I like that Booker T. Washington was a practical man. His legacy seems to me to have been this- be responsible. His school the Tuskegee Institute taught practical subjects, which were in the most part things one could do with the hands. I think deep down he thought that it would be difficult for black people who had just come out of slavery to get intellectual jobs. Although most people wouldn’t need philosophy professors, they will need plumbers to fix their drains.
And Booker Tee gets very practical. In the book Character Building, which if I remember correctly was a collection of speeches to his student assembly, he is specific. The counsel is lay your bed. Be punctual. Clean your room. Sweep your house. Paint it. Shine your own shoes. Wash your clothes if you can’t afford laundry. Live within your means.
He seemed to be saying you have no excuse. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Although, Booker Tee’s advice was for his students, we can all learn from them.
Often when I tell people to be responsible ( I usually don’t do this. I like to mind my own business.) indirectly- I might tell a friend to save some money from his salary, or not to harbour a grudge-, they seem to think I don’t think they are in difficulty. That I don’t appreciate the troubles they are going through. But being pressed is no excuse for not being responsible, at least for yourself. There can be thousand and one things you have to buy. You might have been wronged so bad that there is no room to consider forgiveness; but holding a grudge is not good for your emotional well-being. I am not saying you should join hands with those who have wronged you to sing We Are the World under a full moon. It’s just that letting grudges go brings peace of mind.
TAKING CARE OF YOUR SELF. PARTS OF THE SELF
I like to use James Altucher’s categories on well-being- physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual.
We need to take charge of our bodies. This brings to mind those days when I was fat. I seemed to have woken up one day, and became inflated like a balloon. I started hearing people say I was fat. Well, I kept eating. But the fact is that I didn’t become fat in a day. I got fat everyday. A single meal can’t even increase your body weight by 5%. So the thing I have found to be productive is to watch what I put into my body everyday. It is also important to have good sleep. For me, I need 7 hours of sleep to function well. It is also important to do some exercise. I usually do 60 push ups, 20 leg raises and 20 squats each day. Don’t try to kill yourself. I have learnt that the best way to accomplish great things is to do just a little of it consistently. Of course, this will not work in every situation, but it will work in most. Doing consistent simple work helps me to avoid burnout. I feel uncomfortable saying this because it gives the impression that I am very consistent when the truth is that I am often lazy. Being in good physical health is important because to a great extent life sucks when one is ill. Of course, one can find himself in a freak accident or have a disease that nothing can be done about, but being responsible for our body will enable us to avoid most health problems.
We need to be responsible for our emotional well-being. I want to avoid all hassles. I know hardship builds character, but I only want the ones life brings my way. I don’t ever want to go after them. I want to mind my own business. Although, I am not always successful, I have been getting better. I have been trying not to get sucked up in other people’s headaches. I am not glorifying selfishness, except that I don’t make other people’s individual problems mine. For example, if I live in the same apartment with someone who doesn’t like washing his clothes, I don’t have to be bothered with that problem especially when the clothes don’t stink; thus, it’s not my problem. I have even decided not to tell people to stop quarrelling if I see them doing so; I haven’t been presented with the opportunity to apply this form of neglect though. I’ve also been trying not to judge people. I haven’t done well in this area. I gossip sometimes. I want to reach the level where I careless about people to talk behind their backs. I have been monitoring my moods for some time now; I realize I often get angry because I judge others. You know what’s funny? Sometimes I can start by a feeling as innocent as- someone else is proud. Then I start thinking about all the deeds the person has committed in the past that confirms my opinion. I move on to pondering the possibility that the person will mess with me. I start thinking of how I will put him in his place. Then I start getting angry as if the supposed arrogant person has already offended me, but, well, I haven’t got the chance to put him where he deserves! Thinking like this doesn’t afford me the time to work on myself. Maybe other people can have the luxury of judging others, but someone who thinks like I do has absolutely no excuse. The more reason why I have to forget others and work on myself.
One way of being emotionally stable is forgiving. I need to say this before I go on because I risk giving the wrong impression. I am a worrier. Sometimes I get so worried I have to play music to put myself to sleep. Although not often. Maybe three times in my whole life. One time I got only about three hours of sleep. I used to get extremely nervous if I had to speak before people, but I have got better. Maybe that’s why I don’t like certain kinds of problems. I believe that some kind of problems are good for me- like public speaking. Problems I don’t want- toxic people. I want to avoid them even when I care deeply about them. Wait, I wrote that we should learn to forgive. Then I go on to say that I avoid people. If they have wronged me, I will forgive them in my heart but love them from a distance- I still care about them but I want them far away from me- when I realize that continuing to interact with them will affect my emotional health negatively. In the past I was proud of ignoring people who ignore me. Let me be honest, and as you can imagine, these are usually the daughters of Eve, although not limited to them. Letting go of people who don’t price your friendship can be difficult. However, it brings confidence. You realize you don’t need people who don’t need you in their lives for you to be happy. Craving for such people leads to despair. Despair maybe unavoidable in friendships because you and your friends are different people. It is for this reason why I think it was a bad thing that I glorified in neglecting some friendships in my past. Some people may have no idea what their role is in a relationship- this goes beyond romance. So it is important to tell them respectfully what you expect from them. You should also try to find out if your needs are reasonable. Being proud about letting people go is a form of bitterness. You can’t control how others behave, but you can choose how you interact with them.
I am not an authority on spiritual practices. I am no authority on anything. I don’t have fully formed answers to questions like what the purpose of life is, or what is the meaning of our existence although I sometimes pretend I do. I have some ideas, but I consider them senile: I might talk about them one day. Having said that, it seems to me that some form of spiritual practice keeps us in equilibrium. Meditation provides tranquillity for some people. I mention it as a suggestion for practice. As a Christian, I pray. Sometimes I am not sure if I believe my prayer will make any difference. In times like that I ask God to help my unbelief. Spiritual practices are not only for religious people. Even my atheistic brothers and sisters can develop some spiritual practices. I think Sam Harris has some suggestions for them, which I suspect is transcedental meditation although I haven’t really checked them out.
A helpful heuristic for selecting spiritual practices is to consider how long it has been in existence. If it has been around for a long time, and the population who have historically practiced it are still in existence, and isn’t harmful, then it is safe to practice. It also helps if it makes sense to you. Why would you engage in a practice that doesn’t make sense to you?
What I said about ancient practices informs my interest in old religions because they are Lindy compatible. As a Christian, the wisdom literature which includes books like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Sirach is a groove of treasures. I have also found germs of wisdom in the Book of Mormon. I am a Mormon. I have learnt a few things from the sayings of the Buddha as recorded in the Dhammapada.
My spiritual and intellectual practices intersect to some extent. Reading ancient text to reinforce values seem like an intellectual exercise, because reading is what I do to exercise my mental muscles. But the difference between a spiritual practice and an intellectual one is that spiritual practices help you to live, where as intellectual ones help you to think. The distinction might not be necessary because the two categories are not mutually exclusive. Aside reading, I set up a few minutes to think. That’s what I am supposed to do, but for a long time now I find myself not doing it. In those few minutes- usually 20 minutes- I go deep into things. I may dig into my worries, evaluate my goals, think of new goals, alter habits or completely stop doing certain things. I have made many personal gains by reserving some time to think.
Do what you can
My opinion is that one can’t manage others if he can’t manage himself. If I do something beautiful with myself then I can have the confidence to suggest that others follow me. It is easy to complain about all that is happening around us. Of course, there is a lot one can and should complain about, but that shouldn’t distract us from our foremost responsibility of working on ourselves.
If we learn to be people we would love others to be, the world becomes a better place.
Personal responsibility is an exercise of the human will. No matter what people say, when a human being is born, no one can tell how she will end. Yes, it is true that some people have it easier than others. It is true that we live in societies with constraints. But no one can live for us. No one can choose for us. Choosing to do nothing is also a choice. To become what is admirable, to live a life worth living, to go through this vale of tears without regrets, we need to be responsible for ourselves.
Thank you for reading.