We continually armor and arm ourselves with whatever most pleases our sensibilities and simultaneously appears most useful. Our calibration systems for this can be distorted from an early age, as a consequence of intense stress, and thus one comes to calibrate maladaptively, and armor themselves with superfluous junk, rust, and poison, that only serves to hinder and destroy them. Only when we experience and savor the grace of finding the healthiest, most adaptive materials to use for our benefit and the world’s, can we hope to recalibrate ideally.
“There is in every organism, at whatever level, an underlying flow of movement toward constructive fulfillment of its inherent possibilities.”
—Carl Rogers, Personal Power (1977)
A cumulative disillusionment with the culture around us sparks a “positive” curiosity, an orientation toward something outside of the inadequate stuff we’re initially and usually offered. This opens horizons for a salvation of knowledge and experience greater than could have ever been achieved otherwise—the initial disillusionment was a gift, but it is up to us to use it like a ladder to higher and higher states. Retroactively, it might look as if we were given a puzzle to solve, against our will, and wisdom is embracing the lifelong journey that comes with this, and the fate of all outcomes.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
—Søren Kierkegaard, Journalen JJ:167 (1843)
Growing up and experiencing the world with its variety of behavioral patterns, it’s sometimes bewildering as to why people do what they do. As I have come to understand personality psychology more and more, my sense of disgust for toxic pathology remains, albeit in a more insulated, comfortable understanding of the mechanisms behind the patterns of these dysfunctional behaviors. They are no less inherently disgusting, but understanding brings reconciliation and power over bewilderment and shock. It is unbecoming to be so perpetually hateful against dysfunctional individuals, or the mentally ill; in its own right it can become a pathology in itself. My habituation toward personality-disordered behaviors, and my clinical avoidance of their inevitable destruction, has allowed me to escape some of this misery that countless people unfortunately endure daily. It’s difficult to find equanimity about what manifests as abuse and evil, but to do (and be) good is to find ways to counter evil without letting it infect your soul. A holy synergy is found when we (inwardly) accept the existence of evil, but are intolerant of it when acting in the world. I think it’s possible to find solutions to pathologies, to work towards preventing and fixing them, while minimizing or avoiding outright battles with them that will almost always result in a ripple effect of misery.
“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”
—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, s. 276
We must fully embody ourselves. We must pay attention to our words and check in with our solar plexus, our gut, and our bodily reactions to our own speech. Are your ideas ones that you actually want to align with, or were they given to you, like an intravenous drip? I found myself observing something benign the other day and judging it harshly. I caught myself and realized I was manifesting behaviors that have been in my family for generations. When I mindfully reassessed what I was looking at, I realized there was nothing justifying my negativity, and was then able to reframe to a sort of neutral goodwill. I burned what was cropping up—an instilled cynicism—and consciously embodied myself.
“The thing to do seems to be to find out what you are really like inside, deep down, as a member of the human species and as a particular individual.”
—Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being (1961)
Dr. Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments taught how powerfully ingrained ideas about reality can affect behavioral outcomes. We learned that for the majority of people, the default calibration is toward compliance to authority at an extreme level—if a man wearing a coat that indicates he’s an ‘expert’ tells you to torture innocent people and possibly kill them, you should do it (and despite reluctance, 65% of subjects fully obeyed instructions to continually electrocute a begging victim, although the “victim” was in on it and the electroshocks were fake). Autonomy is so easily hijacked by the mere perception of authority: befehl ist befehl (“an order is an order”). Knowing this, it is of the most dire importance that we develop a sturdy sense of self, a refined and conscious presence, capable of meeting authority fully, resistant to being overridden by the fear of punishment for disobedience.
“In an authoritarian culture, people want you to forget who you are, so they can implant themselves without resistance. Just recognizing your own presence, to attend to them fully, is something they don’t expect”
—Ray Peat, Vision & Acceptance Interview (2014)
I think that to continually refine our characters in this way is how we spread goodness. We create an example—ourself—that we can take pride in, and that is worthy of respect by others. In this way, we attract and influence those around us for the better; we inspire those who are conflicted to act righteously, and we create that same support system for ourselves by cultivating alliances with the right people, as a natural consequence of prioritizing integrity.