Principles of Personal
Visio I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. -- Henry David Thorea As you read this book, try to stand apart from yourself. Try to project your consciousness upward into a corner of the room and see yourself, in your mind's eye, reading. Can you look at yourself almost as though you were someone else? Now try something else. Think about the mood you are now in. Can you identify it? What are you feeling? How would you describe your present mental state Now think for a minute about how your mind is working. Is it quick and alert? Do you sense that you are torn between doing this mental exercise and evaluating the point to be made out of it? Your ability to do what you just did is uniquely human. Animals do not possess this ability. We call it "self-awareness" or the ability to think about your very thought process. This is the reason why man has dominion over all things in the world and why he can make significant advances from generation to generation. This is why we can evaluate and learn from others' experiences as well as our own. This is also why we can make and break our habits. We are not our feelings. We are not our moods. We are not even our thoughts. The very fact that we can think about these things separates us from them and from the animal world. Self-awareness enables us to stand apart and examine even the way we "see" ourselves -- our paradigm, the most fundamental paradigm of effectiveness. It affects not only our attitudes and behaviors, but also how we see other people. It becomes our map of the basic nature of mankind. In fact, until we take how we see ourselves (and how we see others) into account, we will be unable to understand how others see and feel about themselves and their world. Unaware, we will be unable to understand how others see and feel about themselves and their world. Unaware, we will project our intentions on their behavior and call ourselves objective. This significantly limits our personal potential and our ability to relate to others as well. But because of the unique human capacity of self-awareness, we can examine our paradigms to determine whether they are reality- or principle-based or if they are a function of conditioning and conditions. The Social Mirror If the only vision we have of ourselves comes from the social mirror -- from the current social paradigm and from the opinions, perceptions, and paradigms of the people around us -- our view of ourselves is like the reflection in the crazy mirror room at the carnival. 35 "You're never on time." "Why can't you ever keep things in order?" "You must be an artist!" "You eat like a horse!" "I can't believe you won!" "This is so simple. Why can't you understand?" These visions are disjointed and out of proportion. They are often more projections than reflections, projecting the concerns and character weaknesses of people giving the input rather than accurately reflecting what we are. The reflection of the current social paradigm tells us we are largely determined by conditioning and conditions. While we have acknowledged the tremendous power of conditioning in our lives, to say that we are determined by it, that we have no control over that influence, creates quite a different map. There are actually three social maps -- three theories of determinism widely accepted, independently or in combination, to explain the nature of man. Genetic determinism basically says your grandparents did it to you. That's why you have such a temper. Your grandparents had short tempers and it's in your DNA. It just goes through the generations and you inherited it. In addition, you're Irish, and that's the nature of Irish people. Psychic determinism basically says your parents did it to you. Your upbringing, your childhood experience essentially laid out your personal tendencies and your character structure. That's why you're afraid to be in front of a group. It's the way your parents brought you up. You feel terribly guilty if you make a mistake because you "remember" deep inside the emotional scripting when you were very vulnerable and tender and dependent. You "remember" the emotional punishment, the rejection, the comparison with somebody else when you didn't perform as well as expected. Environmental determinism basically says your boss is doing to you -- or your spouse, or that bratty teenager, or your economic situation, or national policies. Someone or something in your environment is responsible for your situation. Each of these maps is based on the stimulus/response theory we most often think of in connection with Pavlov's experiments with dogs. The basic idea is that we are conditioned to respond in a particular way to a particular stimulus. How accurately and functionally do these deterministic maps describe the territory? How clearly do these mirrors reflect the true nature of man? Do they become self-fulfilling prophecies? Are they based on principles we can validate within ourselves? Between Stimulus and Response In answer to those questions, let me share with you the catalytic story of Viktor Frankl. 36 Frankl was a determinist raised in the tradition of Freudian psychology, which postulates that whatever happens to you as a child shapes your character and personality and basically governs your whole life. The limits and parameters of your life are set, and, basically, you can't do much about it. Frankl was also a psychiatrist and a Jew. He was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where he experienced things that were so repugnant to our sense of decency that we shudder to even repeat them. His parents, his brother, and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. Except for his sister, his entire family perished. Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens or if he would be among the "saved" who would remove the bodies or shovel out the ashes of those so fated. One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called "the last of the human freedoms" -- the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Viktor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact. He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response. In the midst of his experiences, Frankl would project himself into different circumstances, such as lecturing to his students after his release from the death camps. He would describe himself in the classroom, in his mind's eye, and give his students the lessons he was learning during his very torture. Through a series of such disciplines -- mental, emotional, and moral, principally using memory and imagination -- he exercised his small, embryonic freedom until it grew larger and larger, until he had more freedom than his Nazi captors. They had more liberty, more options to choose from in their environment; but he had more freedom, more internal power to exercise his options. He became an inspiration to those around him, even to some of the guards. He helped others find meaning in their suffering and dignity in their prison existence. In the midst of the most degrading circumstances imaginable, Frankl used the human endowment of self-awareness to discover a fundamental principle about the nature of man: Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose. Within the freedom to choose are those endowments that make us uniquely human. In addition to self-awareness, we have imagination -- the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality. We have conscience -- a deep inner awareness of right and wrong, of the principles that govern our behavior, and a sense of the degree to which our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them. And we have independent will -- the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all other influences. Even the most intelligent animals have none of these endowments. To use a computer metaphor, they are programmed by instinct and/or training. They can be trained to be responsible, but they can't take responsibility for that training; in other words, they can't direct it. They can't change the programming. They're not even aware of it. But because of our unique human endowments, we can write new programs for ourselves totally apart from our instincts and training. This is why an animal's capacity is relatively limited and man's is unlimited. But if we live like animals, out of our own 37 instincts and conditioning and conditions, out of our collective memory, we too will be limited. The deterministic paradigm comes primarily from the study of animals -- rats, monkeys, pigeons, dogs -- and neurotic and psychotic people. While this may meet certain criteria of some researchers because it seems measurable and predictable, the history of mankind and our own self-awareness tell us that this map doesn't describe the territory at all! Our unique human endowments lift us above the animal world. The extent to which we exercise and develop these endowments empowers us to fulfill our uniquely human potential. Between stimulus and response is our greatest power -- the freedom to choose.