Learn. Live. Thrive.
Hi! Tahna de Veyra here. I recently moved from the small, listless city of Tacloban to the huge, bustling metropolis of Manila. I also fairly recently moved into my 30’s (more like “hurled” into it, really. Because no, cancelling birthdays doesn’t work), which found me more restless than ever. I saw an unprecedented increase in my discontent and my hunger for life, for knowledge, for food, for everything. This blog is one of the ways I am trying to satiate this hunger. It is also a means for me to explore the best way to live life, and to share the many lessons I encounter along the way.
The novelist Chaim Potok’s response to his mother’s urgings that he become a doctor:
“Be a brain surgeon. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying; you’ll make a lot more money.” Potok’s response: “Mama, I don’t want to keep people from dying; I want to show them how to live.”
There is intelligent, there is street-smart, there is worldy-wise, then there is Life-Smart.
You are intelligent if you have the ability to easily understand and learn things. You are street-smart if you have the wiles necessary to deal with the dangers and difficulties of life in an urban environment. You are worldly-wise if you are experienced in the ways of the world, and are thus sophisticated, refined, and cultured. And you are Life-Smart if you have a keen understanding of society and human nature, of both their strength and failings, and are able to use this knowledge and understanding to cultivate the kind of life that best suits your own inherent strengths and weaknesses. You know you are life-smart when you have come to terms with what works for you, and have come to live the best life possible, given your own unique circumstances.
Urban Ponder aims to provide the knowledge necessary to foster life-smart individuals, cultivating a pragmatic understanding of society, people, and the self.
Worthy of a Free Person
Urban Ponder centers around the Liberal Arts, or the skills and subjects that were considered in classical antiquity as essential for a free person to have or to know, if he or she is to participate actively in civic life. In olden times, civic participation entailed engaging in public debate, serving on juries, defending oneself in court, and taking part in military service. In modern times, Liberal Arts is interpreted in many ways but is mostly used to refer to academic subjects such as Mathematics, Natural Sciences, the Humanities (Philosophy and Literature), and Social Sciences (Psychology, Politics, and Economics).
In ancient times, the free people governed society through Direct Democracy, which entailed citizens’ direct participation in governmental operations. Athenian democracy, for one, was essentially a form of government by mass meeting. As direct democracy is practicable only in small communities, democracy took on a new form in modern times, that of a Representative Democracy. In this form of democracy, participation in government is essentially restricted to the act of voting held every few years, save for a few exceptions. While ancient Athens held mass meetings, modern societies hold referendums (an event wherein people vote for or against a measure or law dealing with a specific issue. Think Brexit).
Representative democracy mostly puts power in the hands of a few. The advent of the Internet, of social media most notably, changed the landscape though, as the voices of the people have grown louder and louder. With the Internet providing a platform, people have effectively become a massive ‘pressure group’ that is simply impossible to ignore … not even by the higher-ups. With our voices made louder by the Internet and other such technological tools, we simply must try harder to be worthy of such power.
Liberal Arts translates to ‘artes liberales’ in Latin. Liberalis in Latin means “worthy of a free person”. The Liberal Arts essentially imparts skills and lessons that make us worthy of the life of a free person … and the privileges and responsibility that come with it, such as voting, expressing our opinions on current events and issues, conducting signature campaigns, making crucial decisions through referendums, choosing our advocacies, choosing our path in life, etcetera etcetera.
We are Powerful
Our current generation has become all the more powerful, so much so that we scare the generations that came before us. As Time’s Joel Stein puts it,
“The information revolution has further empowered individuals by handing them the technology to compete against huge organizations: hackers vs. corporations, bloggers vs. newspapers, terrorists vs. nation-states, YouTube directors vs. studios, app-makers vs. entire industries. Millennials don’t need us. That’s why we’re scared of them.”
The most famous poet of the Jazz Age, Edna St. Vincent Millay, once said,
“The younger generation forms a country of its own. It has no geographical boundaries. I’ve talked with young Hungarians in Budapest, with young Italians in Rome, with young Frenchmen in Paris, and with young people all over … These young people are going to do things. They are going to change things.”
The great poet’s words were uttered in the post-World I era in the 1920’s, before the advent of the Internet, a technology that truly erases geographical boundaries. Her words were true then, and are even truer in this day and age. We are undeniably an empowered generation, but whether we use this power for the good is up to us.
The Urban Area
Urban area refers to a high-population human settlement and the infrastructure of built environment. I have personally always been fascinated by ”built environment”, or man-made surroundings. When I see a skyscraper or a massive bridge, I think of the men who had the audacity to believe that they could build structures that reach out to the sky or that overcome the boundaries that were the rivers and the seas. I think of the ways mankind first concocted the idea and applied the concepts of engineering into fruition. They make me feel awed and inspired. They make me think, “Yes, us human beings are capable of such great things.” The built environment also includes other amazing human inventions like transportation, the sewage system, parks and green spaces, and public health systems related to a community’s healthy food access, bikeability, and walkability. It has been established through research that the way neighborhoods are created affect the residents’ mental health and physical activity. Definitely worth our attention!
One of the ways we can best navigate the urban landscape is by understanding its primary inhabitants – People! Hence, Urban Ponder explores human nature in-depth … all in the belief that a greater understanding of human beings will help us cultivate more meaningful and productive relations. It will also engender a greater understanding of our own selves, something that will ultimately help us gain greater control over our lives, and hopefully lead to the kind of life we have always wanted.
“Self-development is a higher duty than self-sacrifice.” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, American Activist
Because I believe that our becoming, like the synthesis of meaning itself, is an ongoing and dynamic process, I’ve been reluctant to stultify it and flatten its ongoing expansiveness in static opinions and fixed personal tenets of living. – Maria Popova, BrainPickings.org
This site is more exploratory than prescriptive. I, myself, have much to discover about what ‘thriving’ means to me, and how I can go about achieving such an end. But this makes this journey of discovery all the more valuable.
This site, just as I am, is a work in progress. Come join me! 🙂
P.S. I earned a degree in the Social Sciences, with a Major in Psychology, at the University of the Philippines. You can learn more about me here: Author interview with Djulia Montana “Tahna” de Veyra.