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When codes of conduct conflict

When middle school principals urge their graduates to know themselves and be true to themselves, what they mean is their graduates will be joining lots of groups. And when they do, groups will sometimes pressure them to put what’s important to groups ahead of what individuals know in their minds and hearts is right. And being true to themselves means being true to what they know is right. That’s not always easy. In lives dominated by groups it takes concentration, character, and effort to stand up for what’s right. To keep personal integrity and self-respect intact.

What groups need to succeed and survive isn’t always compatible with what individuals need to love one another without competition and conflict. Groups need power and wealth to compete. They’ll fight for domination if they have to, even the ones who seem the nicest. And they’ll treat us like captive soldiers if they can get away with it. Being “good” doesn’t come first with groups if they have to do what’s necessary to survive. If they have to do what’s bad.

An Italian diplomat and historian named Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that the moral code that applies to individuals can’t apply to groups. The advice he gave political leaders was very different from what they were being told by the Church, but it applied to all groups. He was just stating the obvious, yet it caused a sensation. That was in the 16th century, and it still upsets people today. Middle school principals are warning their graduates not to get caught up in groups’ “Machiavellian” behavior when it conflicts with their moral code.

The taste of inferiority

High school does its job by testing our character so we come out of it more experienced with group pressure. So we’re more aware of what’s required to resist it when we know it’s pulling us in the wrong direction. When we’re pressured to “fit in,” to “go along to get along,” to be one of the “crowd.”

Middle school graduates with the right stuff won’t let themselves be compromised. But while they’re going all out with the excitement of high school, while they’re getting involved and having fun, they shouldn’t take their strength – their individuality – for granted.

For some adolescents pressure to be more like “others” can be dangerous. It can make them feel so bad about themselves they don’t even want to be themselves. They just want to disappear. That’s how it was for me at boarding school. I had nightmares about it over thirty-five years later. It even tasted bad. I never want to go through that again. Some of my classmates had the same experience and told me later. If high schools had cemeteries, their tombstones would all be marked “Self-Esteem.”

The test of performance builds confidence

If this happens to you, you can try to win the respect you crave from others and risk your health. Or you can take a different tack: look to yourself for self-respect. And learn that self-respect is a daily test of character that’s never done. Being true to yourself means taking nothing for granted. You may be confident that you’ve already learned self-respect, but confidence is just the beginning. Only performance, through high school and the world beyond, every day, lets us know for sure.

High school is a foretaste of the pressures you’ll be exposed to out in the world. Groups that provide us with the essentials and pleasures of a good life – jobs, causes, belonging, entertainments – can exact a high price in return. Many individuals just as confident as you have had to make serious compromises. To stay true to themselves many have had to say No to their groups and had to do without their benefits. You may have to face the same situation someday. I have, many times.

How your individuality and high moral code handle group pressure in high school could determine whether it’s easier or harder later. It’s good practice, good training. Take it on with enthusiasm because it’s all for your benefit and you’re getting off on the right foot. Because while you’re demonstrating confidence, you’ll also be building it.

August 17, 2022: a date which will be long remembered. . . .

High school marks a new phase in individuals’ maturation in many ways. One is progress toward development and expansion of gifts and talents. Because that’s the business end of lives, our being, our selves: what we are to do with who we are. How we are to make ourselves useful. Because ours and others’ happiness and wellbeing rely on us to make use of ourselves through the expression and application of our talents. Through performance.

There will be many distractions, but this is our true course toward living lives of accomplishment, meaning, fulfillment, and happiness: making use of ourselves through our talents. There may also be a good deal of waste, because we typically have too many potential talents and uses to develop in one life. We must make a choice.

August 17, our debut at high school, will mark the first serious phase in choosing which of our talents to work and play with. To learn and grow with. For an adolescent girl of character, ambition, and conscience, what will it be? Creativity through artistry and the performing arts? Excellence through competitive sports? Character development through leadership?  Healing and intimacy through relationships? Innovation through discovery?

How do we engage with an expanding world that’s engaging with us?

Relationships with others continue in high school as before, but with a subtle difference. High school is adolescence that breaks with childhood, a period when individuals shed a skin that kept them insulated within a protective enclosure. A bubble of unawareness that served as an extension of the mother’s womb. To shield vulnerable and unformed selves from potentially hostile and harmful influences outside the womb.

Adolescence exposes individuals to some of these influences. Releases them from their sheltered world and expands it. Makes them aware for the first time that they share something larger: an expanding world composed of many worlds. Not just a place but a Force. Way larger than themselves and their immediate environment, the only environment that a child knows. They must now choose how to adapt to it. How to relate to it, engage with it. How to replace the protection afforded by the womb, to protect their vulnerability in new ways. Because their parents’ protection, for better or worse, is giving way to this Force. And we’re not just engaging with it. It’s engaging with us.

The most important choice is choice

High-schoolers must confront the need to make choices for themselves. And the very first and most important choice is choice itself: whether they prefer to choose freely, with independent judgment, or avoid it. Duck the responsibility -- pass it off to someone or something else. The most important choice is whether to run toward the functions of mind that enable Free Will or to run away from them.

With the onset of adolescence, humanity in high school begins to divide itself into two basic personality types: those who embrace the independent judgment of Free Will and those who reject it in favor of something else. Something with a seductive yet sinister appeal: will that isn’t free. Judgment that’s made for them, ready-made and easy.

The Way of the Master: Vince Lombardi

The Force of nature that accounts for humanity and its environment also accounts for its division into two opposing interpretations of where it originates. One interpretation assumes that it originates with a source that’s benevolent. That’s conscious, self-aware, and alive with thoughts, feelings, soulfulness, and creativity. That wills humanity to choose its way forward freely and happily, with guidance and support from this Force but not its intrusion or dominance.

The other interpretation assumes that this Force originates from a source that exhibits none of these attributes. It’s mindless, loveless, and soulless. It has no “self” to be aware of. It’s simply a will, or “fate,” that one either sides with and survives or doesn’t side with and gets run over. That one can either join and benefit from its derived power or oppose and wind up powerless, with no resources and no prospects.

If the supremacy of “fate” so decrees, one can be a “winner.” If it doesn’t, one becomes a “loser.” The stark choice offered by the second interpretation is dominate or be dominated. Not just in sports but in every relationship: see only a contest of wills and win the contest. At any cost, especially understanding, reality, and truth. Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.

The fans of George III never left us

But regression to savagery, whether the noble savage of Rousseau or the ignoble savage of Hobbes, can’t be obvious in civilized society. Aside from politics where anything goes, the appearance of civility must be maintained. The cult of animal instinct must be clothed in “sociability” without compromising its not-so sociable reality.

Our shared environment – “civilization” --requires getting along in peace and harmony, with some semblance of mindfulness and thoughtfulness, affect and empathy, and independent judgment. Beyond semblance, the second interpretation’s lust for dominance wants nothing to do with a shared environment. Its will is to dispense with it altogether.

Understanding personality types is critical to self-awareness

These are radically different interpretations, and the adolescents who commit to one or the other do well to understand their consequences. Do well to understand that personality types that identify with mind and its intuition and those that identify with body and its senses account for the difference.

Self-awareness is essential. And it begins with the first indications in adolescence which of these directions personalities are taking. Mind that feels through Intuition a Force within that’s Mind – will that’s relatable, conscious, and benevolent? Or body that detects through senses an external Force of nature – will or “fate” that’s neither relatable, conscious, nor benevolent? One a sentient Being, subject, the other an insentient object. One with the attributes of Being, the other a senseless beast.

The difference in the psychology of personality is between individuals who prefer to rely on mind-intuition to interpret their reality – the way things are, the way the Will of Force has made them, wants them – and those drawn to the body for interpretation. One “sees” (understands) its environment as originating from Force that’s subject-self, like itself. The other “sees” (understands) its environment as originating from Force that’s object-self, like itself. The difference is critical for the individual, critical for everyone.

Mindless “action:” the will that sets the rules through animal instinct

What would account for these two possibilities? A source of Force with attributes of consciousness – creativity that’s alive with purpose -- and source with attributes of unconsciousness – creativity that’s random happenstance, undirected “fate.”

The answer is Mind that can exist in two states: one conscious, the other unconscious. The second state asleep and possibly dreaming.

If the Force of nature that manifests our world could be an instrument of Mind, of Will that’s either awake or asleep, it could manifest the attributes of one or the other. Mind-centered personalities, guided by the vision of Logic, intuit source-Mind that’s awake, alive and benevolent.

Body-centered personalities, dependent on physical senses for interpretation, are grafted onto the only environment they can detect: our physical environment. Their preference for sensing over intuition leaves them with no awareness of the existence of Being or anything else beyond their physical environment. With no awareness of Mind or Will in another Reality, awake or asleep. Without the vision of Logic, they don’t “see” the source that mind-centered interpretations see because they can’t. 

What they “feel” with their senses is only its Force exerted on their immediate environment, the effect of sensed experience with no sense of cause or the attributes of cause. What they infer from its effect is their own entrapment in unconsciousness: dumb will that makes the rules, that sets the terms of engagement not through conscious choice or Free Will, not through affect or values that distinguish between right and wrong, but through dumb animal instinct.

Through mindless action defined as the dominance of Force. Through behavior that bypasses reflection, deliberation, sensitivity, loving kindness, judgment, and discipline. That finesses conscience and frees its subjects to engage with their world without moral responsibility or accountability. With only the cloak of “civility,” the cover of “sociability,” the blanket of “pleasantness” to keep them in line. Substitutes for an inner moral compass. The proverbial wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Context: the Force of unconscious Mind, capable of dreaming

Both interpretations are correct within their separate contexts. The question isn’t which interpretation is correct, but which context is correct. A question that only Logic, accessible through Intuition, can answer. Because objectivity requires another perspective, and bodies’ senses grafted onto our material world cannot provide it. Another Reality can only be “seen” and understood through the vision of Logic.

If it’s assumed that our material world is the only possible reality, then Force that originates with unthinking-unfeeling object, rather than thinking-feeling subject, is exactly how the body-centered interpretation “sees” it: mindless, loveless, and soulless. A Force-will and nothing more. That we either ally with to survive or not ally with and take our chances.

If we assume that our material world  is not the only possible reality, that another Reality preceded it, somehow caused it, and parallels it, then Force must originate not with the effect of this other Reality – our world – but with its cause. “Cause” not necessarily “create,” “design,” or “intend,” if the dream of an unconscious mind can't be Real. Only cause, for now, that belongs to another dimension, another Reality.

If this other Reality is cause, then it cannot share the attributes of a temporal, material universe. And if it has the capacity to express itself in effects – to Create in the Now – it must do so through the Logic of Mind in combination with Love. It must do so through the agency of Force in service to Logic and the Laws of Cause and Effect. In service to Necessity -- conditions beyond the capacity of anything temporal and physical. Mind Conscious or unconscious, but, either way, capable of self-awareness, thought, feeling, judgment, and creative imagination in its Conscious state. Capable also of dreaming an illusion in its unconscious state. Dreaming an imagined unreality within the broader context of Reality. Within this context, mind-centered personality’s interpretation of Force with a benevolent source must be correct.

It all depends on psychology expressed through the individual’s personality type: whether the individual’s Psyche, or Soul, connects with the Memory of Mind conscious in Reality, accessible through Intuition, or remains captive to an imagined “fate” through mind unconscious and its dream of bodies and unreality. It all depends on how the individual summons awareness of one or another source of Force-will and attempts to engage with it: through intuition's vision of Logic or the unconsciousness of body.

Will change of mind come in time?

Is personality type a given or a preference? Preordained or not? Can an individual choose?

What must certainly correct choice of the wrong context is its consequences, and nothing is more certain than that the choice between these opposing interpretations will have consequences. Immediate and concrete. And these are already evident in the world and in lives that share it.

Only one of their opposing contexts can be correct, and Logic says the one that insists on the “reality” of unreality, a dream, on opposing “realities,” on a logical impossibility, cannot be correct. Then personality types who witness and personally experience the impacts of contradiction, of insanity, might realize their mistake. Might engineer a mind-change, a course correction, that cuts our losses.

If it’s not too late. The incorrect interpretation – our alliance with blind animal dominance, “the dark side of the Force” -- is already condemning every species on the planet to extinction. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The atrocity of warfare perpetrated by humanity in the twentieth century would have killed us off if nature had lent a hand. If we want to kill ourselves off, the twenty-first century is our chance, because nature is lending us a hand. Through climate change that may already be beyond reversal.

To Reality with Mind and Love. To hell with dominance!

What is the ultimate source of the “Force of Nature” and how should adolescents adapt to it? How should we all adapt to it? We can align with benevolent Logic within to Create in lawful Order, disciplined Freedom, Sensitivity, Peace, and Harmony. Or we can feed off a beast without to satiate lust for power. To indulge savage impulses to destroy in lawless disorder, undisciplined license, cruelty, conflict, and dominance.

Is the choice not clear?

Reflections to share with adolescents

Reflections to share with adolescents who may be wondering about affect: its role in relationships, in adolescents’ future, in mythology, and in all of Creation. How does it figure in the choice between what is Real and unreal, True and false, Good and evil? Why does it matter?

The usual poetic content is heavy with subjective thought and feeling. Grief and romantic Love are common types of feeling but there are others. Many are related to the values listed in my piece on adolescence [Thirteen: Reflections on Character and Values at the Beginning of Adolescence. 08/28/21]  T.R. Hummer’s non-rhyming poem, “My Mother in Bardo” (New Yorker 01/24/22 p. 50), is an example of a poem infused with grief. But if I’m assigned to compose a rhyming poem and I have no particular talent for lyrics, I might produce something lifeless, without affect.

Literature and poetry in particular say a lot about who we are and what’s important to us. For adolescents coming into their own it can be an effective way to gain self-awareness. If they feel a sense of loss, say, for a deceased grandparent, they might express it in a non-rhyming poem. It might be strikingly different from a poem whose search for originality, beauty, or other effect is through rhyme.

Before the Big Bang

Absence of affect in subjective, creative expression is a red flag. For an adolescent it might or might not have implications for character development, but, if so, they can run deep. Star Wars mythology is based on it. What turned Adam Skywalker toward the dark side and service to Palpatine, the galactic emperor? What made the galactic empire evil? Absence of affect.

Explaining Why requires theorizing with Logic about the antecedents of our material universe -- what I call “Reality-Creation.” It preceded the Big Bang, exists in parallel with our material universe, and heavily influences our behavior and its consequences beyond our awareness. It holds sway over the origin and fate of the universe and the meaning of life. Its context is Mind-Love, not spacetime-matter. I use initial caps to set terminology that is of this other Reality apart from the lower case of our un-reality.

The “Child” is the One we were in Reality before the Child lost Consciousness and became the many. While unconscious, it mis-identified with its shadow-reflection, went into a dream state corrupted by its shadow-code, dreamed our un-reality, replicated itself in isolated-separated human bodies, projected the material world detected by their bodies’ senses, and continues to replicate itself within its dream world under the influence of its shadow-reflection. An explanation for all this is the subject of my book-in-progress with the working title, The Story of the Child.

Affect is feeling -- emotional sensitivity. Feeling is value or Worth – things cared for. Gifts with talents the Child was given at birth with which to exercise Free Choice in Creation. Affect is rooted in Mother-Love, the source of all feeling in the Child’s phase of Reality-Creation.

The dis-integration of Love from Mind

The Child has Free Will or Free Choice because the Child is Free Choice, its role in Reality-Creation. In the Child’s phase with Free Choice, the loss of Consciousness produced a dream-world of un-reality where all ideas-thoughts and their associated feelings have opposites. Opposites are the reverse mirror-image shadow-reflection of the Child and all of its values, all of its gifts including its talents.

The code that defines all opposites is derived from the Child’s Being. The code is non-being. Which means it’s insane. Nuts. The appearance of a “system” which is the opposite of system. A system ruled not by laws but by chaos -- arbitrary rule where “rules” apply to everybody but the ruler. The reverse mirror-image of sanity, what we know as the “dark side.” Everyone and everything in our un-reality has a shadow-opposite. A dark side. No exceptions.

What makes the dark side “possible” in the dream state is the separation of Love-feeling from Mind-thought. The marriage between Father Mind / Logic-Choice and Mother Love / Freedom-Creativity not only produced the Child. It’s what holds all the Implications and Interconnections of Reality-Creation together. In our un-reality that integration is gone. Science’s search for a perfectly ordered, perfectly integrated cosmos ended over a century ago and now it’s even giving up on a cosmos that just makes sense. Because it doesn’t. Meanwhile, the judgment we need to manage human affairs, to maintain order in harmony, is equally dis-integrated. It needs to be constantly re-integrated, constantly pieced together, in all our choices.

The Reality-Creation of Consciousness knows nothing of shadows, reflections, or opposites. So, shadow-opposites played no part in the Child’s Conscious exercise of Free Choice in Reality. In un-reality it’s different. “Dark side” shadow-reflections very much represent a choice for us, the unconscious Child’s replications. The choice between Right and wrong, Good and evil, where good values-gifts are the product of Mind integrated with Love-affect and their evil shadow opposites are the product of Mind absent Love-affect. We choose correctly when we discipline our thoughts and feelings, our ideas and values, always to keep Love combined with Mind.

The pussycat “Lord Vader”

One of the traits that distinguish personality types is variation in levels of affect-feeling. In importance attributed to values because feeling is value rooted in Love, the Mother of everything cared for, everything of Worth. What distinguishes character is its values.

Adam Skywalker belonged to a personality type described in Isabel Myers’ Gifts Differing. He “went over to the dark side” because his type’s level of affect-feeling and therefore his character was relatively shallow. Absence of affect-feeling translates to a relatively shallow-weak connection with the Good-positive and therefore a relatively strong susceptibility to, or attraction for, the shadow-negative.

The choice posed by Good-positive – who we are in Reality -- and evil-negative – our shadow in un-reality -- pulls different personality types in different directions. The son Luke Skywalker’s character was relatively deep with feeling-affect, strongly anchored to values, and therefore less susceptible to the attraction of shadow-opposites. The character of Darth Vader – “Dark Father” – was relatively weak with feeling-affect, loosely anchored to values, and therefore more susceptible. Adam Skywalker, who became the mythic “Lord Vader” feared by trembling subordinates, was a personality weakling -- a pussycat. Captives of shadow-reflections can impress with the appearance of strength but their reality is weakness.

Lack of values rooted in affect-feeling translates to a weak or missing internal moral compass. To a weak sense of right vs. wrong -- a lack of conscience. To insensitivity and therefore to predilection for cruelty. What defines the galactic empire and its emperor Palatine as “evil” is an absence of affect-feeling. It’s defined by Mind-thought without Love-value and therefore as character without conscience: insensitive and prone to cruelty. It becomes a universe where harm is done and pain inflicted because it is not felt, because character and values don’t matter.

Guidance from Isabel Myers’ Gifts Differing

Isabel Myers’ Gifts Differing intuits clues from personality types to differences that can account for and predict relative attraction for the dark side. The ESFP type with relatively weak feeling-judgment is a type that, if it’s not disciplined by its social culture, can be misled into shadow-opposites and wrongdoing. It happens to be the type exhibited by the current idol of the Republican party, a body-matter idolater, serial wrong-doer, and a menace to democracy, civilization, and world order. But any type weak on affect-feeling and character-values is a candidate.

My piece about adolescence listed both positive values and their shadow-opposites – the dark side. What an interest in the opposites might indicate about an adolescent’s developing personality type we don’t know. We do know that an ‘S’ (sensing) in preference to an ‘I’ (intuition) would fit an engineer or craftsman working with material objects. Sensing would account, say, for a poem engineered rather than intuited. Intuited, that is, from psyche or soul, from thoughts-feelings stored in humanity’s collective Memory.

We also know that Gifts Differing can help predict choices that different types tend to make and therefore where on balance they may be headed: To promoting humanitarian kindness and freedom (the Jedi Knights) or engaging in inhumane cruelty and oppression (the galactic empire). Definitive conclusions can’t be drawn by outside observers. They can only be drawn by subjects themselves who monitor their personality types – the building of character through their preferences.

While Isabel distinguishes between the light and dark sides the distinction is indirect. It’s implied, for example by reference to “wrongdoing,” inadequate consideration of costs, shallowness, insincerity, and other tendencies. But otherwise her “feeling” doesn’t account for dark side opposites. The difference between thinking (T) and feeling (F) isn’t necessarily what she’s intuited. Nevertheless, the difference is significant and deserves reflection. All of the differences – between introvert-extravert, sensing-intuition, thinking-feeling, and judging-perceptive – are relevant for types’ tendencies toward positive values and their opposites and therefore toward their subjects’ ultimate ending in fulfillment or disappointment.

The turning point: adolescence

Adolescence is a critical phase in establishing these tendencies. It’s the phase when Luke Skywalker committed to the cause of the Jedi Knights after the loss of his foster parents. It’s the phase when his father, Adam, started to part with Obi-Wan, his Jedi trainer, betray the Jedi cause, and go over to the empire. For many, our personal fortunes literally hang in the balance when we are adolescents.

May Affect be with you!

Objectifying the “dark side”

A 13-year-old boy found my essay Thirteen: Reflections on Character and Values at the Beginning of Adolescence useful in part for its appendix. Entitled “Values Derived from Human Needs,” the appendix gave words to describe both the light and dark sides of values. He thought the description of the dark side was particularly helpful.

The human mind’s fascination with the “dark side” can have unfortunate consequences. Here is an observation about “evil” in Understanding, the second of my two Christmas letters:

Evil isn’t what “others” do to us. It’s what we do to ourselves. Imagining that our flip side – our reflection, a shadow – is an “other” that has a life, a voice of its own with something to offer. When all it has to “give” is a reverse image, what we aren’t. It’s nothing more than an implication of Logic that all things have opposites. That if two realities can’t be real then our reflections can’t be real. They’re the Joker whose joke is “I’m you.” Whatever its offense making it real by engaging with it is what causes it.

Two mistakes in our thinking put the dark side into our thoughts, make it real, empower it, and bring it to life. The first is objectification. We objectify something that’s a part of ourselves when we mistake it for something that’s not a part of ourselves. When we imagine that it’s a separate object, like a stick or a ball, or a pet or another person that we can relate to. When it’s just the reverse side of ourselves – subject, not object, a shadow or reflection – and has no separate existence of its own.

Bringing the dark side to life with projection

Once we’ve imagined that our shadow-reflection is a separate object we can relate to, we commit a second mistake: projection. We project attributes of ourselves onto this object that give it the “existence” it had heretofore lacked. We project our self, that is, our identity, our sovereignty, and our free will that enable the objectified shadow-reflection to act with authority and autonomy as though it were real.

The thoughts and feelings we project onto the object are those that we are uncomfortable with, that we don’t want. It is these that give our dark side its menace, the aspect of danger, of the appearance of purpose and meaning – something happening -- that fascinates and misleads human awareness into wrongdoing and harm.

These uncomfortable thoughts and feelings were precipitated by an event that preceded our engagement with our shadow-reflection. The event was loss of consciousness, and it set in motion a succession of misperceptions and misjudgments beginning with the misperception that our shadow-reflection is a separate self – an object – and the misjudgment that we can safely entrust our wellbeing to its guidance.

The wrong guide is our own creation

For that is what has come of our mistakes. Objectifying our shadow-reflection and giving it autonomy and authority over us by projecting our selves onto it has turned it into a guide. A very serious misjudgment, because once it’s activated its genetic code has no interest in guidance. Its only interest is captivity: controlling its host so that it can replicate itself like a virus and remain in “existence.” All because we have given it the ability and power to do so that come from ourselves. This is what it means that “Evil isn’t what ‘others’ do to us. It’s what we do to ourselves.”

These reflections are part of the core of Christianity that teaches mindfulness, love, and free will – attributes that belong firmly on the light side of values and not on the dark side. To practice Christianity is to recognize, disable, and disempower the dark side in everything we do. And this means understanding that our shadow-reflection is nothing:

  • Nothing that can be objectified – made into a separate object.
  • Nothing that can be brought to life by projecting ourselves onto it.
  • Nothing that can entertain us with the appearance of danger, of “action,” conflict, violence, hurt, anger, and all the other manifestations of values turned against themselves. Of purpose and meaning taken out of context by minds that misperceive and misjudge.

The most important use of our mind

The choice presented by the light and dark side of our values is whether to lead with gifts given to us – our own ability and authority – for our own purposes or with something that’s been given away and “given” back to us for the wrong guide’s purposes. Whether to lead with our own power given to his Child by God or with derived power that isn’t ours and can’t be used for our own benefit.

The right guide is Jesus or the Holy Spirit, a gift to us from God to his Child, who wishes us well and wants us to succeed, to be free, and to be happy. The wrong guide is the Joker, our mistake, a nothing that can’t wish anything and if it could, would only wish us to be its mindless captive and be unhappy. The choice between these two guides is a function of mind possessed of free will. It is the most important choice we will ever make and the most important use of our mind.

Will that is truly free is an informed will. Will guided by mind that understands. That’s no longer under the spell of our shadow-reflection: nothingness – the “power” of the “dark side.”

Goodbye childhood, hello adolescence!

If you just turned thirteen it may be the most important date in your life. When hormones kick in bodies change – you’ve heard all this. What you may not have heard is that minds can change, too. Minds and selves, so different that what they see out there and in here is hardly recognizable.

That’s how it was for me and my classmates when we were thirteen. Kids fresh out of grade school and Sunday school. Challenged by adolescence, one of the biggest transitions of our lives then and thereafter. While we were also adjusting to Phillips Academy at Andover, then an all-male preparatory school with a no-nonsense approach to education. With a world of opportunity for character development, too. We were destined for four incredible years of education and growth that would put us all in the best universities: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, MIT, Caltech, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge, the rest of the Ivies, and more.

But we didn’t know it yet. All we knew was this thing called childhood was over. We were adolescents. Instead of reading Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1945) now we were reading The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Anticipating a strange new world: the mysterious, sophisticated world of adults. Where safe passage through ambiguity -- the murkiness and deviousness of human motivation -- was by no means assured. We were intrigued, scared, ambivalent. That’s how it was. That was adolescence.

What’s life all about anyway?

We could feel ourselves changing. But changing into who or what was confusing. Because we couldn’t tell where all these forces of humanity and nature were taking us. Decisions coming at us faster than we knew how to decide. Not: Do we run with the crowd or go it alone? Keep up with our homework or blow it off? But: What really interests us? What really matters?

What did we want our one shot at life to be all about? Have something to show for it or just go with the flow? How could we apply ourselves in school to become the person we wanted to be? To develop character with solid values and abilities that helped us grow? To be of service. What was life all about anyway?

Creating something beautiful in the here and now

What can be more exacting, more exciting, than learning to think for ourselves? The beginning of adolescence is when everyone who has learning to share with us gets serious about it. What we learn or don’t learn counts. All the curricular and extra-curricular activities, competitions, assignments, social interactions, and entertainments give us an array of possibilities to choose from. Different beliefs and causes that will bless us with purpose, meaning, and satisfaction the rest of our lives. That will help us discover who we are and how we choose to apply our ideals and powers to create something beautiful -- an expression of what we stand for.

The world of the university may be some years away. But for the thirteen-year-old student who wants to make something beautiful of her life, it starts here. It starts now. it’s not too soon to reflect on her potential. Not If she means to qualify for the best universities. It’s not too soon to realize how satisfying, how much fun, it can be to be responsible for developing her own potential. To be in charge of it. To think for herself. Because no one else can do it for her.

What are the right values?

Kids from families that practice gentle loving kindness are already familiar with the best value of all. They’re halfway there to building character with strong values. For the rest adolescence is their chance to make up for lost time. In either case it’s a pleasure to talk with them about values. Because if they’ve just turned thirteen they want to grow. Their minds and hearts are open. They’re a work in progress, beauty put there to create beauty. Creativity that may not last, because with the onset of “maturity” minds and hearts often close to the possibilities, become set in their ways. Thirteen is beautiful. Keep minds and hearts open and you’ll make it.

Character and values are certainly role-modeled in school but they aren’t expressly taught. We could learn some of the best values in other venues, like church, and also some of the worst. Being parted from independent judgment to demonstrate “faith” in someone else’s judgment is not being mindful. Not when the value of mindfulness is right up there with gentle loving kindness. This is why it’s important to talk about values: there are no “saviors” to do our thinking for us. Building character with strong values is a do-it-yourself proposition. Do it yourself with lots of help, to be sure. Help from other people. Help from philosophy, psychology, theology, and any of the sciences that resonate with Mind and Love. With Logic. Help above all from our own intuition, the source of insights that guide and inspire the arts, sciences, and all of human progress. But always grounded in our own judgment, our own free will. Always.

Values are many things: ideals to inspire us, attributes to define us, instruments to be used. But the place to start is that they’re gifts. And what they require from us, if they’re going to do their job, is thankfulness and respect. Because they come from a Source that deserves thankfulness and respect – from Love. From the Source of our Being and our Worth.

What are the right values? Whatever values fit the situation we’re in. What’s the right fit? Whatever we figure out if we get it right. Choosing values to serve for different situations requires thought, feeling, and conscience. Mind and heart working together.

One thing it does not require is a formula. Minds unable or unwilling to do the work will make a show of values. Minds without conscience or character whose only value is what’s in it for them. If their “values” don’t feel like the real thing they probably aren’t. They’re just appearances for taking advantage, a clever formula someone learned to fool us and hide the truth. It’s not loving or kind. It’s cheating to avoid values. Cheating isn’t getting it right.

Character and values anchor us

We can’t think for ourselves without evaluating. Without being aware of our values and being true to them when we make up our minds. Using our minds to reason and evaluate fortifies us with understanding and good judgment. With conscience that knows right from wrong and displays good character. It assures others that we can be trusted. That we’re safe to be close to at work and play.

Children follow a path laid down for them. Adolescents learning to think for themselves begin choosing their own path. It’s how they transition to becoming young adults. Character isn’t defined for them anymore. They have to define it themselves, and it begins with choices. Choices among values that pull in different directions. The best defense against being pulled in the wrong direction is to choose the right values.

Character isn’t about blowing with the wind. It’s about the values that we choose and commit to. That define and anchor us. The best defense against choosing the wrong path is building the right character.

The ways we express our values

They’re things people need, want, or otherwise care about. One dimension belongs here with us on our planet of spacetime and matter. Another belongs in a part of our mind that’s not spacetime and matter. It’s called “intuition.” It produces spontaneous insights that guide thinking in science and every other field, but no one knows where they come from. A third dimension is their opposites – the “dark side.”

So if we think of “Wealth,” for instance, it could mean property we accumulate for our comfort beyond necessities, like yachts and jewelry. Or it could mean the thought and feeling of Abundance that motivate us to share our Love, Power, and Worth. Those are very different takes on “Wealth,” but they’re equally valid in their contexts. “Scarcity” is one word for their opposite.

Here are ways of labeling ten basic categories of human values or needs:

Love (family-intimacy)
Belonging (community)
Worthiness (affirmation)
Empowerment (energy, control)
Abundance (wealth, material comfort)
Protection (safety, security)
Freedom (free will)
Health (healing)
Beauty (purity, essence)
Hope (faith, purpose).

Like rivers they branch outward into tributaries that contain all kinds of things important to us. Values that we use to make up our minds. “Core values” that apply across humanity and values we choose and express as individuals. They’re part of our everyday experience, as concrete and immediate as the food we eat. If “belonging” doesn’t sound important “fairness” certainly will, and it’s part of belonging.

There are too many values to list all the ways we express them, but some that are implied by our needs are listed in the appendix. Terms that catalogue their opposites are given as well. This should give us a feel for how familiar and relevant values and their opposites are, like “kindness” and “scarcity.” How they influence our work and relationships and how important it is to be aware of them.

One perspective on our choices doesn’t tell us what to think. But by presenting the dark side as well as the light it does give us an idea how values pull in different directions. What choices can imply and where they might lead if we’re not mindful. If we don’t exercise solid independent judgment that comes from introspection, reflection, reasoning, evaluating, and discipline. So when we decide our eyes will be open. So the consequences – especially the costs – won’t be an unpleasant surprise.

Role modeling values

What grandparents learn from their grandchildren is the joyfulness of living in the moment. Of spontaneity that opens minds and hearts. That frees them to laugh and love, to play and think creatively in ways they’ve forgotten or may have never learned before. Time with their grandchildren is well spent. In fact, it can be enormously helpful. What grandparent isn’t grateful for being admitted into the world of a precious child?

We are all role models. Children no less than grownups. But the values a thirteener might learn from a grandparent can’t be following in anyone’s “footsteps.” Grownups’ lives and careers are also a work in progress. They’re not meant to be footsteps for anyone to follow. Let role models guide and motivate us, but don’t let them take over.

Are character and education worth the effort?

Three accomplished role models have written primers on adolescence, worthy causes, and qualifying for some of the best universities:

Being a Teen: Everything Teen Girls and Boys Should Know About Relationships, Sex, Love, Health, Identity, and More, by Jane Fonda (Random House 2014)

It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going!, by Chelsea Clinton (Penguin 2017)

The Ultimate Teen Guide to Getting into the Ivy League: The 10-Step System, by Courtney Malinchak (Strauss Consultants 2017)

These are just a sample of what’s out there. Whatever our situations someone else has been there, thought about it, and come up with insights and information to stimulate our thinking and ease the way. If it seems like we’ve been abandoned the truth is very different. Whatever our situation it puts us into a community that wants to help. Just like our intuition, it only needs to be asked. So don’t let change come of its own accord: bone up on it and master it.

Even the best high schools and preparatory schools can’t make it easy to get into places like Harvard and Caltech. It takes extra effort. If what we’re looking for is “easy” why bother with school at all? Why bother with Life? What lies ahead for all of us is deciding whether we want to make the effort. Malinchak’s book could scare us away or fill us with determination. Which will it be?

Here’s one reason for making an extra effort. At Andover I was an average student with one distinction: I tried hard. I may have been the only athlete recommended for a varsity letter without scoring points for the team. My coach’s recommendation said my work ethic inspired my teammates to score points, and that’s why I deserved the award. The best universities look for applicants who want to excel. Who are passionate about pushing themselves beyond their limits. And one way they measure passion is by level of effort. I made it to Harvard. Andover might have gotten me there without extra effort, but maybe it wouldn’t.

Having an education from a world-class university is like being able to board a plane at a busy airport without going through security. Everyone wants you on board and they want to make it easy. Because the source of your education puts their minds at rest about your mind. About your character, talent, and values. You’re trusted. People can put their confidence in you. A degree from the top universities, like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Caltech, or Stanford, that’s put to good use, can gain acceptance into the highest circles of wealth, power, and society. I know this from experience. Without my Harvard degree the opportunities that put accomplishment, satisfaction, and joy into my career would not have been there. This is a solid reason for making an extra effort. It might be stressful but you’ll never regret it.

Just as the best universities open up worlds of possibilities, only the values of good character can get us into those worlds. Can give us the power and ability to realize our potential once we’re there. Good education and good character are gifts that never stop giving.

Career or no career? What does Mona Lisa say?

If an adolescent girl is unsure of her motivation Mona Lisa Smile, with Julia Roberts, might help. It’s a 2003 film that tells the story of an art professor at Wellesley College who encouraged her students to pursue careers. The professor’s students divided themselves into women who wanted careers and those who didn’t. I knew a graduate of Wellesley who earned a degree in economics. After that, she earned a law degree from Harvard and a license to practice law in Massachusetts. She had a very good mind. But even though she earned a profession she never actually wanted it. And as soon as she could, she abandoned it.

Do you want training for a professional career? Or are you one of the Wellesley students who don’t want a career? It can be a difficult choice for a conscientious girl that requires a lot of thought. This film may help, because it dramatizes the choice from both sides. Good thinking and great entertainment!

The values of a grandparent: Mindfulness, learning and growth

What this grandparent wants others to know about him is that he places a high value on mind – on learning and growth. That he believes that Mind and Love, thought and feeling, are inseparable. That he will be honest with others and places a high value on facts, Logic, and Truth. He believes that we make the world a better place by making ourselves better persons, and we make ourselves better persons by making the world a better place.

We choose Life when we choose not to be satisfied with the way things are. When we choose to explore the possibilities open to us by our minds. When we allow and encourage our minds to reflect. To see things from perspectives different from our own, To explore new approaches to our work, relationships, and wellbeing. Our values are to be used for creativity, to build character and self-worth.

The “niceness” of sharing, empowerment, and affirmation

In five different regions this grandparent practiced the value of service. Service through ideas (mindfulness), sharing, empowerment, and affirmation. He helped others come together to make good things happen. He shared his ideas, organized, and put them in charge. In one region he helped to secure community leadership training through twelve colleges and universities. Accumulating wealth and power for himself wasn’t a consideration. Attracting support for his career today, in thinking and writing, is a consideration. But he’s still committed to the same values.

The values that make a grandparent loving are gentle loving kindness, service, sharing, empowerment, and affirmation. These are the “niceness” that secures a grandparent’s place in his grandchildren’s hearts, that can cover him with hugs and kisses from grandchildren who need and appreciate it. That secures a place for them in his heart and makes them Best Friends Forever.

What is “empowerment?” It’s sharing our strength and energy with another person to make them stronger. To support their efforts. To help them compete. To cheer them on instead of trying to take them down so we can always be the “winner.” When we empower others we empower ourselves. It makes us all winners.

“Affirmation” is applause. It’s sharing all that we value in ourselves to affirm another’s worth. It’s making sure that if we think we’re important they’re important, too. In a world that can make us all feel overlooked affirming another’s worth can make the difference between hope and despair, between succeeding or giving up. Sharing our worth is sharing our Abundance. It’s Love. And anytime we love another it always comes back. It’s what it was meant to be: Love and affirmation for you and me.

Where did these values come from? From many sources over time. But none more important than the values that shaped this grandparent’s character in adolescence. None more important than what he learned at Phillips Academy, Class of ’55. From teachers, coaches, administrators, and classmates, all devoted to excellence. To making an effort. To being and doing your best. This was Andover. The best.

Sharing or ownership? One way of looking at it

This grandparent’s take on what values are all about is just one perspective out of many. If it stimulates an adolescent’s thinking then it’s done some good. But if she already has high ideals and it messes with them, then it hasn’t. These reflections aren’t “wisdom” if they don’t do any good. All they’re for is to help adolescents think about values so they can learn to think for themselves.

Values are gifts given to us to be shared by a source that is Sharing. It’s Love, and what Love does is share. If we want to know what to do with our gifts we can follow the example set by their Source: we can put them to good use for everyone by sharing. By using our values to empower all of Life and Creation and to affirm its Worth. When we feel truly loved then we feel Love’s power and its affirmation. We feel gentle loving kindness. This is what we share when we share our values. We connect.

Ownership pulls in a different direction. If Love is Freedom ownership is containment. Responsible ownership is sensitive to its impacts on others. But we live in a world where ownership is often abused, where instead of sharing and sensitivity to community it pulls toward possession and control for itself. Owning our gifts can pull us toward misusing them to attain dominance and supremacy by empowering ourselves and affirming our own worth. To compete to “win” by making others lose. To achieve “rightness” by making others wrong. This isn’t gentle loving kindness. If it looks like it don’t be fooled. It’s just appearances – formulas that avoid values. Formulas that avoid mindfulness. It doesn’t connect us with others. It disconnects.

The choice is: Are values to be shared following the example of Love, their Source? Are they to be “owned” responsibly? Or are they to be used only for possession and control? Are they to be used to empower ourselves and others, to express our individuality? Or used to control others to suppress it? Are they to be used to affirm everyone’s worth as equals deserving respect? Or to deny others’ worth?

Friendships and ownership don’t mix

The rules that govern competitive relationships done wrong are beating the other guy, owning, possessing, controlling, dominating, attaining supremacy, and always being right. The rules that prevail in personal friendships are the reverse: share, empower, affirm, respect the other guy’s free will, and keep everyone safe. The rules aren’t win-lose; they’re win-win. They’re both are right.

If it seems like we can’t avoid values owned instead of shared it’s because we spend a lot of time in groups. And group behavior either encourages or tolerates competition. What it offers is belonging, but that’s not the same as Love. Rather than individuals sharing their Abundance, their worth, it’s the group gathering up our worth and sharing it back. As if we were worthless without it. Loyalty to groups and their credos is inevitable, but it can be too much of a good thing. Ownership – the rules that govern group competitive relationships -- never works in individual family relationships and friendships. What does work is sharing. What works is Love.

Competition done right

Ownership focused on supremacy isn’t even the rule when competition is done right. Olympians do compete to win. But what they’re really doing is competing with themselves to excel. They’re feeding off competition to push themselves beyond their limits. The distinction of Olympic gold is excellence, not dominance. If the mindset of Olympians were otherwise they wouldn’t win. They wouldn’t even be in the Olympics.

What we learn at the best schools and universities is the pursuit of excellence. Competing with ourselves to push beyond our limits, not to dominate. Not to puff ourselves up with “winning” and “supremacy.” The pursuit of excellence is the value, the learning, that animates character with strength and energy at schools like Andover and Harvard. Not everyone can qualify for the Olympics. But anyone with talent and motivation, anyone who’s shown that they’re worthy of their values, their gifts and talents, can strive for an Olympic-grade education. For excellence. The best schools and universities are there for us if we qualify. If we’re committed to character and the right values.

What’s the use?

We build and express character according to how we use our gifts. Misusing our gifts is a mistake. Our gifts were given to us for a purpose: to create, support, and affirm the worth of Life. Using them for any other purpose is a mistake. Owning our gifts instead of sharing them so they can be used as weapons is the dark side. A very big mistake.

Strong character and education are developing our talents so they can be used. Weak character is putting talents to the wrong use or letting them go to waste. Sharing and ownership of values are the use and misuse of values.

The goal of values is to be worthy of them, to deserve them. To show their Source and others that they belong to us. They belong to us when they’re shared. The values we own for possession and control aren’t being used for their intended purpose, so they don’t belong to us. They shouldn't be entrusted to us.

The ideal of sharing isn’t always attainable in a world that’s not always “nice.” That conditions us from birth to think of our values as things to be owned and used for our own benefit, to gain wealth and power in competition with others. The wrong values are like toxins that keep us in a state of paralysis, an unchanging status quo without learning and growth, where development is arrested.

Depending on how we use them values are the sun that radiates light with the force of Love and sharing or they’re black holes that consume light with the gravity of ownership and containment. When we turn values into black holes the first object that they consume is our self because we’ve betrayed it.

The goal of learning and growth: sound judgment based on strong ideals

Taking it to the next level in our education and taking on adolescence at the same time can be fulfilling and frightening. Learning and character development are meant to take us out of our comfort zones. That’s natural. What all this shouldn’t be is painful. It can be painful if we’re not prepared. If we’re looking back instead of looking forward. We need to recognize that turning thirteen puts our lives in a different context, with new meaning and purpose. With minds opened to the possibilities from books and thoughts like these, it can make all the difference.

We can choose Love and share our gifts. We can resist the pull of its opposite, because character matters, and so does the truth.

The pull of our ideals is strong but so is the pull away from them. This is the thought to share on the eve of adolescence. A time of exploring and experimenting when an adolescent needs good judgment for protection, based on strong ideals.

As children entering adolescence begin thinking and evaluating for themselves one view is that the best use of our gifts and values is sharing. But that’s just one view. It’s their take that matters. When they’ve taken on the challenge of adolescence and education, when they’ve learned to think for themselves, what will they believe?

From the Class of ’55 to the Class of ’25, with Love

To all thirteen-year-olds may the next four years take you beyond the challenges, adjustments, and frustrations of adolescence. May they take you to a taste, a passion, for its incomparable gift: for learning and growth that never end. For Life as it’s meant to be lived, with meaning, purpose, and joyfulness. May you never be content with the way things are. May you never stop questioning.

Good luck and God bless!

Appendix: Values derived from human needs

Love: spiritual wealth and abundance, giving and receiving, openness, generosity, feeling, empathy, caring, kindness, affirmation-validation, tenderness, home, family and intimacy, interconnecting web of creativity, timelessness, immediacy (the here and now), awareness, unconditional acceptance

[The dark side] Fear: separation, abandonment, judgment and condemnation
(blame), abuse, cruelty, savagery, terror, hatred, rejection, anxiety, hollowness,
invalidation, retribution, neglect

Belonging: roots, extended family, community, fairness, equity, justice, emotional support

[The dark side] Alienation: isolation, loneliness, grievances, resentments,
bigotry, prejudice, inequality, unfairness, injustice

Worthiness: character, enlightenment, presence of mind, competence, gifts, talents, learning, discovery, work, worthy causes, growth (spiritual, personal, character), perseverance, achievement, recognition, largeness, self-respect, innocence

[The dark side] Worthlessness: quitting, surrender, failure, shame, guilt,
littleness, invisibility – not being seen or heard

Empowerment: order, control, strength and energy, forcefulness, assertiveness, will, resolve, conviction, truth, centered, grounded, competitive, prevailing, enduring

[The dark side] Disempowerment: emasculation, humiliation, embarrassment,
debilitation, disorder, disorientation, deception, confusion, doubt, loss, subjugation,
defeat, extinction

Material comfort: food, clothing, shelter, material wealth and abundance, having

[The dark side] Scarcity: impoverishment, homelessness, hunger, deprivation,
exposure, not having

Safety and security: protection and peace, trust, harmlessness, sanctuary (temenos), joyfulness and spontaneity, happiness, playfulness and laughter, immortality

[The dark side] Endangerment: vulnerability, exposure, harmfulness,
betrayal, treachery, pain, injury, mortality

Freedom: choice and expression, independence, individuality, liberation

[The dark side] Enslavement: confinement, restriction, addiction, the
tyranny of judgment and condemnation (blame), oppression, conformity, suffocation

Health (mental, physical, spiritual, emotional): wellness, wholeness, healing (the separation-wound), reason, integrity, miracles

[The dark side] Sickness: woundedness, insanity, delusion, depravity,
grievances, resentments, dismemberment, impairment

Beauty: perfection and purity in forms and functions, appearances and essences, thoughts and ideals, artistic, inspiriting, inspiring, sacred, uncorrupted, aesthetic, sensory attraction and pleasure – sights, sounds, taste, touch, smell

[The dark side] Repugnance: revulsion, aversion, deadening, flawed, marred,
desecrated, violated, corrupted, impure

Hope: faith and purpose

[The dark side] Despair: depression, surrender, collapse, purposelessness,
nihilism, ambivalence, confusion, disbelief