Getting What You Want: The 7 Principles of Rational Livingby Robert J. Ringer
Beloved by millions of readers whose lives his books have changed for the better, Robert J. Ringer stands in a class by himself. Ann Landers called this combination social commentator, philosopher, and self-development advisor "an astute student of human nature and a fabulous teacher." Ringer possesses a stinging wit, uncompromising integrity, and a unique ability to explain how the world really works-and how to make it work for you. As one of his fans put it, "As long as there are victims, there will be sharks. Here's to Robert Ringer for helping reduce the food supply." In his eagerly awaited new book, Ringer explains how to get what you want in life-be it love, money, success, or respect-by adopting a rational lifestyle in our often irrational world. Enlightening, straightforward, and candid, Getting What You Want is not for those looking for banal formulas or quick fixes. Advocating such principles as Commit to the Truth, Lower Your People Taxes, and Refuse Free-Lunch Temptations, Ringer shows readers how to create value for others and long-term happiness for themselves. His is a galvanizing message of independence for all those who are ready to take responsibility for their own future.
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THE WORLD ACCORDING TO YOU
Principle #1: Base Your Actions on Truth.
The truth is incontrovertible.
Malice may attack it and
ignorance may deride it,
but in the end, there it is.
Human beings have debated the ultimate purpose of life throughout recorded history. If one wanted to participate in this debate, he could make a persuasive argument that the ultimate purpose of life is to search for truth. I say search rather than find, because to find truth in the broadest sense of the word would mean that one would have to know everything, and I think we can stipulate that omniscience and human beings don't match up too well.
As people have become educated about our court systems through recent high-profile cases, they have discovered, to their considerable dismay, that a legal trial is not a search for truth. I believe that the reason this reality has been such a surprise to most people is because truth is the very foundation not only of the legal systems of the Western world, but of life itself. Truth is the ultimate certitude. Without truth as a foundation, life as we know it could not exist.
Happily, getting what you want in life is not about courtroom justice. It's about you. Therefore, even if the whole world goes insane (a prospect with a reasonably high degree of probability), you have a holy responsibility to yourself to perpetually search for truth. When all about you are losing their heads, the surest way to keep yours isto be vigilant about basing your actions on truth. Conscious life choices are needed to achieve positive results, but that is all but impossible if your premises are false. Truth, then, is the very foundation for getting what you want, and rational thought and actions are the surest way to arrive at truth.
I'm not talking here about "the search for truth" or "a search for truth." What I'm referring to is your search for truth. On the other hand, the words in this chapterand, indeed, this entire bookrepresent my truth (or, more accurately, my perception of truth). You can accept some, any, or all of my opinions. To whatever degree it is that you concur with what I'm saying, however, I will have accomplished my purpose if my truth inspires you to search for your truth, because truth is the best friend you will ever have. Unlike people, truth will never desert you in your time of need.
Unfortunately, truth is not an easy proposition. For one thing, truth can sometimes make you unpopular. In extreme cases it has even cost people their lives. Bruno (burned at the stake as a heretic) and Socrates (forced to drink poison after being accused of corrupting youth by questioning tradition) are two well-known examples of this. As a baseline, then, anyone searching for truth must desire truth more than popularity. As we have all witnessed, fools are often among the most popular people in society. This being the case, you must not allow your search for truth to be stifled by the widespread delusions of the masses. Which means you must learn to question everything, even if it represents generations of so-called conventional wisdom.
In the short term, truth can be violated. Rational living, however, calls for making decisions that result in getting what you want over the long term. Fortunately, history has repeatedly demonstrated that time is extremely kind to truth.
Given that it's the foundation of getting what you want in life, it is important to carefully dissect truth so there is no doubt about what it entails. Truth, being the vast subject it is, is much more digestible if viewed on three levels.
LEVEL 1: ULTIMATE TRUTH
By Ultimate Truth, I am loosely referring to an understanding of what, if anything, controls the universe. And while an in-depth discussion of Ultimate Truth is beyond the scope of this book, there are some cursory points that need to be addressed, because your pursuit of Ultimate Truth will have an impact on how you pursue other kinds of truths.
Oversimplified, one either believes in the existence of a conscious force governing the universe or he believes the universe is random. In theory, there is actually a third alternative, that being a universe wherein seemingly supernatural events occur, but where no supernatural force is behind them. In the latter case, the universe is seen as pilotless, yet it appears to operate in a precise fashion. An atheist's belief in reincarnation is a good example of this.
Fundamentalism, in the generic sense, is the strict adherence to a set of ideas, and is by definition at odds with a search for truth. This is so whether it be fundamentalist Christianity, fundamentalist Judaism, or fundamentalist atheism. In all cases, fundamentalism closes the door to a serious search for truth.
For example, when someone starts with the premise that the Bible is the word of God, or, in the alternative, starts with the premise that there is no God, his premise is really a personal conclusion. The fact that he feels the need to disguise his own conclusion as a general premise merely demonstrates a lack of belief. God is certainly strong enough to withstand investigation, and, likewise, a rational atheist should feel confident about his ability to back up his anti-God beliefs with facts.
In this regard, one of the best books a fundamentalist religionist can read is George H. Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God. It is a brilliant, detailed, relentlessly logical presentation of every conceivable argument against God's existence. If a religionist is willing to analyze with an open mind the kind of powerful information contained in this book, yet still retain his belief in God, it is impressive evidence that his belief is strong.
I would make the same argument for a historical book about Christianity entitled A History of Christianity. This work, written by English historian Paul Johnson, is impeccably researched and remarkably detailed, even to the point of discussing factual evidence that places the virgin birth in historical context.
I recall years ago telling a Christian-fundamentalist acquaintance about A History of Christianity, which noticeably angered him. He insisted that authors who write books such as this have an atheist agenda, and that he therefore would never read such a book. Interestingly, though, Paul Johnson is not an atheist. He is a practicing Christian who feels that his beliefs are strong enough to stand up to historical truth.
On the other side of the coin, I once suggested to a hardcore atheist friend that there is actually strong mathematical support for the idea that there is a conscious Being at the controls of the universe. As Guy Murchie points out in his remarkable book, The Seven Mysteries of Life, an intellectual, long-standing argument for a random universe wherein a seeming miracle such as evolution could take place is that given enough time, anythingincluding the evolution of human beings from inanimate matteris possible. This argument, says Murchie, is based on the premise that if you could sit enough billions of chimpanzees in front of computers for enough billions of years, random chance would allow them to write all the great works of literature. Which sounds nice until you consider the mathematics involved.
There are approximately fifty possible letters, numbers, and punctuation marks on a computer keyboard, and there are sixty-five character spaces per line in the average book. Thus, a chimp would have one in fifty chances of getting the first space on the first line correct. Since the same is true of the second space on that line, the chimp would have one chance in 50 x 50, or 50², of getting both spaces right (meaning just the first two letters of the first word of just one of the great works of literature). For all sixty-five spaces on the first line, the figure would jump to 5065, which is equal to 10110.
How big is 10110? According to physicist George Gamow, says Murchie, it is a thousand times greater than the total number of vibrations made by all the atoms in the universe since the Big Bang!
Conclusion: It doesn't matter how many chimpanzees or how much time you allow, not even one line of one great work could come into existence through pure chance. As I rhetorically asked my atheist friend, given that you are infinitely more complex than one line of a book, what are the odds that you accidentally, with all your billions of precise, specialized cells, evolved from rocks and dirt over a period of a few billion years?
With noticeable disinterest, he listened to what I had to say, then replied, "To even consider anything that implies there could be a God would destroy the very foundation upon which I've built my life." I was quite surprised that such an intelligent, rational individual would close his mind to any kind of search that didn't align with his current belief structure.
In the final analysis, the real truth to the Ultimate Truth is that a person who claims to have found it cannot prove it to anyone else. He must be satisfied with contentment within himself. Likewise, no one can disprove another person's claim that he has discovered Ultimate Truth. The search for Ultimate Truth is very personal in nature and, consciously or otherwise, is the foundationthe starting point, if you willfor how each individual goes about living his life.
LEVEL 2: SCIENTIFIC TRUTH
Science is based on universal principles, or laws. You cannot create or alter a principle. A principle is a natural law that has always existed and will continue to exist as long as there is a universe. We cannot change principles or create new ones; we can only try to discover them, then find ways to use them to our advantage.
Gravity is the most commonly used example of a scientific principle. We know that anything that falls within the earth's atmosphere will accelerate toward the ground at the rate of 32 ft/sec². There are no exceptions to this law. The same is true of molecular structure. Identical atoms under the same pressure at the same temperature will always combine to form the same molecules. Or Newton's Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It would be accurate to say that the umbrella principle for all scientific principles is: Actions have consequences that are always in accordance with the laws of science.
A scientific principle is truth in its purist form. When we discover scientific truths and use our creativity to apply these truths in positive ways, we accomplish positive results. Nowadays, most of us don't even give a second thought to these resuits, whether it be flying to the moon, dramatically increasing food production, or producing everything from CD players to jumbo jets. As our understanding of scientific principles continues to accelerate, yesterday's luxuries are increasingly viewed by the average person as necessities.
Many people believe that scientific truth collides with Ultimate Truthi.e., that it invalidates Godin that God becomes irrelevant in the face of scientific explanations of the nature of the Universe. But does He? There is near unanimity among scientists regarding the occurrence of the so-called "Big Bang" about 14 billion years ago, as well as the belief that the first atoms formed were hydrogen gas. However, what is still baffling to scientists is how the stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and superclusters formed out of uniformly smooth hydrogen gas.
Even more baffling is the recent discovery that the formation of the substantive universe is not at all random; rather, the galaxies form precise patterns. I recently watched a documentary about space in which the narrator at one point asked, "What unknown forces in the early universe could have created these vast structures?" Call it God, call it a Supernatural Force, call it the Cosmic Mind, call it Mysteries of Life if that's what it takes to quell humanist fears of a Controlling Force, but there certainly is compelling evidence that the universe may, in fact, not be random.
Increasingly, a growing number of astronomers and space physicists seem to be expressing doubts about a random universe. What is finally being addressed is the fact that science can explain, say, how gravity works, but it cannot explain why it works the way it does. In other words, gravity explains what makes the planets, stars, galaxies, and other heavenly bodies act on each other the way they do, but it does nothing to explain how the principle of gravity came into being.
Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in his book, God and the Astronomers, tied scientific truth to Ultimate Truth in an interesting way when he said: "For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries." Thus, the chasm between theologians and scientists seems to be narrowing toward a middle-ground belief that science is not in conflict with God, but, rather, is a gift of God.
While it is unlikely that any of us will ever have proof that there is a connection between scientific truth and Ultimate Truth, with regard to our daily lives it is important for us to understand that any attempt to act in violation of scientific truth results in bad consequences. It matters not whether the violation is intentional or a result of ignorance; in either case, scientific truth yields the same consequences. The cigarettes that kill you have little interest in whether or not you were aware of their lethal nature.
LEVEL 3: SECULAR TRUTH
By secular truth, I am referring to "the way the world works." Ultimate Truth is very personal in nature, and scientific truth is not something most of us have to consciously think about in our daily lives. But each of us has to deal with secular truth every day. We therefore have to have a reasonably good batting average when it comes to deciphering secular truth.
As with scientific law, the umbrella principle herealbeit more general in natureis that actions have consequences. Children and politicians are notorious for either not understanding the consequences of their actions or refusing to believe that the same action will always result in the same consequence. (It is fascinating to ponder why we punish children for not heeding the consequences of their actions, yet vote for politicians who promise to ignore history and continue to repeat the same mistakes.)
Like scientific truth, secular truth brings the same results regardless of our intentions. Secular truth cares nothing about whether we think it is just or unjust; our feelings are irrelevant. Most people understand this reality on an intellectual level, but continually reject it on an emotional level, as demonstrated by the way they live their lives. Why else would people drive while intoxicated? Or lie in an effort to get out of a tight spot? Or live beyond their means? Or commit crimes?
What makes secular truth such a tricky proposition is that our observations are made through the eyes of our individual conditioning. Thus, your truth may be very different from my truth because of our personal experiences. One person may see the flag of his country as a symbol of freedom; another person may see it as a symbol of oppression. The difference lies in their belief structures.
This is what happened in the infamous O. J. Simpson trial. Most people, including a significant percentage of African-Americans, were appalled at how (primarily) black jurors could allow a vicious murderer to walk free. It wasn't that those jurors believed murder was okay. It was that their negative experiences with police blinded them to the point where they were able to ignore the overwhelming evidence and allow a band of truth-twisting attorneys to switch their focus to unrelated topics such as racism and police corruption. As hundreds of millions of people around the world witnessed with amazement, Simpson's hired legal guns were so good at their craft that they ultimately succeeded in transforming the proceedings into the trial of Mark Fuhrman and the Los Angeles Police Department.
What causes perceptions, and therefore conclusions, to be wrong are flawed conditioning, false premises, and false assumptions. Unfortunately, probably a majority of false premises are learned as a small child and carried through life. Which leads to the obvious question, how can a person's life possibly turn out well if a significant percentage of his perceptions and actions are based on incorrect premises? Since an incorrect premise or assumption is a falsehood, there is a snowballing effect; i.e., an untrue premise or assumption leads to an untrue perception, which in turn leads to other untrue premises, assumptions, and perceptions. All of which lead to action contrary to one's best interest, which in turn results in pain.
By contrast, the path to pleasure is paved with correct premises and assumptions, which in turn lead to correct perceptions. And basing your actions on correct perceptions makes it infinitely more likely that you will get what you want in life.
In this regard, I am reminded of a story I first heard from a longtime friend, John Pugsley. Imagine you are adrift at sea. You wash up on an island, where you are taken in by a tribe of friendly, intelligent natives. You are initially thankful for your good fortune. However, you discover that all is not well in the village. For generations the villagers have been engaged in a bloody, ongoing war with another tribe on the opposite side of the island. They are in a high state of anxiety over an upcoming battle, a battle which if they win will destroy their enemy and end the tortuous war, but if they lose could lead to their own destruction and/or enslavement. If they lose, you, too, will be a victim.
There is a divisive argument in progress over the strategy to be employed to win the battle. It is an argument that has raged for generations, and frequently leads to bloodshed within the tribe. The natives are in agreement with the premise that victory is possible only by appeasing the god of the volcano, but they are in dispute over how he is to be appeased.
The elder faction believes the battle can be won only if the god is appeased through the ritual murder of five of the other tribe's most beautiful maidens. The sacrifice must be carried out according to rules set down hundreds of years ago by the tribe's founders. The maidens must be captured in a raid, their heads shaved, blindfolded with palm leaves, bound with vines, and thrown live into a boiling lake in the center of the volcano.
A second group of young radicals is convinced that the ritual has been misinterpreted. To win the battle, this group believes there should be seven maidens, not five, that they should not be shaved, and that they should be killed with a knife.
Both groups are adamant. Both are passionate. The tribe is rigidly and irreconcilably divided. In fact, subfactions are springing up that argue over the details of each plan, but all agree with the premise that ritual kidnapping and sacrifice is essential for victory; they disagree only on the details.
It immediately becomes obvious to you that the capturing and killing of the other tribe's maidens is not the solution to the tribe's problems, but, rather, the very kind of act that has caused the perpetual war.
You enter a hut and find members of the two factions studying ancient drawings of the ritual. They are arguing about a detail. The elders are uncertain only about whether the drawing means the blindfolds should be made of palm leaves or hemp. The younger faction says that it clearly means a knife must be used. They both turn to you and insist that you cast the deciding vote. Which is the correct solution? How do you think the maidens should be killed?
What do you say to them? Obviously, you don't think the maidens should be killed at all, but how can you possibly make them see the gross error they are making in their search for a solution to the war? It is easy for us to see that the premisekilling the maidensis false, but the natives on this island have been conditioned from childhood to accept this hideous premise.
While this may sound like nothing more than a bad dream, in truth you have been cast ashore on just such an island, an island wherein the natives are your fellow citizens and political leaders. On a global scale, nearly 6 billion people are continuously engaged in acrimonious and bitter debate about how to solve an infinite number of problems, most of which are based on false premises.
Your search for truth, then, will be flawed to the same extent as your conditioning and premises are flawed, meaning that you cannot expect to have truth on your terms. To lay down conditions in advance of searching for truth is the height of frivolity. If you want enlightenment on your terms, you will find only illusion and falsehood.
Thus, a prerequisite to searching for truth as a way of getting what you want in life is your willingness to let go of cherished beliefs. The one belief that is important to maintain is that neither tradition nor conventional wisdom makes something right. You must be willing to question everything. In the words of Buddha, "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
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