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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Five Questions of Rational Thought

Great Smoky Mountains Clingmans Dome,
the highest point in the national park

A good friend (“son”) of mine is in Federal prison. They have a program for inmates that teach a methodical approach to rational decisions—the method is called RSA. When one performs a RSA, he is to ask himself five questions.

  1. Are your thoughts based on objective reality/facts??
  2. Are your thoughts helping protect your life and health??
  3. Are your thoughts helping achieve your short and long-term goals??
  4. Are your thoughts keeping you out of conflict with others??
  5. Are your thoughts making you feel the same way without the use of drugs or alcohol??

If you answer “no” three times in response to these questions, then your thoughts are not rational.

My friend adds in his letter to me: “Wayne, this is really good stuff. And it can apply to anyone. It would be good if you could sit in on one of our phase groups.” I would love to do so, but will participate “long-distance (all the way to El Reno, Oklahoma) and discuss here my take on some of the points mentioned:

My interest has always been on what I call the “Disciplines of Love.” These Disciplines incorporate substantially the questions listed above. For love, if it is to be of any use, must be based on objective reality/facts. Escapist sentimentality has no place in the disciplines of love. Facts represent an essential facet of the truth—truth being “that which is so regardless of what we may say about it.” Thus, an absolutely essential virtue for successfully coping with life is humility—humility before the facts. Who in their right mind would prefer a doctor who acted upon arrogant, opinionated impulse rather than one who first performed a humble search for the facts to carefully determine one's actual physical condition?

Likewise, Disciplines of Love have an important end in view—stability and security. They seek to protect and advance well-being and to help realize abundant life. The ways to arrive at this objective are seldom obvious. In my view, a frequent mistake is to equate protection with blatant physical force—as by securing a gun or pumping iron to build up muscle and give one the illusion of invincibility. True security ultimately rests on trust established through goodwill. Ask yourself, would you rather live in a neighborhood whose inhabitants are chronically anxious and fiercely armed to the teeth, or would your rather live in a tranquil neighborhood where security resides in reliable trust and goodwill?

Short-term goals can only be rightly understood if viewed from a long-term perspective. The long-term gives the short-term context and meaning. Disciplines of Love give extensive weight to eternal verities—the very long-term. Thus, they provide a context for short-term action. Over the years I have cultivated a friendship with Ramon Green (to whom I write this letter). A short-term objective during this time can be identified as having fun in various outings and adventures. All the while, however, a long-term goal included (I think for both of us) acting in the long-term best interest of our friend. Thus, some possible short-term actions—such as getting high off drugs—were simply unthinkable because they would undercut the long-term best interest of our friend.

Are your thoughts keeping you out of conflict with others?” Overwhelming conflict derives from a felt need to control. The secret to avoiding much conflict is to understand in matters of control we should first look to controlling ourselves, not others. A related factor is that of attitude—we need to consciously craft a positive attitude. For me the daily arena of work is a prime example. Especially on Monday mornings, on arriving at work I need to first look to controlling my own actions and attitudes, not directing or attacking others. If a thorny issue should arise, I must consciously decide that my friendship with my co-workers is stronger and more important than to engage in petty infighting. Proactive goodwill and a kind sense of humor (sometimes at one's own expense) can triumph over the venomous atmosphere of contention and strife.

Today I attended court to give support to a young friend (“son”) during a pretrial session. The schedule indicated I should be there at nine-thirty. But as anyone who is familiar with the legal process knows, that was only a rough estimate of when my friend's turn before the bench would occur. That did not occur until early afternoon. In short, I had all morning to hear court proceedings regarding drug intervention. Defendant after defendant came before the beach, all relating to drug addiction. It was no doubt one of the saddest mornings I have ever experienced.  Sometimes with the defendants' great fear and protestation, they would be sent off to spend several weeks in jail. Others went voluntarily and willingly, desperately knowing the jeopardy that they presented to themselves if they remained on the streets. I (who have always delighted in “natural highs”) am frankly mystified by drug use. Clearly, I don't understand it, and perhaps my brain is structured so that it receives a stimulus that I would otherwise find a need to artificially provide. One of the saddest memories I can remember is when I was incarcerated at FCI in Tallahassee in 1969. I entered the facility (which had large common sleeping areas) on New Year's eve. There was an industrial shop at the facility, and inmates had managed to smuggle lacquer thinner, glue, and the like into the dorm for inhaling that evening. The dark cavernous room reeked of the smell. From my bunk that night I looked to the heavens for an answer as to why my associates would want to do this to themselves. But God was silent then, as now. I have nothing useful to say about substance abuse—only this, I too have addictions (such as the drive to dominate) that can be just as (if not more) despotic. 

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