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A psychological study of an individual rather than a large group of people, so that it’s more private and intimate. That is what makes Steppenwolf so deeply provocative. It is a strange book. It’s philosophical and psychological and very jarring.

It follows Harry Haller who leads an isolated existence. And since this book holds very little dialogue between him and other people, the narration is introspective and symbolic. It is consciousness-driven which, through Hesse’s imposing and existential narrative of human meaning and purpose, is packed with desperation.

It is narrating Harry Haller’s contemplation of his own existence. So it’s filled with inner monologues, the continuous use of the present tense to illuminate past thoughts. It’s tense and oftentimes incoherent, muddled, and complex.

The way Harry Haller thinks can also be characterized as misanthropic; a middle-aged man whose intelligence and acute awareness of the hypocrisy of the world puts him into this half-human and half-wolf demeanor. It’s one of the best portraits of any fictional character I’ve read.

Hesse tackles so many ideas in a single work of literature. About masculinity and femininity.

It comes very close to the philosophical groundwork of Goethe’s Faust which is also another book that defines literature in a unique manner.

Steppenwolf is about suppressed emotions, spiritual alienation, and grappling with an unending intellectual appetite in a finite and discontent world.

Reading Steppenwolf, I realized the self-critical lens of literature. How it can really suffocate its own narrative with a deeply troubled and anguished character against a dry and intense setting.

Literature as fiction is provocative enough.

But it is books like Steppenwolf that blur the boundaries between the ideal world of fiction and reality. It allows the reader to discover his or her own rhythm and presence of mind in the story, through the consciousness and self-indulgence of Harry Haller.

One of the things that we don’t consider we can change about ourselves is our ability to speak. Speaking to others is a skill we can manifest in our lives like any other. Whether it’s speaking to someone over the phone, over a video call, or speaking to a close friend or a family member, or during a fight or a disagreement. How we communicate is a barrier that only with conscious awareness and understanding can be overcome.

This is quite a challenge especially when we are unable to communicate exactly our knowledge or belief or opinion or feeling on something. And what happens is that while we’re communicating or at least trying to, our first instinct is to blame our own emotions or feelings as a shortcoming rather than ask an uncomfortable question which is – am I communicating to the best of my abilities?

The answer to that question is almost always no.

The psychological and emotional pressure keeps building as we struggle to really express ourselves. And this over time manifests as resentment, alienation, and anger.

One of the most thoughtful and humbling books that I’ve read that have helped me confront this sour spot of mine was Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations.

This book was a personal guide to a lot of things. It grounds you in a very stoic and philosophical manner.

It also offers a very practical and strategic understanding of how humans communicate with emotions and words. And how it’s very common that for most of us, that disconnection between emotions and words is what gets in our way of reliably communicating with someone. It’s that one thing that clouds our judgment of words and interferes with our ability to communicate effectively.

I think I know what you might expect from this. A very broad and vague statement that is an obvious fact about communicating. Stuff that tells you not to be scared of people judging you based on what you’re saying. I usually encounter such words and I know instantly that they are written or prophesized by someone who has never experienced real suffering in their lives. Not at least with regards to communicating.

Because if they had, those words would seem less plastic, much less false because I think it’s quite a half-assed suggestion when you say that you need to get over your fear of judgment or use those negative feelings to learn more about yourself and what you want to say. And that automatically will help you speak more effectively.

I personally haven’t found that advice helpful.

And from that point on, I deliberately stopped searching for the right answer to this question. It’s quite amazing how naturally and intuitively I created the right answer for myself.

So here’s something that Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations that I will always consider, above everything else, the best reflection on communication and self-expression.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

Perspective is more moldable and more acquiescent than the truth.

When you are conversing with someone, understanding your position as a listener is perhaps more humbling and productive when you listen to others. It helps you be more compassionate and open to their ideas and thoughts and beliefs.

Because when you lower the expectations of what you’re about to listen to, it’s easier to express yourself more freely. Because when you perceive anything that you hear as the truth, and that is not your truth, you will continue to sort use words either in support of that or against.

So you’re not really using your words to express yourself but you’re simply dishing out sentences to validate and justify the truth you want to prove.

This brings me to another very relevant quote from the book:

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

I did say something about expectations and how it interferes with the way you communicate.

You are expecting something out of most conversations you have. It is the one thing I have personally struggled with. Expecting to be entertained, inspired, motivated, persuaded, whatever it is that you want to gain from a conversation.

Much of my awareness of the words I chose to say out loud because of those expectations were completely destroyed. I was disconnected from that conversation.

And this estimation that Marcus Aurelius writes about, that’s causing the most pain and resistance because of something external - that is what this expectation was. My estimation of what I wanted to communicate and what was communicated to me was out of proportion. It became about gaining something from a conversation rather than the act of conversing itself.

The denominator, I think, to match words with emotions in everything a person does is to pay attention. Get off one’s high horse and stop evaluating things as if everything in the world has a rating system. And you play an integral part in the scale of things.

We identify so strongly with what we believe in that we forget that they are just words. And there’s so much attached there.

I’d like to end with another quote from the book:

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”

Isn’t that the point anyway? Of life, of meeting new people, of carrying on endless conversations, and of you reading this article, if you’re still here with me.

To find within us something that is universal across the wide spectrum of thoughts, emotions, and feelings that humans are privy to. It’s the core of the human condition that we are so afraid of discovering. Just a bunch of symbols all tangled up into infinite formulaic concoctions.

This post is about one of the most thoughtful and down-to-earth books I’ve ever read. It’s a non-fiction book of short essays. It’s insightful, contemplative, and meaningful.

It's not realistic to compress the entire literary vocabulary of this book into a single post. But the rock I will be looking under is Friendship.

I feel that friendship has its own intent and language. And, in the way Seneca writes of it, much of the definitions and purposes of friendship are weakened by judgment and indulgence.

There are many forms of judgment that we are privy to when we meet others. How we judge ourselves in relation to them, how we judge them in relation to us, and how we judge the relationship that forms the foundation between us and them.

Indulgence, Seneca writes, is also a feeling; a sort of selfish reward that we seek in a friendship. That is the underlying factor that motivates humans to pursue friendships and cultivate them. So what we’re perhaps consciously relying on is the value and usefulness of the friendship. This immediately implies that once a friendship stops being useful, it is guaranteed to fail.

Now, Seneca pleads us not to confuse the word “useful” and the word “meaningful” in relation to friendship. They aren’t synonymous. Nor are they interlinked in some intrinsic manner. This excerpt from the book Letters From A Stoic inquires most lucidly about the anatomy of finding meaning, and not usefulness, in friendship:

“But when you are looking on anyone as a friend when you do not trust him as you trust yourself, you are making a grave mistake, and have failed to grasp sufficiently the full force of true friendship.”

I’d like to elaborate on this passage a bit more by saying that what Seneca has done here, quite intelligently, is dissect the essence of being yourself and the essence of being a friend. And how both worlds, both faculties, draw from each other, and so they are deeply interlinked.

It’s a simple thought. And yet it’s so easily forgotten or misplaced in modern life. Because we’re driven to material surfaces - when we see something, we automatically start to figure out its practicality and advantages. While this can help, at times even strengthen our resolve. It is the one thing that also quantifies how much we want to bring to the table when we’re friends with someone.

Psychologically, this has many roots. We guard ourselves in the way we express ourselves and in the way we act around others because of many underlying reasons.

Fear, according to both Seneca and Khalil Gibran, dominates much of the architecture of friendships. We fear having questions that nobody has answers to. We fear being left behind. We resist speaking about ourselves because we fear not being understood. We fear empty promises and unfulfilled expectations.

Instead, in our truest thoughts, desires, intentions, we remain silent around others. We feel abundant, fulfilled, and satisfied in keeping those thoughts to ourselves. A passage from Khalil Gibran’s book, The Prophet, that echoes the invisible and stoic bond of friendship accurately:

“And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit. For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.”

These fragments philosophically reawaken the mystery and magnitude of friendship. And how, over the years, it has fallen between the cracks of social media culture. The immediate gratification that a screen offers - the instant messaging, the endless scrolling, and the most harrowing of all, the positive feedback that social media provides.

All these factors, I strongly believe, have simply validated our need to escape in things that are more readily available to us and perhaps are in fact easier than doing the inner work of building and caring for a truly meaningful friendship.

It’s refreshing to read Seneca’s Letters From A Stoic and Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet when you want to acknowledge that pattern of thought within yourself to break that cycle.


Thank you!