George Andersen

Philosophical Counselor

09 January
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On our uniqueness

This image belongs to trueshiningself.com.

Some of the people I counsel mention that they would like to work on their self-esteem. They noticed that low self-esteem slows the improvement of their character. They compare themselves to others and sometimes judge themselves to be inadequate, inferior, or awkward. One way in which one could increase their self-esteem is to appreciate their own uniqueness.

In his book “Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom”, John O’Donohue wrote this thought on uniqueness:

“No one else has access to the world you carry around within yourself; you are its custodian and entrance. No one else can see the world the way you see it. No one else can feel your life the way you feel it. Thus it is impossible to ever compare two people because each stands on such different ground. When you compare yourself to others, you are inviting envy into your consciousness; it can be a dangerous and destructive guest.”

20 December
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Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity

This image belongs to www.azquotes.com.

When we interact with other people, are we present?  Do we let people touch us with their presence?  Are we paying attention to the interaction?

Often, we think about what we want to say to our interlocutors, without taking in what they are saying.  Sometimes, we are physically there and mentally somewhere else; no wonder miscommunication occurs.

The attention we give others is a form of generosity and respect, as it is when we direct it towards ourselves.  When we are attentive to our thoughts and feelings, we learn about ourselves, which is one of the significant activities we undertake to improve ourselves.

Paying attention requires taking the time to open up and meaningfully receive.

12 November
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Nobility of Feeling

Cover of the book “The Art of Worldly Wisdom” sold by Amazon.

In the aphorism 131 included in his book “The Art of Worldly Wisdom”, Baltasar Gracian advises us to be noble in our feelings towards others.

“Nobility of Feeling

There is a certain distinction of the soul, a highmindedness prompting to gallant acts, that gives an air of grace to the whole character.  It is not found often, for it presupposes great magnanimity.  Its chief characteristic is to speak well of an enemy, and to act even better towards him.  It shines brightest when a chance comes of revenge; not alone does it let the occasion pass, but it improves it by using a complete victory in order to display unexpected generosity.  It is a fine stroke of policy, nay, the very acme of statecraft.  It makes no pretence to victory, for it pretends to nothing, and while obtaining its deserts it conceals its merits.”

09 October
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Elegance uplifts

Elegance has an uplifting quality to it.  It inspires and nourishes our desire to improve ourselves.

20 September
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Union of qualities in character

Cover of the book “Theaetetus” sold by Amazon.

“… he has a quickness of apprehension which is almost unrivalled, and he is exceedingly gentle, and also the most courageous of men; there is a union of qualities in him such as I have never seen in any other, and should scarcely have thought possible; for those who, like him, have quick and ready and retentive wits, have generally also quick tempers; they are ships without ballast, and go darting about, and are mad rather than courageous; and the steadier sort, when they have to face study, prove stupid and cannot remember. Whereas he moves surely and smoothly and successfully in the path of knowledge and enquiry; and he is full of gentleness, flowing on silently like a river of oil; at his age, it is wonderful.”

Plato’s “Theaetetus” translated by Benjamin Jowett (The Internet Classics Archive, as of October 18th, 2014)

In Plato’s “Theaetetus”, Theodorus describes Theaetetus to Socrates as being:

  • gentle
  • courageous
  • intelligent
  • even tempered
  • confident
  • smooth
  • flowing silently

A union of such qualities is not only desirable in character but also attainable.  How?  Through constant development, refinement, and harmonization of the virtues or characteristics that are part of our character.

04 August
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Philosophers are mistake specialists

Image by Ashley Mackenzie

Since Socrates, there have been times when philosophers have been perceived as trouble makers by mainstream society.  The courage to think, the courage to ask questions, the courage to challenge the norms were perceived as an attack against authority, as a way of stirring spirits, or as a gratuitous display of futile pedantry.

Instead of seeing philosophers as trouble makers, why not see them as “mistake specialists”?  In his latest book Daniel Dennett elaborates:

“We philosophers are mistake specialists… While other disciplines specialize in getting the right answers to their defining questions, we philosophers specialize in all the ways there are of getting things so mixed up, so deeply wrong, that nobody is even sure what the right questions are, let alone the answers.  Asking the wrong questions risks setting any inquiry off on the wrong foot.  Whenever that happens, this is a job for philosophers!  Philosophy – in every field of inquiry – is what you have to do until you figure out what questions you should have been asking in the first place.”

Daniel Dennett.  Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014

19 July
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On the care of the soul

Created by the Russian artist Sceith.

“And therefore if the head and the body are to be well, you must begin by curing the soul; that is the first and essential thing.  And the care of the soul, my dear youth, has to be effected by the use of certain charms, and these charms are fair words; and by them temperance is implanted in the soul, and where temperance comes and stays, there health is speedily imparted, not only to the head, but to the whole body.”

by Socrates – as captured by Plato in “Charmides”

The “fair words” that Socrates mentions are to me words that persuade us to be gentle, considerate, and adequate to the situation at hand.  These fair words rarely come to us in moments of turmoil and adversity if we did not practice persuading our soul with them in moments of tranquility.  In order to charm our soul into temperance, for example, we have to prepare the right “charms” in advance and practice their assertion, so that we remember and use them when needed.  In this sense, charming our own soul into any virtue could be a daily spiritual exercise.

14 June
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Beauty as motivator

Created by the Russian artist Sceith.

In one of my previous posts I wrote about the fact that people can change to became better human beings.  Among the things that could motivate us to change and improve ourselves is beauty.  Beauty goes beyond our cultural backgrounds and the environment in which we live; it appeals to that part of our soul that can transform and purify us.  Sometimes beauty touches us through the eyes of a loved one, or through the fragility of a flower.  Sometimes it is revealed to us through a dream.  Sometimes it comes from within and sometimes from the outside.

When we see beauty we may feel the need to look at it, to let her go through us, to understand it, to learn from it, to make it part of our lives, and to let our thoughts and actions be permeated by it.  Beauty can be a powerful motivator for change.  If we can accept its presence it makes us more human, gentle, and compassionate.  In order to be touched and motivated by beauty we have to tend to our soul, open our eyes so that we see it when it appears in the fleeting moments of our lives, and open the door for it.

04 May
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Counseling is a dialogue, not a lecture

Created by Shannon May.

Philosophical counseling, or any other form of counseling, is sometimes thought as being a passive act in which the counselor provides the counselee with some form of insight or knowledge that is supposed to address the issue at stake.  This view is inaccurate, for it disregards the dialogue, the common exploration, and the collaboration involved in working towards the well being of the counselee.

Recently, a friend of mine stated that I “fix” people.  Surprised by the remark, I responded that the ideas, perspectives, and examples that I present to people are tools to be employed together, as appropriate for the circumstances.  People I counsel have a responsibility to work on the things they want to change for better.  To the best of my abilities, I walk with them, as equals, through their philosophical inquiry.  Counseling is a dialogue, not a lecture.

23 April
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We can change

On occasion, we reach a point in our lives when we feel caught in a situation from which we cannot move further.  We have a feeling of “being stuck”.  Some people realize that in order to get “unstuck” they have to change something and work on specific steps they have to take.  Others accept the situation and concentrate on maintaining a level of stability and not falling into despair.  What is important, I think, is to understand that it is up to us to do something to change the situation.

We can change.