The majority of incredibly successful people seem to rest their deepest source of strength and value outside of themselves.
This is obvious among devoutly religious people, but you'll also find it among many seemingly non-religious. Often, top scientists seem to be animated by a source of strength in the "march of progress," revolutionaries facing capture or execution will say proudly, "You can kill the revolutionary, but you can't kill the revolution."
Samurai had their lords and houses, and even beyond that -- a sense of honor that is timeless and transcendent, not grounded in the earthly.
This seems like it could be disadvantageous even as much as 95% of the time. There are tremendous personal benefits to asserting, "I am the prime mover, I set and define every ethic of my own, and there are no larger forces at work than my own preferences." That unrelenting sense of self-control and self-direction leads to gains in a sense of locus of control, personal responsibility, and a rejection of that oft-crippling fatalism.
And yet. That last 5% of the time, the time when the man who looks outside himself gains?
The man at the verge of crumbling, of breaking down, of losing all… can he say, "It's God's will," or "It's all part of the plan"?
If you have no force outside of yourself, then -- perhaps not. Failure, then, can become total and absolute. And thus, do you battle down to the last ounce of energy and fiber in your body?
The human body and mind is capable of doing so much, and also so much more than most people realize. But when all seems lost, are there greater depths to be reached? If one's own will is broken, and all of your certainty is based on your own will…
What's the final bedrock that you rest your values on, the largest-of-things-that-matter? How often does that serve you, in good times, and in desperate times? Discuss.
There is something to be said for being self-motivated. But the self-motivated man can never capture the motivation of the man who stands for something greater than himself, and he can never match the resolve in the darkest times of the man whose fate means nothing compared to the fate of the Cause.
Religion became prolific and universal among mankind because it gave men that Cause. Those men who cast off the yoke of religion know freedom from its restraints, but should take caution to find some new Cause to replace it, for without one, they are cursed to be afflicted with the doubt and despair that might break them in times of personal failure, and the apathy and sloth and self-satisfaction that caps their rises in more fortunate times.
Each man's Cause is highly personal to him, but you must believe it to the bone, and it must be more important to you than anything else there is. All great men subscribed to equally great Causes, and inspired other men to take up those Causes through their belief. Great men make great Causes, and great Causes make great men. It's been this way since man first spoke, and it will likely always be this way.
The Stoic philosophy teaches you to gather your strength only from within, as outside sources are not under your control. This seems to have worked for "successful" people like the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Did you know that our economic system is heavily based on stoic philosophy? Adam Smith, who introduced the idea of free markets and a self-centered economy was heavily inspired by the Stoa - from where he took the idea of the invisible hand
There's a weird line in the post of what is within and without. For example, you can say that the stoic principles are to the stoics as the sense of honor is to the samurai, which sebastian puts outside of the self. So for example, here's from Aurelius:
"The only thing that isn’t worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly."
Are those values within or without? Sebastian, I don't think that's the type of distinction you were trying to make, right? To rephrase the question as I see it, are those values beyond the self?
Brother, watch out for the games the Mind plays with us. Whatever it is, whether it is within or without, as long as you truly want "to live this life out truthfully and rightly" and you manage to do that, you will truly be the one and only. From my limited knowledge, I have not seen anyone who can truly claim to have done that, even the great Aurelius himself. Not that i am fit to judge him or anyone for that matter. Just attempting to answer your question.Beyond self, do you mean this physical self or that self that the wise call the Watcher within?
How about actually trying this test against successful people? Ben Franklin, Bill Gates, Elon Musk--what are their greater causes? I'm skeptical that this is as true as you say.
Ben Franklin -> see Deism https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deism
Bill Gates -> Philanthropy is a natural "religion" http://www.gatesfoundation.org/annual-letter/2012/Pages/home-en.aspx
Elon Musk -> Exploration. To die on Mars... is not an "internal" motivation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk#Quotes
I think there's a lot of people here picking nits at Sebastian's language. Replace "outside of yourself" with "larger than yourself" and see if it rings more true.
Did Gates really build Microsoft with philanthropy in mind?
Was Franklin really more religious than a typical Colonial American? I don't remember much mention of religion in his autobiography...
Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography, "Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist. My arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph; but each of them having afterwards wrong'd me greatly without the least compunction, and recollecting Keith's conduct towards me (who was another freethinker) and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful." Franklin also wrote that "the Deity sometimes interferes by his particular Providence, and sets aside the Events which would otherwise have been produc'd in the Course of Nature, or by the Free Agency of Man. He later stated, in the Constitutional Convention, that "the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth -- that God governs in the affairs of men."
When overwhelmed, I tend to think about how many people are suffering from such easy-to-solve problems right this moment.
If my current battle is too hard for me, I say to myself, you could always sell all your belongings go help these people more directly, working in a soup kitchen or moving to a third world country.
That inevitably brings me back to, "but the best way to help them is to change the world at a more fundamental level." It doesn't negate defeat / weakness, but it does help me not lose my perspective.
A fun conundrum, and one I ponder from time to time, but I've decided that as wonderful as that inner locus of control is, you pretty much have to acknowledge that *at scale* you don't make things happen. Natural disasters, market forces, a relationship dying--- you've got no control over that. So when you're faced with the abyss you pretty much have to just size it up, and size up the forces you can rally against it, and decide then and there whether "losing it all" is going to make you act in a way you're not proud of.
Failure can only be total and absolute if you allow it to be. If your self of self relies on you being the absolute master of the universe, then you my friend are fucked. You can only do what you can do and make sure that you're proud of the effort, that you gave it your best.
You are already the Master of the Universe when you go within and become One with what is. The Thinker that agitates for action may think that something needs to be done. But that is always what the Thinker wants You to think. Then, you are within its control. The Watcher within, although passive, knows ALL. That is why the Alexanders of the World are gone before their time, and the meek inherit the Earth.
Most people tend to look at the Mind as the great Problem Solver, and hence all the discussions about Man's abilities and strengths are predicated on the Mind in such a role. However, from my own Life experiences, I found that the Mind is the Problem Creator, and if one learns to 'quiet' it, You have that Bedrock you are looking for... within yourself. Just saying.
I started reading "Hagakure," which was written by the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo from 1709 to 1716. I don't agree with everything in the book - some of the things Yamamoto-sama says sound crazy to my modern sensibilities, but there's some powerful quotes in here about bushido. Here's some I liked, with some thoughts of my own -
We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin dangerous line. To die without gaming one's aim is a dog's death and fanaticism. But there is no shame in this. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one's heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he pains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.
The first book of philosophy on bushido I read was the Budoshoshinshu. It had a significant impact on my thinking. One of the largest tenets of bushido is keeping awareness of your death in mind when you live. I try to do this, because it gives you a sense of urgency and importance.
A lot of times the principle is misunderstood - the principle is actually make preparations as if you'll live forever, but live this day that you'd be proud if it was your last. Bushido is not about being reckless. It's about keeping awareness of the end with you, and in doing so, living much more.
It's almost paradoxical - the man who is aware of his death, who relinquishes his claim on life, he lives much more fully. The man who is ignorant of his death does not live as much. Death is not something to be afraid of - it's something to be aware of. Being aware of it makes you more alive, and more effective, and more purposeful.
This post is something I wrote in 2010 for another audience, but it really got started in a meaningful way in 2005. That's when Sam Harris's book The End of Faith challenged me to re-consider questions that I hadn't worried about for nearly twenty years -- since Darwin, speaking through the witty little sermons of Stephen Jay Gould, had taught me a new way of thinking about the world.
What I learned from Harris was that, although it had been a great relief in my early thirties to lay aside my religious preoccupations, I could no longer afford the luxury of ignoring religion and its adherents. That kind of ignorance was a sort of intellectual cowardice. And worse, religious ignorance was dangerous -- to everyone.
So from 2005 to 2010 I read (of course!) a hundred or more books, moving from religion to philosophy to brain science and evolutionary theory (some of those books "belonged" to more than one discipline). I took a few courses, and talked to lots of people with different viewpoints -- all in the service of making sense of religion. And, oh yeah. The oddest result of reading Harris's book was, I ended up a Buddhist.
A second point of origin, in creative tension with the first, is a comment by Ron on an earlier discussion. According to Ron and others, Buddhism isn't really a religion, but a philosophy. That led me to ask myself: What the heck is philosophy? (That is, what does it DO that lets it outcompete other kinds of thought we might engage in?)
Sometimes considering two questions is a lot more productive than considering only one of them! I'd like to offer some answers to these questions (and to a related question, what is science?) and let you guys kick holes in my ideas. Cause that's the way I roll, lol.