Takeaways from The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is a treasure that I hope to reread again. The subtlety of this work was so much so that I did not realize a key character relationship until it was explicitly spelled out for me.

Some ideas I walk away with:

Dignity

“The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to their utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing. They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit: he will not let ruffians or circumstance tear it off him I the public gaze.” (Ishiguro 43).


Early on, Ishiguro introduces the concept of dignity to describe a core factor in defining a great butler. I could not do his work justice in paraphrasing his anecdotes that embody this trait (Ishiguro 29-44).

“Dignity” is described as such tremendous devotion to the work that one remains composed and sees the work to completion, especially in the most dire and personal circumstances. “Dignity” requires an unwavering balance of many human virtues (patience, dedication, poise) and instincts (self-preservation, pride, sentimentality). Even if many of us are not butlers or in the service/hospitality industry, how can we practice this “dignity” in our professional lives?

 

Intention

“Much of your success lies in just how well your actions line up behind your intentions… You want influence. Well, what do you plan to do with it once you get it? Your notoriety. Your following. What do you plan to do with your money once you get it?” -Leslie Odom Jr.

“He’s a gentleman, and he fought a war with the Germans, and it’s his instinct to offer generosity and friendship to a defeated foe. It’s his instinct… [You must have seen] the way they’ve used it, manipulated it, turned something fine and noble into something else- something they can use for their foul ends?” (Ishiguro 223)


The narrator’s employer, the “gentleman” this passage refers to, was a someone of political power and connections due to his noble heritage. He sought to use this power for good, arranging gatherings frequently for the sake of peace. He had influence and was intentional in wielding it for good, but ultimately, it led to appeasement, which allowed Germany to do much bad.

How often do the outcomes of our actions follow our intentions? History tells us that a lot of bad were results, at least in part, of unintended consequences. It’s not like history’s most infamous killers, dictators, leaders slaughtered for the sake taking human lives: it was a means to an end, to serve some higher purpose or objective that could may as well have been the purest of intentions.

Executing well our good intentions is quite difficult, and I think that is largely because good execution primarily comes from how well the other party accepts our action. If I reach out to someone and ask about how they’re doing, how their life is, what they are up to, I can mean well in wanting to show that they are on my mind and are important to me and that I care about them. Now, this could go well and the other party could feel loved and cared for, or they may find my inquiries burdensome, annoying, and even mechanical. The solution seems to be trial and error, rather than inaction. If the actions of your intentions are well-received, it was well-executed. If not, try something different.

 

Reflection

“What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.” (Ishiguro 244)

 

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Warped Views of Ourselves

There is this idea of Overconfidence in decision theories where our subjective confidence in our abilities exceed the actual objective performance. For example, assign yourself a percentile in the USA for:

  • Being a good friend
  • Intelligence
  • Kindness
  • Honesty

Most of us would rate ourselves above the 50%: we are kinder, more honest, more intelligence, a better friend than 50% of the population. However, this cannot be true. We cannot ALL be above the 50% because in order to be above it, the same amount of people must be below it.

This leads me to wonder: how warped is our view of ourselves? We all work towards our ideal human, and so believe ourselves to be pretty decent people as a result: someone above the 50% of this ideal criteria.

The reality is that this is not and cannot be the case. We cannot all be above the 50%. How accurate is our self-perception?

I have believed myself to be a generous, somewhat selfless person. Giving has always been natural for me to the extent that I conjure ways to give beyond what is necessary. You didn’t ask for this, but I want to give it to you. It has recently come to my attention that although I may mean well, the execution can be poor. I assume what someone would want, but at times, they do not want it: it has a negative effect. You don’t want this, but I give it to you. A lose-lose situation: I went out of my way to do something for them that they did not want. In the end, how generous and selfless am I?

My Incomplete Booklist

I’m not great at finishing books (or things I start in general). But there’s no shame in that. Here is a list of books I have not finished that I could maybe revisit later.

  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (At the time I was reading this, I related to the beginning to Eat. It was hard to stay focused in Pray after learning that this was an all-expense-paid vacation rather than a genuine cultural immersion. It feels inauthentic.)
  • The First Phone-Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom (I liked Tuesdays with Morrie, so I figured this would be a good read as well. He’s a good writer, but the plot just didn’t move.)
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (I absolutely adored Oscar and Lola’s section, but got very lost when it came to Belicia’s story. )

Better than you

First post of actual organic content.

I used to think that I was living the perfect life. Or rather, that I was crafting my life to what I considered “perfection” or “good.” Help marginalized peoples: Good. Be a good listener. Live in other countries to broaden your perspective. Read books. Donate to charity. Eat fruits. Materialism is bad. Environmentalism is good. Etc. Naturally, we all work towards a life we consider “good”

But in this sense, I think I lost sight of humility, feeling that my values are superior to others. When I see someone with acrylic nails, I think that they are wasting money on material goods and shallow, superficial needs. “I am superior to you because I know what is important in life.” This goes both ways. When I meet someone who is genuine, and has depth and a profound understanding for life, I think that they are superior to me in every way. I idolize them and see them as “someone who can do no wrong.”

Maybe its not so black and white (applying the skills from therapy). Maybe I am not necessarily living the right life. Maybe I don’t know everything there is to know. Maybe my own thinking and values are just that. They are thoughts and values that work for me, but aren’t necessarily the prevailing and superior thoughts and values.

Perhaps this comes from the necessity to believe that I am living the right life. An over-compensation for insecurity. A need to reinforce my own insecurity that shakes in fear of the question: am I living correctly?

In the end, maybe there are very few ways to live a “wrong” life. And there is no exact “right” life.

 

  • What you believe to be right, doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. People have different values and ideas. One is not necessarily superior to others.

Who am I?

Name: Jennibean

Species: Bean

Why I’m here: I would take notes on TedTalks and Books with things I want to remember/ big takeaways, and found them helpful. Why not share them with the internet and also motivate myself to read more analytically?

Humor : The Office, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, High Kick

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Dog: Kandie, Maltese, 14

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People I follow/am subscribed to: Mark Manson, Tomas Laurinavicius, Lewis Howes

Short Term Goals:

  • Get better at speaking Spanish
  • Get better at reading Korean
  • Create a winter break schedule so I’m not rotting away e’ry day
  • Create more things to write about on here?

Long Term Goals

  • Be a part of bringing justice to society’s most marginalized
  • Marry someone who would be aligned with my goals
  • CORGI????

Reading The Alchemist Part 1.2

  • “for her, every day was the same, and when each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.” (26)

This resonates true. I came back from college for winter break on Monday, and the past few days have been a blur of watching television shows and playing games. It’s hard to believe that 5 days have passed.

  • “In order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you.” (28)

What are the “omens” we come across in our lives that we ignore? Lately, I have so much time in my hands; I could read! Instead, this voice is drowned out by modes of instant gratification.

  • “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon…A shepherd may like to travel, but he should never forget about his sheep.” (30-31)

So the old man king tells the story to our shepherd boy about this other boy was told to learn from this wise man. The wise man instructs the boy to go around the castle while carrying a spoon filled with oil. The boy does so, but was not able to marvel at the sights of the castle due to focusing on the oil drops! Next, the wise man instructs the boy to do this again but enjoy the views of the castle. The boy comes back with an empty spoon. So, we learn that there is a balance to be maintained: enjoy yourself! enjoy life! but don’t forget about your duties.

  • “I’m like everyone else- I see the world in terms of what I would like to see happen, not what actually does.” (38)
  • “[He had a choice] between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure.” (40)

Spoiler Alert: he’s an adventurer 😉

So, the boy got robbed of all his money by a man that claimed to be able to help him. It made me sad. This little boy in a foreign country simply wanted to find his treasure. Why would you rob him in a country where he doesn’t know the language? It’s a cheap shot, and I don’t understand why anyone could do that… Maybe the dude needed the money. Maybe people just do bad things sometimes. Maybe people just have bad intentions.

In a sense, it is quite liberating. The shepherd boy is going to go on a real journey  in finding his treasure, rather than just hopping on a camel to the treasure’s location. You know what you’re doing Coelho.

Reading The Alchemist: Part 1.1

  • “The boy could see in his father’s gaze a desire to be able, himself, to travel the world–a desire that was still alive, despite his father’s having had to bury it, over dozens of years, under the burden of struggling for water to drink, food to eat, and the same place to sleep every night of his life.” (12)

It broke my heart to see this boy’s father give him this prized treasure so that the boy could fulfill his dream in becoming a shepherd. My parents probably have done and still continue to do this for me and my sister. This reminded me of how they had to live for survival while I have the privilege of seeking self-actualization. Thank you, mom and dad.

  • “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” (13)

 

  • “When someone sees the same people every day, they wind up becoming a part of that person’s life. And then they want the person to change. If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” (18)

This makes sense. When I am meeting someone for the first time, it’s cordial and friendly and I don’t expect anything of them. But when it comes to the people closest to me, I keep wanting to change them to fit my expectations of them, especially in times when I seek comfort. Perhaps I expect them to know me well enough that I feel they should know exactly what to do. Communication is a beautiful thing.

  • “[The world’s greatest lie is this:] that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate.” (20)

 

  • “It’s a force that appears to be negative, but actually shows you how to realize your Personal Legend. It prepares your spirit and your will, because there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth.” (24)

 

  • “In the long run, what people think about shepherds and bakers becomes more important for them than their own Personal Legends.” (25)

How much of what you do is dictated by those around you? Do you do what you do because of the people criticizing or praising you? Or do you do it for you? Here, it is more prestigious to become a financially stable baker over a shepherd, but if it is in your Personal Legend to become a shepherd, then why the hell not?