Why we need a benchmark
Hopefully I’ve already made it clear that we gratify by default and that there’s really no limit to how far down that road we can go if we don’t consciously decide to stop and go another way. The best we can logically hope for is some degree of mediocrity and the risk that we’ll end up with something far worse than desirable is just too high. We need to know where we want to go and we need to be able to clearly identify if we’re headed in that direction or some other. You wouldn’t sail rudderless, and you wouldn’t sail any substantial distance without at least a good idea of how to navigate to the desired destination, even if that’s ‘back again’. Yet most of us ‘sail’ through most of our lives with no consciously selected benchmark, living more reactively than proactively. Sure, we all want ‘something better’ or ‘something more’, and we often eventually even listen to our conscience after it has nagged at us for some time, but as our conscience isn’t usually an overly loud influence, it’s quite easy to carry on living while ignoring it completely.
The reality is that the moments we honestly engage with our conscience isn’t usually due to our proactive invitation, but occurs more often than not due to some external stimuli, reminder or some kind of event that directs our thoughts back to previously held ideals, goals or dreams. Most of us rely on these ‘random’ events as the checkpoints we use to calibrate our direction in life. Of course it would make much more sense to not rely on ‘random reminders’ and instead schedule things into our daily lives that allow time and mental capacity to intentionally reflect on our current vs desired checkpoints. For anybody who has a desire to make the most of life, it’s just not possible to do so without taking proactive charge of monitoring one’s desired destinations and ongoing progress towards them. I argue that we are both a product of our environment as well as housing the capacity to be self-sculptors. Anybody who doesn’t take conscious charge of themselves can’t expect to ever be more than merely the former. We become whatever the influences around us want us to become, and unfortunately that’s too infrequently something admirable.
I feel it’s largely undeniable that the utilisation of benchmarks increases our capacity to be good. The question rather, is which benchmarks help ‘the most’? Which benchmarks, when adopted, increase our capacity to be the most good, meaning do the most good, with the greatest frequency and longest consistency? What goals, dreams, principles, truths, edify us the most? There’s always going to be both the general and the specific hierarchies. We would be wise to familiarise ourselves with them both.
Why it needs to be better than we are
Those of us who do establish their own goals and regularly work toward them, likely share an appreciation for the second reality: that we probably don’t review our progress often enough. Even after we’ve invested a good amount of time clarifying the things we want most in life, we still too often get distracted, misled, or confused, and end up temporarily derailed from one degree to another. Having the dream isn’t enough, we must also be regularly fighting off those distractions and continually working toward our goal, if we desire to keep our hope honest, that we are becoming better than we are. Having the goal does very little if we fail to work toward it.
All of us who have proactively utilised goals in the past, understand that by their very nature, goals must always be, to some degree, ‘beyond us‘. It has to be something not yet obtained, some hill to climb, some trial to overcome, some change of circumstances into a better life. Goals that don’t require us to work or improve things, aren’t goals, they’re more like a hollow wish, or mere opinions of one’s current state of being. There’s unfortunately far too many of us who have learned the hard way of just how much rubbish one can end up with by betting on a wish. From first appearances it may well look as good as the real deal, but you quickly discover that cheaper price of the gamble doesn’t come without a relation to the cheaper quality in outcome. Don’t bet on wishes. Work on dreams. Working on the goal or dream will always do far more to make us better people than just having a dream or goal. It’s the work that changes us, not the destination arrival. It’s not the ‘completion’ as much as it is the ‘completing’. For this reason, the goal must always require more from us than we currently are or currently offer. The benchmark must always be better than we are. Goals, desired destinations, truths we wish to adopt, dreams, ideals, benchmarks, must all by their very nature, ask more of us.
I argue this elsewhere in the book as well, but deviate temporarily with the short summery: this is why one must be careful about becoming financially independent, because if you don’t have a need to work, you are less likely to work, which can be very dangerous. We would be wise to pursue edifying heights so great that it provides the ongoing inspiration to drive one to continually work. Work, work, work, errrday. We all need something that’s big enough and grand enough that has us working for years and years to come and maybe even requires us to pass the work on to another: Something that has us working until the end of our days and then provides for another, a ‘sufficiently edifying motivation’ to get them working as well. It’s unedifying to not work, so the standards we set for ourselves must ask us to work, which means the truths, principles and benchmarks that we fight for are always going to be ‘greater than ourselves.’
To those that see such as hypocritical, when the truth one is working towards or fighting for isn’t yet perfectly embodied, I argue that you’re just being silly. I could argue about this in many different ways and discuss many different topics, reasonings, potential outcomes etc. however at the end of the day I believe the simplest way to resolve the ‘hypocrisy problem’ is to focus on being helpful. If the person arguing for a benchmark, a truth, a goal etc. is doing so in a helpful way, great, we should probably listen. If the person arguing against the benchmark is doing so in a helpful way, again great, we should probably listen. If either is arguing in an unhelpful way, as often evidenced by attacking the person more than the argument, as an example, then don’t bother pursuing it further. Don’t waste your energy or breath. The demonstration is key, much more so than any counter-arguments one could make.
Acknowledge the reality of the imperfections, and then just go about living life, demonstrating one’s willingness to work on overcoming them and better abide the truth. Don’t let a failure to abide a truth lead to its abandonment, and especially don’t allow the ridicule of others, highlighting ‘potential hypocrisy’, do so either. Failure to meet a benchmark shouldn’t change the benchmark, it should trigger an honest review of the benchmark, which itself may well lead to a change of the benchmark however the failure itself should not. We have a need to be very hesitant to abandon or discard our benchmarks or truths, ensuring we’re not selling ourselves simply for an easier way, at the cost of future welfare.
It’s not only okay, it’s necessary to fight for standards even if not yet well exemplified. Doing so ensures one doesn’t forfeit helpful benchmarks just to appease onlookers or those focussed on criticising, but it remains just as important to fight without any hatred or compulsion. Nearly every concept I discuss in this book and probably every concept I ever talk about, I’m going to be very far from a prime example. Does that make my argument less authentic, more debatable and less powerful? Absolutely. Does it mean I shouldn’t argue for the truth as best I understand it? Absolutely not. Hypocrisy isn’t arguing for truth, even truth one yet perfectly abides, but it is found when one insists on being unhelpful, judgemental, or forceful towards others. If we waited until we were perfect before we began searching for, experimenting with, or debating truth, we would spend our entire existence in darkness.
Whether we want to admit it or not we all have flaws and failing which inherently come with a need to fix ourselves, evolve and improve upon our weaknesses, if we wish to ‘live’. Both the literal world and even more-so the figurative world we live in as individuals, is constantly evolving with each new day, season and era of change, requiring different things of us and often ‘more than think we have to give’. We must learn to embrace seasonal change or die.
Comparing ‘wild to tame’, the wild can often edify more than the tame because it’s had to learn to be more resourceful. We can only grow and thrive by ‘always doing what we’ve always done’, for so long. If we stick to one thing it may last a long while, but it will all eventually die, so embrace evolution and embrace the diversity required to evolve. Meaning although we require benchmarks that invite us to change and improve, adopting benchmarks that invite us to be ‘ever changeable and improvable’, might be superior.
We also shouldn’t allow ‘adaptation’ to overthrow ‘stability’. Yes we should change and improve, but we also need to be mindful to not ‘rid ourselves’ of the things that provide our basic function. The wild can become overzealous and wasteful when exposed to comparatively limitless resources. Wild branches, when grafted, being so much more resourceful and resource hungry, do have the ability (if one’s not careful) to overrun the roots and end up taxing them too much. We can find powerful new tools to add to our arsenal but we also need to be mindful to not overuse them and risk damaging the arsenal itself. Even if someone/something gives us a massive leg-up in life, don’t take that to mean their abilities to do so are endless and that we can take advantage of them. We must be careful to not draw too much, not only because some might give too much, but because we’re often not ready for ‘too much’.
Our benchmarks and our progress towards them, need to be monitored to ensure they’re producing outcomes as helpful as first intended.
Why self-betterment is the progress tracker
It really is the demonstration of abiding new truth, the reaching towards and aligning with new benchmarks and improved ideals, that can’t be disputed. We can argue until we’re blue in the face but it will never say as much as a person who took to time to personally put it to the test and personally obtained the ‘end-experience’ results.
I give it as my opinion that this requires further ‘highlight’, for most of us. Over the years I’ve found many people very much like myself, are desirous to discuss ‘life’s greatest theories, benchmarks, truths, ideas’ etc. and there are countless communities who do so regularly. Some fond of a religious approach, some referring strictly to personal experience only, some utilising widely accepted science, some general spiritualists, some ‘truth seekers’, but whatever category we put ourselves in, again speaking from my own opinion, that we all lack sufficient ‘practice’. Lacking ‘demonstration’. In these groups, cultures and social circles, there are countless of us who have accepted the commitment to meet regularly and review ‘it all’, ‘ourselves’ and the ongoing discrepancies that remain within. That’s great, certainly more beneficial than not doing so, but I also believe we all lack sufficient ‘prac’. Too much theory, not enough practice. Too many discussions, too few demonstrations. Too much counselling, not enough contacting. Too many meetings, too little reaching. Too much talk, not enough service.
Meeting regularly to review and talk, is unquestionably helpful. However, I do feel that we have culturally ended up believing ‘the meeting is enough’, when it’s not. Most of us being born into pre-existing habitualised lifestyles that have already incorporated regular philosophy review & discussion, perhaps continue engaging in such mostly to the thanks of those who came before us, than for our own efforts in design or purpose, perhaps? How responsible are we for habitualising at least that much, and how much of that outcomes is the result of another’s efforts? If it’s not our own or has become ‘too easy’ perhaps it’s time to amp up the gratitude or hone in on making sure we’re spending the surplus we do have to produce edifying ends.
Perhaps many of us who say we love the truth, or at least love the time we spend thinking and talking about it, are not spending enough time practicing it: proactively engaging with new/additional/unhabitualised truth in our day-to-day lives so as to be incorporating more of it into our beings. Sure, perhaps if that’s all that fits within our ‘surplus energy’ to spend, such might be the case. However surely many of us have habitualised the meeting for long enough, and a great many of us are second, third, fourth + generation of habitualising such meetings.
Professional development days, chambers of commerce, churches, management meetings, leadership training, even family councils, for some of us, have been standard place in our lives and to the extent such is the case, perhaps these people might have more in their ‘surplus’ to offer than just ‘the meeting’. Perhaps we consider attending the meeting as enough when we could honestly better engage in practicing the content of the meeting, at least a little more. Perhaps it’s kind of like an agreement to regularly attend the meeting is the save point or safe guard that helps stop us going backwards, which sure is helpful, but doesn’t do as much to keep us going forward as ‘practicing the benchmark’ does.
Again, I absolutely don’t speak as one who has perfected this principle or am even close to demonstrating ‘how it should be done’. Just that it’s a benchmark I feel needs to be addressed, it’s on my infinite list and it reappears regularly. Here’s an idea though, perhaps we would be wise to lean much further away from the ‘potentially not enough prac’ line and push so far as to at least temporarily be honestly capable of saying “kay perhaps now we’re practicing too much and need to lean back towards a bit more theory to make sure we’re doing it right”. Of course, balance in all things, but if we’re going to lean ‘too far’ in any direction, I argue now’s the time we lean too far in the practice direction.
Why it needs life
Pain and death often seem like the most real of things. As aforementioned I record and keep reminder lists of things that help me return to and maintain what I would refer to as ‘healthy mental states’, I’ve found that it’s often images, stories and reminders of pain, loss and death, that seem to do the quickest job. They appear to be the fastest ‘awakening’ tools that help me remember how silly my problems are, how trivial my distractions and how important it is that I focus on the things that matter most. If I need a ‘quick fix’, this is a list I turn to: the painful realities of life.
Once again, as aforementioned, focussing on this list too much can easily lead to being a stumbling block due to its depressing nature. I still don’t entirely understand why, but my ‘joyful realities of life’ reminders just don’t seem to pack the same punch, when I read through them. Experiencing those joyful realities however, does a substantially better job than even my ‘painful realities’ reminders. I’ve had those ‘joyful life’ experiences many times, and they’re truly amazing and empowering and awakening experiences, but they really have to be ‘worked on’ in order for them to ‘pack their punch’. For life, and all the good that’s in it, to be used as a reminder more powerful the ‘the pain lists’, it really needs to be experienced, again and again. Doing so required a lot of work, and it’s a lot more work than what one requires to get a ‘kick’ out of the pain lists.
Experiencing ‘life’, especially in a way that one could call “to the brim” is an experience that can’t be forced and has to be fostered. It can end up taking much more time and energy than one wished, and although I do argue that once experienced it does feel like a reward worth infinitely more than the cost paid, at the same time, reminders of pain and death seem to be so much more ‘accessible’. The latter requires so much less work in order to give me a good ‘kick in the guts’ but that kick just doesn’t help as much. They’re debilitating, even though they represent reality and certainly do help me escape ‘mundane distractions’ at least temporarily. Experiencing ‘life to the brim’ does the same but in a much more edifying way, but once again, a way that does genuinely feel much less accessible, due to the greater cost of production. Perhaps a greater price needs to be paid to warrant the superior outcome.
Pain & death are more accessible reminders of what’s real, to help overcome the distractions of what’s not so real, what’s meaningless, what’s pointless, the things we find ourselves trapped in too regularly. We can also have experiences where we feel ‘more alive’ than usual: visions of possible futures, hopes of how great things might be, gratitude for even things one has struggled with for years, love for even those one has previously despised. I remain unsure about what conclusions I should draw from the reality of these experiences and how we should best utilise them. It would appear that ‘experiencing’ either the pain/death or the joy/life, provides a more powerful motivation than merely ‘reviewing’ either. Life, a more edifying influence than death. Death, a faster snap back to reality, but the effects don’t seem to last as long.
It would seem as though all pain is a type of death, and perhaps all death a type of pain. They’re somehow the same thing in a way I’m not yet sure of, but have certainly noticed their deep correlation. Can one exist without the other? As literal and large as the pain felt when someone loved is dying, might be one end of the scale while the smaller or perhaps symbolic loss of one’s connection to something dying, could be at the other?
Maybe we’ve lost something, or someone, and although they’re very much still alive, we feel pain because the connection we shared with them was alive, and is now dying or dead. Maybe it’s trust that has died, due to betrayal. Maybe betrayal doesn’t hurt until we’re aware of it because the trust is actually something that lives in us and only dies when we’re made aware that our investments are in vain and that there’s no hope in investing any further into that ‘life’. Even the most basic forms of pain like kicked toes, banged shins, scraped knees, or even a good punch to the face, all include ‘warning shots’ from my system due to a sudden spike in cell damage and death. Is there pain, that involves no death? Is there death that involves no pain?
Our beings are wired to instantaneously be alerted to all forms of death, including pain, so as to respond as quickly as possible, to correct what’s dying and continue on living. A serious danger that lies within being unaware of ‘gratification’ is that it involves a desensitisation. numbing those receptors, dulling our awareness and response times to those ‘death signals’. Especially when we start small enough, our being doesn’t necessarily register the pain or death as overly threatening, except to the finely tuned.
If pain and death are our fastest reminders of reality, perhaps when we’re setting benchmarks for ourselves we would be wise to include a regular review of such things. Furthermore, if such things are what we’re trying to avoid in life, we would also be wise to target, focus on and prioritise their opposites: joy and life. To experience as little pain and death as much and as much joy and life as possible. Perhaps both are required in their appropriate measures, but surely ‘life’ must be the primary focus and objective?
We absolutely can train ourselves to be substantially better at differentiating between life and death. It can take a life-time of practice, but as all things by degrees, we can start getting better immediately and we can get rather good quite quickly. We must then also be committed for a lifetime, if we expect to become masters.
Masters can be aware of even the smallest amount of death in themselves, around them and even in others. Similarly they are just as or even more expertly familiar with life. To date, as best I can currently calculate, this ability is primarily tied to our capacity to be conscience aligned. The more aware of our own conscience we are, particularly by aligning to it, the better we become at differentiating life and death. The things that feed each, their by-products, their home environments, their servants and masters, and all things related.
We need to benchmark how dead or alive we are, at any given point in time and our ultimate benchmarks must surely by synonymous with ‘being as alive as possible’, no?
Why it needs to be nothing less than perfection
I’ve spoken with my own family on countless occasions about the difference between seeking justification and seeking understanding. Usually amidst debating or arguing, we all feel a need to argue our position, but when it comes to investing energy into defending our position, we would be wise to only invest when we’re actually in a good position. Investing in defending our position when we’re in a crappy position, isn’t going to be helpful, despite how much our ego wants us to do so. We would be wise to differentiate ‘understanding’ from ‘justification’, by making it clear that when we’re in a bad spot what we’re after is understanding, not justification. Overall, in such cases, justification isn’t going to be helpful and should just be abandoned. Understanding however, understanding can be very helpful, perhaps especially when we’ve made a mistake or are in a bad position. Understanding helps us build confidence to step outside of the bad spot we’re in and to move on to a better one. Understanding is helpful but it should never be forced.
If nobody wants to hear you out, then so be it. Don’t force it. Politely request that you want to be understood and invite them to let you know when they’re willing to hear you out. Then leave it at that. Despite how difficult that may be, it’s a great tool to help differentiate understanding from justification and cut the ego out as the ego often wants the position immediately justified. If you’re willing to hold your tongue until others actually want to hear you, it’s a great indication you’re after understanding, while if you insist on being heard and particularly on being heard first, such is a great indication you’re after justification.
Either way, we’re going to frequently find ourselves in positions where we’ve stuffed up. We’ve made a mistake. We’ve failed. We’re wrong. We suck, for whatever reason in whatever particular area of our lives. It’s here that I need to re-iterate the need we all have for our infinite lists. I give it as my opinion that many of us live unnecessarily complicated lives, and I don’t even mean ‘too complicated for others’ I’m talking about being too complicated even for ourselves. When it comes to ethics, morality, dream goals and life benchmarks: there remains, again in my own opinion, far too many of us who believe that because there’s a seemingly unlimited number of roads we can travel, truths we can focus on, principles we can prioritise, that it doesn’t matter which one we choose, none are better than the rest. To this I very much disagree.
There will always be both a general and specific hierarchy and ignoring such does nobody any favours. The specific hierarchy consists of those priorities that through honest personal evaluation of oneself and ones circumstances, prove themselves to be the most helpful. The general hierarchy consists of those priorities that have proved to be most advantageous for the greatest number of people. Here is the beauty: the general should never be forced over the specific, and those utilising the specific would be foolish to ignore the general. Wherever we each individually end up deciding our priorities should be, we’re going to have benchmarks, truths, principles etc. that we’re not currently focussed on. Our imperfections are going to lie within both ‘the range of my focus: I’m dealing with this’ and ‘the range outside of my focus: I’ll deal with this later. We will have failures in both categories.
Those who appreciate that the work is endless and that the focus is seasonal, don’t need to ‘justify’ their failings in either category. They don’t waste energy trying to reinforce a bad position. If they’re wrong, if they suck, if they’ve stuffed up, no matter in what area, then they’re ready and willing to address that, all in due time. If it’s in the current concern category, great, straight away, if it’s in the other category, then it will be dealt with, either way, the work is going to be done eventually. There is no failure that isn’t going to be worked on, once it becomes a high enough priority.
“So what’s the alternative to this?” You might be wondering. Well, it’s actually how too many of us live on a day to day basis. It’s a willingness to live with failure, or perhaps better stated as an unwillingness to be responsible for failure. If everybody’s benchmarks, everybody’s story, everybody’s morals, ethics, thoughts, desires etc. are all equal, and I suck at abiding those you’re focussed on, I’m justified because I’m just focussing on something else. Not so. Believing such just results in people either constantly investing in justifying their bad position, wasting their energy and lives, or an abandonment of otherwise utilisable truth. If we suck but we acknowledge it, and add it to our infinite list, it becomes a tool in our chest that gets us one step closer to not sucking. It may take 20, 30, or even 70 years before we ever finally get around to addressing that failure, but if we’ve been honest about it along the way, and kept it on our infinite list, then we’re already going to have an enormous library of personal research we can use to best improve ourselves with it and utilise it for everybody’s benefit. If we pretend it’s not true, or we pretend we don’t suck, refusing to take note of it, then the whole experience just falls into the void and is far more likely to repeat itself in similar ignorant fashion, again, and again, and again.
When driving to work with my father one day, he made a wrong turn at a round-a-bout and commented something along the lines of “Damn it, I keep going the wrong way there…”and a few moments later, continued “… but that’s okay, because I only get it wrong so many times before I get it right”. I admit to not being able to quote him exactly, but the concept has remained with me, decades later. Each failure can be an additional reminder of how to get it right. Justifying our failures, whether they’re in our own ‘personal gambit of principles’ or not, is kind of like reinforcing a bad hand, or forfeiting a chance to bank that reminder and learn from the experience.
For a long time and maybe even still today, my wife gets annoyed by my constant use of terms like “to the extent” such as “to the extent I’m in the wrong” or “to the extent I can honestly say so: I’m sorry”. These obviously aren’t tools used to annoy, but I do appreciate that they can appear to over-complicate things when simple closure is what one is really after. Appreciating “all things by degrees”, means that even when I’m not very sorry, or not sufficiently sorry, or honestly can’t even see how I’m wrong, I remain capable of offering what apologies, mercies, understandings, condolences that I can, by being more specific. In many cases saying “I’m sorry” even when I should be, can genuinely feel dishonest, if I’m not feeling it. Saying “I don’t agree with you, but to the extent you’re right or I’m wrong, I apologise”, allows me to offer what I can, remain honest and bank the concept on my infinite list.
If we’re honestly pursuing edification, we’re trying to increase our capacity to be good, which means doing good more consistently and more frequently. The good we do should be prioritised, but while prioritised it shouldn’t be limited either. We should be willing to do good for any and all of those around us because if we can do good, we should do good. This involves taking a responsibility to help produce solutions to all problems, even if we share zero responsibility in producing the problem. Those who limit their responsibility to assist others, strictly to their own ‘current’ world of interests, can end up forfeiting chances to do good that are outside their normal circle of influence. Those who are willing to do what they can, when they can, are able to simultaneously forfeit the opportunities that would cause them to deprioritise things they shouldn’t, and take advantage of the extra opportunities to do good that don’t require deprioritisation.
Perfection: helping everyone in every way, needs to be the objective, limited only by appropriate prioritisation. What we’re really learning to do is learn how to help everyone in every way while remaining appropriately prioritised. How to progress toward perfection without trading things that matter most for things that matter less. Less important things still need to be addressed, just not at the cost of more important things.
We all need benchmarks and they should absolutely include being perfectly alive.