Sartre and Beyond

“Hell is other people.”–Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit

Indubitably. One has only to refer to the wisdom of myriad books, plays, and films. Or reflect on the amount of violence and conflict in society leading to such things as abuse, assault, abduction, separation, divorce, and a zillion failed relationships. The newspaper headlines proclaim and further exemplify the truth of Sartre’s quote. Then there is just the plain facts that people are not perfect, make mistakes, often have agendas not shared by others, or are just plain bad, blind or ignorant. One finds examples of Sartre’s quote at work in the home, in the workplace, on the roads, etc.

But I think it is worth adding that–if one uses common sense or is lucky–one might drive defensively, or move to a better, more harmonious, civil workplace, end a relationship, or retire! There is that no-small matter of personal choice regardless of whatever (imagined, often enslaving or limiting) necessity.

To surround oneself with the positive family one has helped to create and foster, or the few longtime true friends are other obvious positives. And we can often, certainly choose how we live, whom we love, and the kind of lifestyle and experiences we’d rather have than a bunch of forced, conflictful sorts of situations and negative or limited people.

There is also a lot to be said for the inner peace and contentment that one can find or cultivate with a modicum of freedom. This not only gives us more perspective for dealing with problem people and conflicts, but alters one’s attitude usually for the better.

Too often, the story of or behind whatever conflict is is about how we don’t empathize or let limited/limiting agendas undo us (c.f. King Lear). In short, we do do it to ourselves and others, or vice-versa. Hell can also be created by ourselves through our attitudes toward others, especially in relationships. Hell is often just a context we simply don’t want to be in, I would add.

And then there is just that ‘small’ basic matter of personal choice. We can become that which we imagine, behold and choose. And when that happens or is happening optimally, there usually aren’t any hellish people or situations in sight. I believe we do largely fashion our own hells and don’t have to be locked up in a claustrophobic Sartre-ian room with people we don’t want to have to deal with. In that–autonomy, freedom, health, etc. In that, the salvation posed also, ironically, by Sartre and other of the French Existentialists. Our lives can largely be what we choose to make of them.

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