Almost twenty years ago…
When I first started studying philosophy as an undergrad…
The very first philosopher I actually clicked with was Friedrich Nietzsche.
I know, pretty cliché, right?
Nietzsche is in many ways the teenager’s philosopher.
Not because his stuff is bad (far from it). But his essentially rebellious spirit and free-spirited philosophy are certainly attractive to the youth.
And they definitely were to me.
Scholars fight about it, of course (as they always do).
But there is one powerful thing Nietzsche’s philosophy does.
It insightfully invites us to question whether the values that we have (unconsciously and uncritically) adopted from society actually help us flourish.
Or whether they serve as yet another oppressive force in this world that brings us down.
That’s certainly what spoke to my mind AND my heart when I first read his philosophy.
You see, back then I was riddled with Catholic guilt that was, in many ways, preventing me from thriving.
It was something I had simply grown up with.
Something that (because I was brought up as a Catholic) I had always uncritically accepted.
I had always thought that in order to be a good person, you needed to feel bad.
So… I felt bad. I felt guilty. About SO many things. In my mind, that was THE way to really show that you were a good person.
But it was through engaging with Nietzsche’s philosophy that I was able to disabuse myself of this toxic vision of a supposedly good life.
It was Nietzsche who taught me that the very values and principles that you think make up the way you should live can be the very thing that prevents you from living a good life.
By engaging with Nietzsche’s philosophy, I was able to find a new vision of the good life.
A better vision of the good life.
One that did not include deep existential guilt as an essential component.
But is instead with all kinds of inspiration, joy, and meaning!
In this way, through philosophy, I was able to liberate my mind and my spirit from an oppressive view of how to live that had taken over my life.
You can do this yourself.
Do you in some way believe that when you mess up, you should be hurt for it in some way?
That when you make a mistake, you somehow deserve to suffer because of it?
I find that different people have different versions of this.
Some hurt themselves by feeling ashamed of themselves.
Others (like me) by feeling guilty.
And yet others do so by feeling angry at themselves.
If there is any part of you that resonates with this thought, I want to first say that it’s not as if I don’t get it.
As I see it, there is a common intuitive (but ultimately, I argue, misguided) thought driving all these reactions to not living up to standards we think we should live up to.
It’s the thought that even if we mess up or fail in what we care about… if we suffer because of it, at least we have THAT to show for it.
At least we have our pain to show that we really DO care.
If this thought rings true to any degree inside you, I would ask you to question it.
Is this harm that you inflict upon yourself doing any good?
Is it easing someone else’s suffering? Is it empowering you to be better? If so, great.
But. I find that more often than not, this suffering is debilitating. Not empowering.
It tears at you.
It brings you down.
All too often, the shame, guilt, and self-hatred we feel are not helping anyone.
All too often, all they serve to do is to proliferate suffering in the world.
So, ask yourself, is there not a better way to respond to our faults? To our mistakes? To our failures?
Instead of hurting ourselves with them.
We can use them as fuel for our growth into better future selves.
As VIVID and MOTIVATING but ultimately KIND reminders of how we CAN and MUST do better in the future.
Instead of having them be dead weight from the past, dragging us down.
This is just one example of how philosophy can help you question things you may have always taken for granted…
But that have been holding you back all this time.
Take action with your mind.
Think For Yourself.
Question what you’ve always taken for granted.
And find better ways than you ever thought possible.
That’s what I did.
And it’s done me so much good that I now dedicate my life to helping others do so!
So, go forth. Question philosophically.
And have fun bringing down what’s holding you back!