When the subject of a personal philosophy is raised, a frequently asked question is “What is a personal philosophy and why do I need a one?”.
The value of a personal philosophy is best explained by the following thought experiment.
Take pause for a moment to consider what it might be like to be the captain of a small ship, lost at sea, with broken navigation equipment, and no land in sight. Imagine the emotions you might experience in contemplating your predicament. In the face of uncertain circumstances, you are apt to feel heightened levels of fear, stress, and anxiety. Three questions might come to mind. Where am I? How did I get here? Which way should I go? Just like the captain of the ship, as human beings, we face the exact same challenging questions as it relates to the course of our lives. We desperately want to avoid the feeling of being lost in the universe and suffering from the fears and anxieties that accompany that uncertainty. We need to know who we are, where we are, how we got here, and we are no less in need of navigation equipment for our life’s journey than is the ship at sea. Where do we get that navigation equipment and how well does it serve our purposes?
Most of us inherit our navigation equipment in the form of the beliefs and values that we learn from our parents, our education systems, our religious institutions, and our life experiences. We are socialized to avoid the fears and anxieties associated with feeling lost and unwittingly accept the answers that we are prescribed, whether or not they are true, and regardless of whose interests they serve. We are easily persuaded that the promise of comfort, certainty, belonging, and direction, that is programmed into us as children, is a welcome substitute for the fear and anxiety associated with feeling lost. We find ourselves in good company with all those around us, who may be equally enamored with reassuring beliefs. We become content to let other people program the course of our lives and we remain oblivious to the price we pay for that privilege.
But, those of us with inquisitive minds are not so reassured by this prospect. We are not content to ride on any ship in any direction and we do not consider it beneficial to cede responsibility for our navigation equipment to other people who seek control over our destiny. Contrary to traditional institutional teachings, each of us is entitled to our own life direction and are capable of reasoning through our own moral choices. Whether we are conscious of it or not, it seems we have three choices in life. We can be lost and anxiety ridden, we can live in accordance with the direction of other people and the institutional beliefs they offer, or we can learn to develop our own beliefs and values and choose to guide our own lives.
Historically, in the absence of scientific truths, conforming to traditional beliefs and values and fitting in with the expectations of society provided for a predictable and a stable existence. In the not-too-distant past, jobs were predominately labor-oriented, careers could be counted on to last a life time, independent thinking was discouraged, and communities were largely homogeneous. Today, with the unprecedented pace of change, knowledge of science and technology is essential to success, careers can come and go in an instant, and diversity permeates every culture and community. The tumultuous landscape in which we find ourselves demands critical thinking, creative thought, adaptability to change, and continuous learning. Now our individual survival and prosperity is increasingly dependent on aligning our direction and purpose with the demands of the information age and a global economy. We are well served by creating a philosophy that enables us to shape the life we wish to experience.