Monday, April 7, 2014

On slowly applying empowerment ethics to my life

Recently I came to provisionally accept that Dan Fincke's system of empowerment ethics is the way to go for living a good, ethical life. I say provisionally because it's still possible that I could find a system that holds together even better than empowerment ethics, that maybe finds a weakness in the argument for empowerment ethics, and so I would have to reconsider my acceptance. But for now, I've been unable to spot a weakness in empowerment ethics, and it seems to hold together really well. So in this post I'm going to examine what attempts I'm making to apply this to my own life, and ways that I could probably stand to apply it that I'm not yet doing.

First off though, let me point out two issues that make it more difficult for me than it needs to be for me to apply empowerment ethics to my life. To start, there's the depression. Though I've made great strides in dealing with my current bout of depression, it's still an issue. It isn't gone, and I don't know if it ever will be gone. In some form or another, I will probably have to deal with depression for the rest of my life. And depression is a motivation sapper.

Second, I'm lazy. Motivating myself to do something that looks like work or effort (unless it's something I really enjoy) is difficult. Sometimes it seems impossible (and depression, for me, makes it worse). I've been this way my entire life, but I think I'm finally motivated to do something about it (too bad it's not as easy as saying "I don't want to be lazy anymore"). So to start, I'm working on improving my helping around the house. For example, I'm the guy in this house who's supposed to scoop the cat litter, and in the past I'd just let it go for far longer than I should have, and by the time I got to it, I just needed to dump out the litter and start over. Well, I've been turning it into a habit now to scoop it either when I get home from work, or, if I don't work, when I feed the cats in the evening. How?

A lovely little app for Android called "Habit Streak Plan." I didn't mention this to anyone before because I wanted to be sure that it would work for me. And it has. How it works is that I set up habits in the app that I want to develop, along with a question to be asked each day that I answer either yes I did it the previous day, or not (it always asks about the previous day). So for the litter scooping, the title is "Cat Litter," and the question is "Did you scoop the cat litter?" Simple.

I went with this app because it provides a daily reminder about the habits I'm trying to develop, and in the past I've found that habits, once formed, are very powerful in keeping me doing things. Unfortunately, laziness is partly a habit, and I don't know an easy trick for breaking it. The cat litter isn't the only habit I'm using the app to help develop. I'm also working on doing physical therapy stretches for my back, using flash cards via the program Mnemosyne to study the feats for the Pathfinder roleplaying game (if I find something else I want to study that flash cards would be helpful with, I'll add it, but for now it's just Pathfinder), and writing. I enjoy writing, and the thought processes it forces me into, but I wasn't being very good about keeping it up, so this app has been very helpful in making me write at least a little every day.

So far, it's just those four items in my habit developing app. But it's a start. It's a way for me to combat one of my biggest character flaws (in my opinion), something that has consistently kept me from being the best that I can be. Anyone with other suggestions for beating laziness, let me know!

For the most part, all of that is just battling with a weakness. I'm still working on ideas for actually improving in areas that I'm strong in. The writing does that, sure. Unfortunately, some of my ideas for improving, for empowering myself and others, are currently unfeasible. For example, I really think that if I could go back to school, I could improve my thinking, and my writing, and probably other areas as well. On the thinking aspect, I've thought of taking online courses with Dan Fincke (a man I greatly respect, obviously) which are cheaper than college, and would speak straight to my interests in philosophy. Sadly, at this time I simply can't afford them (even at discounted rates).

So, I have to look to other ways (open to suggestions here). One thing I haven't started yet, but that I'm seriously considering, is beginning a secular mindfulness meditation practice. This is a form of meditation that actually has scientific data backing up it's benefits, and I can see lots of ways that learning to be mindful, focused, and more self-aware would be beneficial. Anything that helps my depression is of course great, and there's evidence it can do that. But simply being able to concentrate better would be of massive benefit in damn near anything I do.

I'm also considering getting back into the gym to work out. Work will reimburse me for my gym membership, so I can afford it, and I don't think I need to reiterate the benefits of a fit(ter) body. I may not be willing to go full bore on eating healthy (it's more expensive, and frankly, I hate cooking and find all the healthy eating I've been taught about to be very boring sounding), but there are still things that could be done.

So far, I'm only talking about things that directly impact me. But empowerment ethics recognizes that we can't be truly powerful without empowering others. So how the hell can I work on that? Well, at first glance, it should be easy. I work with developmentally disabled adults as a career, and a huge part of what my company strives to do is empower our clients! Which is great. Unfortunately, I'm burnt out on some major aspects of my work, and simply have no idea how to deal with that. It's the only job I've ever had where I didn't feel like I was just there to make a buck for the higher ups, but it's also a high stress job. I used to have the energy and motivation for it, but lately . . . well. If I can get that back somehow, maybe I can really find ways to empower my clients. I'd like to.

I'd like to think that I could use my writing to empower some of you, my dear readers, but I'm not quite arrogant enough to think that's something I can consistently, and deliberately, do at my current level of ability. Maybe someday, as my skill grows through practice, and I find things to say that could be empowering.

Still, I've noticed something, something surprising. Since provisionally accepting the argument for empowerment ethics, I've been more motivated. I've been motivated to improve, and be better than I have been. I've even noticed that lately when I envy someone's skill, instead of being a discouragement, it's acting as additional motivation. That's kinda weird, but good. And for that productive desire to be better, that motivation to be better, not just for myself but also those around me, I'm grateful.

This process may be slow, but I'm glad I'm undertaking it.

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