I’m writing to those of you who are sort of okay. You tried in school. You have a job that pays well in a field that you don’t really hate. You’re not especially happy, but you feel bad about feeling bad—so many people would kill for the opportunities and salary you have.
Something is missing.
It’s the reason you can’t look the homeless people outside your apartment in the eye. The reason that each swipe on that dating app evokes a twinge of self-loathing. The reason that you travel from city to city and never find a home. The reason that you still watch anime and obsess over fictional heroes well into your twenties.
You’ve been raised to protect yourself, to accrue wealth, and to pursue pleasure. You were taught that nothing is worth more than your own happiness and you believed it.
This behavior is selfish and shameful. You aspire to be the hero of your story, but you lack the thing that sets heroes apart: honor.
Honor is to lift up your ideals on your own shoulders, often at great personal risk, with no expectation of reward. Here are the words of a 39-year-old Tokyo firefighter who was dispatched to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in the days following the disaster:
My wife cried when she heard I would be dispatched. I could reject the dispatch, but I thought it wasn't right that a younger man would be dispatched instead of me, so I decided to go. I will be back to fulfill the duty without accident.
The fact that you feel dissatisfied means that your compass still points North. It has always been up to you to follow it.
Really strong opening, definitely resonates with versions of me that sometimes take center stage. Interesting exploration of what is missing from the happiness equation.
I think honor is probably nested under the very wide umbrella of meaning 🤔
Wonderful essay. Reminds me of a few passages from Notes from Underground:
"But I repeat to you for the hundredth time, there is only one case, one only, where man may purposely, consciously wish for himself even the harmful, the stupid, even what is stupidest of all: namely, so as to have the right to wish for himself even what is stupidest of all and not be bound by an obligation to wish for himself only what is intelligent. For this stupidest of all, this caprice of ours, gentleman, may in fact be the most profitable of anything on earth for our kind, especially in certain cases. And in particular it may be more profitable than all other profits even in the case when it is obviously harmful and contradicts the most sensible conclusions of our reason concerning profits—because in any event it preserves for us the chiefest and dearest thing, that is, our personality and our individuality. "
"Is reason not perhaps mistaken as to profits? Maybe man does not love well-being only? Maybe he loves suffering just as much? Maybe suffering is just as profitable for him as well-being? For man sometimes loves suffering terribly much, to the point of passion, and that is a fact. Here there’s not even any need to consult world history; just ask yourself, if you’re a human being and have had any life at all. As for my personal opinion, to love just well-being alone is even somehow indecent. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s sometimes very pleasant to break something. I, as a matter of fact, take my stand here neither with suffering nor with well-being. I stand…for my own caprice, and that it be guaranteed me when necessary. "