I woke up this morning thinking I needed to make a resolution for the New Year. The more I thought about it, I began to understand I needed much more than that. No in years past, resolutions were made and resolutions were put aside, often before the end of the day’s football games. It’s not that resolutions are necessarily hard to keep, more the opposite really. The problem is they required nothing much off me, they were too small. I need something requiring commitment and dedication. I need a manifesto to challenge me to not take on the mundane conventions of life. Accepting, as true, Emerson’s quote, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.[i]”Now, I am not talking about writing something mind-numbing and rambling that Ted Kaczynski would be proud of, or something to give Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto a run for its money. In the first, I am simply not that crazy; in the second, making some brash rhetorical political statement serves no one, especially me. My manifesto needs to be a hard kick to my rear and knock some common sense back into my head. It needs to be something I can read, over and over, to serve as a reminder to make life what I want it to be rather than what I assume is expected of me.
Our brains are often compared to computers. While a simplistic comparison, I do see the point. Still, we have a complexity of understanding computer scientists only dream of designing into their next Cray or IBM Big Blue offering. I think it is that ability to understand complex ideas and concepts that drove Emerson to his conclusions on self-reliance. I mean, why leave to others to figure out what is best for us, as individuals, when we have a brain of our own? We simply must use our brains and have confidence in our conclusions.
That is the tricky part though, making sure they are “our conclusions” and not some tailored and perverted idea pushed upon us by some media outlet. An outlet, by the way, that has an agenda having nothing to do with the free exchange of ideas, quite the opposite. Here is how I will make sure I am making up my own mind:
- Question everything. Especially things I accept as true.
- Find out who “they” is. Any idea worth accepting as true is worth knowing whose idea it is. Anytime someone presents me with a statement whose source is “They said”, “Many believe” or “I heard” suspect it from the get-go. Know whose ideas I accept as true before I accept it as true.
- Look for ideas that differ from my own. Even if I know my ideas are sound, I will seek out the ideas of others. Remember the axiom “no one of us is as smart as all of us.” I just may find my ideas where not all that sound after all. At the very least, any sound idea will stand the scrutiny of others.
- Accept as true what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, or even today. Life is dynamic; life’s answers are dynamic too. I will not hold an old idea that worked as the best idea now by default. Again, question everything, especially what I accept as true.
- Nobody likes a know-it-all. Just because I may be right on a point and someone else may be wrong does not obligate me to point it out. I can, of course, but often there is no point as many people have minds of steel. Hard and rigid. I will judge what is gained against what is lost.
- In all things I do I will have passion and compassion. If I cannot muster up these two items, I will not do the thing in the first place.
- Lastly, never be afraid to tell the emperor he has on no clothes. Even emperors can be wrong from time to time.
Ok, so there is my manifesto for the New Year. Pretty simple stuff really, just need to be consistent in performing it. See, consistency is the tricky part and consistency does not negate nonconformity. Emerson never said consistency is a bad thing, he said foolish consistency is bad. To quote again, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”[ii]
I will keep an open mind. I will not accept things at their face value. In a great sense, I have suffered from the little mind Emerson wrote. My mind has been little for far too long. Now, this year, this very day, that ends.