Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Valuable Conversations and Developing Authenticity

Don't think I've forgotten about my romantic aspirations, in which I've decided that the first major step I need to make is inner change. I've been monitoring my behavior with other people over the past months, and I have to say that I don't like what I've observed.

Succinctly put, I still have some elements of Peter Keating within me. I smile when my present emotional state doesn't call for it, tell jokes for the sake of appearance, reduce emphasis on organizing my living towards my ideals, refrain from portraying in person my values, and more. Such crimes against the self have been minor and uncommon in the actual number of times I have committed them, but in my vision of my ideal self they need to be eradicated totally. Given the small degree of second-handedness I have been displaying I am not experiencing any shame or guilt, but I realize with my intellect that such emotions will soon come to pass unless I seize upon my awareness of my bad habits and change for the better.

In truth, this is the same problem I encountered years before in the past, right when I discovered and started learning about Objectivism. Having lived most of my life without an explicit philosophy (given my youth), I have been a rather "empty" person in regards to an authentic, individual personality, due to not having the knowledge or methods to develop a rich individuality. Oddly enough, I got into Rand's philosophy through means of her non-fiction, not her novels, but still had quite a clear understanding that the way I acted around people was faking reality, though not in the terminology of second-handedness. I was embarrassed by the way I acted around my friends and chastised myself for it every afternoon on the way home from school. Eventually I managed to cease the behavior I viewed as against my ideals, but that didn't lead to totally positive action; that is, developing a self that I could be proud of.

So now I've retrogressed a little bit. Being involved more in social situations than I have in the past, what with work, now I'm showing the tendencies I thought I rid myself of. If I want to develop an authentic, lovable self, then I need to work on developing an authentic self. By authentic I mean showing myself for who I am at all times, or: being honest at all times.

I think the reason why I've developed such outwardly second-handed tendencies is because subconsciously I have observed that I don't have a sufficient cause for a desired effect: having an authentic and lovable self. As such, due to carelessness I've taken to trying to mimic the appearance of the effects I want (albeit poorly) and hoping they somehow lead to establishing the cause in a reverse fashion. For example, I'm internally assuming that if I perform the physical motion of smiling enough number of times it will eventually lead to the establishment of the emotions which give rise to smiling. Smiling should, after all, be a physical indication of a person's inner state. Of course, made explicit this is an absurd belief, but if we're not careful with our minds we can be prone to programming in some very silly fallacies.

If I were to continue this behavior in the long-run it might lead to winning the favor of the people around me -- such a "pleasant" fellow I would be -- but winning such favor would be devoid of substance; it would literally be all a matter of appearance. In the long-run it would lead to the failure to make actual value-oriented relationships since my outer world wouldn't match my inner world. To hope to achieve such relationships, both in the matter of friends and romantic partners, I need to work to establish the prerequisites in myself: the attributes that are admirable in a human being and a sense of life that gives rise to a deep love of life and the portrayal of true, rich emotions.

My Project does present a certain barrier in fully realizing my aim, as it's required that it be completed in order for me to achieve a boost in my sense of life and productivity, but I can make a darn good start in two areas: my honesty and conversational habits.

A few days ago a friend on Facebook sent me an interesting article in regards to how many famous men utilized pocketbooks. I myself have recently developed the habit of keeping a notepad and pencil with me at all times to keep track of my recordable thoughts, so this article has offered me good insight on how I could be better using my notepad. I really like Benjamin Franklin's idea of tracking his adherence to moral purity (though his version of ethics is a bit odd) by keeping a daily chart. My notepad is really rather tiny, so I could borrow the principle of his idea by writing two categories of things to aspire to and placing slash lines next to them every time I detect a violation. It should work to make me more aware of my habits, and awareness is the key factor here to initiating positive change.

As for honesty, the goal is to make sure I present myself as I truly am. To provide some examples: smiling only when my emotional state calls for it (excluding cordial smiles, such as during greetings and goodbyes), telling only jokes I truly find funny, offering my true thoughts when asked, and so on. The biggest source of my second-handed troubles is in regards to my mannerisms, such as faking the physical display of my emotions or sincerity, so I pretty much have no problem whatsoever in regards to expressing my true thoughts; I need to concentrate on my physical displays. Sure, I certainly could do better in pursuing more virtue in the intellectual realm, but since I'm neutral in this realm I think it's more important to work on what happen to be actual problems as of right now.

The conversational side is more an issue of lovability and can be considered nearly a cosmetic issue. In observing myself interacting with other people, I've noticed that my usual conversational habits don't concentrate nearly enough on the value-oriented aspects of life; instead I've been concentrating on non-values or anti-values. To be clear, I've spent more time talking about things I dislike or hate than I have about things I like or love. I talk more about what I hate about scrubbing crusted dishes more than what innovations I'd like to make, more about the attributes I dislike in a certain person than what attributes I like in people in general, more about music I hate than music I like, and so on. In talking about anti-values I haven't been extreme -- I don't bring into casual conversation things such as murder, my struggles with my Project, the detestable state of the world, and so on -- but even petty things such as concentrating on unenjoyable movies is sufficient to reduce the likability of a person. It is irrelevant whether a person holds a malevolent universe premise (that humans are destined to suffer) or a benevolent universe premise (that high values and happiness are achievable): Neither person takes pleasure in anti-values! The former type of person may concentrate on anti-values in an effort to make light of them or desensitize himself, but that does not bring him any closer to personal happiness; it only allows him to cope with what is an underlying negative sense of life, a personal hell constructed through a bad view on life.

To elaborate on this, the more you dwell on the negative the more the appearance of the negative stains you. Even if a person such as I were to hold a positive view of life, by concentrating on the negative it's undermining my ability, both in habits and presentation, to present myself as a valuable person. If in conversation I dwell on the negative, then those negatives are staining the presentation of my being like paint on clothes. Since nobody likes anti-values, concentrating on them reduces my lovability, regardless of my virtue.

I observed such a reaction with a particular irrational person in my life, who, despite being outwardly pleasant, relishes in concentrating on the horrible aspects of life. He doesn't merely run into it, but rather searches and keeps a watch out for news on rape, fire, poverty, death, and so on. He seems to do it for purposes of being a moral altruist, as if the mere acknowledgment of a tragedy somehow makes him a better person (he refuses to do anything to actually help), but given our subject it is only his conversation that matters. He talks so much of the terrible things he read in the papers, heard on the radio and from other people, and sees on the television that he seems to have become a sort of emotional embodiment of those horrors. Needless to say, I don't enjoy his company in the least. I've tried persuading him not to concentrate so heavily on those issues, saying they don't constitute the good in life and happiness, but he moralistically protests by reminding me just how terrible they are (which is circular reasoning). As a result, he has become one of the most unpleasant persons I have ever had to deal with, and after dealing with him for so long I can observe his anti-value fixation has prevented him from achieving happiness in life. In dealing with him, I am cold and mechanical, sometimes explicitly hostile.

That is a rather extreme example, but it nonetheless should make clear how enjoyable and valuable relationships can be prevented from coming into existence or even be destroyed if one were to become the irrational person I mentioned above in any degree. If you're one to try and make life a euphoric flower garden, what place does a person who thinks life is one big hospital have in it? Even a person who would happen to share that same hospital premise wouldn't be able to develop a happy relationship with similar people: Whether you think anti-values are what constitutes life or not, they will never make anyone happy.

In my own pursuits, I thankfully only need to alter my conversational habits, not so much my mentality as the above irrational people would need to. Simply, I need to take the "I hate..." out of my conversations. Sure, such negative conversations might be acceptable or even positive on certain grounds, such as talking about how comically bad a movie was, but I would like to reduce it to the bare minimum possible in favor of trying to incorporate more I likes and I loves. Concentrating on values not only does well to create a healthy sense of life for oneself, but to also contribute to the sense of life of others and, therefore, make yourself more lovable as a person.

In my notepad, I'll create two categories: Honesty and Conversation. Anytime I observe that I haven't displayed total honesty in my actions or if I inappropriately initiated a conversation based on anti-values, then I'll place a slash line in the proper category to denote a violation of such aspirations. In the long-run, I hope such slash lines will help reprogram my subconscious to alter my habits by maintaining an awareness of my actions through their representation in the slash lines. My notepad will be my moral teacher. Even if I forget to be meticulous in my documentation, I will at least be reminded of my goals as I open my notepad and see the categories sitting right at the top, or am rewriting the categories each morning (I rip out pages at the end of the day so that I can most quickly access the blank ones).

I have confidence that I'll be able to alter my habits in a very short amount of time. Previously, right when I discovered Objectivism, it took weeks to neutralize my habits since they were so ingrained over the years. What I'm noticing in my habits now is a phenomenon that has only sprouted within recent weeks, perhaps even more recently than that. Such bad habits should be easily uprooted like a weak dandelion, and soon I should be considering in what direction to move next.

Self-improvement in an enjoyable task, but the most difficult thing I find about it is deciding between the vast amount of areas I want to develop myself in. I know about establishing a value hierarchy in order to decide on which pursuits to take on first, but I always want to do them all at once! If it weren't for my to-do lists, I wouldn't be able to keep track of it all. Whatever amount of time it takes, the end result is always worth it.

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