In my last post, in addition to with everyone I’ve talked to lately, The Road to Character has been a popular subject in my mind. I can honestly say that this book changed my life, and the way I look at the world but not in the way other books have. This book was probably bad for me in a way, from the world’s perspective, in the way that it changed me. (Once again, quotes unless otherwise stated are from The Road to Character.)
This book taught me something about the way the world is now, compared to how it used to be.
It talks about how in the past, pre-World War 2, everyone had a different view on life than they do now. Basically, this pre-view was focused on morals and values, becoming more efficient in these things and therefore becoming a better version of yourself while staying humbled. The focus wasn’t on the self though, it was on gaining better mores. You didn’t matter. The idea was/is/should be that honesty was worth more than the clothes you were wearing. People were taught mannerisms and behaviors that made them thrive in society and morality was valued.
The shift between views occurred “in the 1950’s and 1960’s to a culture that put more emphasis on pride and self-esteem.” This wasn’t bad. It helped minorities gain notice and recieve basic rights that are important in our country today. Before that, minorities were taught to look down on themselves. They weren’t as important as say, an upper-middle class businessman. This shift made all the difference for hundreds of thousands people.
However, the book explains that the shift went too far. This new view went from teaching minorities that they were worth receiving the same rights as everyone else, to teaching everyone that they were worth more. They were worth receiving more. The book labels this shift as the shift from Little Me to Big Me. This Big Me idea contains the beliefs that you should trust yourself, listen to your gut instinct. It teaches that you are the best judge of yourself and know what’s best for you. “In this ethos, sin is not found in your individual self; it is found in the external structures of society—in racism, inequality, and oppression.” I think this shift of where sin is found is one of the most important parts of this whole idea. In the church, we are taught and warned of the sin in the world, of things to avoid. But very rarely do we discuss the natural man, the way sin is also in ourselves and is something to be overcome and wrestled with.
In the last post I talked a bit about how the book explains that the world is centered around YOU. This last chapter of the book talks more about that, and how some people blame technology for this shift. We can customize everything. Everything is based on our technology and how many “likes” we get. But when did this become worth something? How is a “like” or a “follower” worth more to us than the time we spend with our family, than the people we serve. It’s true that these materialistic social media things bring us more value, more worth in our society. But social media isn’t all the problem.
In the last year, I’ve begun to have a problem with many of the quotes I see on Pinterest, and many of the ones I myself am guilty of pinning. Just scrolling through my own board, I see “If you don’t build your dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs” and “We are stars wrapped in skin-the light you are seeking has always been within.” The church too brings in these quotes: “You are a treasured daughter of our Heavenly Father with infinite worth.” Now I’m not going all anti-church and anti these quotes, but I am saying that I see the problem this book points out. The world (including the church) is CONSTANTLY telling people how beautiful, wonderful, magnificent, talented, worthwhile, valued, and priceless they AND their dreams are. But the world didn’t used to do this. It’s a new development of this day and age and I honestly see it as a bad thing.
This shift went too far, with 1) Positive Psychology, 2) Self-branding ethos and 3) Competitive pressures.
This first idea, of Positive Psychology is one I see around me SO much, especially with the church and having depression. I spent a week in the Behavior Health Center in Idaho Falls this year and one of their biggest focuses was self worth. They taught us to recognize our worth and recognize our strengths and do what we could do and to not let the negative things in the world affect us negatively. The biggest fight that I see against self-harming, is recognizing self-worth.
Okay, so yes, it’s true, we have worth. We are children of God after all. But that doesn’t make us perfect. In fact, we are very, very imperfect. So why then, do we value ourselves so much instead of valuing honesty, humility and integrity? Our worth, while always existing, does nothing if we don’t achieve the Character we strive to be, finished only by God’s grace.
“The things that lead us astray are short term—lust, fear, vanity, and gluttony. The things we call character endure over the long term—courage, honesty, humility.”
Our self worth does not make us a good person. Thinking you’re beautiful no matter your weight, scars, birthmarks, etc. does not make you have mores. Telling your child how special and loved they are won’t make them grow into a successful person. Reaching for your dreams doesn’t mean you’ll learn the skill of hard work. Keeping calm and carrying on won’t help you when you have anxiety and literally cannot stay calm. Making lots of money won’t necessarily make you happy. External challenges don’t complete our inside character. Success and worth are not the same.
We all struggle with things internally, but I think we’ve lost the ability to stop and think about those things, to battle our internal struggles. When I try to stop and think, I find myself focusing on the things around me, what happened that day or what someone else said. I don’t think about if I was honest with someone. We’re taught to shy away from the things we do wrong. To forgive, forget and move on. In our society, it’s not encouraged to reflect on how we’re doing with values, how we’re working to overcome our weaknesses.
After Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah were visited by the angel, Alma was stuck in astonishment so strong that he wasn’t able to speak or move for two days. His internal struggle was so much bigger than himself. It took time for him to recover and sort through all of his problems and feelings. I think each one of us also has the potential for this kind of necessary repentance because although our sins are not the same, they are all bigger than us. We can’t handle them alone. The natural man within us is very real and in many ways, more important than the external struggles we face. “Sin and limitation are woven through our lives. We are all recognizing the stumbling and trying to become more graceful as the years go by….People do get better at living.”
This shift that has gone to far, forcing us into this self-focused world where all we do is try to make ourselves look better and be better and worth more than everyone else is pointless. We are all worthwhile to God and those things mean nothing. This book made me realize that and I’m sure I’m going to end up rebelling against this Positive Psychology now, fighting the system simply because You are not beautiful. You are not strong. You are not irresistible. You are not extraordinary. You’re just a person with a whole lot of faults and problems.
Get in line, porcupine!