The Person I Devote
Myself to Being
tom walsh

  

First say to yourself what you would be;
and then do what you have to do.

Epictetus

"Devotion" is a word that has been forgotten to a great extent in our lives.  Culturally and professionally, the concept of devoting ourselves to one thing or another gets lost in situations in which we're expected to do more than one thing, and to do all things well.  It's relatively rare these days that a person devotes her or himself to one profession, to one educational pursuit, to one hobby, to an ideal, long enough to become the best, or at least outstanding in the literal sense of the word, in any field.

And what about devotion to developing ourselves as human beings?  Freud was right when he claimed that human beings like to distract themselves in order to avoid thinking about themselves or their places in life.  Today's world is full of more and more distractions than ever--movies, newspapers, video games, cd-rom games, spectator sports that are more popular than ever, cell phones, home videos, even the Internet--all of these things are often used to help people avoid thinking about--and eventually devoting themselves to becoming--the people they want to be.

Our schools don't teach this devotion.  Most parents haven't thought deeply about who they are and who they wish to become, so they can't pass on ideas and ideals about this to their kids.  But it should be obvious that we can't develop into the people we wish to be if we don't put thought and effort into the development.

I try to keep in mind always that my self is composed of many different aspects, and that if i truly wish to develop my self, it's important that I pay attention to all aspects of who I am.

So I give you a few of the ruling ideas in my life, ideas and ideals that I've embraced and continually try to develop, based on who I want to be.  Yours won't be the same, of course, but until you actually put thought into who you are and who you wish to be, you can't simply expect yourself to go through a metamorphosis and become the person you wish to become.

1.   Other people's suffering isn't humorous, and I won't joke about it.  I put this first because I recently heard an awful joke, made as an off-hand comment, that made me sick inside.  I was in an Internet bar in Spain when an American, about 18 years old, who was sitting near me, commented to a friend about Eurocup soccer scores.  He mentioned Yugoslavia, then said that "there was some ethnic cleansing during the game."  The friend he was speaking to was taken aback.  "What kind of comment is that?" he asked.

The scope of the comment is astonishing when you think of how many people have lost children, wives, husbands, parents, friends, and other relatives and acquaintances due to horrible campaigns such as "ethnic cleansing."  The survivors of these campaigns will live the rest of their lives with horrible memories.  There is nothing humorous about what happened in Bosnia, what has happened in several African nations, what happened in Cambodia and Germany and many other countries, and the fact that an 18-year-old American college student can find humor in such a comment should scare us all.

I refuse to joke about shooting someone if they do something wrong, about cutting off someone's hand if they steal cookies, about running someone over if they're in the middle of the street.  These things simply aren't funny, and there are plenty of humorous things in the world if we'd but look for them.

I admire Bill Cosby's position on humor.  I read in an article once that each script for The Cosby Show was carefully reviewed to ensure that none of the humor resulted from insulting others, putting others down, or other negative sources.  It's a model I believe we all should follow if we wish to make the world a kinder place.

2.  My body is a gift, and I need to take care of it.  Keeping the body healthy is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves, and we should take it very seriously.  I want to use my body whenever possible, making sure that the muscles don't suffer from lack of use, and that the heart and lungs don't grow weak from stagnation, pollutants, and smoke.  I also want to get the rest and sleep that my body needs, when it needs it.  My biggest problem is my love of sweets, especially chocolate, which I consider to be among the major food groups.  I always have to burn off the extra sugar soon after eating it, but I don't always do so.  Often I have to turn down sweets, though I find it easier to take them and promise myself to exercise more later, which I don't always do.

I try to find an ideal weight range and stay within it.  If I'm too thin, my body suffers.  If I weigh too much, my body suffers.  It's up to me to find an ideal range and maintain it.

Staying within this range also helps me in another important way:

3.  I want to use all the resources available to me in the most responsible way possible.  I have almost unlimited amounts of food available to me--I want to use it responsibly, and not overindulge, eating "my share"--what I need to be healthy and nothing more.  In doing so, and in responsibly taking care of my body, I'll never need to replace my clothing just because clothes don't fit any more.  I want my clothing to be comfortable and I want none of my clothing decisions to be based on fashion, but on price (paying what it's worth, not for any brand names) and my personal likes and dislikes.  I want to drive a car that gets decent mileage (but that's also safe), and I want to conserve energy in my home as much as possible.

4.  I want to obey the laws of my country, out of respect to the other people who share the country with me.  This isn't a matter of degree--once I decide to obey the laws, I can't decide arbitrarily which laws should apply to me and which laws shouldn't.  I need to be consistent, true to myself and to my decision.  Socrates argued this point well with Crito; Paul talks about it in Romans 13.

Of course, saying this leaves me open to charges of hypocrisy, because if I find myself faced with a red light at a crosswalk and there are no cars to be seen anywhere, I will cross the street.  How can I justify this seeming contradiction?

Actually, it's no contradiction at all, if I make sure that I'm fully aware of the purposes of such laws.  The light is there for our protection as pedestrians and to regulate traffic, and once there's no threat at all to our safety and there's no way that I can disrupt traffic, the law becomes a moot point.  The same principal is widely accepted  as a defense when a person injures or kills another in self-defense.

Such a principal can never be applied to laws concerning taxes, taking other people's property, driving in an unsafe manner on public streets, etc.  And it's up to me to know the laws and to be responsible in keeping them.  If I don't like the laws of my country or state, I can try to change them, or I can leave.

5.  I want to make my faith an integral part of my life, and not a vague ideal to which I pay lip service.  The rules and laws of my faith should contribute greatly to the way I act each day, to the way I treat other people.

I must also respect the religious beliefs (or lack of same) of other people.  The most effective way of sharing my faith is living a life that reflects the basic tenets of that faith, not threatening others with hell or telling them how wrong or how ignorant they are.  Since my faith is a great help and comfort to me in troubled times, I want to offer it to others as a source of help and comfort, not as a last-chance grasp at avoiding hell, whatever hell may be.

6.  I want my life to be dedicated to helping others in the ways that I'm best suited to help.  I won't compare myself to others who serve people in ways that are suited to them, but I will keep track of how well I do, and always seek to improve my service.

7.  I don't want to judge others based on looks, actions, lack of action, whatever I may see.  I want to withhold judgment and learn more about the person and the basic causes of whatever actions I may see.  Most negative actions are the result of a troubled heart or soul, and any judgment without background knowledge is harsh and unfair by nature.

8.  I want to focus on the positive and beautiful things that life offers, without ignoring the negative, painful, and harmful aspects of life.  Much of my attitude towards life depends on my perspective:  what I see and how I see it.  If I focus on the negative, allowing it to be the dominant influence in my mind, then my life definitely will take on a negative slant.  I want my focus to be on those things that help us to get through life, such as trees and great people and education and really good movies and songs.

I can't, however, ignore the negative and harmful.  In ignoring the bad, we allow it to continue, to perpetuate itself.  If I try to pretend it's not there, I'll allow it to hurt people close to me, and that's not something I can do with a clear conscience.  I may not be able to stop or change the negative, but unless I'm aware of it and have studied it an know it, I won't be able to help others to deal with it effectively when it affects them.

And if I focus on the negative things in my life, I use up a lot of energy and time looking at problems with money, other people, work, etc., and that energy has no effect at all on the problems.  I want to focus on finding solutions, and then on trying to make those solutions work.

It's important to me that I make it clear that living by these rules is rather simple.  I don't obsess about them, and my mind isn't always filled with rules and regulations.  I don't even think about these rules during most of my daily life.  But I know that if I want these rules of action to be an integral part of who I am, I have to think about them and work on them.  But I make a great effort to enjoy life fully and make my life a positive experience.  I don't want to look back on my life and say "Look how well I followed rules," but I believe that by setting rules such as these and trying to follow them, I'll be able to look back and and say that I got a lot out of my years here--that I enjoyed the enjoyable, that I was awe-stricken at the awesome, that I cared for and helped other people, that I met challenges and strived to do my best, and that I learned as much as I could about our world and the people in it.

We have many decisions to make every day, and these rules help me a great deal in making them.  If I have no set rules on matters that I consider to be important, decisions become much more difficult, and it becomes much easier to rationalize decisions that may not be for the best.

And no, I don't follow all these rules all the time.  I wish I did, but I don't.  But I also don't beat myself up for the occasional slip here and there.  I try my best, but I don't always do my best.  But at least I try, and at least I'm conscious of the fact that I'm working on what I see to be an extremely important part of who I am.

  
   

You cannot hope to build a better world without improving
the individuals.  To that end each of us must work
for his or her own improvement, and at the same time
share a general responsibility for all humanity,
our particular duty being to aid those to whom
we think we can be most useful.

Marie Curie

   


 
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