By Roland Watson
I now want to shift the subject and make my final comments about behavioral form, at least as far as it relates to individuals. I said at the very beginning of the website that I would try to educate you to make a change in your life. It should be obvious by now that the change to which I was referring is that I want you to be free.
You are formed, and therefore, to a greater or lesser degree, enslaved by social convention, by the expectations and demands of others. I want you to look at the world in a new way: to recognize form in all its manifestations, and to defend yourself against them. I want you to fight the form of your specific life circumstances, ranging from your genetically derived characteristics to the behavioral norms of society, and through this to gain your freedom from them.
I can add, no one would willingly choose to know less, and to be less intelligent. However, when we accept form into our lives, and identities, that is exactly what we are doing. It is only by fighting form that you can reach your full potential.
In this effort, you will have to work on your own, and with your family and friends. But, you can do it. Your goal is to rein in your own negative characteristics, and to give the people and institutions that try to form you a surprise. You want to be stronger than their conditioning and preconceptions. You want to be yourself.
The challenge of personal selfishness
On your own, you should begin by freeing yourself from your personal selfishness. And, to do this, you must recognize that there are two types of selfishness. The obvious type, but which only a few people exhibit, is to be completely self-centered and greedy, caring only for yourself to the point of doing anything, anything at all, including hurting other people, to get what you want. This extreme selfishness is of course unethical, and truly anti-social, and it must be opposed, both in yourself and others. However, the more subtle type, where you think of all information and issues in the context of your own self-interest, including doing this unconsciously, is actually the greater threat.
Indeed, rather than two types of selfishness, what we are really looking at is a continuum. What this implies is that the task of escaping from personal selfishness will be far more difficult for some people than for others.
For example, and once again, I want to consider the effects of child abuse, including both on one's ability to give, and to receive, love. Abuse teaches children that they are on their own. No one protects them, and no one cares for them. Therefore, if they do not think of themselves, no one will. The consequence of this is that they become wholly self-focused, and rarely give other people a thought, other than of what they might get from them. And, as has been observed, if they do find love they regularly leave the relationships first, even in the absence of real problems, to eliminate the risk that they will be left first, and hurt again. Such abuse entrenches personal selfishness to the point of irreversibility, and it also has the effect that these individuals rarely do find love, making them even more alone.
Guidelines on selfishness
Here are a few guidelines for increasing your awareness, and minimizing the negative consequences, of your personal selfishness.
First, always accept responsibility for your actions. Do not seek to transfer this responsibility to others. Here, we can recall the core idea that actions have consequences. However, it is not just one cause and one effect. One action can have many, many consequences. To exert your responsibility for them, you will have to increase your awareness of them. In a sense, you must try to see into the future, to perceive all of the possible outcomes - on many different levels, and perhaps affecting many different people - that your actions might have.
Next, avoid seeking to injure others, as an outlet for the frustration and pain that you feel when life has been unfair. More generally, you should try to be positive about, and supportive of, the hopes and dreams of others.
Also, do what you say, and finish what you start. Even more, apologize when you are wrong, and thank the good deeds of others. Just think of how many people there are in the world who do not do what they say they will do. You should try not to be one of them.
Finally, when you are in a difficult situation, try to be patient in your attempts to find a solution. Good problem solving requires time, for thought and experimentation. You must fight your tendency to seek an immediate solution, since this will almost always be wrong, not the solution at all, or at a minimum second-best.
In summary, to reduce your impact on others you should be self-effacing, even selfless: a null receptor. This requires that you be - at the risk of sounding like the Boy Scout pledge:
Honest. Well-mannered. Sensitive and respectful, particularly of other cultures and the people from them. Patient and tolerant. Flexible. And finally, humble.
For the last, if you are privileged in some way, if you have some advantage, innate or even acquired, such as being rich, or beautiful, or "the Boss," this does not make you better.
Fight your desires
To continue with your specific desires, you want to eliminate what you can, and discipline and control the rest. You should not always want more, but rather accept what you have - what you have been given - which is life, and a wonderful world in which to live it. Desire, like social form, can be either good or bad. You want to throw away the bad, and develop the good. Also, you will have to accept the existence of tradeoffs. If you do one thing, this may well preclude you from another. A life of adventure probably means that you will not have a 50th wedding anniversary, or perhaps even a 50th birthday!
Related to this, there is also the paradox that while you do want to limit your material desires, it is of course enjoyable to collect the products of the creative expression of other people. The resolution of this paradox is to recognize that the value of such objects, and hence your appreciation of them, is enhanced by their rarity. Having one or a few fine possessions heightens the experience and pleasure. Having many, many such possessions degrades it.
Also, for possessions, another paradox is that while you do want to study science, because of the knowledge it affords, you should limit your use of its applications, meaning technology. This is because technology has run rampant, and in many ways taken control of our lives. By using our will to limit our purchases of it, we can win this control back.
Appearance versus substance
There are in fact many paradoxes that derive from our being subject to the demands of form, and a number of these revolve around the issue of appearance versus substance. For instance, following the vagaries of fashion is the refuge of the uninspired. However, is it really as simple as that? In striving for your own originality you will of course appreciate the originality of others, and where appropriate incorporate aspects of it into your own style. But, this is subtly, yet completely different from doing what you are told to do, and following the pack. You do not need to be told that something is original, and that you should emulate it, or buy it. You can appreciate it, and choose to do so, solely on your own.
There are of course many variations on this theme. In modern society you are told that you must sell yourself to succeed, but this has changed from selling your abilities - which is the substance, to selling your subservience - or at least the appearance of it.
Also, for men, and increasingly women, we are told that we should be tough: macho. The substance underlying this is that life is hard, and that you therefore need to be strong to endure it. But the modern form, or appearance, is that you need to be macho - obviously tough to the point of showing off about it. Even more broadly, the basic condition of life, of all living things, is that we must strive to live. But in the modern context this has been restated as the demand that we be ambitious, and that we succeed.
Change yourself, change the world
These are subtle distinctions, but they are real, and they illustrate the meeting point of form and objective reality. Form is approximate to appearance, and objective reality to substance. However, before I consider this in more detail there are a few final points about fighting form that need to be made. For the goals that we are trying to achieve, another paradox comes to mind. We all want to change the world, to be the butterfly of chaos theory that causes a real improvement in planetary and social conditions. However, for most of us this will be impossible. But, this does not mean that we are powerless.
What we can do is change small, specific things. Indeed, this is perhaps the only way that real, enduring change is ever accomplished, anyway. We cannot make life better for everyone, but it is completely in our power to help one, or a few, or even many individuals. While you may never change "the world," you can be the direct cause of improvement in another person's life. Also, we can see from this that the idea in the Talmud, that to save a life saves the universe, applies to a lot more than saving someone from dying. Furthermore, it applies to everyone, including other species, and also yourself.
One of the clearest examples of this is with children. They may not understand form, intellectually, but they sure know how to impose it. With your help, they can better understand what it means to be alive, to be a person, including the severe impact that we can have on other people, and species.
Another aspect of fighting form is that you must free yourself from stereotypes. You have to fight every stereotype, of yourself, and also by yourself of others. But, this raises yet another paradox. People can be generalized in many ways. There is such a thing as a common human experience: as human nature. Indeed, this website is a set of such generalizations, of our behavior, our needs and motivations, and our society and social conditions. However, and here is the paradox, you should never apply these generalizations to individuals. You have to let them be themselves.
For yourself, you should not take on the identity of others. Do not rigidly identify yourself with your employer, or a style of clothing, or music. Be yourself. Incorporate what you like or find useful from these influences, and develop your own unique identity.
And, as we have seen, the prerequisite for all of this is education. You have to stay informed. Information is the predicate of action, including of actions taken by other people against you. You must stay alert and up-to-date, to reality.
In overall terms, your goals are:
- To know other people. To learn to walk in their shoes, and to see them as individuals, by letting them reveal themselves to you, and also by questioning them. Most people never try to do this: to think about other people and what their lives are really like.
- To understand your impact on other people - how they perceive you - which will depend on their own interests as well as your most recognizable traits and aspects, including your weaknesses. Your goal is also to assist other people in their efforts to understand you.
- To know yourself, to be able to look at your face in the mirror with no preconceived notions or forms, in other words, as you really are.
In addition, in doing all of this you must try not to fear what you do not understand. Instead, you should study and learn about it! And, you must be alert to, and work to preserve throughout your entire life, your mental balance. Be alert to any self-destructive tendencies that you have or develop, and if they are serious, get professional help.
A final self-knowledge exercise, and perhaps the most challenging one of them all, because it is a test of the imagination, is as follows. Make a list of all the experiences that you have not had. A good way to start this is with what you want to do, but haven't yet accomplished. Then, add the experiences which you have successfully avoided, like - hopefully - prison. Then, just go off on any tangent at all. Think openly and fluidly about the other things that you have not done, out of all the possibilities in the fantastically complex world of human experience.
Indeed, another basic distinction exists between those experiences that are available to you, versus those from which you are in some way excluded. For example, while you will never be a member of another ethnic culture, you can certainly "join" such a group, by spending a lot of time in it, and through this develop a deep understanding of it.
In the next article, I will examine the issue of behavioral form and language.
© Roland Watson 2015