2007-08-28 23:48:50

Anne-Louise Germaine

Anne-Louise Germaine, also known as «Mme. de Staël, was a philosophically engaged swiss noble in the 18th/19th century.

A famous statement of Mme. de Staël is this one:
La tristesse fait pénétrer bien plus avant dans le charactère et la destinée de l'homme, que toute autre disposition de l'homme.

I think that from a biologist's point of view, this statement surely can't be discarded easily, because one of the first things babies learn is unhappiness. However, I don't think that happiness is the same as, or even related to, sadness. It is more a state of being discontent, and thus should probably be named adequately. Happiness and containedness is not the same thing, not at all. Containedness means that a being has successfully fulfilled all of its desires and doesn't have any immediate desire at the point in time. This mostly occurrs paired with being busy with hobbies.

True sadness, however, is not related to being unhappy, or «discontained». It is also possible that a lot of people have not yet been truly sad. For one, I don't think I have.

True sadness is the state that is being reached when losing someone or something really important. And by really important I don't mean important for the fulfillment of everyday's needs, required for reaching a state of containedness. Losing «just» a boyfriend or girlfriend is nothing that could probably cause sadness. It caused unhappiness, unrest, and the demand for replacement. (Which could possibly serve as an adequate definition of unhappiness.)

True sadness is experienced when losing someone who has been part of your life for so long as to shape it significantly. This, in my opinion, constitutes a significant loss. Most boy- and girlfriends don't really shape one's life all that much; in fact we ignore the requirement to let them shape us so we can love them at all. True love is not possible with someone who would not constitute a significant loss.

Melancholy is a related subject, because it is entirely different. It appears to be a state where people don't expect too much from each other. While most people regard it as a bad state which makes people «sad», I think it is a significant, beautiful state of mind. Melancholy allows people to reduce the perception of their own needs, and to see that of the needs of other people. It is not a disease to disrespect the requirement to be contained which is imposed on us by the modern society (or the Major Consensus Narrative), but a gift. Melancholy does not necessary have to lead to depression, it can also lead to great pleasure and happiness.

Probably the most impressive quotation of Mme. de Staë is the following:
Le seul systême vrai pour éviter la douleur, c'est de ne diriger sa vie que d'aprês ce qu'on peut faire pour les autres, mais non d'aprês ce qu'on attend d'eux.

This is a thought that I realized is also a very important leading idea of my own life. I think that one of the most important rules of diplomacy is also true for any other type of interaction involving sentient beings: it is ill advised to expect others to do something specific. Thus, it is also ill-advised to do something for others expecting a reward for this.

One has to realize that a lot of favors are only done because some type of reward is expected for this. But unless the reward is immediate, it is not likely to happen (Or, for that matter, to be really a reward. Most of the time a «perceived reward» is received for something, it is indeed a favor done because something else, something immediate, is desired. It is important to realize that at least humans always want something.

Thus, it is not really interesting how much people do for each other, but it is indeed much more interesting to look for things that you can do for others without catching yourself trying it for a reward. I invite you to go out and do people a favor, not doing it because one expects them to be a good partner, because one expects money, or because one even expects a smile or a «thank you». You might be deceived.

Just do something that you know will help other people, ignoring completely the fact that they might show a reaction. Expect them to walk on by, not even blinking at you. Don't prejudge them to do this, but don't expect anything.

Once you've reached a level where giving people this kind of favor makes you glad, you have understood the true spirit of this statement.

Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: suisses