Monday, July 9, 2012

Embrace the Ethos

What’s up, NIP?

            I hope your summer months are off to a good start and that you’re getting some time to spend with family and friends. Many of you probably just did, in fact, last week. When I was poolside grilling burgers on Independence Day, I really reflected on what it means to be an American. Not out of patriotic pride or anything, more along the lines of putting my life into perspective and what I’ve manage to change for the better over these last few years. As my nieces swam in the pool and I listened to the sizzle of the grill, a thought kept coming to me—how much have these changes in my life been brought about by our cultural context? A few letters ago, I mentioned a neuroscience book I had read titled The Brain That Changes Itself; one of the appendices in the back of the book was about “the culturally modified brain.” If—as current neuroscience suggests—we are what we think and constantly devote our attentions toward, then perhaps part of my personal transformation has been influenced by the American ethos. And the more I wrestled with this notion as the day wore on, the more I became convinced that the initial step to real success in our lives is to embrace our ethos.

            The American ethos is not easy to define. There are so many varying underlying beliefs to our culture and society that it’s difficult to single out any crucial aspect. We’ve always been a culture defined to some degree by our individualism, but equally tempered by our ideal of the public/body politic /national community. Undergirding both of these aspects, however, is the notion that any person can make something of him/herself in this country. That as Americans we can always reinvent ourselves if and when necessary. That we can become who we want to be. Our ethos encourages all of us to dream and to pursue those dreams with fervor. But often something happens to many of us along the way—we stumble, we lose hope, we give up the dream...and it is precisely in these moments that we must urge ourselves to press onward. What many people often lose sight of is that part of this same ethos is our resilience, our instilled ability to pick ourselves back up and begin again.

            If you want to be resilient, NIP, regardless of what your individual dream may be, it takes three Cs: courage, conviction, and commitment. Courage is the first step because without it we can never get back up when we’ve fallen down. Courage is the ability to scream YES to life when it wants to kick you in the teeth and growl NO while we’re down. Every single second is a chance to say yes, to begin again, to reinvent ourselves, to become a better person, but it takes courage to do so. Once we’re standing tall and ready to face life, the second component is conviction. Not just any conviction, though; the conviction is the same for each and every one of us—that we are worthy. We must believe in ourselves first and foremost, because if we don’t believe in ourselves others will not believe in us. We must also see ourselves in a positive light, deserving of whatever rewards we receive for our efforts. To doubt our own capacity for change is a fundamental error that many of us make from time to time, so to counteract that doubt we must ardently believe in ourselves and our dreams. The third step is without question the most difficult: commitment. Commitment is necessary because if we don’t pursue our dream whole-heartedly nothing will ever change for the better. The first two steps are mental in some sense because those battles are fought and won in the mind; commitment is transforming those thoughts into action. Only with action does our external world change, whether it’s trying to lose weight, changing careers, or whatever other dream you are trying to pursue. But if we are committed to our dreams with a sense of purpose and are always trying to move forward, we find our resiliency only grows stronger over time.

            In today’s political debates one of the phrases that the pundits like to harp on is “American exceptionalism.” I personally don’t think that Americans or America is exceptional across the board. There are many facets of our culture that greatly disturb me. But if there were one aspect that I think we are exceptional and does shine through, it’s our ability to become who we want to be as people. The freedoms we have can be exercised in a way that really does foster “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” To me, though, the key word in that whole phrase is “pursuit” (notice it doesn’t say guarantee). The pursuit is all there is. The struggle is all there is. Life is not meant to be easy, which is precisely why it’s so rewarding when we strive to do our best in all endeavors. Success—like happiness—isn’t guaranteed. But if we try our best to integrate the three Cs of courage, conviction, and commitment into our daily living, our individual resiliency builds; minor setbacks become that much easier to take in stride, and in time might not even be noticed at all…

Throw your arms open wide and embrace our ethos, NIP.

- Ryan

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