It's just a slim little book, 168 pages, one you'd see at the bookstore and dismiss as pop psychology. It's not. The thirty essays offer common sense reflections on the issues that affect us all: relationships, choices we make (or don't), motivation, change. Some of them were so spot on it felt like the author was talking to me, starting with the first chapter.
The author says, "I have learned that our passage through life consists of an effort to get the maps in our head to conform to the ground on which we walk." We all compare our idealized life to our actual life to one extent or another. Now think how much rationalizing, excusing, ignoring, or compromising we do to make the reality of our life match up with what we want it to be. Any sane person knows no one's life is idyllic but the choices we make can mitigate the amount of jockeying we have to do, starting with how we choose our friends or partners.
If I'm ever again in the market for a life partner, and God knows if I'll ever be ready to risk that again (the topic of another essay called Happiness Is the Ultimate Risk), I'll follow Dr. Livingston's advice. He says to look for a list of virtuous character traits, the list being topped with kindness, from which a capacity for empathy and love naturally follows. We may not be able to define this emotional art form, but we know when we're in its presence.
This is the part that resonated with me: "The best indications that our always-tentative maps are faulty include feelings of sadness, anger, betrayal, surprise, and disorientation." Yes. The map in my head and the map on my ground were in such dissonance that I lived with these feelings often and for a long time. Isn't it disconcerting what we get used to and come to accept?
I took particular note that brooding, distance, and coldness are nowhere on his list of desirable traits. I know better now and will always be alert to the alluring presence of kindness, empathy, compassion, and love, whether I'm looking for a partner or a friend. Life is too short, and the possibility of sweetness too fleeting, to have to align maps again and again.
Thought of the day: