Towards, or Away From

Posted on October 15, 2009


Two hundred or so years ago, a polymath named Thomas Jefferson changed the face of liberal political thinking. Until then, liberal political writers like John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, and Adam Smith defined freedom as being free from oppression, tyranny, misrule, or anything else. Jefferson changed that with great subtlety when, in the US Declaration of Independence, he defined freedom as toward something – “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I learned about that at Mr. Jefferson’s University, when I took some survey courses in philosophy and political theory. Recently, Paul Anderson spoke in a seminar about “toward” and “away from” values. He explained the psychology behind them, and why movement toward can succeed, but movement away from will always fail. Both require effort, of course, but when you’re moving away from and you relax, you fall back. When you move toward something and you stop to catch your breath, at worst you stand still.

In 1937, Napoleon Hill published one of the best-selling self-help books of all time, Think and Grow Rich. Obviously you lose a lot of subtlety and detail when you condense an entire book to a single sentence, but one of his themes is, “We become what we think about.” This is another application of “toward” and “away from” values. If all you think about is what you try to move away from, you become what you were trying to avoid all along. Yes, that’s why so many men turn into their own fathers.

Years ago, G. Gordon Liddy spoke to the graduating class of a US military academy (pretty sure it was the USNA at Annapolis, but I can’t confirm that). I still remember him warning them, that “What you think about, you do; and what you do, you become.”

Five years ago I wanted to get healthier, and I started running again. It was embarrassing. I couldn’t run a single mile. I didn’t focus on my weight, my ridiculously slow times, the pains in my feet and knees, or anything else. I registered for a 5K race and trained for it. Now I routinely run 5K and 10K races.  Two years ago, I wanted to move from tabletop gaming to digital gaming. Now I’m writing a game for sweat equity at a start-up (no details until we make a public statement). What I thought about, I did; and what I’m doing, I will become.

Posted in: Leadership