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How will you improve yourself?

January 8, 2010

Fork in the road

I guess, with us about a week into the new year, it’s officially too late to “start” New Year’s Resolutions (however arbitrary that date is.) Good, because I don’t want this to just be about New Year’s Resolutions…Goal-setting and improvement plans are so much more expansive than to be boxed into a time frame like the new year. They are for anything, anyone, at any time. I’m no statistician, but I’d imagine there are close to infinite ways to improve oneself.

Let me explain. Madam Curie had a post on her blog recently, I made a comment, and then Mme. Curie responded, (correctly) linking my comment back to my ideas about authenticity. And I realized that I had been implying certain things about authenticity that needed to be explicitly spelled out. One of these things relates to aspirations and goals for improvement.

So, far I’ve pointed out that authenticity is about self-integrity. It is about being honest with yourself and your beliefs, inclinations, narrative framework, etc.,

But this gives the impression that authenticity is a static target…and that if you reach it, you are set and there is nothing more you need to do.

I don’t think this is necessarily the case. After all, even if you aren’t something, you can genuinely (and therefore authentically) desire to become that thing. So, you can aspire to be that. You can take actions on the way with the hopes of becoming that thing.

So, if I take a Mormon framework, I don’t necessarily think that faith or belief is consciously chosen. Rather, beliefs are an orderly set of psychological states…if all the right neural gates click a certain way, then we will perceive that a certain proposition makes sense…if not, then not. But I don’t think we can consciously just tweak a neural gate here, make a proposition sound right to us theree.

So, I don’t think it is appropriate to advise, “Just believe.” or “Just believe on the words of others,” or other things. If you don’t believe, you don’t believe. To say you “just believe” is a lie, and while you can lie to others, your self will always recognize it. Inauthenticity.

But then there is another level. There can be a desire to believe. I don’t think this is consciously chosen either (in other words, if you don’t desire to believe, then you don’t.) But if you do, then this can be an aspiration that empowers you to endure through certain actions. Will it lead to belief? I don’t think there is a cut-and-dry scientific way for this to happen (otherwise, all religions would adopt that and it would be tremendously successful and they’d get tons of converts)…but I think it  can make the *pursuit* authentic.

So far, I’ve been constrained to very limited applications, though. In a Mormon context, there are standardized ideals for improvement, because, even if we can’t seem to put our finger on it (or even acknowledge its existence, there are ideas about what represents orthodoxy).

But if we expand outward, we find that there are *several* aspirations we can have, and most of these aspirations have a higher chance for success. Because even if we don’t have a decisive way to reliably, repeatably inculcate belief, we do have reliable, repeatable ways to, say, gain muscle.

And things aren’t so cut-and-dry. We have the ability to tweak everything to an infinite level of combinations, and then put those combinations in an infinite level of combinations with other factors, so multiply it out, and you get…infinity.

So, my idea isn’t that authenticity implies stasis. On the other hand, with an infinite level of changes possible, why not take baby steps and improve ourselves in ways that we can identify with and *aspire to* first? In trying to understand middle way Mormonism (or whatever name you want to say…liahona, new order Mormon, liberal Mormon, cafeteria, etc.,) I have come to realize that people who take this approach (which is really not just an “approach,” but, as I’ve been saying, infinitely many tailored approaches…) are doing exactly this. They are learning to improve themselves in ways that agree with themselves.

Even in cases when I can’t understand a person’s motivations, I still feel a bit proud of an individual who can forge his own path — whether in the church or without. The interesting phenomenon has been that, recently, in cases where I would agree with a person’s decision to direct his life, I now wonder if they have truly considered how independent they can be. (Who’s to say homosexuality isn’t allowed in the church? The Prophet?! What’s the worst they can do?  Excommunicate you? Shun you? Ban you from the premises? What’s to stop you from taking things into your own hands and not letting someone else “own” your culture?)

This isn’t to say that we should just live life with easy improvement projects, not pushing the envelope. No. But rather, if we are going to have introduce stressors in our lives beyond the ones that just hurl themselves at us, why not choose ones that, if we can conquer them, will shape us in an image of which we can be proud?


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One Comment
  1. FireTag permalink

    Andrew: I think it’s certainly a valid point to say that being in an authentic state and being on an authentic life trajectory are different, but philosophically consistent ideas.


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