Welcome to stren #54: Why make love our most important enthusiasm? In prior strens, we have discussed the process of freeing our will power from instinct and tradition to assume responsibility for our personal well-being. Who and what we are, and how we are to think, feel, and act are first determined by endogenous and exogenous forces over which we have no control. For simplicity, I have called these forces instinct and tradition.
More broadly they have been labeled nature and our nurturers, or fate and circumstance. These early controllers are dictators in that they lay out specific action paths and command us to follow them. They don’t ask our opinion because it takes years for us to develop one. Nature has gifted us its most advanced brain, containing a sophisticated computer we call the cerebral cortex. Like any computer, it is first programmed to follow commands. Unlike other computers, when our cortex is mature and equipped with language and knowledge, we become super intelligent. As we grow more intelligent, we become capable of self-programming. However, no matter how powerful we become, until we assume personal responsibility and rebel from our early masters – a process we call becoming our own person or self-mastery – our intelligence will remain servant to the whims of instinct and our nurturers.
Now here is the most interesting part of the process of our becoming powerful creators. To the degree that we free our will from the demands of our early dictators, we make ourselves responsible for our own destiny and all that is about us. We empower ourselves to change what instinct and our nurturers have commanded. The greater the knowledge we acquire, the greater our power to make both constructive and destructive changes. We have suddenly acquired so much power that surviving and thriving requires that we direct our energy constructively. Today’s weapons of destruction offer no second chance. Our new pathway must be prevention rather than making mistakes and curing them. We must get it right the first time.
Here is the problem: We acquire the power of knowledge before the wisdom to consistently direct that power constructively. Mental freedom is the power to act both wisely and stupidly. The power of knowledge has put us in a race, like it or not, between civilization and self-annihilation. The recent explosion of knowledge has thrust our generation into the role of godlike dictators. We have both the opportunity and the burden to rule wisely; or we could abdicate our throne and passively allow instinct and the established traditions of our nurturers to persist. This would be a very stupid choice, because instinct and tradition include destructive aggression and war as a favored means of resolving conflict. The win/lose outcome of destructive confrontation is no longer applicable. The outcome of weapons of ultimate destruction is lose/lose.
So, here we are, teeter-tottering between remaining servant to past masters and forging ahead into unexplored pathways. If we choose to move forward, what tools shall we prepare to equip us for the journey? This is a seminal issue we’ll now consider. I proposed the following:
1. Resilience: We need to know that we have the ability to pick ourselves up when we fall down, when progress encounters adversity. Resilience is the antidote for the hopeless/helpless mental response that shuts down our energy. We strengthen our resilience by creating values that make life meaningful, that give us a motive to outwit adversity.
2. Chronic enthusiasm: Our freed will requires a consistent source of energy. We need to know the means available to us to turn on energy; so, let’s review the ways to mobilize our energy-producing factory to supply an abundance of what we need. Our most efficient way is by creating symbols and assigning them meaning that inspires action. A special ability of our cortex is to create high energy symbols that serve as signals to switch on preferred action paths. I label these high energy symbols “word-switches” because they direct energy to new paths while turning off pre-established pathways. Our freed will can use symbols to trigger chemical and physical changes in our body. For example, thinking about biting into a lemon may produce a response similar to actually biting into one. Someone shouting “fire” in a theater may set off an emergency response even more pronounced than an actual encounter with a fire. By recognizing our power to create symbols, link them with meaning, and use them as signals to incite action, we make the range of enthusiasms endless. The issue then becomes, “What enthusiasms do we prefer to value?”
3. A value map: Once our freed will is strong and resilient and is clear on the process of creating energy, we can focus on the selective creation of values. What new enthusiasms shall I invest my energy into? What enthusiasms already provided by instinct and my nurturers are important to keep, and which would I be wise to replace? Most important, as I become a powerful creator, what new directions will best lead to a joyous, meaningful life?
Let’s look about us and ask, what are the most popular enthusiasms? Which are most constructive? Which do I prefer? I observe that seeking love, making money, watching T.V., eating good food, and raising children are high priorities. In general, men invest in sports, sex, and competition; whereas women devote more energy to their superficial appearance, pleasing men, love, and domestic interests. However, the stereotyped differences between the sexes are diminishing. Indeed, the fluidity with which we modify our values and enthusiasms is itself quite striking. What is important to a child changes with maturity and education. It is also apparent that some valued enthusiasms are constructive while others are not. While many pray for others, some prey on others. Most people expend their energy in ways that contribute to the well-being of the world, while some endeavors, like cancer cells, take and contribute little or nothing constructive.
While I find it very interesting to see the number and variety of enthusiasms in which people invest their energy, I am most interested in which enthusiasms, have the biggest payoff. What priorities are wisest to select when investing my energy? When I turn to the advice of the world’s scholars, religious leaders, and philosophers who invest their energies in discovering the art of living, there is surprising unanimity of opinion: The most universally constructive endeavor is LOVE, giving something of yourself to benefit someone or something. Therein is the kernel of wisdom I attempt to convey in this stren, to prepare you for the coming strens on love and love creation.