There will be ideas within you that you will mistake or misunderstand as being you. These are those central foundations on which your values rest. Maybe it’s fairness, maybe it’s fighting for underdogs, maybe it’s being a pacifist or a rescuing cop or soldier. Whatever that identity is it will have its advantages and disadvantages and those will adjust as the times around you do.
Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak suddenly found they were no longer nerdy computer geniuses–instead the times had turned them into some of the wealthiest and most powerful people anywhere. Suddenly their geeky knowledge was very important to all of us. Yet give us one giant solar storm that wipes out any electronics on Earth and they suddenly might find themselves as terrible farmers and hunters in need of a tremendous amount of favours.
There is no way to be a permanent success. Even the concept of success is entirely open to interpretation. A business manager might idolize the abstract brilliance of a clever banker or accountant and yet that same person could be seen as a dangerous villain by a large percentage of the same nation. There are no real crooks–there are only people who do not feel that the same rules that apply to others apply to them. Rules live in our head. So does the Law, but the law has muscle that can lock you behind bars if it disagrees with your thinking (although it still has zero power to change that thinking.)
Society is essentially a set of rules. How to drive, talk, act, eat, meet, leave etc. etc. Societies are fictitious guidelines about how we will all interact. Politeness, honesty, kindness, fairness etc. etc. are all agreements we’re making about how we’ll act in the future. But as I’ve discussed before, you’re only ever alive now so your promises regarding the future will rely more on your sense of duty to your ego than anything else.
The aggressiveness of your defence of yourself will depend on your dedication to your belief of the idea of you. The more certainty you require in life the more pain you will endure. Everyone likes to think of themselves as open-minded but only the most peaceful people truly are. You will find hints at your need for this kind of stability just by looking closely at yourself.
Societies are formed by each culture based on what it collectively values most–hence the law, mathematics, and sciences will be shared by developed societies around the world (e.g. The Rule of Law). At the same time some customs will be exclusively national, or even quasi-continental like bowing in Asia to illustrate status or shaking hands in the countries that used to carry swords.
Collective cultures can clash directly with the societies they try and function in. For instance, most of the hyper-localized community of Wall Street was fine with breaking society’s rules as long as most people were making lots of material gains, and no one really even looked until their beliefs clashed too much with the average person’s ability to live in alignment with them.
Start to know who you are by finding the broad strokes. You grew up in a few key societies: your times, your nation, your region, your city, your neighbourhood and even your family. Let’s start with the times and your nation: what is the current zeitgeist (the spirit of the times) of the Earth? What is the current zeitgeist of your nation? What’s first? For instance, the times currently include more fear than previously, but some nations will change their values to suit their fears and others feel that values set in calmer times should be trusted and that it’s fears that must be controlled. Where do you live and what is that place’s priorities?
Find out how you see yourself in the largest possible sense. Even two similar people can have quite different views on how to act upon their beliefs based on the nation they live in. So they might tilt toward the collective like Japan or they can tilt toward the individualism of the US, but in both places there will be people who personally tilt every direction. Societies are like averages.
Stereotypes simply emerge from the most common collective choices and while they’re potentially at the core of every war they can also be relatively useful tools. As always, it depends on how they’re used. So what are the spirit of your times? What is your nation famous for and do you agree with that or despise it?
Find yourself. Learn what these silent preferences are. Because they are far more powerful than can imagine. They can literally change the taste of food, they can create words other cultures don’t have or need, and they will certainly choose different sorts of governments and wars.
Start this week with your nation. Know yourself as a simple exercise in seeing how subtly your choices have been shaped in a way where you believe them to be yours when in fact they were simply what was taught and modeled to you. Find yourself. We’ll hone that as the week progresses. This is an important exercise. Have a great day everyone!
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations around the world.