This is something that’s been gnawing at me for some time, the notion that unwittingly, language has become my (only) moral compass. How is that even possible?
I’ve always had a strong affinity to language. True, I fancy becoming a polymath, and I’m endlessly curious about almost every subject I seem to come across. Language though, is the one thing I’m most proficient in, and of late, most passionate about. (Not bragging, but getting to a point.) But I’ve come to realise, just as language is a whip I wield, it is also the whip that tames me.
Being a grammar nazi isn’t easy. I don’t get kicks out of correcting people; in fact, I’ve mostly stopped doing that. It’s not a hobby, it’s an obsession. I’m so invested in every word and its meaning, and this isn’t just obvious when I’m using them in sentences. It’s become a fundamental part of my (moral) code. The abstract meanings of words like “good”, or “evil” – these aren’t just words anymore. Because language is so important to me, these words and their meanings are of solemn significance. This is a kind of discipline – when I say I want to live like “this”, my reverence for language demands I fully believe what I’m saying. Consequently, I am compelled to do what I say, because it is what I believe, because this is what the words I believe mean. My belief in the power of words forms the basis of my beliefs.
I mean, that sounds a lot like a religion to me. There is a self-enforced discipline and there is a constant meta-wareness of whether what I’m doing is aligned with what I believe. It’s a lifestyle in that I’m trying to emulate the qualities the words embody.
I don’t want to stop here, with a simplistic statement like “language is my religion”. Nor do I want to blindly accept that this religion gives me discipline. I’m compelled to question if religion imparts discipline or if discipline is the real precursor. I’m convinced of the latter, in which case, the obsessive passion that justifies and instills discipline is conveniently, for lack of a better word, a religion. And that passion can be anything. For me, it’s language. Thinking of a good friend of mine, I’m pretty sure she might say tennis is her passion (ergo, religion).
This isn’t just an academic debate! The implications are huge. You see, there are qualities associated with any action or activity. From accuracy in mathematics, or strategy in chess, to elegance in physics and abstraction in art. From commitment to training and sportsmanship in sports to dogged determination in survival. Qualities like these are in some sense mandatory; if I want to be good at these things, I have to have these qualities in abundance. They are self-evident axioms I should hold sacred, if I hope to succeed in these pursuits.
It’s not a question of talent! These qualities are required on top of, and maybe even despite talent. These qualities are disciplines, if you will. To be good at my passion(s), these are the qualities I must emulate, the discipline(s) I must show. My passion, the subject matter, is then just a manifestation, just one way of performing obeisance to the underlying discipline.
Imagine if we stopped compartmentalising these passions (and therefore these disciplines) to these single arenas. What if we brought these qualities into other areas of our lives? In a way, this is exactly what religions try to tell us: emulate the qualities of certain holy people, at all times every day. But what if you picked your own religions, your own passions; such that the qualities they espouse become your qualities. Instead of taking on prescribed heroes you don’t have a personal reason to emulate, pick your own heroes. Heroes who champion your passions, whose qualities are synonymous with your chosen pursuits.
And why stop there? Let’s go one step further. Recognise that these disciplines are a choice. Talent is one thing, but only with discipline can we get anywhere with it. So if we’re in essence choosing our disciplines (inspired by our passions), can’t we then adopt other disciplines as and when necessary whenever we need them? For example, I hate leadership roles. I’d rather be in the backstage, making sure everything is going according to plan. But if I absolutely had to be in a leadership role, all I’d have to do is tap into the qualities of a leader I admire, and try to emulate them. Initially, it would be a lot of “What would [insert hero here] do?” but eventually, I might even get to the point where it becomes second-nature.
Is this emulation insincere? I think not; in fact, it’s the very opposite – a product of my extreme reverence. Does this affect my individual identity in some way if I’m endlessly emulating someone else? Also no! What I’m emulating are qualities, not mannerisms and idiosyncrasies.
Follow your dreams, by emulating your dream heroes. Make your dream your religion!
Think about it.