Tuesday, April 24, 2012

FIVE BOOKS



"YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT.  YOU NEED ONLY PAY THE PRICE.   - Harry Browne

FIVE BOOKS
I'm not sure why I have been feeling so introspective recently, but I have been looking inward a lot.

I have been thinking about five books that have helped shape my life, each one radically different from the others. You may notice that I do not include Shri Guru Granth Sahib ji among these books because, as any Sikh will tell you, it belongs in its own class alone and is not properly a book, anyway. I have tried to leave our all holy scriptures, but found I could not leave out the Tao Te Ch'ing.  Taoists, forgive me.

OK, the five books, in the order that I read them:

The Tale of Genji by Shikibu Murasaki

Markings by Dag Hammarsjköld
Not available on line, but in print and easy to obtain

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Tao Te Ch'ing by Lao Tsu

How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World by Harry Browne

Two novels, two spiritual classics and a self-help book.  

Do any of these surprise you? Do you now feel that maybe you don't know me as well as you thought you did?

If that list doesn't seem to be strange, even contradictory , I can only believe you haven't read these books. I would recommend them all to any of my friends. Let me make something clear. I am not a follower of any of these. I read Genji without becoming a member of the Heian Court, Markings without becoming a Christian, Rand without becoming an objectivist. Lao Tsu without becoming a Taoist and Browne without becoming a libertarian. Nonetheless elements of all are an integral part of who I am today.  I identify myself primarily as Sikh, although the group identification is secondary to my identity as an individual.

Now that the list and links are here, I need a rest. Four of the five are available on line. I believe these to be legal and ethical links. If not, please let me know.

These are pictures of the editions I first had.  (I love the Internet.)



Of these books, the one with that clashed most with my accepted way of life was Harry Browne.  As I recall, the last project in the book was to write my own personal moral code.  What kind of hubris does that take for a young woman in her twenties to do what most people believe is best left to Deity?  So, of course, I did it.  I do not have a copy of it here, but I put a lot of thought and work into it.  

I remember writing that true morality must be based on one’s most deeply held values.  I have always been value-oriented, so this is a logical place to start. That is one reason it is necessary for an individual to write her/his own code.  What right does anyone have to dictate to another what their most deeply held values are, anyway?  So why would I accept someone else’s code as my own?  (“What is a value” is a bit complicated and better left for another day.  You can just use your working knowledge of values for now.)

I knew from the start that the value I held most dear was integrity.  So what exactly do I mean by “integrity”?  First, I do not mean “honor.”  Honor is socially defined and varies from group to group.  Honor essentially means following the rules, spoken and unspoken, of the group.  So honor might demand one thing among my friends and something completely different, even contradictory, within my family.  For example, my friends might expect me to lie about what they had been doing (anything else would label me as a snitch, at the very best), while my family might have a rule that we must always tell the truth.  

Integrity is not like that.  My integrity comes from within me and has nothing to do with what group I happen to be with at the moment.  Integrity to me means being true to what I know and believe to be true in any and all circumstances.  This is difficult for several reasons.

First, it assumes that I know what I truly believe.  That is most difficult.  How do I separate myself from all the groups I belong to, throw out their ideas of what is right and wrong and then choose for myself what I believe to be morally correct?  I think most people never do that;  they follow what they are taught and are content with that.  That’s fine for them, I suppose.  Sheep are fine animals, in their own way. 

I am not a sheep.  Neither are my close friends.

These are not my close friends.


Integrity demands that I ask myself questions such as, what am I willing to live for?  What am I willing to die for?  When and what am I willing to compromise?  These questions really need to be asked and answered in advance of a crisis to be helpful.  Very few people, if any, are able to be clear-headed in a crisis and even if they are able, generally action needs to be immediate, so there is no time for thinking.  I cannot even suggest how someone else might answer those questions, but I have answered them for myself and lived my life according to my personal answers.  I am not going to answer them here;  those who know me know my answers, those who don’t, have no reason to know.

I need to add here that it is impossible to know how you will react in a crisis until you are actually there.  However, if you have thought it out in advance, you are much more likely to act in accordance with your integrity than if you did not.  I know that I have.  And there have been times when I haven't.

Once the individual has answered these questions and knows where s/he stands, the fun begins.  Now is the time to actually live according to them.  This is often quite difficult and the rewards are beyond immeasurable.  My personal integrity demands that I either tell the truth or refuse to answer.  Sometimes this is a bit dicey, at best.  I remember someone once asking me about herself, “Do you think I’m a good person?”  The blunt answer was, “No, you do things that I find reprehensible and by my standards, you’re really not a good person, at all.”    I admit I fudged a bit and still managed to tell the truth: “It doesn’t matter what I think.  What is important is what you think about yourself.”  Actually, that is closer to the truth than my opinion would have been.  Fortunately, she dropped the subject, but had she gone on, I might have been compelled to give my blunt answer.  What I could not do was say, “Yes, I think you’re a good person.”  

Before I canonize myself here, I need to answer one question.  Do I always act with integrity?  The answer, sadly, is, no.  I am neither Howard Roarke nor Lao Tsu;  I sometimes let myself down.  Over the years, though, those times have become fewer and now I can generally expect that I will follow the rules I have laid down for myself.    

So integrity means knowing what I believe and living accordingly.  It also means that I must change my beliefs if I become convinced that they are in error.    Correcting old errors is good. As knowledge and experience increase, old ideas may become shallow and false.  In addition, I do make mistakes in judgment sometimes, after all.  

Clinging to old beliefs that I have outgrown is both dishonest and limiting. 

I do not believe in limiting myself.  

I think this is one thing all five books have in common:  they are all deeply concerned with integrity.

I think that is enough on integrity for now.  Back to my moral code.  I have forgotten most of it, and I would really like to know how much I’ve followed, how much I’ve changed and have a glimpse of the woman I was back before life became serious.  I think my values are pretty much the same, but my understanding of them and how I apply them, I hope, has grown over the last 40 years.  I do clearly remember two statements, both of which I still hold dear.

1.  Do not knowingly say things that are not true
2.  Never surrender your weapons to anyone.

And in big red letters across the top I had written:  

 I have always had a small problem with authority.

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