlightenment, rationalist thinkers have had" <- I'm confused. You said that you didn't look into modern similar thinkers so I was under impression that you aren't that familiar with Western post-enlightenment philosophy. Did I get a wrong impression? And if I'm not wrong, how would you know that "they often have the same or even greater insight into human nature and morality"?

        Also, it seems to me that you are bidding ancient philosophy against modern travel and lifestyle design blogs, which is bizarre, since philosophy and lifestyle design serve rather different purposes (if you go to a rap concert, don't complain that they don't play classical music there).

    2. Person says:

      Slavery lasted 500 years. Are you saying that since all these things have survived than more than 500 years (in fact, forget 500 years, they have survived for millenia), that means that “there must be some value to it”?

      Well, yes, that does follow. Someone gets value from it – a free workforce had an unthinkably enormous value for slave owners. A world shaping, empire building value.

      It’s not fair or ethical, but Dale didn’t claim “every idea over 500 years old is ethical and fair”. Indeed, he said three conditions for ideas he would consider, and one was: “Select one practice from the religion or philosophy that would help cultivate a desirable virtue (compassion, humility, etc.)” – does slavery pass that test? Not at all.

      Don’t you think that when it comes to practical problems, such as which career to choose and how to progress in it, it makes sense to seek advice from those who have dealt or are dealing with similar challenges?

      Does it make sense for a person lost in a maze to ask another person lost in the maze “which way should we go?” or does it make more sense to ask someone who has navigated out of a dozen mazes, albeit not this particular one. One of those three people is in a lot better position than the other two to give a useful answer.

      the reality is that my generation has a unique opportunity of being able to support themselves while travelling the world [..] not someone who lived in ancient India or Greece or Israel.

      Hilarious. If only you could tell the empire builders (Roman, Greek, Egyptioan, Persian, Mongol, coming up to 500 years ago, the Portugueuse), the nomadic peoples, the travelling salespeople, the caravans, the explorers, messengers, and soldiers, that it was impossible to travel, or travel and work, or travel and survive until just about now.

      my grandparents lived in a drastically different world than I do, and while their advice might have made sense in Soviet Union, a lot of it doesn’t apply anymore in 2015.

      Their advice on how to avoid the secret police, or where to buy the cheapest cloth wouldn’t apply. Their advice on how to take courage in the face of adversity, deal with grief of loss of friends, build a lasting interpersonal relationship, or simply how to cook a tasty stew is probably still pretty good.

      but you brought it onto yourself by promoting an idea that lacks substance + using sensationalist wording.

      The bit he said has great substance. The strawperson you set up and blew down had no substance.

      “Don’t trust anyone under 500? – I’d say that unless you “don’t trust” such ideas as abolition of slavery, gender equality, racial equality, homosexual righs, etc. – all of which gained prominence less than 500 years ago

      Nah, you’re still good – prominence wasn’t a condition, and there were lots of moves to abolish slavery more than 500 years ago, for example – see the Wikipedia abolition of slavery timeline.

      1. AG says:

        I actually agree with a lot of ideas in Dale’s article (although I disagree with the main heuristic he’s proposing) – what I was criticizing was not so much the ideas themselves as the presentation of those ideas, which, in my eyes, was overly simplistic.

        “Well, yes, that does follow. Someone gets value from it – a free workforce had an unthinkably enormous value for slave owners. A world shaping, empire building value.”

        Yeah, I understand that, I was using the word value in the way (I assume?) Dale used it, though.

        ““Select one practice from the religion or philosophy that would help cultivate a desirable virtue (compassion, humility, etc.)” – does slavery pass that test? ”

        That’s not the statement I was criticizing in the paragraph that you quoted, though.

        >Does it make sense for a person lost in a maze to ask another person lost in the maze “which way should we go?”

        Maze argument is dependent on the domain to which it is applied. For example, people obviously don’t need to have been married to your spouse in order to give valuable marital advice, but if someone comes from a different societal context, their advice might be useless or misleading (for example, someone who comes from a culture where divorce is unheard of would tell you to work things out, but it might be that the best solution is indeed divorce). A lot of “ancient wisdom” is great advice when one considers the cultural context in which it was given, but it might be (not saying that it always is) useless or even terrible advice in the current cultural context.

        “Hilarious. If only you could tell the empire builders (Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Persian, Mongol, coming up to 500 years ago, the Portugueuse), the nomadic peoples…”

        I didn’t say it was “impossible”. I said that my generation has more opportunities than people had in the past. I believe taking a moment to think about airplanes, cars, infrastructure, decrease in piracy and banditism, open borders, gender equality, peace in large portions in the world, etc. would make that rather obvious (I can assure you that at age 25 my grandparents didn’t have an opportunity to pack their things and move to Thailand – or anywhere else outside the Soviet Union, for that matter).

        “Their advice on how to avoid the secret police, or where to buy the cheapest cloth wouldn’t apply. ”

        That’s exactly what I was referring to. Obviously, my grandparents didn’t notice the collapse of Soviet Union and more than 2 decades of independence, so they insist on giving me advice on how to avoid KGB. Also they don’t know where to buy things (cloth??) despite living in the same place for most of their adult lives. Come on. Really?

        I was (obviously?) talking about the fact that their advice on how to build a life for yourself isn’t that applicable because they don’t know what it’s like to be a young person in capitalistic society in which things change at increasingly accelerating speed.

        Which is why you have to consider cultural context when taking advice from someone – you can’t just assume old>new when the world has changed so much.

        “The bit he said has great substance. The strawperson you set up and blew down had no substance.”

        I don’t think that criticizing an overly simplistic presentation of something that requires more nuance is the same as building a strawman.

        P.S. Well, if prominence of idea isn’t relevant, only age, I’m interested in what philosophical ideas you’d consider “modern”?

        P.P.S. By the way, I wonder what the “ancients” would think about someone who engages in a public debate while hiding his or her face… Just saying 😉

  16. Dave Small says:

    Thanks for the great post Dale.

    The past couple years I’ve studied and wrote about Teresa of Avila and her book the Interior Castle (Teresa was born March 28, 2015 so she finally meets your 500-year criteria). Her profound insights and those of many other ancients go beyond specific practices. It’s how they thought through issues, brought reform, and shaped ways of thinking that furthered our ability to face complicated issues.

    I often wonder how progressive any of us would have been if we lived in past centuries without the benefit of present insights. Would we have embraced the culture as is or would we have found new ways of thinking? One of things we learn from the ancient minds is “how to think” and infuse our own time with creative thinking and reform.

    1. Dale says:

      Excellent. I can now study and embrace her wisdom 😉

      I think it’s difficult for people (myself included) to imagine ourselves living in times and cultures completely different from our own without the filter of our modern experiences.

      For example, there were a few comments about ancient slavery in this thread, and though of course we condemn slavery today, I don’t think it’s fair to only see the ancients who approved of and perhaps owned slaves solely as slave owners. I often wonder what current beliefs and practices will be considered completely immoral and unjustified in several centuries. Contemplating this idea forces a sort of humility in the way we view the practices of our ancestors.

      Lots of things to think about….

  17. Michael says:

    Dale as agreeable as the points in your post are, the frame and your comments show concerns that you would recognise through a study of Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an ecology of mind.
    In that book you can learn how important time is for the truth of any idea. I’m thinking in particular or your truth “My discovery is that religion and ancient philosophies are powerful when practiced, regardless of your level of belief at the outset.”
    Because as you point out, you are not writing about the wisdom of the 500+ years old traditions, you are writing about your monthes old discoveries. As you rightly point out you don’t know anything about the traditions, just what you learned from playing with an infinitesimal sliver of those traditions for 30 days and writing about that.

    By studying Bateson’s theory of learning you might also grasp that far from having the tiny scope for failure and damage you seem to think your stunt non-fiction blog project has, that ‘Immersing’ yourself in a series of radically different frames of reference for 30 days at a time is a much more dangerous stunt than cooking a Julia Stiles recipe every day for a year, or travelling to every country in the world.

    1. Dale says:

      What is Bateson’s theory? And how is my limited by design experiment harmful?

  18. Jesse says:

    A good way to think about this is in terms of risk. You have little to lose by exploring these ancient practices, but a huge amount to gain in the event they really do make you a wiser and happier person. If instead you restrict yourself to recent ideas about “the good life”, you lose out on a whole field of potential ways to better yourself. This asymmetry is compounded by the fact that ancient traditions have had more time to prove themselves; the historical accidents of fashion and cultural prejudice have, perhaps, been filtered out to a greater extent.

    By dogmatically opposing anything associated with religion, and focusing on “truth” rather than results, you’re limiting your own opportunities for a flourishing life.

    1. Dale says:

      Well said. Thank you.

  19. Person says:

    There’s quite a lot of commenters seeing “if x is less than 500 years old, do not trust it” and reading the inverse “if x is more than 500 years old, do trust it” – something Dale didn’t say at all.

  20. Gary Manders says:

    Try the experiment and then assess what practices can help improve human flourishing. There is a lot of criticism without actually giving the project a fair attempt.

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