I was reading through another blog this morning, and as I read through one of her posts I came across the following paragraph and I thought it to be very wise and well-stated. And then I just started writing my thoughts as they came to me and let my mind make whatever connections it wanted to make and see where things led . . .
“[E]ach time I encounter a problem outside, the answer to the problem is inside. The problem is AWAYS me and the solution is ALWAYS me. If I want my world to be less vicious, then I must become more gentle. If I want my children to embrace other children for who they are, to treat other children with the dignity and respect every child of God deserves, then I had better treat other adults the same way.” – http://momastery.com/blog/2012/01/22/a-mountain-im-willing-to-die-on-2/
I couldn’t agree more! To me that’s what “being the change we wish to see in the world” (Gandhi) is all about—raising our own effort level; raising the bar on ourselves and what we expect out of ourselves.
This is one of my favorite recent quotes that I have read. . . .
“There is only one way in which one can endure man’s inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one’s own life, to exemplify man’s humanity to man.” – Alan Paton, “The Challenge of Fear,” in Saturday Review, September 9, 1967, pg. 46.
And this is another—
“We live in a world which is full of misery and ignorance, and the plain duty of each and all of us is to try to make the little corner he can influence somewhat less miserable and somewhat less ignorant than it was before he entered.” – Thomas Henry Huxley
I am convinced that if these are the sorts of “centering thoughts” that we choose to wake up to every day and choose to try to center ourselves with for the day—and, yes, they’re choices, because they are something we need to make a conscious deliberate repeated choice to do, a concerted effort to implement and follow through on—then life takes on a completely different flavor.
Instead of life being so much about what we get and how we feel, life becomes about what we give, how we choose to define ourselves, what we stand for, how we behave, and what we are saying about ourselves through our behavior and choices.
What we get and how we feel are not unimportant things. After all no one likes to feel like they’re running on empty. Rather everyone wants to feel loved and appreciated or cared about and not that they are unwanted and uncared about by the cross-section of the human race that they interact with on a daily basis. It’s just that these things—what we get and how we feel—are not THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS, and truth be told they are probably very much a reflection of, and thus tied to, what we give, what we stand for, how we treat others, how much attention we pay to others, how kindly we treat them, how much basic gratitude and decency we walk with on a daily basis.
Because, as adults, the more we make life about getting and receiving and about how we feel—making sure that we feel good as often as possible, and thus going through the day trying to organize our world and our surroundings such that they trigger as many pleasant feelings and moods in us as possible—in the other words, the more we need emotional fueling—paradoxically, the less loveable we become to most people. We actually inadvertently play a part in our own estrangement from others and our own unhappiness.
It’s a difficult cycle to break in life—the cycle of needing to feel a certain first before acting a certain way.
Yet this is just the trap that most of us have fallen into: needing—meaning wanting to the point of feeling like we “need”—to feel a certain way first before acting a certain. Feeling preceding actions. The way we act—with how much decency, goodness, kindness, love—being dependent on the way we feel. If we feel good, we act good; if we feel bad, we act out on that feeling and tend to act much less than our best.
This is the stuff Peck was talking about in “The Road Less Traveled” and trying to help correct in us—that just because we feel loving doesn’t ensure that how we’re acting is actually loving. And that genuine love—genuinely loving actions—often occur when the feelings of love are absent.
This is also what Covey was trying to help people understand in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” when he was discussing the habit of “Proactivity”—the essence of proactivity (and maturity) is the ability to subordinate an impulse or feeling to a principle, meaning to do what is necessary, good, principled, conscientious, right, and loving irrespective of whether one feels like it or not.
“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.” – Thomas Henry Huxley
In other words, the most valuable result of education is to reverse within ourselves the normal course of things, meaning instead of needing to feel a certain way preceding acting a certain way, we act in a certain way first, even before we feel it, even if we don’t feel like it, and even if it doesn’t ultimately bring about the good and pleasant feelings we would like. We still do the right thing, be the right person for the relationship or given situation, we still are the change we wish to see, even if inside if feels like we’re running on empty.
Because for the simple fact that feelings just aren’t always accurate. Just because we feel a certain way about something, doesn’t mean that that’s how things actually are. Just because we feel loving, doesn’t mean we’re acting in a loving or noble way. When we put this much emphasis our feelings—trusting them implicitly to be giving us accurate and realistic feedback about reality—we are falling into a trap: the trap of needing to feel a certain way before acting a certain way.
And the goal of education, of truly building character and conscience and inner decency and emotional maturity, is to get us to flip the script on this. To instead start doing good—what is right, kind, just, generous, noble, principled—first, and then get the good feelings and the real sense of pride afterwards, and not have to have it before.
“To say ‘I love you’ one must first be able to say the ‘I.’” – Ayn Rand
This is the essence of truly having an “I” or a core self and truly being able to say to another human being “I love you”—
“There is something within me that is greater than circumstance, that is steadier than the pull of my emotions and moods and the heat of the moment, there is something in me that stands for something, and this something in me that stands for something is willing to fight tooth and nail against the other parts of myself—against what’s worst and weakest and chaotic and discursive and monkey-minded in me—for your sake and for the sake of what’s best and deepest in me and for the sake of becoming a more truly decent and kind and warm and tender human being, and in particular towards you.”
One of my all-time favorite quotes is this exchange from the motion picture “Three Kings”
Archie Gates: “You’re scared, right?”
Conrad Vig: “Maybe.”
Archie Gates: “The way it works is, you do the thing you’re scared shitless of, and you get the courage AFTER you do it, not before you do it.”
Conrad Vig: “That’s a dumbass way to work. It should be the other way around.”
Archie Gates: “I know. But it doesn’t.”
What if life is really like this?
What if learning how to do this, what if practicing this—acting a certain way (the right or noble way) before feeling a certain way (good, happy)—is what changes everything for us?
What if this is the largest part of what “the good life” is all about?
What if this is the largest part of what makes us “emotionally mature” or more “differentiated”?—learning to delay gratification—learning how to do the right or loving things first, whether or not we feel like it, and then (hopefully) get the good feelings we’d like to have as a reward later.
What if this is what takes life and our relationships to a whole nother level?
What if this is what it means to grow up and be a better human being?
What if this is what it means to do our best?
What if this what Rilke meant by “you must change your life“?