Welcome back to a newer way of thinking! Stren #84 acquaints you with the would-be controllers of our lives. It explains the two easy mental substitutions that jump-start the skill of becoming our own person. This is part 2 of a three-part stren [the others being Know Your Self and Know Your Board of Directors].
We humans differ from other earthlings by our capacity to engage in language, to create, to choose among alternatives, and to take charge of the direction of our lives. The greater size and sophistication of our brain is the source of this special conscious mental power. While we share with other creatures the automatic function of our heart, digestion, breathing, and vital organs, it is our brain that makes us unique by freeing us from a routine existence. Through this gift of exceptional mental capacity, we may become our own person. This is highly desirable because of all the rights and privileges that go with it, including feeling good and “doing good.” If misapplied, this power of self-mastery may also be the source of the unusual worry, depression, suicide, destructive aggression, and miseries we humans commonly bring on ourselves and others.
Since the ability to take charge of our life occurs within our conscious awareness, I will introduce you to a practical method to recognize and develop this source of our mental freedom. Learning starts with labeling. The jumble of thoughts, ideas, pictures, and so on that constitutes our mental activity is made more intelligible by an accurate classification system. The major aim of this collection of wisdoms is to provide the handles that strengthen our capacity for self-mastery. So let’s identify the three “masters” that would direct our thinking, feelings, and actions. Each is represented in our consciousness by thoughts that seem to “pop into our mind” and the thinking that originates in your mind. They are identified as master nature, master nurture, and our mental self, self-mastery. Like a tri-party government, we are influenced throughout our life by what we inherit, what our culture makes of us, and what we our self initiate.
We are already familiar with the importance of our genetic inheritance and our upbringing in determining who we are. Therefore, I need only highlight the fundamental characteristics of their dictatorship that direct our lives.
Master #1, Nature: Our genetic inheritance controls virtually everything at our birth. Refined through billions of years of evolution, it sets the stage for what we are, and remains active throughout our life. Its orders of first importance are survival and reproduction: we are born, we reproduce, we die. How greatly we have diverged from this mold! A prominent instinct is our “fight or flight” response. We are prepared to fight and/or run to survive. Animals need be aggressive to obtain food and protect their young. A related characteristic of our nature is the drive to obtain pleasure and to avoid pain. It does its work through chemical, hormonal, and electrical effectors without need of rational thinking. Nature ensures that our vital organs function without conscious effort; they work “automatically.” Indeed, automatic may describe much of the activity of nature. Nature is oriented to the here and now, and it is relatively intolerant of frustration. An impatient “I want what I want when I want it,” is characteristic. It is prepared to be aggressive and kill to obtain its needs, but, unlike later controllers of our life, there is little interest in killing for sport or on the basis of some abstract belief. It is also important for us to understand that much of nature’s work unfolds well after birth. Our sexual organs don’t mature until about our second decade, and our brain and nervous system are still developing in our late teens.
Master #2, Nurture: Approximately 2000 years ago, the young mind was labeled a “tabula rasa,” an “unwritten-on tablet” or clean slate. Along come nurturers with their chisels to hammer in the “correct” messages. Once imprinted, the message is there to stay. Who were the “inscribers” of your mind? Parents? Teachers? Books? Significant emotional events? Friends? Role models? Mistakes? Power or its lack? And what were the messages? Did they “tell” you whom you can trust? how you should eat ... dress ... look? the approved manner to express anger and aggression? what language to speak? how males and females are to act? what you are to believe? what is your proper place? When you asked why, did you get a satisfactory explanation or did you get the godlike response: “Do it because I say so; I am your parent.” Perhaps you were too young and “unthinking” and couldn’t handle an explanation anyway; or were so gullible you would accept any explanation no matter how unreasonable or biased. Immature and physically undeveloped, how could you be expected to know what was “right” or “wrong”? Until you were “taught,” were you really concerned if you wet your bed, took your sibling’s candy, or if the mirror said nice things about you?
Could you imagine how the demands expressed by your genes might differ from those of your nurturers? They may agree, but more often they are at odds. Our genes say, “If it looks good, tastes good, or feels good, do it.” Our nurturers more commonly say, “If it looks good, tastes good, or feels good, it’s probably bad; no, you can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t,” and so on. Our nurturer’s emphasize words that express “no,” can’t, must, have to, don’t, and a repertoire of rewards or punishments for “good or bad,” “right or wrong” action. Even “bad words,” “bad thoughts” may be punished.
Master nature says, “If it looks good, take it; if it feels good, do it; and if it gets in your way, bite it or hit it, and do it now!” What would your nurturers have to say about that? Why should your nature cooperate with your nurturer’s demands? Was it because of the “should”? If you don’t do what you “should,” “have to,” “must,” or “ought,” you are to “pay the price.” What is the price? A scolding? ... isolation (go to your room, prison)? ... withholding food ... a privilege? withholding love or physical contact? ... or receiving a physical punishment? Perhaps you could get a bit of reprieve and avoid being punished if you responded correctly ... a bit of guilt, shame, or some acknowledgment that you have punished yourself ... especially if it appeared you really meant it. Perhaps the punishment could also be avoided if you were able to blame someone or something else?
Master #3, our self, self-mastery: If we are born with one set of directions, and receive a whole new set of commands from the world we are born into, is there some point where we have a say? Are we destined to be a slave to master #1 and master #2 all of our life? When will I be able to “speak”? Perhaps it’s not a “point in time,” but “over a span of time.” I believe that we have reached a stage in evolution, just as we also reach a stage in our personal development, where the mind is no longer made of stone. We now have paper and word processors. Could it be that the carvings of master #1 and #2 are not all indelible? Perhaps there is some way to modify them ... ignore them ... add to them? Unless you are a strict determinist, you believe, as I do, in “free will,” i.e. the freedom to initiate and choose among alternatives. We humans, far more than any other living thing, have the chance to free ourselves from the dictates of our early masters.
The power and wisdom of self-mastery, master #3, is the primary concern of this Guide, recognizing and developing that portion of our mental activity that frees us from domination by our early masters. Emancipation of our will power and creativity requires a series of tasks: developing an awareness of this marvelous opportunity, properly labeling it, acquiring the words and language that enables it to express itself and grow, filling it with wisdom, and supporting it to become the chief director or executive officer of all those who participate as controllers of our life’s experience. This collection of strens contains bits and pieces of wisdom that strengthen this self. Study and practice of the Guide’s strens provide direction to take charge of one’s own life, to become our own person, to consistently feel good and “do good.”
Since becoming our own person is a task of conscious activity, of our mental self, we need to distinguish the means by which nature, nurture, and our self’s intentions appear in our awareness. First, let us pay tribute to that part of our nature that works without imposing itself on our consciousness. We marvel – and appropriately so – at the intricacy with which our organs perform their duties – digest our food, regulate our oxygen supply, protect us from infection, heal our wounds, and so much more. Our “autonomic” or automatic nervous system is preprogrammed by our genes and requires no directions from our self. Nature makes itself known in our consciousness advocating for our basic needs … survival, reproduction, and protection of the young. Its messages are usually short and uncomplicated: eat, drink, pee, fight, run, engage in horizontal recreation, have fun, avoid pain. It demands quick service; patience is generally lacking. What is “not me” is meant to serve me, as we come to believe during our early “magic” years. Nature is also amoral, selfish, and ruthless in serving its programmed needs. The hawk cares nothing about the well-being of its prey. Destructive aggression is survival’s most important resource. Nature generally follows the principal of survival of the fittest, what has been termed “natural selection.”
We underestimate the power of symbols. Our nurturers direct our thinking through the meanings they assign to symbols, words, and the language they inscribe in our mind. A cross, crescent, six pointed star, or a swastika evokes very different responses depending on our nurturer’s teachings. Ants, pig, dog, cow, monkey, or human flesh are appetizing and arouse salivation in some, while others abhor eating one or more, and may even vomit at the thought. Words are the hormones, enzymes, and “juice” of the mind. They become our “second signaling system” capable of directing our muscles and influencing our biochemical-electrical mediators of action. Language has enabled humankind to become supreme master on earth.
Master nature establishes its domain primarily in our physiology. Our substance is designed to advocate its needs for preservation by physical fight or flight, pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. It is amoral, impatient, and uninhibited by guilt and “conscience.” To nature’s needs for survival and procreation, our nurturers add their wants. Master nurture establishes its dominance in our native language. It gifts us with a mental “second signaling system” that sets us apart from all creatures and enables us to become rulers on earth. Our nurturers imbed meaning into symbols and words, and thus they wire our native language – our second operating system – to emphasize blind obedience, dependency, and allegiance to their personal rules as well as those of the “establishment.”
Prescriptive words: “should,” “have to,” “must,” “ought,” and related words convey that we are required to follow the rules of some outside authority.
Dichotomous words: The world is divided into “either … or” categories: good/bad,
right/wrong, mine/yours, us/them, for/against, innocent/guilty, and so on. Dichotomous
thinking is the source of most prejudiced (pre-judged) thinking.
Blaming: Through the years of our nurturance, he, she, they, it, the world, God, or some
“other” are responsible for us and therefore are the source of any frustration.
I hope you will agree with me that our nurturers’ O.S. is appropriate and effective for the decades we require to physically and emotionally mature, when we lack basic wisdom and adequate skills for reflective thinking. A major problem arises when circumstance and self-mastery require a newer manner of thinking; habit demands that we continue to do what has worked up to now. Through countless repetitions, the blaming, prescriptive, dichotomous pathways have become habitual and virtually effortless. Our current educational establishments are prone to sustain the dependency thinking inherent in our native language. As you will see, the proposed changes to update our thinking are quite simple; the difficulty is challenging the supreme rule of habit. Perhaps our most critical contemporary challenge is to develop and popularize newer educational resources that update our thinking to support mental freedom. Let us recognize that the destructive “survival of the fittest” aggression inherent in nature’s O.S., and the blaming, prescriptive, prejudged thinking of our nurturer’s O.S., are to be expected in all native languages, irrespective of geography – English, German, Chinese, etc. Although children learn different languages and religions, their neural mechanisms process data through similar common pathways. This is why we may reasonably expect destructive aggression to continue until a sufficient mass of our populous upgrades its manner of thinking (ANWOT).
Self-mastery: Over decades of physical maturation and mental development, we gradually attain skill in reflective thinking: the ability to think about our thinking, to be conscious of our consciousness. Reflective thinking empowers us to rebel, to create alternatives and choose among them. Mental freedom, i.e., self-mastery, is not automatically provided to us as are our first O.S.’s. The choice to become our own person is a marvelous option that requires each of us to actively update of our manner of thinking.
Nature favors instinct driven by the collective wisdom of past experience. Our nurturers emphasize obedience to authority and their prescribed standard for thinking, feeling, and action, pertinent to the collective wisdom of the present. The updated newer way of thinking (ANWOT) emphasizes reason based more on knowledge than instinct and/or habit. Mental rehearsal permits integration of past and present wisdom and anticipation of the future consequences of alternative actions, and wisely focuses more on prevention than cure!
A mental self may exhibit brilliance, creativity, and originality in its means of expression and yet remain a servant to the uncritically accepted goals of some other master’s demands. Innovation dominated by nature is likely to amplify its tendency towards destructive aggression, while creativity directed by our nurturer’s perspective emphasizes blind obedience to their prescribed goals. The state of our world, past and present, may be understood to be an expression of the combined manners of thinking influenced by our nature and our nurturers. Our culture currently invests more energy in competition than cooperation; beating others (winning) more than helping; indifference, prejudice, resentment, and hatred more than love and friendship; and weapons of mass destruction far more than weapons of mass construction. We equip our armies for war, not peace. Knowledge of our nature and our nurture’s operating systems make our aggressive priorities quite understandable. Their programs, by which we process information with meaning, dominate our thinking. We can predict that our prevalent manner of thinking will continue to create bigger and more destructive weapons, engage in blaming, and sustain our prejudiced perspectives and uncritical acceptance of authority, even though such action is no longer in our best interest.
Mental freedom implies skill in critically examining the demands imposed upon us by nature and our nurturers, accepting those that remain effective in our contemporary life situation, challenging those that no longer work and indeed may be destructive, and energetically creating and/or modifying the goals that are most likely to get us what we desire, now and in the future. Our well-being, feeling good and doing good, requires ANWOT plus knowledge of our collective wisdom. Both are so readily available! We have yet to direct our creativity to educate our masses in these skills, but we can do so now as we educate ourselves.
The intended outcome of reading this stren is that you will recognize the three masters that direct our life’s experience, the characteristic operating system (O.S.) by which each advocate its own distinct perspective; and that you acquire the two simple mental interventions that strengthen self-mastery. The two following steps that dramatically update our thinking to ANWOT are incredibly simple:
Step 1. When possible substitute descriptive, analog (continuous), personal responsibility words for blaming, prescriptive, dichotomous words. Trigger words redirect our nurturer’s O.S. to personal responsibility and problem-solving and away from dependence, blaming, and uncritical acceptance of authority.
● Personal responsibility: “I allow,” “I choose,” “I am wise when …” for he, she, it, they,
the world, God, makes me …
● Descriptive words: [I] choose, prefer, would like, am wise when, want … etc. for
prescriptive words: [I] should, must, ought, have to, need ….
● Analog words: both … and → this and that, the pluses and minuses, the positives and
negatives of each alternative choice, for dichotomous either…or words. Either…or →
both…and: us or them → us and them; good or bad → good and bad; now or later → now
and later; this or that → this and that; etc.
I observe that most people succeed in freeing themselves from physical dependency on their nurturers in the course of their maturation. We are taught to, dress and feed ourselves, and to provide our own financial support and shelter. What adult wants someone else to be responsible for their bowel habits? Yet, when it comes to emotional independence, too many remain dependent on others for love, endorsement, and emotional support, and uncritically submit to other’s moral directions and value judgments. Our culture currently lacks a systematic educational system to develop mental independence, one that it routinely provides to wean us from physical dependence. Like sheep, the masses are prone to submit to the will of others. Please understand that I greatly value approval, recognition, support, and love from others; earning approval is worthy of our efforts. This is quite different than going through life as a “love junkie,” demanding that others and the world provide for our wants and treat us “fairly”. How many instances can you think of where someone, including your self, engaged in destructive behavior such as resentment, mental or physical aggression, or depression (mentally “beating on one’s self,” even suicide!) because someone or something did not satisfy their wants? Resentment is our mental cancer; it chronically wastes our valuable resources. We would be wise to acquire the basic skill to provide ourselves our minimum daily requirement (MDR) of emotional endorsement, to free our self from dependence on others. To what degree do you provide your own MDR of love and endorsement? What method(s) do you use? Could including the techniques offered in this Guide’s endorsement strens enhance your mental and emotional freedom?
Step 2. Redirect nature’s destructive aggression to energy for problem-solving.
Substitute “energy” for “anger”. Immediately begin the practice of habitually following the labeling of your emotional response as “energy” with the problem-solving sentence: Given this situation (which may be unfair) what is most likely to get what I and they want, for now and the future?
Example: “He (she, they, it) made me angry; he should pay.” A reasonable substitute: “I allow this to get to me. I’m upset; what’s the best way to use this energy that’ll work for both of us, now and later?”
Nature wires us to impulsively engage in destructive aggression, our red alert emergency fight or flight instinct. Physical and/or mental attack is rarely appropriate in modern society; it usually gets us what we don’t want rather than what is in our best short and long-term interest. When a need or want is not met, we naturally produce arousal and generate energy. Energy is our resource to act to resolve tension. The label we use to name what we experience has a profound influence on how we mentally process it to an action outcome. Common labels are “anger,” “anxiety,” and “frustration.” “Anger” is pre-wired to an action outcome that often leads to blaming and/or some form of destructive aggression. The same physical experience identified as “energy” is more likely to stimulate a problem-solving manner of thinking. Reason is more likely to work in today’s world than the instinctive behavior patterns applicable in animals and primitive societies. Awkward at first, repetitious substitution of “energy” for “anger,” followed by the problem-solving sentence will become increasingly effortless and automatic. Problem-solving will prevail as our instinctive destructive and aggressive tendencies atrophy from lack of use.
Consider how the mental activity of our three masters may differ:
A 5 year old and a piece of apple pie on the kitchen table: what “conversation” ensues?
Nature: Ah, looks good, I want it. Yes! I’ll eat it.
Nurture: No! Can’t have it. Maybe after dinner ... if you’re good. Your brother wants it.
Nature: I’ll figure out how to get that pie.
Nurture: You know what to expect when you behave that way. Remember what happened last time.
15 years later:
Nature: Great face, nice ass. Hot stuff. Go for it!
Nurture: Don’t even think about it!
Nature: Sure would like to; I’ll figure out a way.
Nurture: If you play, you pay. It’s not worth it. Think of all the trouble you’ll get into.
Self: There are some pluses and minuses to either choice. I’ll think about how best to work this situation to get what I want and not get what I don’t want.
Can you imagine several versions of how this internal dialogue continues?
You’ve been waiting for 15 minutes in a slow-moving line to get off your highway exit. Another driver speeds in the outside lane and cuts in front of you.
Nature: That S.O.B. needs a lesson.
Nurture: Don’t be concerned about what the other person does. OR: Anyone who
drives like that shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. God damn him! Hope a cop is there.
Nature: No one does that to me and gets away with it! I’ll give him a piece of my mind, or the finger (or some other symbolic, even physical attack).
Self: He was rude and frustrating. It’d be good for him to be taught better, but this isn’t the time or place for me to get involved. My desire is to get to my appointment. However, I can fantasize I’m in a tank, run over his car, smile for having showed him, and maintain my calm as I get on with my business.
In each example, multiple would-be-directors of action appear in one’s awareness. There is often controversy. Nurture may agree or disagree with nature, depending on the individual’s upbringing. A child’s conscious thinking and actions are mostly a struggle between the urgings of nature and nurture. The mature thinking of self-mastery requires years to attain independence and sufficient power to be in control.
I have found it useful to relate my mental function to that of a modern corporation. Policy and action are determined by a Board of Directors. My mental Board is controlled by three major stockholders: nature, nurture, and my self. Each advocates action from its own distinct perspective, the characteristics of which I have indicated above.
Do you recognize any members of your Board? A parent? A role model? A religious leader or text? A selfish uncontrolled brat? An almighty figure, God? Your self? Who dominates? Who is demanding? Reasonable? Passionate? Get the idea? You may also prefer to develop your own method to best recognize the controllers of your life.
How might your Board have looked when you were born? A few years later? Age 15? Age 21? Several years in the future? Are you the same person as when you were born, during puberty, as an adult, in your twilight years? Do you appreciate how your interests and needs change over time? Master nature does not send a representative to our Board demanding sexual gratification until many years after our birth; how did that newer member influence your Board? How has your Board changed over time; and how might you like to change it in the future? Are there members of your Board you’d like to remove, replace, add? How much say (or vote) have you exercised in changing of the composition of your Board?
Part 3 of this three-part stren, Know Your Board of Directors, provides a more detailed consideration of our mental structure. Your power to manage your own life, to negotiate with your thoughts and direct your thinking, will increase as you become familiar with your Board members and the master whose agenda each represents.