I HAVE A QUESTION FOR YOU. On what do you
base your actions? On feelings? On thoughts? If these two are
in conflict, which gets the "last word?"
One camp says your feelings are most fundamental,
and should be relied on above thoughts. It says that thoughts
are only based on conventional knowledge and nonsense we've picked
up from our parents. But feelings they have a deep
root, a spiritual source, or just a natural source of your basic
constitution or "Buddha-nature." There are lots of
different ways to use it, but the basic idea is that decisions
about what to do are based on what you feel more than what you
The other camp is the rational camp. Rationally
think through what is best and decide based on logic and reason.
Use what scientific evidence or simply your personal observations
and decide what is best and then do it, whether you like it or
In the feeling camp, there is a tendency
to not stick to anything long enough to get anything done. Yes,
stretching feels good, and for awhile you'll do it. But then
there will be some days you don't feel like it, and after awhile,
you will find you've gone a long time without stretching. Or
exercising, or working on that goal or whatever. The feeling
camp is dreadfully lacking in follow-through.
The thinking camp has a frightening side.
The ultimate example is the general who decides what's the best
plan of attack, and commits soldiers to the trajectory even though
it is certain many of them will die. Or the rational idea that
there are too many people in the world, which is quite true,
but then some woman in remote China has a baby girl, and they
aren't as valued in that culture as a boy, and taxes on more
than one baby is high. It is rational to kill the baby.
These two can be merged, and in truth,
they are merged in most people. But when they are merged,
thinking must have the last word. If you want to accomplish
anything, thinking must have the last word. Feelings change all
the time. That is the nature of feeling. Any approach to accomplishment
that is based on feelings will suffer from fits and starts and
lots of abandoned projects.
Recent research suggests that rational
thought needs to take into account feelings. When it doesn't,
it's not fully rational in a human sense. Feelings need to be
involved in the decision making process. Feelings need to be
consulted, as a president consults his trusted advisors. But
thought makes the final decision. And actions must be
based on decisions thoughts not on feelings.
Intellect decides. Body obeys.
That's what works. The source of action
needs to be decisions.
I have heard the suggestion, "be yourself,"
in so many places. I have read it from so many people I respect,
from Emerson's essay Self-Reliance
to Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Be yourself. It doesn't work to try to please others, or to pretend
to be what you're not.
Fair enough. And quite true. But what is
That's not a silly question. Do
you consider "yourself" your set of feelings? Your
"personality?" Your beliefs? A nonphysical soul? It
makes a difference what you think because it will determine the
source of your actions.
When I was younger, I thought of my "self"
as whatever I was spontaneously. My rational side was suspect
and sort of an enemy.
For much of my life I thought of my "self"
as my personality. But that just means the ways I have learned
how to adapt to previous environments. In other words, if my
mom thought it was cute when I was being silly, I might develop
a set of behaviors that might be bunched together under the heading
SILLY. And we all have a whole slew of different "acts"
or behavior patterns we are familiar with and have, in a sense,
practiced. But are my accumulated behavior patterns "me?"
Are they what I should be when I'm "being myself?"
The answer is no.
The self indicated in "being yourself"
is the standards you have decided on. Not the standards
you think others will approve of. Not the standards you were
given by your parents. Not the standards of the society or religion
of which you are a part. But the standards you have thought through
and decided on.
The alternative is to "be yourself"
by simply doing what comes naturally, which means (if you are
like most of us) only exercising when you feel like it, yelling
at people when you're angry, being selfish and stingy sometimes,
and saying rude or offensive things which you will regret later.
This is no way to live. It is much more sane to be yourself by
deciding what standards of behavior you really want to live by
and then following your own standard.
For example, I set a high value on living
with a sense of purpose. My parents didn't, but that doesn't
matter. I have thought it through and experimented with my life
and have decided one of the things I value most highly is setting
clear goals and persisting until they are achieved.
Now, given that standard, "being myself"
would have to include setting clear goals and following though
Good posture is one of my standards. Being
loyal to those to whom I have committed myself is another. Being
trustworthy is too.
If you sat down and wrote out what you
think an ideal person would act like, you would get a finite
list. And you would also have a set of standards to which you
could then try to adhere. The adherence to your own standards
is "being yourself."
Intellect decides. Body obeys. Your intellect,
taking what you know and have experienced into account, and taking
your feelings into account, decides what your standards
of behavior are, and then you make sure that's what you do.
And what you decide on are standards of
behavior. Not feelings. You can't say, I will never
feel angry. But you can decide not to yell.
Sit down and decide what you think
should be your standards. What behaviors represent you at your
best. Decide to be that and you are being yourself. For
THE CONDUCT OF AN IDEAL MAN
1. He sets clear goals and persists to
2. He is loyal and trustworthy.
3. He never flinches.
4. He is honest and direct.
5. He keeps himself physically fit.
6. He always conducts himself with good manners.
7. He never yells except in emergencies.
Standards are a goal of perfection that you continually shoot
for. In any given moment, you may fail, but you still know what
you're shooting for and you keep trying. That way, over time,
you become more and more true to yourself.