In “Vivere alla massima espressione” (Living to our fullest potential) Dario Bernazza provides a list of the major problems we have to solve in order to live a life “worthy of being lived”.
[Dario Bernazza, Vivere alla massima espressione, Editrice Partenone – Luciano Bernazza & C – Roma 1989]
It is the first of Bernazza’s books we stumbled upon and the reason we were first captured (and which kept us reading) was the fact that a similar list was handed over to us by our mentor since the first days of our encounter (above you can see The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, 1787.)
Well, not that we think Bernazza is like Socrates. He though refers a lot to Socrates’ thought, plus certainly Magister, our mentor, was a bit like a Socrates to us.
If liabilities (sufferings) exceed the assets (every pleasant moment, satisfaction or success) our life is a failure (and it would be preferable not to have come into this world). If the contrary occurs, our life is happy and fruitful (or advantageous, as CP puts it).
Liabilities though are not avoidable and are inflicted on us without any mercy, while the assets are not given us as a gift, and we must earn them day by day, bit by bit.
By providing the best possible solutionto the major problems of our life. This is our only way of diverting or softening our life liabilities.
The Happiness List
Let us then look at these major issues which, according to CP, we must necessarily address in the best possible way. They are 20. Yes, 20. Exactly. Bernazza is always a bit categorical. Here is the list.
1. Defining a purpose in life
2. Keeping ourselves in good health
3. Serenity of soul
8. Being reasonably well-off
9. Enjoyment, beauty and the exquisite
10. Loneliness, ennui and feeling of emptiness
11. Choice of studies, job, career
12. Choosing where to live
13. Our behaviour towards others
14. Embracing ‘good’ as an irreversible choice
15. Excess and vice
16. Being equipped with an adequate ethical instrumentation
17. Happiness is a long, sensible (and attainable) personal conquest
18. Will is power
19. Being convinced of the enormous power of honesty
20. The necessity of carefully planning our life
Since we cannot report on every single point of the list, only 2-3 points will be analysed (here and in future posts). As far as the rest, we will only touch upon the things that struck us most.
1. The Purpose of Life
Our life, like a long and complex journey, has to set its goal. So, which is this goal and how can we define it? The argumentation of CP is clear and simple (and probably naïve, but I cannot but feel some truth in it): Since our life is the only chance of existing we have, after which we will disappear (CP is an agnostic who considers probable our annihilation after death), one should be really convinced that the most irreparable of errors is that of not trying our best to live to the highest possible degree. If our existence is nothing but a blink between two eternities (theories of modern physicists do not seem to interest CP) the purpose of life is necessarily that of living this sole life we have to our fullest potential.
Every single day must be lived to our best, and we must continuously improve this capacity of living to our fullest. This is why we should not ask ourselves – says CP – “why do I exist” (a question we can answer via the twisted efforts of our imagination only) but rather: “how do I exist?”.
The problem is that very few people know what is most convenient to us in our everyday choices, i.e. we do not know what actions shall bring us happiness or sorrow (this previous post discusses this point). If we knew – argues CP – the number of unhappy people around would be smaller. This is why learning how to solve the main problems of life (the list, again) will diminish our life’s liabilities and allow us to live in the best possible way.
We talked about Country Philosopher before (in two earlier posts at least, 1 and 2). We said how he is free from doubt and how his argumentations, often categorical and at times naïve, are however not deprived of interest and of this ancient fascination so hard to explain.
In the following passage, freely summarized and which will hopefully better clarify this point to our readers, Dario Bernazza – his real name – tells us how there is like a balance in our life.
When liabilities exceed the assets, our life is a failure. When the contrary occurs, our life is successful and happy. Simple. Categorical. This is Bernazza.
Let us try to understand.
[Dario Bernazza, Vivere alla massima espressione, Editrice Partenone – Luciano Bernazza & C – Roma 1989, pp. 12-22]
Life is such that we cannot avoid its offensive – bitterness and sufferings of all kinds. These are life’s liabilities.
Which are these liabilities?
Since our childhood we are exposed to numerous internal and external enemies.
“Among the internal enemies: ignorance, dishonesty, little respect for truth, selfishness, conceit, inclination to excess, worship of money, lechery, anger, sloth, unproductive envy, hate, lack of authentic affections, ennui, loneliness, excessive shyness, superficiality, lack of ambition, incorrect reasoning, intolerance, wrong pastimes, disregard for other people’s rights, wrong solutions, tendency to join the herd, undue submission, acquiescence towards the avoidable, pessimism, optimism … .”
“External enemies: to be born in a foolish family, lack of (or wrong) education, inadequate school teaching, bad company, incapability or dishonesty of politicians ruling us, difficulties of any kind, job-related worries and fatigue, lack of money, unfavorable unexpected events, diseases, all flaws and errors by others, wrong clichés, perverse temptations, evildoers of any kind … .”
This is only a partial list of our dreadful, obstinate, sometimes alluring, enemies – argues Dario Bernazza. They are responsible for our sufferings, namely our life liabilities.
In order to make our life advantageous it is necessary to oppose some adequate assets to those liabilities. It is obvious, says Bernazza.
But which can these assets be?
“They consists, naturally, in the sum of every pleasant moment, of every satisfaction and success that we are capable of attaining during our whole existence. If such sum is greater than that determined by our life offenses, or liabilities, it is ok. If it is instead lower, then it would be preferable not to have come into this world.
We must in fact be brave enough to honour truth – says Bernazza. Who can in fact say it is preferable to start a firm whose liabilities exceed the assets, instead of not starting it altogether? Only a fool can say that.”
[From which we infer that Bernazza is a non believer]
We must also consider – CP argues – that while these liabilities are spontaneously inflicted on us by life without any mercy, the assets are not given us as a gift, but we must earn them day by day, bit by bit.
And the only way to earn them is that of giving the best solutionto the major problems of our life. If we can do this, we divert or soften life liabilities, or sometimes we can even eliminate some of them.
Bernazza then identifies 20 major problems we must necessarily solve in the best possible way in order to minimize life liabilities and live a fruitful life (or advantageous, as he says).
I know. It was time for Sex and the City of Rome part 2. I haven’t got time though because my method post has been too long to write. I cannot live inside a blog all day long. So I will postpone SEX SEX SEX though you weirdos pls don’t worry. Sex will arrive soon, no doubt about that. It will probably be serious sometimes a bit (I’m not here to write a porn site) but it surely will also be erotic. Don’t worry then you pervs, and stay tuned.. 😉
I was lucky enough to be saved in extremis by this e-mail exchange which happened not long ago. This Indonesian ex student of mine wrote me this peculiar letter. She is of Malaysian-Chinese descent. Here’s what she said:
“I just quarrelled with her again, because of her phone call. She calls me every day to check if I get back home on time. I got angry and we started to quarrel. I asked her: why do you always call me lately? She said she just missed me. But I told her it was an excuse, it was because of one of her bad dreams about ghosts. And I asked her: did you perceive there is a ghost alive at my home? My mother did not say anything…”
“Another time she firmly suggested me to stay at home after I had just informed her I wanted to take a 3-days holiday to have some break from job stress. She objected. I told her: do you want me to become crazy? Then I hang up the phone abruptly”.
“You know, they believe so much in ghosts in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. She thinks I am protected at home because of these Buddha’s little statues”.
I replied to her:
“Dear ***. I hope you do not believe in all this silly stuff. I have something to tell you. A guy from our Roman rionehad a friend, his best friend – he told me. When they were very young they promised to each other to come visit which of the two was still alive if one of them died first. Anyway, it was like a game, but not so much after all, since they were both actually very determined, if anything like that happened. I mean, the one who’d die earlier would really try to visit his still-alive friend if he happened to die first.”
“Well, guess what. Hazard (or Fortune) decreed that actually this guy’s best friend had a terrible accident and died. So the poor fellow was totally scared to death because he KNEW that, if ghosts really existed, his best friend would definitely come visit him.
He could not sleep for MONTHS, you can well imagine.
Young people sometimes hold in little account their wonderful life and give it away in the name of a cause without too much reflecting on the consequences of their actions. When I was a child my mother told me about this guy, one of her father’s best friends, a seven-generations Roman (romano di sette generazioni, used here to indicate a real Roman) who died as a volunteer in World War I leaving a young wife and four orphaned children, two girls and two boys, all of them extremely attractive, she said.
The girls and the youngest boy led a normal life (he was often sad and incidentally died too as a volunteer in World War II); the eldest boy went a bit on the wild side and became a hopeless lady-killer, apparently even more affected than his youngest brother by this deprivation of paternal counsel. His children and grandchildren suffered because of his bearing, my mother said, and many turned out to be a failure in their lives.
If what my mother said is true it seems that the price for a moment of thoughtless idealism was a high one to pay and all this badly affected the generations to come (which doesn’t mean at all that I am against idealism or against the idea of fighting for a right cause, this is not my point).
Young people are such radical idealists. During the 1968 student revolution a few youths burned themselves alive as a sign of protest.
10 years later approximately I was enjoying my August holidays on the enchanting Greek island of Corfu together with Flavia and a couple of friends (see picture above). There we met this Greek father of a young man who apparently was my age (I was between 27 and 30 at that time, don’t remember exactly, while my friends were younger than me).
This poor father was a tailor and being noon and terribly hot I really wanted my jeans to be cut Bermuda-like in order to better resist the heat. So we saw this tiny little workshop and entered it (the little street was similar to the one in the picture below). While bending to the ground in order to measure my pants and be able to cut them accordingly, the old man suddenly burst into tears, a bewildering behaviour that surprised us.
When he calmed down a bit he said that I was the age his son would have been if he didn’t burn himself alive for protest against the Greek colonels (namely the dictators that governed Greece with an iron hand one decade roughly before that summer, and who were supported by the US who were trying to prevent Greece from embracing communism).
I will never forget this poor man’s eyes, wet with tears and expressing such an infinite pain.