In the Disney Pinocchio story, in his original morally immature state, Pinocchio began to take on the characteristics of a Jackass (donkey) as he interacted imperfectly with the world around him. The Pinocchio story perfectly (and on purpose) outlines the trajectory of human beings. Also, his nose grew longer each time he told a lie.
Human beings come into the world innocent, but also ignorant, immature, and with pre-existing mental and emotional characteristics that predispose us to make wrong moral choices. This handicap, combined with the moral imperfections of other people we encounter, causes us to veer away from the potential moral mature human being that we could be. We begin to embody the characteristics of the corrupt culture around us. In the Pinocchio story, Pinocchio grew ears, a long nose and a donkey tail; on his way to becoming a full-fledged donkey that could no longer speak but simply bray.
In a very real sense, as we live our lives, we start to take on the characteristics of the human moral equivalent of Jackasses. The more Jackass potential we embody, the less ability we have to speak up from a position of authority and maturity. The more Jackass potential we embody, the less ability we have to make a positive moral impact in the world. The more Jackass potential we embody, the more we suffer personally and potentially increase the suffering of the network of people around us. The more Jackass potential we embody, the words we utter have the limited moral impact of a braying animal.
Human beings don’t grow donkey ears or a tail, nor does our nose grow longer each time we lie, so how do we know if we are on the way to becoming a full-fledged Jackass of a human being? It’s measured by suffering.
Existence as a human being, by definition, is NOT an easy journey. It’s not a walk in the park. But does mean that suffering or existential angst is the default mode that we have to abide with without escape?
There are no pills, foods, etc. that guarantee a path out of suffering. Unearned peace of mind is no peace of mind.
The path out of suffering is counterintuitive; in other words, it seems to go against what you would normally think. The path out of suffering is narrow and somewhat painful. The path out of suffering requires one to carefully, painstakingly examine every emotionally charged episode that is older than about 18 months of age. If an emotionally charged memory of an episode or event continues to haunt you over time, it means that you failed to deal with it properly and completely. It is still negatively impacting your life. You must carefully go through your life decade by decade and make a written list of what sticks out. Once you start sincerely asking yourself for instances of moral failings or traumatizing events, your mind will gladly suffice by bringing these instances readily to mind. It’s helpful to write short stories about each one of these events so you can get your facts straight, and be as honest as you possibly can. Resist the temptation to whitewash these episodes as you carefully write down the details. It’s important to look at them in painstaking detail.
The writing process itself is useful in helping to bring to mind things you could do to avoid repeating each error in the future.
The continuing portion of the path out of suffering is to find some meaningful activity. Find concrete things that stick out to you that give your existence meaning. If you find yourself engaged in some sort of activity where the sense of passing time seems to disappear, that’s a good place to start. You need something that you find worthwhile to aim at.
This doesn’t mean to suggest that life is all sweetness and roses. Oftentimes the choices in front of us all seem bad. Make a choice anyway. Volunteering to do something difficult is not the same thing as having something forced on you. Carrying a heavy burden voluntarily can be quite satisfying, as long it was your choice and wasn’t forced on you.
These aren’t simply pretty sounding words – they are technically true. From a physiological standpoint, if you are involuntarily forced to take on a task, it has a measurable negative impact on your body and some instances can even cause measurable brain damage. On the other hand, if you take on the same task voluntarily, no damage occurs. Just let that hit you for a moment. You could have two bad choices before you, and thinking it through you choose one of those paths and voluntarily take it on with an aim, not only will it not damage you but you can actually find it meaningful. It must be combined with proper aim, which also requires that you take a good look at yourself and what you really want and can realistically achieve if you put serious effort into it.