Capable Capable
Capable Capable

Behavioral gold

The winning of a gold medal by Olympians is the standard of excellence for athletic performance just as the winning of a Nobel Prize is the gold standard for achievement by scientists, writers, economists and humanitarians. 

Gold was once the literal and official measure of money in America, hence the phrase “gold standard.” While this one-to-one link was completely severed by 1971, the term gold standard has come to mean the highest example of achievement. As such, I am referring to it to help us frame the behavioral gold standards by which our efforts with autonomy and life may be measured.

In my post back in February, I referred to “jerks” as people who fail to meet the demand for social awareness and responsibility. They have no appreciation for the perspectives and hopes of the people around them. They treat others as tools to be manipulated—an “anything goes” means to their own ends, or as fools to be dealt with, rather than as sentient and moral peers. 

To be a jerk is to be ignorant in a certain way—ignorant of the value of others, ignorant of the merit of their ideas and plans, dismissive of their desires and beliefs, unforgiving of their perceived inferiority. 

We understand that the neglect of behavioral gold by “jerks” is not necessarily a conscious, thought-through choice. We know that like other animals, we learn by imitation, mimicry and conformity—monkey see, monkey do.

If we are willfully or head-buried-in-the-sand ignorant as described above, our unprincipled treatment of the lives of others may run unchecked. Indeed, when we perceive our autonomy and life as a no-holds-barred game to be won, we may allow ourselves to pursue victory ruthlessly and, where deemed necessary, to run heedlessly over the rules and ideals that protect the social fabric of our nation. 

By contrast, participants in the classes and coursework of Autonomy and Life have taken up a philosophy of life that integrates achieving behavioral gold into the meaning of living a good life. Through observation, study and practice, we philosophically describe how, in fact, autonomy and life actually works in America. We believe such effort is wanted and needed.

Critically, the ordered manner of our autonomy and life is generally unseen; that is, when we don’t learn an appropriate description of how autonomy and life works, we may reach adulthood with an insufficient understanding of its demanding requirements, not to say, the reward of its practice.

We recognize that our nation’s experiment with secular democracy is not only the source of our autonomous authority, but also dependent on our lifelong competent, socially responsible exercise of this authority. The set-up of the experiment—means and ends—is the behavioral framework within which we sovereign subjects are expected to shape and conduct the whole of our lives—in the marketplace, domestically and as socially conscious citizens. We accept these terms. 

To serve both our country and ourselves, we commit to achieving behavioral gold. Further, we accept ourselves as the governor of our lives and the regulator of our cognition, perception, communication and motor-coordination and as such, are equipped to go for the gold.

We also recognize that self-determination is not the practice of self-interest wherein social responsibility is a subset; the reverse is true. When we meet the gold standard vis-à-vis our thinking, speaking and acting, we achieve the life-satisfaction that had been so elusive. In other words, this development of a higher and more objective recognition of self-determination significantly enriches our experience of wellbeing.

And while operating within the ethical framework of social responsibility fences us in, the self-discipline (including self-motivation) required to do so is also, critically, the substantive backbone of freedom and flourishing.

Is the commitment to go for the gold challenging? Yes, of course. Think about it. Just as everyone else, we are reflexively coerced by habit, instinct and conformity to rationalize and privilege what we view as the superior merit of our own interests. 

To achieve behavioral gold, we must transform the determining and pressure-filled energy of our programmed instincts and conditioned socially unconscious habits into a philosophically guided perspective capable of giving objective witness to the whole of our behavioral efforts.

And, finally, how do we avoid being a “jerk?” With due diligence, we elevate our reactions and our resources by incrementally building a wide-ranging, socially conscious mindset. Because we are unwilling to live in the diminished space of the jerk and suffering over the inadequate social substance of our self-determination, we govern ourselves in the light of our nation’s behavioral gold standard, a principled way of being that contributes to the safe space in which others may flourish, too.

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Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.