WRITING YOUR OWN PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE

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Selecting your guiding principles

 Moral dilemmas, like the dying wife vs. the profit-seeking druggist, are often discussed in schools and groups in order to "clarify values." There are also exercises in which a group must decide which three people out of six will be allowed to stay in the lifeboat. These activities are supposedly for "moral education." However, the participant's task is to select one value over another (when both are quite important) and then glibly argue for your point of view. These are good verbal exercises or games but, as Etzioni (1993) points out, they, in most cases, do not teach us great moral truths. A true moral truth should be obvious and undeniable, not a topic of serious debate. What are examples? Honesty. Fairness. Caring (as in the Golden Rule). Using your talents to help others.

 Etzioni argues for teaching a variety of "accepted values" in schools. But this must be done through meaningful experiences, not via lectures or sermons. An example would be teaching about prejudice and discrimination through a "Brown-eyed, Blue-eyed experiment," as discussed in chapter 7. Values must be internalized, i.e. made part of your basic living philosophy or your core "self." This is usually done by having real life emotional experiences: concern for the sick is learned as a volunteer in a hospital, concern for the poor is learned during a year in National Service in the inner city or on an Indian reservation, concern for migrant laborers is learned in the fields, concern for single mothers is learned babysitting in small shabby apartments, etc. But first you have to decide to have real experiences. This is based on certain values you tentatively believe in. Let's move on to selecting those values.

 It should be clear to you from Kohlberg's description of the higher stages that you can only be most moral if you have decided on and dedicated yourself to a set of values: for instance, a commitment to democratic decision-making for stage 5 or to a fair, clear cut philosophy of life for stage 6. My objective here is to encourage you, even though you may not be over 40, to select some basic, guiding moral principles that you will actually use to guide your life, as described in stage 6.

 To give you some structure for deciding on your guiding principles, I will first provide you with three lists of major goals pursued by others around the world. These are some of the choices you have, i.e. philosophies, goals, principles, or means to an end you might value and follow. Table 3.1 lists 13 "ways of living" from many cultures (Morris, 1973). Table 3.2 lists 18 "ends" or objectives or outcomes to which you might devote your life (Rokeach, 1973). Table 3.3 lists 18 "means," i.e. ways of being that are considered most moral and most likely to yield the "ends" you seek.

 Please don't rush through these lists as though they were just another cute little personality test in the Sunday supplement. They are the best lists of guiding principles available. Your serious consideration of each value is required because you must decide on your highest principles by weighing one against the other; otherwise, you are in danger of vaguely feeling a lot of goals or principles are acceptable and, thus, never really deciding what your highest and most worthy goals are. Since each value or philosophy of life takes you in a different direction, not deciding on your major reason(s) for being is the same as being unguided or morally lost. Go through the lists twice, first giving your initial reactions and, then, go back and make a final judgment about which "way" is most moral--the best way for you to be the best person you could possibly be. These decisions should form the basic outline for your philosophy of life...an idealistic plan for your life. This is no trivial task. See Table below.


Table 3.1: My preferred way to live

Rating Ways of living
Agree   Mixed   Disagree 
_____ _____ _____ Way 1: Cautiously and intelligently preserve the best of our culture in order to develop an orderly, active, just world.


_____ _____ _____  Way 2: Be self sufficient, "go it alone," avoid close social ties.


_____ _____ _____  Way 3: Be loving, sympathetic, concerned, respectful, and helpful with others, not greedy or controlling or aggressive.


_____ _____ _____  Way 4: Have fun without getting too involved with others. You can't control the world so enjoy life, for tomorrow you may die. To fully enjoy life, think of "number one" first; let yourself go!


_____ _____ _____  Way 5: Get involved with others for fun and achieving common goals. Give of yourself to others to make this "the good life," don't withdraw or be self-centered.


_____ _____ _____  Way 6: Work hard to solve the problems we face. Don't follow the past or merely dream of the future, do something! Science can solve many of our problems.


_____ _____ _____  Way 7: Accept all philosophies, not just one. Fun, action, and contemplation in equal proportions is the best way to live.


_____ _____ _____  Way 8: Enjoy the simple, available, daily pleasures of home, relaxation, and friends.


_____ _____ _____  Way 9: Stop seeking, be receptive, then wisdom and the good things of life will come freely.


_____ _____ _____  Way 10: Constantly seek self-control, firmly directed by reason and high ideals. Guard against seduction by comfort, selfish impulses, the urge to "cop-out" etc.


_____ _____ _____  Way 11: The internal world of ideas, dreams, sensitivity, and self-knowledge is a better place to live than in the external world.


_____ _____ _____  Way 12: Use all one's energy to build something, to overcome obstacles, to climb a mountain because it is there. Use all the power you have.


_____ _____ _____  Way 13: Let yourself be quietly and serenely used by others, by the world, and by the great powers that be, for their purposes are good. Let the true purposes of life be fulfilled.

 Adapted from Morris, C. Paths of Life. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1973.


Table 3.2: What life goals do you want to achieve?


  Importance to you
      Final rank-
     ing of guid-
     ing principle

       Values or Purposes
HigherLesser
_____  _____ _____         _____          1. a world at peace (free of war and conflict)


_____  _____ _____         _____          2. freedom (independence, free choice)


_____  _____ _____         _____          3. equality (brotherhood, equal opportunity for all)


_____  __________         _____          4. happiness (contentedness)


_____  __________         _____          5. an exciting life (a stimulating, active life)


_____  _____ _____         _____          6. wisdom (a mature understanding of life)


_____  __________         _____          7. a comfortable life (a prosperous life)


_____  _____ _____         _____           8. self-respect (self-esteem, feeling good about yourself)


_____  __________         _____          9. salvation (religiously saved, eternal life)


_____  __________         _____          10. mature love (sexual & spiritual intimacy)


_____  __________         _____          11. social recognition (respect, admiration)


_____  __________         _____          12. a sense of accomplishment (I've made a lasting contribution)


_____  _____ _____         _____          13. national security (protection from attack)


_____  __________         _____          14. true friendship (close companionship)


_____  _____ _____         _____          15. a world of beauty (beauty of nature and the arts)


_____  _____ _____         _____          16. inner harmony (freedom from inner conflict)


_____   _____ _____         _____          17. pleasure (an enjoyable, leisurely life)


_____   __________         _____          18. family security (taking care of loved ones)

 Adapted from Rokeach, M. The Nature of Human Values. New York: Free Press, 1973. How others rank these values is described after Table 3.3.


Table 3.3: What personal characteristics do you most want?


  Importance to you
      Final rank-
     ing as Guid-
     ing Principle

       Values or Traits
HigherLesser
_____  _____ _____         _____          1. Self-controlled (thinks first, restrained, self-disciplined)


_____  __________         _____          2. Honest (sincere, truthful, disclosing)


_____  __________         _____          3. Loving (affectionate, tender, caring)


_____  __________         _____          4. Ambitious (hard working, aspiring)


_____  __________         _____          5. Cheerful (lighthearted, joyful)


_____  __________         _____          6. Responsible (dependable, reliable)


_____  __________         _____          7. Independent (self-reliant, sufficient)


_____  __________         _____          8. Broad-minded (open-minded, able to see other viewpoints)


_____  __________         _____          9. Polite (courteous, well mannered)


_____  __________         _____          10. Forgiving (willing to pardon others)


_____  __________         _____          11. Intellectual (intelligent, reflective, knowledgeable)


_____  __________         _____          12. Helpful (working for the welfare of others)


_____  __________         _____          13. Obedient (dutiful, respectful)


_____  __________         _____          14. Capable (competent, effective, skillful)


_____  __________         _____          15. Logical (consistent, rational, aware of reality)


_____  __________         _____          16. Courageous (standing up for your beliefs, strong)


_____  __________         _____          17. Imaginative (daring, creative)


_____  __________         _____          18. Clean (neat, tidy)

 Adapted from Rokeach, M. The Nature of Human Values. New York: Free Press, 1973. How others rate these values is now discussed.


Ratings of Ends and Means Values by 1960 students

 College students in the 1960's ranked freedom (#2) as the highest "end" value in Table 3.2, then happiness (#4), wisdom (#6), self-respect (#8), mature love (#10), a sense of accomplishment (#12), and so on with the rest of the even-numbered values followed by the odd-numbered values, ending with a world of beauty (#15) and pleasure (#17). Numbered in a similar way, the highest ranked "means" values (see Table 3.3) were honest (#2), ambitious (#4), responsible (#6), broad-minded (#8), forgiving (#10), and helpful (#12), with logical (#15) and imaginative (#17) being at the low end of the list. Compare your ratings with their ratings; the ratings have remained fairly stable over the years, except that a concern about equality has gone down during the 80's as the gap between the haves and the have-nots widened. Think about these matters. Read more and talk to friends, parents, ministers, teachers, and especially to people who have different values than you do. But, make your own final decisions.


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