Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Re-Doing Your Philosophy of Life

Originally posted on February 22, 2010

Everyone generates a meaning system. Most often it is an unconscious set of assumptions that help you make sense out of things. Alfred Adler (a physician who was an earlier associate of Freud but then dropped away because of his own independent ideas) observed that children around the age of five begin to have provisional conclusions about the following four questions: Who am I? Who are other people? What’s the world about? And, given my understandings of the answers to the first three questions, what is the best strategy I can use to cope?

Although the provisional answers become modified as life goes on, it is surprising how many people retain if not these earliest conclusions, at least still some rather immature intermediate conclusions as given underlying assumptions for their approach to life. These continue to be mainly unconscious, occasionally coming to the surface as they latch on to some popular platitude, saying, certain parts of religious scripture, and other widespread beliefs.

In other words, a functional philosophy of life need not be thought out, re-evaluated, or tested against reality. Critical thinking, logic, and attention to logical fallacies remains the province of those who take the challenge of developing a philosophy of life up one or two levels, into the realm of conscious intentionality: “I want to re-evaluate my thinking about life,” and then, “I want to think about my assumptions and question them, requiring a higher level of rational coordination.” This is where some more serious philosophy happens.

What if it were considered a social norm, a general expectation for adults in our society, that people attend a kind of week-long seminar every decade or so, one in which they systematically re-clarify their own ideas about life, they consciously take on the challenge of re-building their personal philosophy?

For some, it’s making the shift from having just accepted the way they unconsciously cobbled together a variety of platitudes, attitudes, and images. Admittedly, for a while this innate meaning-making process works, it suffices. People take these ideas from parents, teachers, peers, the media, not being aware that to some degree they are giving preference to whatever resonates with their deeper motivations and personalities. For others, they have begun the process of more consciously re-evaluating it, but such efforts always were hampered by the immaturity, lack of experience, and other factors attending their teen years or young adulthood. Usually there are also residuals of unacknowledged assumptions carried over from earlier childhood.

But this process really should be done, now that we have better technologies for thinking. It needs to be re-done as much as having one’s car serviced ever ten or twenty thousand miles. Here are some of the questions to ask: What is really important to you?  Are you sure?  Does it gel with your other values or are there already some significant conflicts?

Have you begun with over-generalizations? Some words can be too abstract and all-inclusive to
be truly useful. Can you make your emerging philosophy something that actually is helpful in certain or even many aspects of your life? Can you reasonably hope to live up to your ideals and goals?

What if you could create a philosophy that would requre some degree of discipline, a slight level
of sacrifice, some stretching, but it’s all do-able, possible, plausible? Does the goal of your philosophy serve to help not only yourself to bring forth your own natural talents, but also to some extent to put them to the use of the greater unfolding in the cosmos, the evolution of the human species.  Is your philosophy uplifting? Can you have fun with it?  Does it validate a number of wholesome ways for you to enjoy your life?

Ultimately, there are no perfect questions, and no one has any more right than you to evaluate the relevance of the questions, which ones are the most helpful ones to ask in your own situation. You have to become your own teacher. But consider that the activity is worth doing.

What if we chose our marriage partners or some friends on the basis of their interest and ability to join with you in this endeavor?  Perhaps few people even find this quest relevant or pressing, but some will, and I hope the aforementioned words help support that quest.

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