How Values, Awareness, and Habits Can Help Escape the Dirty Traps of Modern Life

A young Spartan boy, while being flogged, was careful not to cry, not to flick or blink as the whip cut the skin in his back. It was important for Spartans not to show any kind of weakness or be weak in any way. As a matter of fact, it was so important for them that sometimes boys died while being flogged.

Honor and temperance were valued more than their actual lives.

Values are important.

Some values are so important indeed that some people prioritize them over what many consider the most valuable thing of all: their own lives.

The Samurais from Japan are a good example. Should they lose their honor, they committed the Harakiri, suicide by the sword, as life was not worth living that way.

Which brings us to the question: What are the values we praise, or live by? Are we even aware of them? What do we find truly important?

In our modern society, what we consider important, is greatly influenced by our coordinated way of life. Never before in the grand story of humanity have we been more connected than we are now. However, we have also never been as susceptible to propaganda as we are today.

The values of capitalism are so ingrained in us. We consume, that’s what we do, we consume either in a fancy way, or a tasteless way, but we are all consumers, and our ability to consume whenever, and whatever we want has become the defining value of our era.

Your ability to consume will determine the type of person you are. It will allow you to buy/rent an apartment in the area of the city that you feel defines you, and you will also be able to decorate it according to who you “are”. Of course, most of this feeling of identity is just bullshit. Part of the propaganda that you’ve been fed to identify with this or that, really just keeps you spending many times unnecessarily.

This leaves me wondering about the awareness of our values. I believe there is none. We blindly follow what’s hip and cool, what’s “on”, without really pausing to think whether we agree with this way of living or not.

What is important anyway?

Well, for one thing, we can start with boldness and honesty. How about that? Or what about Self-reliance?

Many problems a man has could be simply cured with the correct assessment of his capacities and situation. Please read the following quote:

With intrepid face he stood upon a mound of turf, deserving to be feared, as he feared nothing. — Lucan, Pharsilia

Men have won wars out of ferocity. Outnumbered, willing to die, Leonida’s 300 soldiers almost defeated the Persians at Thermopylae, losing only because of the treason of the Greek Ephialtes.

Boldness will get you far in the capitalist society. But, I can also think of bold people who, at the same time, are ignorant assholes. They value boldness, and “bravery”, but they use them to step on people and are needy of the admiration of the same people they step on.

This is what I mean by awareness: I envision a great person as someone who is powerful yet kind and forgiving. Finding a balance between brute force and kindness can be difficult, as it’s easy to lean too far toward one or the other. But if you’re not even aware of this balance, then we’re in trouble. Either you’ll use your power for evil or you won’t use it at all and won’t be able to fight evil.

When you’re not aware, you let your values be defined by other people. Too much social media leaves a man wondering whether what he’s doing with his life is correct or not, leaving him without a say in the matter, too afraid to go counter-current, his values become the values of unthinking masses.

“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” ―Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s a hard thing to be original.

We want to be liked and praised all the time. How many times have you checked Instagram for likes today?

To develop a true sense of self, you must form honest opinions about everything. Merely agreeing with others without independent scrutiny and genuine belief in the truth of something is detrimental to culture. It kills it. Everything becomes bland and tasteless. Too much agreeableness is destructive to the development of individual perspectives and ideas.

Now, you want to get out. But how?

Two things, attention, and effort.

You are a conglomerate of habits. It’s easy and beneficial to wake up and follow the same routine every day without much thought. Our habits save us mental effort, and if we already have some good habits in place, we will be able to devote that precious attention to other more important endeavors. This can be good or bad. Good because you can develop habits that make you a great person, but you can also, like many others, develop habits that turn you into a zombie. A McDonald’s, 24/7 social media consumer.

Our habits and values are being directed towards a twisted way of life. We consume food and values that make us physically and mentally ill (think Kardashians and KFC) and then consume medicines that do not truly cure us, all while generating profits for individuals who may be deemed truly evil.

And we are not even aware of this cycle.

Due to the power of habit, we no longer recognize our ways of life. We consume cheap food, experience depression, binge on alcohol, and find life meaningless. It is important to remember that habits can be harmful, and if life is not going well for you, it may be because you are not truly aware of how you are being manipulated. And you are being manipulated, and you should be fucking pissed about it.

Awareness must enter the equation.

Awareness lets you see how you’re being played.

But you will only be able to see reality by going in the opposite direction of “comfort” and “easiness”. Eat a clean diet for a week, and you’ll notice it.

Stop drinking and start running and you will see.

Start working on your creative projects and you will see.

You need to form new habits. And for this, William James has the initial advice:

Any sequence of mental action which has been frequently repeated tends to perpetuate itself; so that we find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel, or do what we have been before accustomed to think, feel, or do, under like circumstances, without any consciously formed purpose, or anticipation of results. … The great thing, then, in all education, is to make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and to guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague.

Habit is thus the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor. It alone prevents the hardest and most repulsive walks of life from being deserted by those brought up to tread therein. It keeps the fisherman and the deck-hand at sea through the winter; it holds the miner in his darkness, and nails the countryman to his log cabin and his lonely farm through all the months of snow; it protects us from invasion by the natives of the desert and the frozen zone. It dooms us all to fight out the battle of life upon the lines of our nurture or our early choice, and to make the best of a pursuit that disagrees, because there is no other for which we are fitted, and it is too late to begin again. It keeps different social strata from mixing.

The Acquisition of a New Habit

James gives three pieces of advice to help with forming new habits successfully.

The first is that in the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall reenforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know. This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all.

Don’t make exceptions until the new habit is firmly established in your life.

The second Maxim is: Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again. Continuity of training is the great means of making the nervous system act infallibly right. As professor Bain says “The peculiarity of the moral habits, contradistinguishing them from the intellectual acquisitions, is the presence of two hostile powers, one to be gradually raised into the ascendant over the other. It is necessary, above all things, in such a situation, never to lose a battle. Every gain on the wrong side undoes the effect of many conquests on the right. The essential precaution, therefore, is so to regulate the two opposing powers that the one may have a series of uninterrupted successes, until repetition has fortified it to such a degree as to enable it to cope with the opposition, under any circumstances. This is the theoretically best career of mental progress.”The question of ‘tapering-off,’ in abandoning such habits as drink and opium-indulgence, comes in here, and is a question about which experts differ within certain limits, and in regard to what may be best for an individual case. In the main, however, all expert opinion would agree that abrupt acquisition of the new habit is the best way, if there be a real possibility of carrying it out. We must be careful not to give the will so stiff a task as to insure its defeat at the very outset; but, provided one can stand it, a sharp period of suffering, and then a free time, is the best thing to aim at, whether in giving up a habit like that of opium, or in simply changing one’s hours of rising or of work. It is surprising how soon a desire will die of inanition if it be never fed.

Follow through on every resolution.

A third maxim may be added to the preceding pair: Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain. It is not in the moment of their forming, but in the moment of their producing motor effects, that resolves and aspirations communicate the new ‘set’ to the brain.

Action is essential for change.

No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better.

This last bit was extracted from William James on Habit.

Boldness, willingness, and courage.

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