* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Deuteronomy 6: Love for the Divine (Expanding on the concept of valuing yourself)

Locating the character of the divine within oneself is not really a new concept.  The idea has been incorporated into the belief systems of other religions and philosophies, some of which are older than Christianity and evolved parallel to Judaism.  Still, some people have concerns about looking within because they are afraid they will be disappointed by what they find.  One writer stated that when he looked within himself, he found only selfishness -- that all of his relationships and activities revolved around what others could do for him.  He determined that there needed to be more to his life than this selfishness, and so he turned to the Christian church to find that something more.  My question would be: What informed the belief that there needed to be more than selfishness?  If one is only relying on what is within oneself, and one arrives at the conclusion that selfish behavior leads to a certain emptiness in life, mustn't one conclude that something within oneself contributed to that conclusion?  Something deeper than the surface level selfishness?

Different people will have different answers to that question, but what makes sense to me is that human beings are complex creatures and that one cannot merely glance within and gain a complete picture.  We have layers of thoughts and beliefs, and it requires a bit of work to truly be connected with oneself.  This is not all that different from what the writers of Deuteronomy wanted the Jewish people to understand.  It is a simple thing to say, "Love the Lord your God," but most people require a bit of guidance to put that command into practice.  Similarly, it is an easy thing to say, "Seek the divine within," but most people would actually appreciate a little more direction on that journey.  Deuteronomy 6 elucidates that command for the Israelites, so what follows is how I would update that chapter in light of a new understanding of the divine.  As the biblical chapter refers to the Ten Commandments in its opening line, I refer to the agreements from last week's discussion.

If you are willing to make these agreements with yourself, you stand a much greater chance of living a happy and satisfying life.  Cultivate respect for yourself and you will find it easier to respect others.  Love yourself and you will be better able to love others.  This requires constant awareness, and it can mean working through many false ideas that you've learned through the years.  Because there are many other voices and ideas in the world, you may find that you are reminding yourself of the truth about your value repeatedly.  This is not in any way a weakness; it's simply the process of recognizing a deep truth and beauty and creativity on which you haven't been very focused. 

This is what it takes to have confidence in honoring and valuing human beings (yourself included): Talk about the truth of human value whenever you have the chance, whether in the privacy of your own home or walking about in public.  Put up visual reminders of this truth in your home, your car, your office, and wherever else you spend time, so that you will constantly be drawn back to the reality of your worth and the worth of the people around you.  And if you teach your children to value, honor, and respect themselves and other people, they will have a much easier time living meaningful lives as adults.

Be grateful for what you have.  Recognize the benefits in your life that came about because of the generosity of others, and acknowledge the things you have created yourself.  When you are grateful, it is much more difficult to be distracted by petty disappointments, by superficial comparisons, or by pangs of entitlement that tempt you to place your value above that of other people.  When you are grateful, it is much easier to see the value of other people, to be generous with what you have, and to be connected to yourself, other people, and the world.  In short, gratitude makes life more satisfying. 

Trust yourself.  Even when you make a misstep, trust yourself to be able to improve upon it.  Test the beliefs that other people try to instill in you, and weigh cultural concepts against the truth of human value.  Our creativity can be a double-edged sword, because we can create all manner of distractions away from the reality of our own intrinsic value.  It's tempting to focus on acquiring money or things, to concentrate on what makes some people "better" than other people, or to shift personal responsibility for our lives away from ourselves.  These lines of thinking will never help us to realize our full potential.  Trust yourself to be able to see your own worth and the value of the people around you.  If you see something less than that in the behavior and beliefs you've adopted, look deeper.  At the core of your being is undeniable and connecting truth, a deep sense of beauty, and inspiring creativity.  It's at the core of all of us, even if we have covered it up with other things.  Trust yourself to find it within you.


  1. "Recognize the benefits in your life that came about because of the generosity of others, and acknowledge the things you have created yourself."

    But what do we have that is not a gift? Are not the things we have created ourselves, at most, created upon a foundation of gifts from outside ourselves?

    In other words, can you take credit for your innate creative abilities (or your cognitive abilities, or any of your inherent abilities) any more than you can take credit for the color of your eyes? Did you choose these gifts (or your eye color) for yourself, forming them in a way that would be most beneficial?

  2. Well, people do not always choose what is most beneficial, but yes, there are things that people can take credit for in their lives. Lots of things are "gifts" from parents I suppose, both physical attributes and beliefs to a certain extent. At a certain point, though, people take on personal responsibility for their beliefs. I suppose they can take on personal responsibility for their physical attributes as well, to a certain extent, what with cosmetic surgery, hair dye, and color contacts.

    All that aside, calling something a "gift" implies the existence of a "giver," which is why I chose to word things as I did. If someone is an expert at something, research has shown that it is not because of any innate ability in the subject matter, it's because the individual has chosen to focus significant time on the subject of expertise. The only difference between professional-level musicians and amateur-level musicians is the number of hours they've put in practicing. That's a choice someone made, and it's something an individual can be proud of.

    The choices we make about how we devote our time and energy are personal decisions, and the responsibility and credit for those decisions rests with the individual.

  3. Right, I completely agree about the personal decisions we make and the responsibility and credit residing with the individual. But those decisions, that time and energy expended, are dependent on other things -- like the basic education one has received, and the innate aptitude with which one approaches some tasks (and not others).

    I'm talking about three things (although there may be more, these just come to mind): 1 - nature (DNA), which one can hardly take credit for, 2 - nurture, specifically the nurturing one receives before they are self-sufficient and able to nurture themselves, and 3 - aptitudes, or talent, which is completely different from knowledge or achievement or hard work... it's a natural-born proclivity for a specific undertaking, like music. If you're tone deaf, or can't keep a rhythm, those things can't be taught. Although you can hone, improve, and refine them through hard work, you cannot learn the basic aptitude.

    So, yes, let us celebrate the things we have created for ourselves, but let us also humble ourselves and recognize that each and every one of those things is undertaken upon a foundation of gifts. As such, in a very real sense, everything we have is a gift.

  4. People are connected, and what one person does affects other people. As such, it's possible from a particular perspective to attribute everything in our lives to external influences. At the same time, people make decisions about those influences, even nurturing from a nuclear family. By the way, some researchers would say that aptitude is really only something we attribute after the fact, and that early assessments of talent are profoundly inaccurate.

    My main concern is that people understand their personal responsibility in their own lives. And if I'm going to hold people responsible for their actions, it seems appropriate that they get both the credit and the blame. That doesn't exclude recognizing external influences. No one accomplishes anything in complete isolation. There is a balance to be struck, though, and I believe that balance is best represented by the word "authenticity" rather than humility. As I've said in other places, the word "humility" sometimes leads people to bring less than their full potential forward, so I am quite intentional in choosing other words.

    All that being said, I do agree that there is room to acknowledge other people and ourselves fully, and we can appreciate the value of our circumstances without dismissing our own value. Basically, we are not limited in our capacity for gratitude.

  5. I am suddenly struck with an insight about perspectives. So many of my conversations with Joy have involved her "calling me out" for humbling myself... I make comments that, in her view, over-acknowledge others and downplay my own role in something, and she chides me for it.

    I have to inform/remind her that I am tempering my tendency toward arrogance... that the last thing I need to is to be "lifted up," by myself or someone else. Self-worth is not something I struggle with -- quite the opposite, in fact.

    But her interactions with people seem to have led her to see the opposite problem more often... that people don't respect and value themselves enough... don't give themselves enough credit or validation.

    And I am reminded of that here, by your comments about humility. From where I stand, there's not enough of it in the world. From where you stand, it seems there is too much.

    And so we agree that there is a balance to be struck, as you put it. I'm just reminded that we are looking at the same goal, from different coordinates. :)

    (p.s. This is not a challenge, but I would *love* to see the research you mentioned about aptitudes. I happen to have been tested extensively for aptitudes at a "research foundation" -- not kidding -- and it is a topic of interest for me.)

  6. Yes. It's absolutely about finding that balance, which is by no means the same process for every individual. I like "authenticity" precisely because it implies not pretending to be more than or less than who one actually is.

    As for the talent research...
    From 1998: http://cogprints.org/656/
    From 2005: http://musicianbrain.com/papers/Norton_Brain_Cognition2005.pdf
    And also: www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/03/what-is-success-true-grit/

    And looking more into other research by the folks in these links (especially the original paper by Ericsson that I was able to download a while back for a small fee) will give you even more to dig into.