I left the United States on a freezing and snowy morning in February 2011. God, how I was miserable that day. I put on a brave face and smiled as much as I could, or at least I think I did. After the 2008 housing bubble burst and as the US economy continued to struggle to recover, I had no choice but to leave the country I so desperately wanted to call home. I was deeply miserable.
After I arrived in Korea, I spent the next four months being completely unproductive and wallowing in self-pity. Later, after receiving a letter from the Military Manpower Administration, which stated that I was to report for duty to begin my compulsory military service, I joined (was conscripted) the Republic of Korea Army. Though it didn’t feel like it was ever going to end, I was finally discharged in March 2013.
As much as the ROK Army wishes to modernize and train soldiers who can think critically, it is still the Army and like any other army in the world, one of the things that it takes most seriously is the chain of command. What that means is that High Command isn’t going to micromanage every little thing; it’s only going to try to micromanage as much as humanly possible.
So, as a peon, my job was to the do the job that I had been ordered to do the best way I could and only start to think critically when the chain of command had been broken, aka when High Command had been obliterated by North Korean artillery and/or rockets. Seeing how the ROK Army is only preparing for war and not actually at war, High Command is always there, and God, how it loves to remind the soldiers of that fact every waking moment of their lives. So, I didn’t ever really think on the job all that much. I just did as I was told.
Since being discharged, after a few months of unemployment, I had finally found a job that paid decently. But as far as thinking critically goes, however, it’s not all that different from the way I thought critically while I was in the Army.
|This was how I felt being in the Army. Here's the kicker. I was in Military Intelligence.|
As a result of the peculiar situation that I have found myself in, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder, question, and philosophize. And one of the many questions that I’ve asked myself is “Why am I so unhappy all the time?”
Seeing how many of you have never met me in person, the word that was most used to describe my personality for most of my life was “dour.”
|My typical reaction to the sound of babies cooing.|
To find the answer, I had to reexamine my most deeply held convictions and had to be honest with myself, no matter how much I hated what I was going to find. And my God, how I hated what I found.
The first step that Alcoholics Anonymous requires of its patients is that they admit to themselves that they have a problem. The next step about accepting that they’re helpless and needing to accept a higher power to drag them out of their hell hole, which allows them to avoid personal responsibility for their own actions, is a whimsical irony but the first step, I agree, is important. And I had a problem. My problem was that I was a resentful person.
Who and what was I resentful of? I think the better question to ask is who and what was I not resentful of. This might or might not come as a surprise to many of you but despite my ardent adherence to capitalism and the free market, I resented the rich; especially those whom I considered to be my intellectual inferiors. For example, let’s take everyone’s favorite punching bag – Donald Trump.
The man is easy to hate, isn’t he? He has the aesthetic tastes of a boorish philistine, the petulance of a spoilt child, the vanity of a prima donna, the intelligence of a slug, and the convictions of a whore. And his hairpiece looks pretty stupid, too. On the other hand, I like to think my tastes as somewhat refined, my diction and cadence polished; that I am well-read and well-educated, and though, at times, I find it bothersome, I do have a conscience.
The fact that such a man as Donald Trump is a billionaire whereas I live from month to month on my paychecks seems to be a gross mockery of Karmic justice. Only if society recognized my real self worth, well, I still probably wouldn’t be a billionaire but I’d easily be able to count myself as part of the upper-middle class.
At least that was what I thought. Actually, that wasn’t what I thought; it was what I felt. Thought requires logic and reason; emotion requires neither. And my resentment of Donald Trump and all those other rich people who attained their “unearned income” through inheritance was nothing more than an irrational tantrum. I had to ask myself whether I genuinely believed, more importantly, whether I could empirically prove that Donald Trump’s wealth somehow caused my poverty. The only logical answer that I could come up with was “No.”
I also had to admit to myself that I have no idea how to run a business successfully. In fact, not many people do. That is why most businesses fail within the first year of opening. The reason that Donald Trump is a billionaire while so many people in the world can’t even run a hot dog stand, despite all his flaws, is that Donald Trump has that something that many people lack – business acumen. Now I had to ask myself, “Is that gift of his something I ought to resent or something I ought to emulate?” The answer is obvious.
The same goes for the children of the wealthy. Yes, it goes without saying that those who inherit their parents’ fortunes will have a greater head-start in their lives than I ever had. But does the fact that they started out rich mean that they are guaranteed to stay rich? No. Even if someone inherits great wealth, the only way to maintain or even increase that wealth is via intelligent and profitable investments. If they squander it, or if they invest it poorly, they will end up losing everything. For proof, one only needs to read up on the litany of woes that befell those who won the lottery. Conversely, does the fact that I started out poor mean that I am destined to stay poor? No. With hard work, perseverance, rational thought, and a little luck, anything is possible. In the midst of my resentment of the rich, I tended to forget that.
|This is NOT how people stay rich.|
So instead of resenting the rich, wouldn’t it be more prudent of me to invest my finite time and energy to improve my own economic condition instead?
The second batch of people whom I resented were those men who were successful in love; particularly those men whom we all love to call ‘douchebags.’ You know which ones I’m talking about. Those boys who have that Chinese character that says “retard” tattooed on their arm; the good looking guy who knows that he’s good looking and because he knows that there is a line of women whose collective biological instinct is telling them to mate with this male right the hell now, he can treat them like dirt with impunity. The guys who smell like as though they’ve just bathed in a vat full of Axe body spray. And the amount of gel they’ve applied to their hair makes them look like they’ve just ripped off the scalp of one of those ridiculous looking mannequins from ‘Hot Topic’ and glued them onto their own heads. And they’re incredibly shallow. All they want is tits and ass whereas I want something so much deeper, like, I don’t know, the spleen? I meant love. Tits, ass, and love. Not spleen. And my God, their intelligence, or the lack thereof. Some of these guys make Donald Trump sound like Albert Einstein. All those guys seem to have is good genes and an unlimited stash of Axe body spray.
On the other hand, I can be kind, generous, sweet, and I can quote Shakespeare and Keats. The fact that these douchebags practically throw women away whereas I have difficulties competing with a dead man for a woman’s affections is just ridiculous. Life is just one giant cosmic gag reel, isn’t it?
But is it really? Some may think so (or at least Douglas Adams seems to have thought so) but upon closer inspection of myself, I am inclined to think that it’s not. Just like I had to ask myself whether or not I could empirically prove that Donald Trump’s wealth caused my poverty, I also had to ask whether I could prove that good looking men caused my being single.
Well, technically, yes, I can prove it; especially after one of those men steals a woman’s attention, whom I’ve been talking up all evening, by saying “Hey, what’s up? You want to check out my biceps?”
All right, those men aren’t actually that moronic but in my hate-addled mind, that’s what they sounded like.
Honestly, however, that’s blame-shifting. The real blame never lied with them. It lied with me. Being kind, generous, and sweet are indeed virtues. However, no one in the world holds a monopoly on kindness, generosity, or sweetness. Especially when it comes to getting a woman’s attention, everyone is kind, generous, and sweet. There’s just so much sweetness in the world that I’m constantly shocked that the entire world hasn’t gotten itself into a diabetic coma.
What did those men have that I didn’t? Plenty, as it turned out. They lived in nice apartments; I lived in an attic that leaked whenever it rained. They had jobs that paid well, or at least consistently; I depended on tips working in a bar that catered to people who seemingly have never heard of tipping. They could play the guitar; I can’t sing without making every song sound like a somber rendition of “Danny Boy.”
|This is a crowd's typical reaction right after hearing my rendition of The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations."|
They played football and ice hockey; I’m not even good at Frisbee golf – a game so lame that even those who are good at it can’t get laid. They drove convertible Ford Mustangs. On the other hand, when I had a car, briefly, it was a beat up lemon of a 1989 Dodge Shadow, which I bought for, I kid you not, US$150 from an English professor from my university, who was also poor at the time but now probably diving from a springboard into his pile of money, just like Scrooge McDuck.
For those who are fans of fantasy novels, this name might ring a bell, and just to say that I met and knew a famous person, that professor’s name is Pat Rothfuss.
But I digress.
And no, it’s not just that they had more money and toys than I did. They were also better looking than me. Way better looking than me. And I hated them for it, which made just about as much sense as hating the rich for being rich. Just as Donald Trump’s wealth didn’t cause my poverty, their good looks didn’t cause me to look like a fat slob. That was all my doing.
Pig out on crack-sprinkled fast food almost every other day? Check. Don’t ever exercise and limit my movement to the area between the microwave oven, refrigerator, and the couch? Check. Expecting any other result would have been a show of supreme idiocy.
|Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you The Steakinator!|
Fat people are always looking for excuses to feel better about themselves. “I have glandular problems, I am a stress eater, depression causes me to eat, society’s standard of beauty is unrealistic.” Etc. etc. It’s all a lie. And this lie serves two purposes. Firstly, it allows them to blame everything but themselves for being obese. Secondly, it gives them an excuse to stay obese.
The honest answer that fat people, and I, didn’t want to accept was that I became a ball of lard because I was lazy and I didn’t respect myself enough to take better care of myself. There is no other answer. Everything else is merely one excuse stacked on top of another.
So let’s see. I was broke, drove a car that could be barely called one, lived in an attic that leaked whenever it rained, terrible at sports, almost always drunk, an obese slob, miserable, hated myself, and the whole time I couldn’t understand what women saw in those good looking Neanderthals and why they couldn’t recognize me for my real worth.
Dear reader, if you have a friend who fits that description or anything similar along those lines and you really consider yourself their friend, stop being afraid of hurting their feelings. If they have any intelligence to speak of, they’ll get over being “hurt,” get a grip on reality, and start taking responsibility for their own lives. If they refuse to speak to you and stubbornly cling on to their pathetic lifestyles, forget them. No one can be made happy against their own will. People have to choose to be happy. Trust me, if you truly consider yourself their friend, tell them the truth in all of its gory detail. You’ll be doing them a favor. They might or might not thank you for it but if you really value them as friends, even if they don’t end up thanking you, you’ll at least have the satisfaction of knowing that you helped turn their lives around for the better.
As for me, as I said earlier, I served in one of the most combat ready armies in the world for a little under two years. When I left the United States, I weighed 230 lbs. I now weigh 185 lbs. Sure, I could definitely afford to shed a few more pounds but the point is that I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in years.
It wasn’t those Neanderthals’ fault that I couldn’t get a woman to like me. It wasn’t the women’s fault for not being able to see pass the drunk lard to find the “real me” either. There was no one to blame besides me.
Were there other people I resented? Yes, there were lots but if we go through everyone I ever resented, this will never end. Now we have to get to the heart of the matter. Realizing that resenting others for reasons that defied logic was asinine was, indeed, a positive step. But that was merely a symptom and as any doctor will tell you, treating a disease’s symptom is not going to cure the patient; that will require treating the cause.
What was the cause of all this irrational resentment? The reason was that like so many people in the world, I had confused cause and effect, and more importantly, my core philosophy was inconsistent.
How often do people really ask themselves whether they actually like themselves? Every once in a while, during those rare of moments of honesty and clarity, I asked myself whether if I were not me but a separate individual and knew me, really knew me as I knew myself and not merely the image of me that I portrayed to others, would I like me? Would I want to befriend me? The answer was always “No.“ I hated the answer and it always made me feel miserable. I am sure that I am not the only one who feels that way.
|If you see this in the mirror, you should try to find out what is bothering you or check yourself into rehab ASAP.|
I despised myself and in order to compensate for that, I tried to gain self-esteem from others. I wanted my friends to like me; to think highly of me. I wanted women to find me charming. And for the most part, I was successful. My friends did like me and some even thought highly of me and some women found me to be quite the charmer. However, none of it gave me the self-esteem I craved. I realize now that that was because friendship, love, and respect are not the cause, but an effect and an expression of a person’s sense of his own value, his own self-worth.
The same can be said of wealth. Wealth does not, in fact, come from mere material resources nor is it without intellectual root or meaning. Wealth does not appear out of thin air in order to favor some while cursing others. It has to be created and earned. A wealthy man earns his wealth by providing goods and services that the masses want or need. And he retains his wealth by doing that cheaper than his competitors.
Money, to be sure, is a poor barometer to judge one’s morals or integrity. Just because a man is wealthy doesn’t mean that he is good as poverty doesn’t make a man evil. That being said, money is a very good barometer to gauge one’s social worth, ie., to be considered as a source of good for society. The late Steve Jobs may have had his flaws but he supplied society with goods and services that the masses, directly or indirectly, want or need. Resenting him is a poor use of one’s finite time and energy. It would be far more profitable, in more ways that one, for people to want to emulate him instead.
Whether we like to admit it or not, the wealthy possess what many of us merely pretend to have – a rational mind. And wealth concentrates only around rational minds. If we look at an iPhone, many of us just see the iPhone. We take its existence for granted. What many of us neglect to recognize is that the iPhone we’re looking at is the end result of a rational mind. Someone had to first imagine a small handheld device that could act as a telephone, computer, camera, television, radio, navigation device, dictionary, journal, calculator, calendar. etc. all at once, and then, using that same rational mind and knowledge, had to work to make what was a mere imagination into a reality. That is what the iPhone and every other device or commodity that we all use and take for granted are – the end result of a rational mind. Before the advent of the iPhone, the vast majority of humanity could not even imagine such a device, much less create it.
Of course, not every rich person attains his wealth from possessing a rational mind. There are criminals who steal and launder money, politicians who raid the public treasury, businessmen who ‘earn’ their wealth through political influence. However, people tend to forget that wealth has to be created before it can be looted by parasites. People also tend to forget that money has an intellectual root – the rational mind.
Money will not serve the mind that cannot match it. For evidence, look at all those major corporations that have needed one bailout after another. They do not have the ability to create and sell goods or services that people want – they lack the rational mind that translates to business acumen. That’s why they’re always out of money no matter how much of the public treasury is handed over to them on a silver platter.
|It turned out that that "giant sucking sound" was not the sound of American jobs going to Mexico, as Ross Perot once predicted, but rather the sound of bailing out Bank of America|
Money, that is, the fruits of the rational mind, is so honest a medium that it will never allow itself to be cheated. For those men whose minds cannot match their wealth, money, the very thing that they think is the cause of their self-worth rather than their effect, becomes a scourge. Money will not purchase self-esteem nor happiness nor admiration nor respect for the man who never had any of it within himself to begin with.
All the money they have looted may give them a momentary satisfaction but on some gray morning, in one of those rare moments of honesty and clarity, when they ask themselves whether they like themselves, when they ask themselves whether they truly think that they deserve their wealth, then that momentary satisfaction that they felt will be all but forgotten as they realize that their money is not a tribute to their greatness but rather a reminder of their shame, incompetence, and lack of self-worth. And they will live out the rest of their days loathing themselves and their money that had failed to buy them the self-esteem that they so desperately crave but cannot have.
The same can be said for love. I have often heard people say to their friends, “There is nothing wrong with you. You don’t have to change a single thing about yourself. You’ll meet the right person soon enough.” I have also heard people say to themselves, myself included, “I just want to be loved for myself.” This is utter rubbish.
Just as money is the fruit of a rational mind, the effect, rather than its cause, love is not the cause of one’s self-worth; it is the effect. Even the Dalai Lama fails to understand what love really is when he utters nonsensical bromides such as “Love is the absence of judgment.” Love is neither universal nor blind. Just as money must be earned, love must be also.
|Seeing how those monks thought that this was the ultimate form of protesting, is it any wonder that after you see peer through their soundbites, they are just as bereft of rationality as any other mystic?|
When people tell their friends that they don’t have to change a thing about themselves, I wonder if they ever truly valued their friendship at all. People are not loved in spite of things, but for things. People are loved for their courage, ambition, ability, intelligence – the virtues that they possess. People often claim that love is universal but no one practices it. No one can practice it. It is an impossible ideal. If a man is cowardly, slothful, foolish, and evil, what rational person could possibly love him?
Of course, no one is perfect. Earthly perfection is impossible. Everyone has virtues and vices. People are loved in spite of their vices only if their vices are outweighed by their virtues. True love is not blind. Blind love is not love, but childish infatuation. True love judges and just as wealth can only be kept if it is earned daily anew, love, too, must be earned daily anew.
|Unless you're Anne Hathaway. Then you're perfect and can do no wrong whatsoever.|
And to desire to be loved for no other reason than “for being myself” is absurd. It is the desire to be loved merely for existing, an unearned love. To demand to be loved when one hasn’t earned it is to demand of others to surrender their values, their reason. And anyone who voluntarily abdicates his values or reason is no longer a rational being. He is no different from a zombie. Such a being is not capable of love. And anyone who makes such a demand is one who wants to be loved without the necessity of possessing the qualities that are needed to be loved. Such a love is not merely an abomination, it is also an impossibility.
It seems to me, therefore, that the root of all unhappiness is not so much poverty or being unlucky in love, but, rather, one’s own lack of self-worth. And self-worth cannot be faked. People can lie to themselves, as people are wont to do. They can pretend that they are happy with their own integrity and values. But all the self-deception one may come up with will never fool one’s own subconscious.
A man who lies to himself will be living a contradiction and it will cause his soul, for the lack of a better word, to be halved in two. All the money he loots will not buy him the self-worth he wants and he will begin to hate money and will accuse it of being the root of all evil when in reality, what he will really hate is not money but rather himself. The woman that he professes to love will not arouse within him any passion and he will instead seek any whore he can find because he will, mistakenly, believe that those sexual conquests will give him self-worth.
So where does all this philosophizing leave me? The circumstances that surround me have not changed. I still have very little money saved up for what can only be described as an uncertain future; my job, though it pays decently, bores me; and I still haven’t found a woman I can love who will reciprocate my feelings.
As for the state of the world and humanity in general, well, as the song goes, the wheels of the bus go round and round. However, there is one thing that has certainly changed. I reexamined my core values, confronted them, found them wanting, and began the process of becoming a man of self-worth that I can be proud of. For the first time in my life since I can remember, I am not racked with miserable self-loathing. I am beginning to love myself. Armed with this knowledge, I am no longer afraid to live.
And I leave you now with a quote from Goethe’s Faust who recognizes at the “highest moment” that “the last word of wisdom” is:
No man deserves his freedom or his lifeWho does not daily win them anew.