Get inside your box!

You probably know one of the "box people." Whenever they meet someone new, the box people try to identifying which box the person belongs inside. "What do you do?" That's the first question to determine a label. Once they know the "box" (based on class, politics, religious affiliation, etc) then they can related to the new person in the way appropriate to how they've learned to treat folks with that label.

Now, suppose they meet someone living outside the set of predetermined boxes? Well, then thefundamental box-people belief is challenged: Everyone belongs in one of the tidy little containers. This challenge will be met with greater and greater demands to "get inside a box! I don't approve of non-box-affiliated lifestyles."

Ever had that feeling? The feeling of being treated as a prepackaged echo of bias and unjust expectations.. rather than as a unique person?

Stephen Goforth

Choosing Your Plan

He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself, employs all his faculties. He must use observation to see, reasoning and judgment to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

You are What you Learn

If all you know is how to be a gang member, that's what you'll be, at least until you learn something else. If you become a marine, you'll learn to control fear. If you go to law school, you'll see the world as a competition. If you study engineering, you'll start to see the world as a complicated machine that needs tweaking.

I'm fascinated by the way a person changes at a fundamental level as he or she merges with a particular field of knowledge. People who study economics come out the other side thinking a different way from people who study nursing. And learning becomes a fairly permanent part of a person even as the cells in the body come and go and the circumstances of life change.

You can easily nitpick my definition of self by arguing that you are actually many things, including your DNA, your body, your mind, you environment and more. By that view, you're more of a soup than a single ingredient. I'll grant you the validity of that view. But I'll argue that the most powerful point of view is that you are what you learn.

It's easy to feel trapped in your own life. Circumstances can sometimes feel as if they form a jail around you. But there's almost nothing you can't learn your way out of. If you don't like who you are, you have the option of learning until you become someone else. Life is like a jail with an unlocked, heavy door. You're free the minute you realize the door will open if you simply lean into it.

Suppose you don't like your social life. You can learn how to be the sort of person that attracts better friends. Don't like your body? You can learn how to eat right and exercise until you have a new one. You can even learn how to dress better and speak in more interesting ways.

I credit my late mother for my view of learning. She raised me to believe I could become whatever I bothered to learn. No single idea has served me better.

Scott Adams,

The underlying emptiness

Think of the person (who) loses a job or a girlfriend and then finds himself in despair. The real cause of the despair is not the man’s loss of the job or the girlfriend. What the loss of the job or girlfriend really reveal is that the person was in despair all along, that his identity was built on something too fragile to be the basis of selfhood. When this fragile basis for identity is shattered, the self’s underlying emptiness was revealed.

C. Stephen Evans, Kierkegaard: An Introduction

Separate Identities

Although the act of nurturing another’s spiritual growth has the effect of nurturing one’s own, a major characteristic of genuine love is that the distinction between oneself and the other is always maintained and preserved. The genuine lover always perceives the beloved as someone who has a totally separate identity. Moreover, the genuine lover always respects and even encourages this separateness and the unique individuality of the beloved. Failure to perceive and respect this separateness is extremely common, however, and the cause of much mental illness and unnecessary suffering.

Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

fulfilling our purpose

God creates each person as an individual and in effect says to each human being: “Become yourself, be the person I made you to be.” The person who is conscious that he lives “before God” thus gains the possibility of an identity that is not exhausted by human relations. Such a person is not forced simply to live like “the others,” but has the potential to say, “I need to live my life this way, since it is what God desires for me, even if it means that I have to break with my society’s accepted ways of doing things.”

C. Steven Evans, Kierkegaard: An Introduction

this is when we are most completely alive

It is when we are in transition that we are most completely alive. I have often asked groups of individuals that I am working with to introduce themselves, one to another, referring only to those things that are not changing in their lives.

The results is a soft murmur of voices talking about where they live and how many children they have and what kind of work they do. After everyone has had a few minutes of that, I ask them to reintroduce themselves to each other, speaking this time only of the things that are changing in their lives.

There is usually a moment of nervous laughter, then a little pause, then there is a wave of talk about the gains and losses that they are experiencing. Before a minute has passed, voices are rising and falling. Intonations are full of energy. There is laughter. Hands are moving in gesture.

Without fail, the second introduction is far more alive than the first—even though it is by what is not changing in our lives that we customarily define ourselves or are defined by the academics who want to describe us in terms of the categories we fall into.

If you asked the people who had done the two introductions, most of them would say that they are tied of things changing all the time and that they wish that their lives would settle down. Yet it is when they talk about all the changes that they are most animated and energized.

Actually, it is not the fact of being in transition that most people mind, but rather that they cannot place their experience of being in transition within any larger, meaningful context.

William Bridges, The Way of Transitions