Nowadays, everybody wants to live by the right ideology -the right pieces of knowledge and wisdom to live life by.
College campuses and religious institutions alike preach their respective versions of morality and shun dissenters who raise a different voice.
People sharing different belief systems and ideologies tear each apart in vain debates to prove that their way is right way –the only way.
Social media is filled with spiritual and self-improvement pages that churn out daily quotes about love, acceptance, tolerance, compassion, courage, ambition, and much more. Quotes shared, passed on, and circulated by thousands of people, most who will do little in its application.
In the end, what for? Despite all the knowledge and self-improvement programs that are ever so present in our society and easily accessible on the Internet, mental health issues are increasing, not decreasing.
Research shows that highly intelligent people are more vulnerable to mental disorders such as depression not because intelligence causes depression but rather intelligence comes with other traits such as overthinking, worrying, and cynicism.
My answer to this phenomenon is that simply having the right ideology is not enough. We must take action. Action-taking takes character, not just ideology.
The psychological model of the value-action gap depicts that there can exist a difference in what people believe in and what people actually do. Action taking requires much more effort than the adoption of beliefs.
Numerous psychological and social factors can prevent us from taking action and living true to our beliefs. Therefore strong characters are necessary to guide us through the ever-present hurdles of action taking.
The complex ideologies and life philosophies we took years to develop can easily outstrip the capacities of our characters to actually apply them. It is like a fancy sports car without the proper engine; it may look good on the outside but it cannot function optimally.
What are some examples of those who embody great ideologies on the outside but fail to apply them properly?
These are religious zealots whose core beliefs mandate love and compassion but practice bigotry, intolerance, and violence against nonbelievers.
These are extreme political factions on college campuses that preach equality and tolerance for all but encourage its members to project all frustrations upon heterosexual white men and upon dissenting conservative or moderate voices.
These are the spiritual elitists who use their new age lifestyle as a way of judging mainstreamers and the less “enlightened” rather than as a means of self-improvement and of spreading compassion.
These are the peace-loving hipsters who fill their house with crystals, wear hippie-clothing daily, attend every festival, and churn their own butter but “forgot to meditate today [again]”, “yoga is too expensive”, and never actually do any real charity work. Meanwhile the corporate people they mock end up dedicating a lot more time helping people and donating funds to causes they care about.
These are basically anyone who does a lot of talking but cannot walk the actual talk or walk the talk for the wrong reasons.
In the Brazilian Jiujitsu community we have a saying, “We hope your Facebook Jiujitsu is as good as your real Jiujitsu.”
It is that simple.
In anything in life, be it Jiujitsu or righteous living, talk is easy and action is hard.
Posting a badass Facebook meme about hard work? Easy. Takes ideology.
Actually doing the hard work on the days you just don’t want to? Hard. Takes character.
Believing in the power of love and trust? Easy. Takes ideology.
Learning to love and trust again after betrayal? Hard. Takes character.
Letting your gift of knowledge turn you into a cynical intellectual asshole? Easy. Takes ideology.
Learning not to take yourself too seriously even when you bursting with talent and wisdom and placed in a room full of ignorance? Hard. Takes character.
Shutting your mind to any dissenting information that threatens your beliefs and your safe space? Easy. Takes ideology.
Going through the arduous process of rebalancing your worldview after acknowledging difficult truths that tear apart your perception of reality? Hard. Takes character.
But if you find the right values and the right morals, won’t that lead to you having the right character?
That is true. Good values lead to good character. Good values come from ideology and wisdoms.
However, certain wisdoms (and ideologies) may only be relevant to an individual if he or she possesses a certain degree of courage or love or ego-mastery.
Malala Yousefzai had every right to sit down and shut up after the Taliban swept through her village. From various logical perspectives, what she did to stand up to them can be seen as foolish. However, because of her courage, she was able to possess a vision that allowed her to shock and inspire the world.
In college, I had a roommate that could not comprehend why certain commercial businesses would choose to engage in charitable activities. To him, everything was measured by material profit: gain or loss. He had so little love in his heart that the only logical answer he accepted from me was that “charity is good for public relations”. He simply did not have a character foundation of love.
Ego is a most common flaw.
Show a man that he is stupid and most won’t think much of it. Show a man that his ideology is stupid and you are an existential threat that must be destroyed, silenced, or kept away at all cost.
As a result of this sensationalist culture, many people find ways to hide their character flaws by using a bigger ideology as a convenient shield to duck personal responsibility.
Examples would include blocking highway traffic to demonstrate polarized political controversies, blaming personal lack of dating success with feminism or anti-feminism, or any means of justifying violence on another group based off of ideological differences.
Character must come above ideology.
How does one obtain character?
My Kundalini Yoga teacher tells me that you cannot think your way outside of a prison thought has created. You must feel your way out.
Character is a type of feeling.
Courage. Love. Patience. Integrity. Willpower. Growth Mindset. Discipline.
All are emotional or mental muscles developed through activity, experience, and environment.
From wrestling and martial arts, I develop willpower, discipline, mental toughness, calmness under stress, and honor.
From yoga, I foster love, mindfulness, and balance. I gain ability to balance out the dualities of life: to re-center myself after confronting life’s painful events and undesired truths.
From acting, I learn empathy. Having played characters that I found despicable, I can step into the shoes of those I find despicable.
From gymnastics, which I am deathly afraid of and plainly atrocious at but simply cannot quit, I hone my courage under stress and my patience after frustration.
From repeatedly doing the right thing no matter what happens to me, I strengthen my integrity in the face of difficulty.
From the continuous refusal to conform to outdated social expectations and rules, I exercise my open-mindedness and love for life.
Character is everything. It must come above ideology.
The most violent and angry person I know has done more charity work than anyone else.
The most materialistic girl I have ever known was also one of the most generous and loving.
The absence of certain of values does not disqualify an individual from having good character. However, the absence of good character does disqualify an individual from living as a great representative of his or her values.