If we’re looking for silver linings around the pandemic, then one startlingly big one is the time people have had to reflect on their lives. When we’re busy, we’re forced to be pragmatic, and unfortunately that pragmatism can conflict with our core values.
This pragmatism has, certainly in my life, led to there being (small) disconnects between what I feel to be my values on the one hand, and my actions on the other. One thing I’ve been meaning to do for a while is to take the time to write down what I believe, in the style of Buster Benson’s Codex Vitae.
He divides his beliefs into the following areas:
- Artificial intelligence
- Cognitive biases
- Critical thinking
- Game theory
- Internal mental space
- Nature of reality
- Rules to live by
…which may seem a little bit random, and reminds me somewhat of Jorge Luis Borges’ Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge (“those that from afar look like flies”). Having said that, starting with one’s inner ontology is probably the best place to start.
Why do all this? Well, if you know what you believe then it’s easier to draw lines, ‘red’ or otherwise, and know what you will and will not stand for. It’s a guide to life, which of course can change over time, but at least serves as a guide.
The reason I’ve never managed to get around to writing down my beliefs in a way similar to Buster is, I would say, twofold. First, I’m unwilling to write down my religious beliefs, such as they are. Second, all of this looks like a rather large undertaking.
Instead, I’m going to use the rather helpful time horizon that the pandemic provides to think about what I’d like the ‘new normal’ to look like, about what I’m going to accept and what I am not. These take the form of aphorisms or reminders to myself.
- Life is too short to deal with adults who display little in the way of emotional intelligence.
- Organisations are groups of people that can have a positive or negative effect on the world. Do not work with or for the latter.
- Technology can free people or it can enslave them, so work to give as many people as much freedom as possible.
- Removing ego from the equation gets things done.
- Education is not the same as learning, nor are qualifications the same as real-world knowledge, skills and experience.
- Happiness is not something that you can find, but rather it is something that you discover once you stop looking for it.
- How you say or do something is as important as what you say or what you do.
- We all will die and don’t know when, so act today in a way whereby people will remember you well.
- You cannot control what other people say, do, or think.
- Money can only buy choices, not happiness, time, or anything else that constitutes human flourishing.
Yours may be different, and these are just want came tumbling out this time around, but these are the ten that I’ve printed out and stuck to the back of my home office door.
Quotation-as-title by Mahatma Gandhi. Photo by Ishant Mishra.