- The Everyday Philosopher
I’m originally from Ecuador, from the capital, Quito, I lived there for 21 years, and moved here to the US for school. Even though I was not thinking of staying that long, I stayed and I’ve been here for almost 19 years now. Almost half of my life. I work in risk management in a bank.
What is philosophy for you?
I took philosophy classes, even before I studied in New Acropolis. The main thing I was taught is that behind things that we do there’s always someone who has been thinking about life, and not only life, but how life works. So I think philosophy for me is where you can find the wisdom behind everything that is happening, that truth we find behind everything we do in life.
So for example, if I decide to study math, philosophy helps us give some sense of why we’re doing it. Philosophy helps us look for the purpose of things. And I think purpose is very important for us to move forward. To realize ourselves as human beings.
What do you understand as the purpose of your life?
I wouldn’t say that I have something specific, but I think that the purpose of me being here is to try to be a better human being, which allows evolution of consciousness.
What does it mean for you to be a better human being?
I guess there could be different ways to be a better human being, but for me it would be for some way to be better in generosity, or being able to put myself in somebody else’s shoes, to be empathetic.
So you’re talking of values, or virtues. What would you say are values or virtues that have been guiding you or you have been trying to live in your life?
When I think of the ones that have been helping me a lot while I was studying, perseverance was one of the important ones. There’s always times when you want to quit, or stop doing something, unless you’re able to find something that will drive you to persevere. This has helped me achieve what I achieved in my career.
How did you do that? So in moments when you wanted to quit what helped you?
Sometimes people who told me "you know you are able to do it, I know you, how you work, it’s gonna work." People who believed in me, who helped me see different options. So It wasn’t a %100 myself, I have friends who told me, one of my best friends told me “you know I think you should apply for this” and see this opportunity and things like that, and I think that’s how it works. And then because of that, I have been trying to be as much grateful, because without that help I don’t think I would be here.
What other values are you trying to apply?
Gratitude, I think that’s very important, almost every day to be grateful. Most of the times I think circumstances are helpful and we have to see that. Another one I try is having an open mind. In the sense of trying to understand that what I think is not necessarily the correct way of thinking. I think I try to be as open minded as possible, the way that I see it is that I like to learn and discover new things, and if you don’t have an open mind you’re going to be stuck.
You mentioned that you work in a bank. Sometimes people when they imagine working at a bank, it’s hard for them to imagine it as a place where you can really apply virtues. In the movies the banks are always the bad guys. In your line of work do you feel that you’re able to apply these virtues or values we mentioned, or other values?
Yeah, I think so. For example in any line of work you’re going to interact with people, I think, for example, in terms of gratitude, sometimes I need things from people or they need things from me, when I receive things from someone you just need to be as grateful as possible, in that way you make the human connections and hopefully make the daily living a little bit better. I think in terms of virtues, it doesn’t matter where you’re going to be, you will be able to use them.
Do you feel the bank is sometimes acting unethically?
No, I don’t think so. In the time I’ve been in the bank, which is almost 13 years, I believe that at some point people we’re doing things without thinking correctly, but I do think the bank was able to correct it on the level of culture. Actually, the bank has been trying to apply a healthy human system, that you try to be empathetic to other people, to try to put yourself in the customer’s shoes...
I would say that there are ethical decisions in my personal work. For example, I have made mistakes in reports that are sent out to people who actually take actions based on these reports. You don’t want to go and say I made a mistake… But I did it, because it was the right thing to do, eventually I think, the culture, at least in the bank I work in, has been very open and they said “let’s try to fix and let’s move forward”.
So what did you learn from that experience?
That generally it is much better to do the right thing whenever you can.
Can you think about an experience in your life that has made you a better human being?
There’s a couple I remember when I was in college. That was due to a couple of teachers I had. One teacher was teaching us sociopolitics. More than what she taught, she was a person that actually lived what she was teaching. Eventually she was helping outside of school, she was participating in social justice, setting up educational programs. Whatever she was teaching you could tell that she was living it, she made sure that everyone learned and tried to follow some of those steps. I had another teacher who was teaching physics and was exactly the same. He lived physics, he was super interesting. One day he came to class saying “you guys are not going to be able to sleep at night after what I’m going to teach you”, and he talked about how to take a certain information and figure out the age of the universe. The reason this is memorable for me is because we need to try to live what we think is the right thing or what we think we should be achieving.
And this has made you a better person?
I do think so, because these people were very humble. I think that is probably the biggest piece I understood from this. They were smart and very successful people, yet they were very humble. At that time in my life, I was very proud of whatever I had done, and I think over time I came to realize that’s not a good thing. Seeing them allowed me to see myself and to change.
Is there a book that has made an impact on you, that has changed your life?
There is a couple. One is called la ciudad y los perros (The Time of the Hero in English) by Mario Vargas Llosa, it’s a Peruvian book. The reason this book impressed me is because it shows how two people can be so different depending of the circumstances... The story is about this kid and (spoiler alert) it describes two different time-lines for the kid, but I think in the beginning the story doesn’t tell you that, because the thing you see the kid doing in one time and at another time are completely opposite, but at the end you understand what happened. So it’s just understanding that sometimes we have to understand the peoples' circumstances, and to understand that everyone at some point were good, and if things have been done, it’s probably not a %100 because they wanted to do something bad. So that’s one. Another one I read is the unbearable lightness of being. There is a very interesting idea that we can be light people, in the sense that if we choose we could have happiness and a life that is a little bit more without so much things that we have in our heads.
If you would meet your younger self, or a young person now going into the world, starting life, what advice that you learned from your own experience would you give them?
I think that we have to see challenges, situations that don’t seem beneficial to us, that are painful to go through, as if they are not bad things. There’s always something to learn from them. Eventually, things would change, it’s not a permanent situation. There are definitely situations that it would have helped me to look at them this way. ..
Anything you want to add?
Another book that I wanted to mention is Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. I think the piece I take from it is that you can be in a very bad situation but still have some dignity about yourself. Because obviously he was in a very terrible situation but he was still able… It also gives you a little bit of perspective of where you’re at.
I know you study in a school of philosophy called New Acropolis, what do these studies give you?
I think that’s very much related to the first question of what is philosophy and maybe the "why", what do I think I’m doing here. I think it gives you the tools to be able to accomplish what I mentioned, to be a better human being, if there’s some virtue, or something that we need to improve, it gives you the tools to do that. And I think also the first part we spoke, giving us purpose, I think we potentially have a purpose but without philosophy I think it gets lost… people sometimes don’t see it, and as you start thinking about yourself, you understand what it is you want to do.