WHO ARE YOU?
The dictionary defines the word “philosophy” as guiding or underlying principles: a set of basic principles or concepts underlying a particular sphere of knowledge. Developing a philosophy is the starting point of developing a winning lifestyle or business. There is an order to everything in life. The vast majority of people are behaving randomly without any organization. The philosophy that a person develops becomes her or his fixed star. The philosophy is developed from a set of beliefs – about life, about yourself, about others, about relationships, and yes, about business principles. Those basic beliefs guide the day-to-day activities of people who are philosophically based. Their actions tend to be congruent, and their actions are the foundation for a life filled with integrity.
A mother brought her young son to Gandhi for advice in disciplining the child for eating too many sweets. The wise sage looked at the boy awkwardly and told the mother to bring him back in two weeks. The mother appeared bewildered because she had brought the boy for discipline from a supposed authority and she was put off. Two weeks passed and the mother brought her son back to Gandhi for the obvious advice. Gandhi turned to the boy and said in very clear language, “Son, you shouldn’t eat sweets, they’re very bad for your teeth.” The surprised mother turned to Gandhi and exclaimed. “Wise one – why did it take you two weeks to tell my son what was so obvious?”
Gandhi turned to the woman and said, “Because my good lady, two weeks ago, I too was eating sweets.”
This story shows the essence of wisdom and leadership. The obvious answer was not congruent with Gandhi’s own philosophy. He hadn’t placed a high value on his dental health, and he needed to adjust that before he taught it to someone else. That goes for us as well. We need to clarify what really matters to us before we can expect others to follow us. Creating a winning philosophy is dependent on understanding exactly who we are and what really matters. Another way of saying this is we need to clarify our values.
There is no doubt about it; we live in confusing times. Our values seem to get lost in a sea of differing beliefs. The value of occupational satisfaction has many rivals. Some may place independent wealth, retirement, or fame in a higher position. The expression “you can only serve one master” comes to mind. Another way of saying this is the man who chases two rabbits catches neither. You only get to choose one of these if you want to live a life of integrity because there will be times when they will be in conflict with one another. I’m not saying that these values can’t live in harmony, or that they are self-restrictive. There are many times when choices need to be made. Otherwise, we are flying by the seat of our pants. In the end, your values will define who you are.
We acquire most of our values like we learn to speak a language. They appear in the backdrop of our lives. We don’t actively take part in developing our values. They come from our life experiences, our parents, our friends, our teachers, and mostly from the culture in which we live. For example, why was Willie Mays my hero? It could have been Mickey Mantle. Was it my father’s influence? He and my grandfather were New York Giant fans. Was it that I was in the minority when compared to Mickey Mantle fans? Remember, Willie was one of the very first African-American baseball players in the Major Leagues. Was my choice based on rooting for the underdog? This could be possible because my whole life has been defined by taking the road less traveled.
Another way we acquire values is from modeling people we admire. Parents, teachers, and the clergy all can act as outstanding role models. In such a diverse world as we live, we tend to be exposed to so many types of role models that it becomes very confusing. One of my favorite movies, The Bronx Tale, concerned itself with a young man who was overwhelmed with learning the lessons of life from his father and a street-wise gangster. In dentistry, we are faced with many different personalities that exhibit very different ways of creating a successful career in dentistry. I have had my role models – Dr. Irwin Becker, Dr. Peter Dawson, and others that I wrote about in The Art of the Examination. The best way, I feel, to acquire values is through a process of self-knowledge called “values clarification.”
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Aristotle
Value clarification, you see, is a process of getting to know yourself at a very deep and intimate level. Without going through a process of values clarification, we tend to make very important life-changing decisions based on peer pressure, unthinking submission to authority, or the power of government or mass media. Values clarification is the ultimate know yourself process, and it is truly the starting point of a winning philosophy. Our values are based upon our feelings. It is where our passions reside. Values are so pervasive in our lives that they show up in every one of our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.