Saturday, August 12, 2017

True And False Paths To Personal Goodness

There are a number of possible ways to become a better person. Probably the most useful one is that of learning from people who are good. Of these there appear to be two kinds. One is the people who have always been good people. The other is the people who became good even though they did not start out that way.

Much can be learned from observing both kinds of people. But the person who will be able to explain to you the process the best is the second kind. That is because such a person has had to learn it consciously rather than unconsciously or being born with it. A person who's had to learn something consciously will understand it better than someone whose learning has been unconscious. As a non-native English speaker I am often praised for my command of the English language. That is because, as a non-native English speaker, I have had to learn English consciously; and doing that with anything will give you an understanding of the subject.

Now there are many paths claiming to offer a way to becoming a better person, and most of these paths are dead-ends or worse. I will examine some of these paths here.

One path not to take is self-esteem psychology. As a woman from World War II generation once told me, self-esteem used to be called conceit. Now there are situations in which encouraging self-esteem is rightful, such as in situations in which someone keeps getting exploited. However to claim that self-esteem makes good people is obviously wrong. The way that I treat the next person is not based on how I feel about myself; it is based on how I feel about the next person. Indeed a strong case can be made that it works in the opposite direction. If you have higher standards for yourself, you will find it more difficult to feel good about yourself than if you have lower standards for yourself. Rewarding self-esteem does not reward personal good; it rewards low standards.

Another path not to take is deciding that everything that happens to you is a reflection of what's in your consciousness. This path creates complete jerks. If anything bad happens to you, whether or not it is your fault, you get blamed for it. Now it is valid to see where one can make more informed choices. It is not valid at all to think that, if I were to kill you, it is your fault rather than mine. A person who believes such a thing will be a fair-weather friend who supports you when you are up then kicks you when you are down. That does not create better people; it creates worse people.

A related path not to take is “positive thinking.” Being positive may make you attractive to people, but ultimately it creates more problems than it solves. You think positive, you fail to anticipate problems, you do foolish things. An engineer who thinks positive will create equipment that will blow up on use. A policy maker who thinks positive will formulate policies that cause more problems than they solve. A woman who thinks positive will fall for the line of a player and wind up in a bad situation.

Yet another path not to take is Freudian, or Adlerian, or personality, psychology. Freud and Adler did not become better people as a result of the beliefs that they preached; they became worse people as a result of the beliefs that they preached. With personality psychology, what we really see is a psychology of personal disfigurement. We are also seeing fascism. In the concept of the criminal personality they have re-created the Orwellian concept of crimethink, and with it a totalitarianism so absolute that people are not allowed to be free from it even within the privacy of their minds. With the concept of narcissism they have pathologized most of the world's greatest contributors. And with the concept of adequacy and adequacy striving they have pathologized everything that has taken humanity from caveman to man on the moon. No human being is an adequate match for a tiger, nor should he strive to be an adequate match for a tiger. He outdoes the tiger using superior methodology and in so doing advances the lot of humankind.

With Islam, we see the exact same problem as we do with Freud and with Adler. Mohammad, as a result of inventing Islam, went from being a good person to being a bad person. He started out as an honest, intelligent, truth-seeking person; he became a tyrant and a pedophile. Whereas Paul, as a result of following Christ, went from being a bad person to being a good person. He knew that he was a sinner. Understanding this – and being able with the help of Christ to get from point A to point B – allowed him the insight that he needed to become one of the most brilliant moral teachers of all time.

Still another path not to take is political correctness. Political correctness does not create tolerant people; it creates people who are insincere. For me to actually know whether or not to tolerate or respect the next person I need to understand their perspective. This requires for them to be able to express their honest opinions, however offensive these may be. If people cannot express their honest opinions out of the fear that it may offend someone, I will never know their actual perspective, which means that I will not know whether or not to extend to them tolerance or respect.

Yet another path not to take is unconditional conformity to whatever is around you. Different places have different ways, and most are good in some ways and bad in others. You need to use your mind to figure out when people around you are doing the right thing and when people around you are doing the wrong thing. Then it is possible to make an informed choice: To support them in what they are doing right and oppose them in what they are doing wrong. Doing this makes you a positive influence on the people around you. You adopt what they are doing that is right and change what they are doing that is wrong.

Another path not to take is the belief that you can never be angry or that you can never be negative. There are times when anger is the correct response. As for being “negative,” sometimes you do have to say things that are negative. If a nuclear reactor blows up, you have to tell people what has actually happened. Doing anything else is not enlightenment, it is lying.

Beliefs are correctly judged by their effect on the character of the participants, and that means especially their transformative effects. If someone as a result of adopting a belief system becomes a better person, that speaks for the belief system. If someone as a result of adopting a belief system becomes a worse person, that then speaks against it. We see an example of the first in Paul. We see an example of the second in Mohammed.

With Buddhism, it appears that it does in fact succeed in creating good people. However I have known bad people in Buddhism as well. Probably the best thing about Buddhism is that it has created viable paths that people can take regardless of their religion. It is possible to practice Zen meditation, which has been scientifically shown to make people happier, even if one is a Christian.

So if one wants to figure out how to actually become a good person, the correct solution is both to observe people who are good people and also listening to what they have done to become that way. Once again, the people who will be able to do the best job of the second are the people who went from being not good people to being good people. With people who have always been good people, simply observe. With people who got from Point A to Point B, both observe them and listen to them.


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