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Self-help books fill shop windows and amazon wishlists, especially leading up to Christmas; whether it is talking about how to eat properly, workout properly, organize your time or find happiness - there are life hacks and quick tips for everything. They say nothing in life is free; so, it makes sense that the path to happiness costs money too, no?
Well, Morrie Schwartz, in the book “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom, takes a sharp turn from the norm and draws your train of thought far from that of the modern culture. The tag line of the book reads: an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson. In short, the book is about a sports journalist who is caught up in a crazy, materialistic life, chasing wealth and prosperity in an attempt to climb the career ladder; always chasing, never satiated. He gets in contact with an old college professor that was an inspiration to him during his education days, but his lessons were left behind as Mitch joined the rat race. Morrie, the old professor, is dying and the two begin to meet regularly and discuss the ‘lessons of life’.
1. "Give as an adult, take as a child" (p.116)
Throughout the book Mitch, the author and main character, makes observations about affection and physical contact between him and his chair-bound ex-professor. When they talk about it an idea that is presented is to “Give as an adult, take as a child”.
The idea behind it is a sense of duality in affectionate behaviour; contrasting the approach of giving and receiving affection, with the two parties involved adopt opposing roles. When you are affectionate towards someone else, show them affection as if you are looking after them. This isn’t a suggestion to be patronizing or pretentious but to give affection whole-heartedly. Show affection to the other with maturity; the purpose of affection is to provide the other with a sense of safety and security.
This side of the duality is matched by the opposing side that says, “take as a child”. The reason the duality works as a single entity is that as one “gives as an adult” i.e. whole-heartedly, the other is able to surrender to it and receive the affection as a child does. In the same way that the “adult” provides the feeling of security it is also therefore the responsibility of the “child” or receiver to fully accept the affection, an idea that appears to be easier said than done.
The ability to “give as an adult, take as a child” is specific to affection, but can possibly allude to a greater ability to open oneself up to feel things completely, i.e. it is okay to feel like a child, even in old age during certain situations. The book addresses humanity’s desire for affection but an apparent lack of ability to accept it, also suggesting that the realization that acting childishly is perfectly normal, is a step towards understanding how to truly live. Both providing the feeling of safety and security to another, as well as whole-heartedly accepting that feeling from another, is a fundamental building block of happiness.
2. "I am every age, up to my own" (p.121)
Morrie, the professor, makes this statement when the two men are discussing the social concern about aging. People spend so much time and money attempting to stop the aging process in our society, it seems almost ironic to spend so much time trying to look younger.
The presence of these “anti-aging” products in our shops implicitly tells us that aging is bad: why is aging bad? As children we wish, want and wait to be older so we have more freedom and independence, we want to be older so that we have done, and can do, more things. All the cool things in life happen when you are old enough to drink, own your own car or house and have a job. Yet when we get older the tables seem to turn and suddenly, we wish we were young again.
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Morrie’s point with this phrase is that we are the age we are, when we are meant to be. Why wish to be young again now when you were young already. Looking forward to being older is also looking forward to a time when you have had more time to have had more experiences. If you live a happy life that you find fulfilling, then surely the process of aging should be a source of excitement. Instead, we fight and struggle to seem young and become offended when someone asks our age. Surely removing the stress of caring about our age is a step towards a calmer, more relaxed life.
This insight from Morrie, whilst specifically about age, addresses the theme of altering our perspective of life and importance as well as detaching from the items and products society tells us to care so much about. In a search for happiness, it seems easy to say; accept the past, enjoy the present and look forward to the future but with companies telling us to do things differently it can be hard to stay on course. Detaching from the marketing and consumerism will save you more than just money.
3. "These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes" (p.123)
Morrie speaks about people caught up in the rat race; those chasing other people’s dreams, trying to fill their own void; people too busy to stop and look around, people too busy to take a breath and care for one another. This phrase beautifully combines the two previous phrases, in a way that I didn’t realize until I began writing this paragraph.
Again, not understanding or truly accepting our want and need for affection between humans leads us to turn from each other; it leads us to compete and ultimately, leads to isolation. The things we substitute for this genuine love happens to be the things that are sold to us. Materialism is pushed upon us in all forms and plays upon our misunderstanding of human affection. Love does not have to mean that of a life-long partner or involve public displays of affection but can come from friends and family alike. Love, in this sense, is an intimate emotion but is not restricted to the physical depiction that is often presented to us and associated with the word. Once more, the importance of removing socially constructed images of concepts such as this is key in moving past self-restriction and will allow each of us to develop the emotional intelligence to create more genuine relationships.
Shift Your Perspective
So be true to yourself. Detach from the cultural expectations surrounding you and realize what you need to do in order to be happy.
If there are times suited to acting like a child then do so, receive a hug as if it were your mother hugging you at the end of your first day of school. If you need to act as a wise adult, use your life experience to support that.
Look to the people, not the things, around you to make you feel happy and loved!
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Thank you for reading
I hope you enjoyed it and are maybe inspired to buy the book? Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts
© 2019 Antony Pilkington
Liz Westwood from UK on December 05, 2019:
This is an interesting review. You have done a good job of bringing this book to a wider audience.