The Examined Life in Practice, Step 1: Examine Your Community

So what if one starts to "question everything" and to "think for yourself"?

How do you stay mentally healthy and keep effectively pursuing joy?

I will look at these steps:

1) look at the way the individuals and groups that form your intimate and social circles affect you.
2) begin the process of deliberately building healthy, safe relationships.
3) start from where you are and who you are.
4) build healthy daily habits.
5) let yourself imagine a better tomorrow.
6) walk forward with continuity and kindness toward that better tomorrow.

Step One: 

We are social creatures and creatures of habit -- and these characteristics are both the characteristics that allow us to fall so easily into the unexamined life and that allow us to escape it permanently and with an effective impact on a healthier today and tomorrow.

We are manipulated by our connections with others and by our need for approval and by the pain rejection causes.  We can allow those characteristics to push us into choices and habits that play out poorly, or we can choose to focus on the people in our lives who support us both in questioning everything and in making active choices to set a course away from the crowd. 

It is easy to make the mistake of thinking that changing from one ideology to another (in faith, politics, culture, etc.) will accomplish the changes we are after.  This is only true to the extent that the people around you in your new community are healthy people themselves, rather than just enforcers of a new ideology by the same old social norming techniques.  

It is not nearly as important that you agree with the people you allow to surround you and build you as it is that they are capable of allowing you to grow and change even when they disagree wth you.

So how can you tell if the people around you are helping you to question everything, think for yourself, and build the kind of world you want for future generations?

Ask these questions about individuals and groups in your world:

1) do they only seek to teach me and train me, or are they open to being taught by me?

2) do they use shame to punish me when I do things differently than they think is best?

3) what shared values connect me to these people?

4) how do they support me in those shared values?

5) how do they treat people who have different values?

6) are they actually after our stated goals, or do they care more about ego gratification, control, maintaining the status quo, or their own sense of safety?

If you conclude that they are not as healthy as you want to be, it is not necessary to change them or confront them or lose them.  You can be kind and supportive while you look for ways to build a community that includes healthier people too.

My next post in this series will consider how to build that new network of safe, healthy people and groups.

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