Monday, January 27, 2020

Begin with the end in mind. Applying this philosophy to your life will help you tremendously to live the kind of life God wants for you.

When Stephen Covey wrote his book “The 7 habits of highly effective people” in 1989, he postulated that one of the habits was this - to begin with the end in mind.  In cultivating this habit, he advocates that it is when you envision the kind of future or result that you want, you have something concrete to work toward.  It was very much connected with the mission statement that one makes, either in one’s business or endeavor in life, and to constantly be checking if one is on track to attaining that goal or end.  To be effective (as an entrepreneur, as a leader or just as a person) one then needs to act based on the principles that would ensure that the outcome is achieved.

This book went on to become a bestseller, and it has since sold more than 25 million copies, in 40 languages worldwide.  It has also been listed in Time magazine’s 25 most influential business management books.

Beginning with the end in mind is indeed a good principle to follow in business.  But it shouldn’t be something that ought to be applied only to those in the world of business and entrepreneurship.  This very important principle is something that every single person, especially baptized Christians, needs to be aware and mindful of in life.

Covey didn’t come up with this principle on his own. It really has very very ancient roots and origins.  This concept of “beginning with the end in mind” has philosophical foundations that are evidenced in the writings of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle.  The philosophy is called teleology, which is a Latin phrase comprising of two words – telos which means “end”, and logos, which is the “reason or explanation of”. Aristotle gave special emphasis to the Four Causes, where everything created has a telos, or an end for which it is made, and Plato applied this philosophy to seeing purpose in both human existence as well as in other levels of created existence.  

Everything in life has a telos, or end for which it is made.  When something doesn’t fulfill what it is made for, it suffers a lack, and often it can be the result of abuse or misuse.  For instance, the ultimate end or purpose of a vehicle like a car is transport or movement.  The car was not made for it to be a display object, or to be kept off the road.  A Bugatti, which is an exquisite super car, was made for road use.  To buy it and to never use it, but to just keep it in its pristine condition in a personal garage merely as some status symbol would be to prevent it from attaining its telos.  Even a screwdriver is made for a particular telos – to drive screws into a surface. But if it is used only as an instrument to pry open the lids of tins, or as a weapon to harm people, its telos had been hijacked and misused.  The challenge with applying the philosophy of teleology to everything in life is that these days, there are so many gadgets and gizmos that are invented with multivalent uses.  The smart phone is an outstanding example of this.  It doesn’t just have one end, and the result is that quite often, this device has been the cause of problems in the lives of their users, and it may give one license to apply this undetermined or undefined telos to life and existence.

If we understand the philosophy of the great Greek greats like Plato and Aristotle, then we can and should apply teleology to the most important thing that we have – our lives.  Every human life is created by God, and its telos of full union with God in heaven after its life on earth is over.  The baptized Christian is graced in the fact that its telos is very clearly stated and defined.  For the unbaptized, this is something that lies in what is called the conscience. The more a soul is clear about its telos, the easier it will be for it to respond by living in accordance with the norms and rules that have been made clear by God in Christ and his teachings. 

Relativism, and its evil spawns of individualism and subjectivism ignores or denies this telos.  They are emphatic in declaring that the human person should and must determine for itself what its end is.  In his book “The Catholic Gentleman”, author Sam Guzman gives evidence of how this heresy has infiltrated to the upper echelons of the US justice system, where he quotes Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy having said something absolutely baffling.  Kennedy said “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

If we understand that all human beings are created with a divine telos, it is totally absurd to even postulate that every human has a right to define his own concept of existence.  It is when this error in thought is pushed to its extreme that we see people wanting to define themselves not as human beings but even as animals, in some cases.  I came across the sad story of a man named Dennis Avner who was a Navy veteran, and who had spent years and I am sure a lot of money, to transform himself to look like a tiger through many tattoos and implants.  (Just Google “Dennis Avner” and you will see what I mean).  And as if this was not enough to want to be an animal, he wanted to blur the lines further by wanting to transform himself into a female tiger, with fake implanted whiskers and a mechanical tail to boot. This story is sad because it has a tragic ending.  He ended up killing himself at the age of 54.

No, Anthony Kennedy, I’m afraid we do not have the freedom to define our own concept of existence because it is defined in our very DNA as human beings.  Defining our own concept of existence will just not change reality.  As Sam Guzman says regarding people who live outside of reality, “there are hospitals for people who live like that”.

I strongly suspect that there are many versions of Dennis Avner out there.  Maybe not to the extent of doing what he did, but more hidden and silent.  Sometimes we see this in people who believe that they are their sin and their mistakes that they have made in life, and it is reinforced by their family members who stress that over and over again.  

A person who has committed adultery should not be labeled merely as “an adulterer”, but a person who has committed adultery. The same applies to a teenager who has committed shoplifting or some misdemeanor.  He needs to be seen not as “a shoplifter”, but a person who had at that point made a choice to shoplift.  Our sins do not define who we are, because that is not our reality.  

Of course, saying this doesn’t exonerate us from our sins and peccadilloes.  We just need to be reminded of our telos as lovingly created human beings who are made by God for full and final union with him, having lived our lives in the greatest way possible for holiness and eventual sanctification.

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