One of the most fundamental aspects of living well and thus the most important definition of success is respect. The word respect does not fully encompass the meaning of what I’m trying to convey. By respect, I mean respect for others; other people as well as the world as a whole and what’s in it. I also include respect for oneself. On an abstract level I also include respect for the interconnections—what is described by systems theory—and subjectively for one’s philosophy.

Martial arts serves as a good illustration. In martial arts, respect is tremendously important. In particular, this included respect for one’s training partners, respect for the philosophy of the training system, and respect for one’s opponents. Without this respect, martial arts turns into a vulgar exhibition of violence. In fighting, people without respect are considered punks. The word “punk” has several different meanings, but in this regard a punk is an immature delinquent—someone who should know better.

It may well be that a punk will win a fight because he is stronger, heavier, faster, and perhaps even demonstrates better technique. Yet lacking respect, he is still a punk.

The lack of respect which manifests itself as “vulgar immaturity” is apparent in modern culture. Is it just me or is the number of punks increasing? There seems to be a growing attitude of short-cuts and win-at-any-cost. I find this depressing. Short-cuts typically means pushing costs into the future. Winning at any cost typically means pushing costs unto others. It is quite apparent how such an approach is appealing to anyone with a narcissistic personality—something which our culture increasingly considers an acceptable attitude. However, such a philosophy is not sustainable [in the long run].

A respectful philosophy is crucial.

True materialism is respect for nature—it is an appreciation for what nature has given us: Throw things away just because we tire of them or buying things because we are bored shows lack of respect. I’d argue that traveling (burning jet fuel) for simplistic reasons such as reaching goals we can brag about e.g. “I’ve visited more exotic places or a greater number of destinations than you” is also disrespectful [of nature]. In a similar vein showing off by buying bigger houses or bigger cars or more stuff than one needs is disrespectful and contemptible as well. In general consumer culture is somewhat of an immature delinquent civilization; it is inconsiderate and has no class—it is only concerned with itself.

I repeat: A respectful philosophy is crucial.

Without a philosophy, one’s understanding and behavior is simply a collection of techniques. It is possible to just follow “rules”, but I think this is merely the first step on the path towards living well. Perhaps by repeating the actions of a good life, they will eventually be internalized and grow into something greater, that is, personal growth.

This is why developing an underlying philosophy is important; it’s what sets us apart from a dog performing tricks so to speak; what makes us human.
Ultimately all actions then become an expression of one’s philosophy.
With the development of a respectful life philosophy comes the ability to make wise choices. Attaining this maturity, not just in your actions or intellectually but also emotionally in your heart (something I’m still working on) is what defines success.

Originally posted 2011-01-15 00:05:24.