I’m a contemplative type. While some people are primarily doers, I’m primarily a thinker. This has its advantages but also notable disadvantages (such as not being a doer – people who get things done are useful to have around).
It has occurred to me over the past few days that I’m unfortunately not even a very good thinker. Many of us (especially anyone reading this blog) would agree that it is important in any society to have a few thinkers doing the heavy intellectual and philosophical lifting on behalf of the rest of us.
Intellectual/philosophical heavy lifter? That is definitely not me.
I have been thinking about this over the past few days because a friend of a friend whom I only knew of remotely died last week while climbing in the Peruvian Andes.
I followed a link on a friend’s facebook page and read an article that reflected a young man who was a deep thinker with strong values, who committed very seriously to living by them.
As someone with an interest in politics, with a history of activism, who has dedicated my career to social justice issues, I’ve always just assumed that I’m covered when it comes to standing for something. But on reflection I think my values are mostly on auto-pilot.
When I ask myself what I believe in, I have to take a moment. One thing that springs to mind is that I believe in human kind and our ability as a collective to improve ourselves and our world. I can’t articulate it very well, I have no quotes from great thinkers to help me. But I do believe it, which is why I also believe very strongly in personal development, in finding ways to be better and improve ourselves in ways that feel personally important.
So I spend a lot of time thinking about self improvement (which is terribly unfashionable in Australia, but it seems to be to be a closet obsession of many). I spend a lot of time thinking about my contribution to society, how that should be manifested (should I work hard every day of my life to achieve something useful or should I tend to my soul, strive for personal happiness and commit to getting eight hours sleep?).
But this, I am afraid, has become self-indulgent navel-gazing. Values about the self are important, but not the whole picture. What else do I believe in? I’m not really sure. I think somewhere along the way I found it easier to be the diplomatic interlocutor whose personal beliefs were buried so as not to alienate the various parties I would be trying to bring together. Somewhere along the way they were buried and forgotten.
The Alexander Hamilton quote is never far from a conversation about values, but right now it feels more poignant than usual:
“He who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”
Do you know what you believe in? Can you articulate your values? Ben could and I think he lived a richer life and made a greater contribution for it.