Practical Philosophy

Our beliefs are shaped by countless variables: from our families and friends, to our educational experiences and lifestyles, to genetics and chance.

But these beliefs are often more about theory than practice. One’s philosophy is essentially a label applied to oneself, and if one should fail to live up to this philosophy, the repercussions are minuscule or nonexistent.

Consider that a self-proclaimed pacifist can get into a fight every single day and still call themselves a pacifist: there are no philosophy police. If confronted about this misapplication of title to action they may claim to be an ‘aspiring pacifist,’ or maybe even a ‘bad pacifist,’ but they can still claim the philosophy either way.

One’s philosophy, then, is often more about intention than practice.

While living in Iceland, I learned a word that changed the way I view beliefs. Lífspeki is not just an adorable-sounding word (it’s pronounced “leaf-specky”), it’s also a way of looking our beliefs and the role they play in our lives.

Lífspeki is an Icelandic word that means ‘the practical philosophy by which you live your life, which you define through your actions.’

So while your philosophy is something you claim, your lífspeki is something you show. No aspirations: with everything that you do — every step, every word, every breath — you concretely demonstrate your beliefs.

I took a close look at my life after learning this word to see what my actions were telling the world about my beliefs. I had already spent years recalibrating my life toward something more aligned with my convictions, but I was still doing things out of habit, out of laziness, out of ignorance, that didn’t align with my beliefs. From this new lífspeki-catalyzed perspective, I could see which aspects of my life would need to be shifted into better alignment.

Theoretical philosophy is wonderful, because it allows us to explore horizons we haven’t yet reached in our own lives and understand why others do the things they do.

Taking a practical approach to philosophy allows us to see whether the things we claim are our priorities are actually being prioritized, and where we’re failing to live in accordance with the ethics we claim to hold dear. This allows us to reach each new horizon in one piece, happy for having made the journey.

Update: April 21, 2017

I love this word.

This essay, I believe, was a shortened summary of a talk I gave during the Asymmetrical Press Wordtasting tour, during which I brought up a handful of words I’d picked up while traveling, all of which changed my view of the world in some way.

This new way of seeing my philosophy, though, as something active not theoretical, was immensely influential on what I did next, and how I live my life today.

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