The View from Afar

Writings by retired newspaper publisher Stephen Waters

The fabric of society: 6. Individuals use experience to produce character

fas06of14 Rome (NY) Sentinel 2015-10-07 October 7, 2015
[Article 6 of 14: The previous article examined how character has been haphazardly taught.]

Self–interest leads to a character-centered life. In your own experience you can recall painful experiences that occurred because you thought you were right and later discovered you were mistaken. This is accessible to everyone across cultural and religious boundaries and helps fashion virtues, a compelling framework for civilization, and a path to honorable decision-making.

Point 1: Sometimes we think we are right, not because we are right, but simply because we think we are right. It’s possible for you to be wrong, even when you think you are right, because your brain — the tool you use to plan your very best future — decides what to do using not reality itself, but its very own internal map of reality. If that map of reality is inaccurate, you can get hurt.

Point 2: Your long-term self-interest depends on maintaining the very best map of reality to work with. Even though other people have different experiences from yours, they can recall their own painful experiences that invariably lead them to the similar conclusions about humility and reciprocity.

Point 3: Those other people live life as acutely as you do. They have

the same needs with reason to join together in society. Society becomes mutually beneficial so we can help each other refine our individual mental maps of reality.

Point 4: Reading, writing, and conversation hone skills used to better individual futures. Language is the tool we use to maintain our map of reality, to check it, to refine it, and to represent it on paper so that tomorrow we can look back and see if it makes as much sense then as it does to us today. They capture our expressions of concepts to convey them over immeasurable distance and time to others. Quality of language and its tools matter. The Trivium — the first three of the Seven Liberal Arts—refine those tools: Grammar is how we express our thoughts clearly. Logic is how we check our language for consistency. Rhetoric is how we express what we think to others and check what they express to us.

Point 5: A sense of time and one’s

place in it provides a check on one’s map of reality and decision-making.

Point 6: Thinking about thinking recursively is a powerful tool when harnessed constructively.

Point 7: People are responsible for themselves and need to take that responsibility. As children connect language and thought, they are empowered and motivated by practical wisdoms that underlie their conversation:

Dynamic processes are the type of thought that matters. They help prune what does not work and reinforce what does. If drops of water in a river represent that which is understood, then boulders along the shores that guide the flow of knowledge represent the dynamic processes of thought. A handful of practical wisdoms accessible to anybody channel the flow constructively, but we don’t habitually teach such things. They include:

1. A sense of self;

2. A sense of time and one’s place in it (Represented by the power of narratization);

3. A sense that sometimes one sometimes might be wrong;

4. A sense that other people live their lives as acutely as I do (That the pain another person feels is no different than the pain I feel);

5. A sense that my mental map of reality might be more accurate if I enlist the help of others;

6. A sense that one is responsible for oneself;

7. A sense of the power of recursive thought (That thinking about thinking is a process that can be useful when under control);

8. A sense of the power of tools for thought;

9. A sense that experience can be mined for patterns to help plan;

10. A sense that we are mortal– that just as surely as close as nightfall is we shall be that close to our own deaths;

11. A sense that each person’s fundamental purpose is to negotiate his way through life with decent quality of life;

12. That the difference between fantasy and reality is a boundary that must be understood. When you deny what is, you are possessed by what is not.

These are processes kids understand, admire and wish to emulate in a deeper way.

[The next article examines how individual character blossoms.]

Stephen B. Waters

In early 2021, with 46 years in the business, I retired as publisher of the Rome (NY) Daily Sentinel

After five generations of family ownership, despite an unsettled economy, we keep on. We understand that although we may own the newspaper, we hold it in stewardship for the community.

Across my career, so many other small newspapers were purchased by media chains, large newspapers sold their integrity, and broadcast news outfits fell back on superficial entertainment.

They put journalism in this country at risk. The best antidote is for individual readers to arm themselves to recognize the danger to their community, culture, and society itself.