I hope it is clear to you now that self-help methods can help you become your best possible self as well as deal with serious problems or just change the things you'd like to see happen, like being a better conversationalist. Any self-improvement requires daily or hourly attention (but once done, it may last forever). However, coming up with the list of ways and specific plans at this time to carry out your moral principles is not a once-in-a-lifetime chore, it is only the beginning. You will probably need to learn a lot about yourself and self-help to do what you think you should do; you will occasionally--every few months--want to re-evaluate your major values relative to other pressing desires and urges you experience; you will need to re-affirm and re-dedicate yourself to your highest values; you will need to periodically re-assess your goals and the payoffs to others and to yourself, then decide if your current lifestyle is the best you can do.
You can find thought-provoking ideas about life's purpose in many places. In chapter 14, helpful attitudes are discussed, including the idea of finding meaning in whatever life situation you happen to be in at the moment. Also, how we can use beliefs, such as religious beliefs or faith in science or some political system, to bolster our feelings of certainty and security, is discussed in that chapter. The classic book in this area is Frankl's (1970) Man's Search for Meaning. I'd also recommend reading one of Scott Peck's books (1993), although he has become quite religious. Etzione (1993) and Lerner (1995) speak eloquently about the spirit of community--caring for one another. They say our culture has emphasized materialism and individual rights to the point of demanding getting certain benefits, such as welfare, farm subsidies, unemployment compensation, special education, health care, etc. But, they say that as individuals we neglected to define and fulfill our social responsibilities, i.e. helping.
Others have taken up the cry for responsible behavior (Branden, 1996; Bly, 1997). Baumeister (1992), as cited earlier, insightfully discusses how needs determine the meanings we seek in our lives. Haan (1985) also discusses our development of practical morals. Averill & Nunley (1993) depict meaningful journeys based on caring. But, if you think our social-economic conditions are fair, read Kozol's (1994) description of children living in the slums of South Bronz and compare their life with the Wall Street brokers just a few blocks away. How can we level the playing field?
William Bennett (1993), once the leader of the nation's war against drugs, tries to tell kids the difference between right and wrong by sharing stories about honesty, self-discipline, courage, commitment, etc. Remember: setting noble goals does not tell you how to behave so you will reach the goals. Robert Coles (1996) interviews children and tells parents how to raise moral children. Check out http://www.ffbh.boystown.org for several books for children about values and good character. For pure inspiration it is hard to beat Canfield & Hansen's (1991, 1993, 1995, 1996) Chicken Soup for the Soul series; the short stories make you feel good about yourself and the whole human race. They build your spirit.
In an interesting, easy to read, relevant book, Halberstam (1993) has tried to help people think through everyday moral dilemmas, such as "is it wrong to have sex with someone you don't truly love?" or "are mean thoughts bad?" (In regard to the last question, Halberstam asks: can you imagine Jesus Christ drinking a beer, watching a football game, jumping up and yelling, "Get that quarterback! Smear him!") Much of McKay and Fanning's (1993) guide to being a man centers around values. Finally, 30 of the best thinkers of the last century have shared their philosophies of life with us (Fadiman, 1931, 1990); that should stimulate thinking about your own philosophy. It is worth your time to think about morals.
The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases. Each of us carries his own unique life form--which cannot be used by any other.
Be your own person--live your own life--you are unique, one of a kind--the world needs you--you have many choices--you can be many things.
For those who think I've been too preachy in this chapter, I want to share with you a fable told by Elie Wiesel. It takes place in Sodom and Gomorrah--the cities eventually destroyed by God because sin was rampant. In fact, the Bible says less than 10 good people could be found there among thousands. Four of the good people were Abraham's son, Lot, his wife, and their two daughters. You will remember the story says they were saved by angels... but contrary to God's instructions, Lot's wife looked back and, consequently, was turned into salt. Another good person in Sodom was an old preacher who had come to the cities as a young man fifty years before and was appalled by the greed and gluttony all around him. The major interests of the people were money, partying, and sex. They had forgotten the Golden Rule; they did whatever benefited and pleased them. When someone was ill in the street, they looked the other way. They were indifferent to the poor and homeless among them. They only wanted more and more for themselves. The young man was so disturbed that he started to preach on the streets about caring for others. But no one paid attention to him. This went on for years; he became an excellent speaker and was known as "the preacher." He spoke of the joys of loving everyone and helping the poor. He helped the homeless. He warned of God's wrath. No matter how hard he tried to get them to change, the people of these two cities wouldn't listen. Instead, they thought he was weird. When he was an old man and very tired, a young boy listened to a part of one of his sermons and then shouted, "Why do you preach so much old man? Don't you know people won't change?" The old man said, "Oh, by now, I know that." "So why do you keep on preaching?" asked the boy. "So they won't change me," said the old man.
If you really love another properly, there must be sacrifice.
Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.
-Sir James M. Barrie
References cited in this chapter are listed in the Bibliography (see link on the book title page). Please note that references are on pages according to the first letter of the senior author's last name (see alphabetical links at the bottom of the main Bibliography page).