The Photograph that Was Not Taken

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A few days ago, I was appropriately reading “The Sixth Extinction” right next to a forest. The book itself is amazing, and I read almost half of it in that one sitting. However, I’ll leave its description for another time.

What I wanted to talk about was just how how beautiful the experience was. Sitting there, in the midst of nature, there was nothing else to fill my ears but the various sounds it makes. There were birds singing, insects buzzing, and leaves creating their own music as the wind played with them. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything more relaxing or more beautiful than that very moment.

I was surrounded by that beauty a few hours. At some point, I got my head out of the book, and the most beautiful sunset was before me. I admired it, and I couldn’t help but feel amazed at just how amazing it looked. There was a white cloud, on which the sunset had painted its colors with such majesty that I think it safe to say nothing else could have attained those perfect combinations of colors. The could began, pure and white, and somewhere down its center, it turned a dark blue. Finally, as the last part of it was getting lost in the horizon, its color turned pink.

I admired the sight, and at some point I remembered that I didn’t have my camera with me. I felt bitterly sorry about that, because this was the kind of thing I wished to be able to see again, and again, and again. Then I realized something: pictures never seem to capture anything as it is in real life. It’s as if the scenery has a sort of soul that makes it amazing, and that very soul is escapes from the photograph.

So, I decided to sit back and take in the view. It was just me and it until the darkness of the night began to creep in, and to make the colors fade one by one. However, that beautiful scenery will remain imprinted in my mind. Not as a photograph, but as a memory, which will do it justice until the day it will be replaced by other memories.

/Larisa

“The Idiot”, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

DSCN1444 “Every blade of grass grows and is happy! Everything has its path, and everything knows it’s path, and with a song goes forth, and with a song returns. Only he knows nothing, and understands nothing, neither men nor sounds; he is outside it all, an outcast. Oh, of course he could not say it then in those words, could not utter his question. He suffered dumbly, not comprehending; but now it seemed to him that he had said all this at the time, those very words …” (Dostoyevsky, 477)

As I promised in a previous post, I am finally writing an entry on a book that belongs to the fiction category. Thankfully, now this section on my blog will get some much-deserved attention.

Deciding on what novel to read is always a little difficult for me. That’s an understatement, actually…It’s very difficult. I want to make the right choice every time, so that I will enjoy my time reading it. Of course, this is nearly impossible, because there’s always an element of risk involved.

This time, however, I decided fairly quickly, because “The Idiot” has been sitting in my library for almost a year now, waiting to be read. I had made the decision that it probably was worth reading when I bought it, and so I didn’t have to go through the same process once more.

And what an interesting novel it was! It was a bit ironic that I read “The Idiot” right after finishing Ayn Rand’s book, since the protagonist of the novel is a huge contrast to Rand’s ideas.

This novel was the first I had ever read by Dostoyevsky, though I have read “The Double”, which is an interesting novella. However, this novella didn’t quite manage to give me a good idea of Dostoyevsky’s manner of writing, or so I thought at the time. Looking back on it now, I realize that it did a great job at that, but because the main character was so ….out of the ordinary, the story reflected it as well, resulting in a big confusion for me.

But enough with the tangents! “The Idiot” is a book about Prince Myshkin, who suffers from epilepsy, and who, because of his illness, had spent several years in Switzerland. At the beginning of the novel he returns to a Russian society which is as good as foreign to him. When I say “foreign”, I say it referring to the way of life, and the manner in which these Russian people thought.

Prince Myshkin is the portrayal of what Dostoyevsky believed to be “a truly beautiful soul”. Myshkin is nothing but compassion and understanding. Though at times he’s capable of becoming suspicious, he quickly starts blaming himself of it. Throughout the book, the reader can observe with frustration that one of the prince’s main qualities is his capacity to forgive, which he employs all the time. He also sees people’s best sides, and although he is not blind to their faults, he acts as though he is. Lastly, he’s an honest fellow, who doesn’t shy away from saying the truth regardless of the circumstances.

Such a person, thrown in the center of a society that treasures the idea of him, but not him directly, is bound to be regarded as a fool.

Let’s have a look at what one might learn from reading this novel:

1)      People don’t respect truly good individuals

Well, here we must first define what a “truly good” person is. Dostoevsky’s definition seems to be reflected in the traits of Prince Myshkin, which I described above. Yours might be a different one. However, provided we go on with Dostoyevsky’s, this lesson seems to arise. Sure, people might admire good people. But respect is a different matter, and it is what’s lacking in the treatment Prince Myshkin receives from almost all characters.

2)      Complete honesty isn’t good

The events Myshkin goes through seem to show that if he would have learnt to keep things for himself more than he did, he would have arrived at a completely different position. Perhaps it’s not just his honesty that has derailed him, but it seems this is a big problem for him. People can easily manipulate him since they know his manner of thinking so perfectly.

3)      Though people may have good in them, it’s a good idea to look out for their dark side

Not in a paranoid sort of way, but in a careful way. Myshkin, though aware at some level that those around him aren’t perfectly good, concentrates on the good things in them. As such, he overlooks all of their bad behaviors, and is constantly willing to take those people back, even after they’ve wronged him considerably.

There are, of course, a lot of other things one can learn from “The Idiot”, but I don’t want to give any spoilers for those intending to read the book. All in all, if you’re a fan of psychology, you might like the novel. Dostoyevsky is known for his amazing portrayal of the way his characters think. However, be prepared to feel sorry for Myshkin, and then to exchange that sorrow for sheer frustration.

Let me know your opinion on the book if you’ve read it already!

/Larisa

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Learning How to Train a High Energy Dog

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In one of my past posts, I spoke of one of my dogs, whose name is Tommy, and I also mentioned that I have another one, who is still a puppy (and you can see a picture of him above). Well, the puppy is now 1, and I want to train him. Because he has lots of energy, I decided to first look for ways to calm him down, and to teach him commands that will support his “calmness”. Since I was doing all this, I decided to share with you what I found, hoping it might help someone else as well.

Here we go:

1)      Start with a calm energy

This is something I need to work on. You see, I’m alright with staying serious and calm, but once my dog makes a cute face, I immediately want to hug him. Not good, not good. Cesar points out that the dog reflects its owner’s state. So if you’re stressed, it will be the same. This is why it is so important to begin the training session calm.

Something I strive to do is to stand in front of him in a calm state of mind, until he also calms down. I don’t proceed to do anything until he stops being excited. This (I hope) sends him the message that if he doesn’t tone down the energy, we won’t proceed.

2)      Teach Him/Her to Sit

“Sit” is a very useful command for a dog to know. I started teaching him when he was little, by gently pressing on his backside, and telling him “sit”. After a few times of having done this, I simply  gave him the command, and rewarded him after he did it. Afterwards, I read online that this technique is not a good one because it teaches your dog to do things using force. I do understand their point of view, but considering the fact that I was careful not to injure him, and that he looked happy all the while, I would venture to say it did no harm. Regardless, right now he doesn’t have that command ingrained in him, because no one repeated it to him after I taught him. He does know it, but vaguely (which means I have to keep working at it).

If you prefer to use another method (and this would work best if your dog is no longer a puppy), here’s something I came across: you can hold a treat in front of his/her nose, and then move it back a little. During this, tell him/her “sit”, and use a clicker if you have one. When he/she sits down, give them the treat.

3)      Teach Your Dog to Wait

When going for the door for example, tell your dog “wait” (but have him/her sit at your side before that). Touch the doorknob, and if the dog doesn’t get up or move, treat (and click). Then jiggle the knob of the door, and if he/she remains still, treat again. The next step is to open the door a little. Then, after that’s all good, open it more and more, until you can go out without your dog moving. The key here is to treat after every step he/she does right. Also, repeat each step a few times before proceeding to the next, just to make sure the behaviour is ingrained.

4)      Teach Your Dog to “Leave It”

If something falls on the ground, my dog is sure to inspect it immediately. If that thing happens to look remotely like something that’s edible, he’ll eat it. This is a problem, and I figured I should get rid of it, so I looked online for method of doing this. Again, I went to Cesar’s website, and sure enough, I found an article on it.

Cesar instructs us to teach dogs this command by using a treat or a toy, which we allow the dog to smell. After he has done that, move the hand away, saying “leave it”. If the dog goes after the hand, close your fingers over the treat and don’t let him get to it. After he calms down, repeat the same steps. After he moves away from the treat, you can give it to him as a rewards for listening. (Click here for more on this topic)

 

These are the main things I will be starting with my dog, and he’ll hopefully get better. Once he’s learnt these commands well, I can proceed to the next steps, of which I will keep you posted. In the meantime, let me know about your experience with dog training. Any opinions and tips are welcome, since I’m still trying to figure out this whole thing.

 

More Resources:

Is Selfishness Good? “The Virtue of Selfishness”, by Ayn Rand

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Before actually beginning to talk about this book, let me just mention how glad I am to be able to finally write this post. I received this book (from a friend who knew I really wanted it)…I think nearly two years ago now, and I somehow didn’t get around to finishing it until today. Even after having started reading it over a month ago, other stuff (such as my exams) kept getting in the way. Thankfully, I can finally say I’ve finished it.

The question of whether I liked it or not is a complicated one. You might be thinking “Come on! It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type of question. What can possibly be so complicated?” That’s true, but I’m afraid that I’ll have to say “yes” to some parts, and “no” to other parts of it. Don’t mistake this for a “maybe”, which implies an evasive answer, or some grayness. Taking the “gray” attitude, particularly when it comes to something written by Ayn Rand, would be ironic, to say the least (for those who are not familiar with her writings, she highly condemns not choosing a side).

You see, I’m a fan of the general idea of acting out of what Ayn Rand terms “selfishness”, word which she uses differently than it is normally used. We generally use the term to talk about someone who is highly immoral, and would do anything to achieve what he or she wants. Rand, on the other hand, uses the term to mean “concern with one’s own interest”. As such, she points out that acting out of selfishness isn’t merely desirable, but necessary.

The part that I don’t like is that her entire philosophy is resting on a tremendous misunderstanding of human psychology. Mainly, she assumes that the workings of the human mind are like a “blank slate”, which can easily be modified by the values one has. The problem is that this was proven to be false. We come into the world with a sort of baggage, dictated by our genes. Of course, our environment also plays a role in defining us, but it is not the only factor. This may not make her theory impossible, but it surely makes it a lot more difficult to use.

I won’t go into more details explaining her philosophy (except for indirectly, through the lessons I’ll outline), but you can imagine that with this big mistake in using human psychology, the rest of her ideas have to suffer as well. However, she still makes some very good points, and I believe those shouldn’t be left neglected.

1)      Morality is Not Only Useful, but Necessary for Us

Rand points out that morality offers us with much needed guidance to proper interaction between people. Also, it helps us identify the right type of values to hold.

2)      One Must Take Responsibility for His/Her Actions

Yeah, no kidding, huh? However, despite the fact that this is quite a popular principle, very few people seem to actually put it in practice. It’s easy to take responsibility for our actions when they amount to good things, but when they’re consequences are bad, we’ll do quite a lot to hide them, or even to blame others for them. Perhaps we should pay more attention to this.

3)      Unethical People’s Survival is Made Possible by Those Who Are Ethical

A good example for this is a robber. The only reason he has something to steal is because there is someone who made the money in the “right way” to begin with. If it were not for that person, the robber would starve.

4)      Sacrificing is Giving Up Something You Value for Something of a Lesser Value

If you use this definition for the word, then it becomes quite obvious why Rand is so quick to go against this act. Keep in mind the implications of this definition: if you give up watching the soccer game to help your friend, this doesn’t mean you’ve sacrificed. That’s because you value your friend more than you value the soccer game, so giving one up for the other doesn’t mean you’re losing value.

5)      Judging People Isn’t Bad

Rand explains that you should assess people in order to be able to interact with them accordingly. However, this assessment should be made based on rational grounds, not on a whim.

These are the main lessons that can be taken from the book, though there are a lot more. If you have any questions, make sure to let me know! I’ll try my best to answer them (considering I am not a philosopher).

/Larisa

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