The rules we live by make a tremendous difference in our quality of life.
I propose that the purpose of life rules is to focus our attention on the most important things in life and to give us principles that allow us to act in ways that reflect those “most important things”.
The Purpose of Life Rules
Furthermore, since rules are made for human beings (i.e. animals and plants are guided primarily by instinct rather than rules), good rules should help people flourish. They should help people move towards living a happy, connected, purposeful, and powerful existence.
We are meant to live a morally good and happy life. This doesn’t mean that happiness is always possible at every moment or that it is our sole aim. But we do have this idea that the ideal world is one in which people live good lives and have happiness or contentment compatible with this kind of life. Our life rules should help move us towards this kind of happy life.
Human beings are not meant to live an isolated existence. We are social creatures who cannot develop our capacities in isolation. We are meant to be connected in loving, healthy relationships.
Human beings are not meant to live a purposeless existence. When we act without any clear purpose (what some might call vision), we act in contradictory and often harmful ways that undermine our own as well as other people’s best projects.
We have rational and moral capacities that allow us to develop goals that bring more goodness into our own lives as well as the lives of others, and these goals give us purpose.
Human beings are not meant to be powerless. There are certainly some things in life over which we have no control, but there are many things we can control. When we focus on the things we can control, such as the rules we live by, we become more integrated, focused, and clear.
When we develop this focus we act in ways that promote this in our own life as well as the life of others (assuming that we value human happiness, connection, and purposefulness). This leads us to build our own personal power and to encourage this kind of purpose in other people’s lives as well.
So what are some rules that promote moral happiness, connection, purpose, and power? Here are three really good ones:
One: Be Loving
St. Augustine once wrote, “Love and do what you will.”* What I think he meant by this is that when we act with an intention of love for ourselves and others in all of our actions, we are always headed down the right path.
Here is a good definition of Love: Love nurtures what is good and beautiful and healthy and works to heal and comfort what is diseased and deformed in both ourselves and others.
Two: Be Respectful
When we respect, we honor the dignity of everyone, including ourselves and including people we dislike.
Here is a good definition of treating ourselves and others with dignity: When we treat others with dignity, we recognize that human beings have both a great capacity for good and great capacity for evil. We treat them in such a way that we fully support them in their ability to become responsible, moral, and good in their own unique way.
We do this is by recognizing that people are not our play-toys, our possessions, our tools, our slaves, or our chess pieces to manipulate on our own chess board of life.We recognize that people are their own selves, and we respect and support their moral dreams and projects
Setting boundaries, saying “no”, and confronting people who mistreat people (including ourselves) is also a part of respecting the dignity of ourselves and other people.
Three: Be Unapologetically You
The world does not need less of you. It needs more of you living your own unique life with love and respect for yourself and others.
You have unique experiences, dreams, opinions, and talents that no one else on earth has. When you life out your uniqueness with love and respect for yourself and others, you strengthen and beautify the world.
We need you, Friend. Be loving. Be respectful. And then be yourself unapologetically.
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*The St. Augustine quote is from his “Sermon on Love”. You can find a link to that sermon here.
(Note: Augustine lived around 400 A.D. as the Roman Empire was disintegrating. Because of this, there is some troubling and archaic language about beating slaves in this sermon, but otherwise, the sermon is full of really beautiful ideas.)