Rules of Life

January 5, 2013

Corrected and clarified, 1 March 2017.

Lately, postings of “7 Cardinal Rules of Life” seem to engender responses of general agreement.

That attention invited me to examine the seven statements and their propositions. I always wonder where these quotations come from and how their context or background might illuminate the intended meaning and potential use of such grand guiding statements. As a matter of course in this blog, I question them for how they fit with my own thinking and priorities in life, especially as they relate to my personality type.

My clue here was the attribution: Dr. Stephen R. Covey, born in 1932, founded and chaired Covey Leadership Center described as “an organization devoted to the development of principle-centered leadership.” That practice relates directly to his best-selling and highly influential  book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989). Covey died July 16, 2012 and the Facebook page began shortly after. As far as I can figure after scrolling through multiple screens in Pinterest-style posts of inspirational sayings, I found the presumed original cardinal 7. Catherina Chia posted them August 22, 2012, “To our profitable growth in happiness, health & success.” I did not find them on her own page. The tribute posting has the same punctuation style and wording as the secondary postings of it. In the following quotes, I have followed my own punctuation and corrected the spelling of all right. The originals are numbered as they appeared; my responses follow each numbered entry.

1. Make peace with your past so it does not spoil your present. Your past does not define your future – your actions and beliefs do.

Naturally, if something bothersome intrudes into an ongoing life, the sufferer needs to find some way of dealing with it. Often when I think about the day just past as I begin to quiet myself for wanted sleep, I regret things that I did or said that day, often also the way I said them, and vow not to make the same errors again. Obligations not yet fulfilled that have a longer or greater nagging power than the momentary or daily mistakes may also trouble me. They remain the most anxiety producing regrets of my life until I resolve them. Often these bedtime reviews become a simple  “to do” list of immediate tasks; otherwise, I try to buckle down and preclude my desire to mull and procrastinate, removing the obstacles to decision and action.

I have a highly developed historical consciousness, not just as an academic matter. I actively consider that the long past as well as our personal past shapes us in major and significant ways. I do not say that the past defines us; rather it contributes mightily to our being. Since college I have pursued the expression “history is our nature,” likely an idea I formed from reading Christopher Dawson and Ortega y Gasset. The more we recognize the historical aspect of life and the more we take advantage of an understood inheritance, the more we recognize the spheres open to our strength and potential. Accordingly, we  make choices in what to think and believe and do. As far as I am concerned, we inextricably relate to the past, one we cannot set aside but need to ascertain and utilize. So understood, the past does not determine us but equips us. We take charge rather than let the past dominate us. Besides, much of the critical past comprises our own developmental progress toward what we want out life. When not self-directive, we live stuck in a world we never made. Why would we allow that?

2. What others think of you is none of your business. It is how much you value yourself and how important you think you are.

What does “your business” mean? People can think what they want; we have little influence upon other’s thinking and almost no control, perhaps none. Nevertheless, we want to be well thought of, chiefly by ourselves and correspondingly by others. Realistically, not everyone will mean as much to us as do those who are closest – family, friends, colleagues and other associates. Our lives mingle in all kinds of ways and we want to be on good and productive terms with one another. Those we closely associate with give us clues, advice, or tell their expectations. We want to share with them as long as we want the same things or we want to please them out of a sense of mutuality and togetherness.

Self-esteem is a value to be highly prized by each person and a major contribution to our overall health and productivity. We are mainly responsible for ourselves in the long run and need to acknowledge both our achievements and where we can do better. An honest and penetrating self-examination is the key to evaluating, comprehending and improving the self. Our own self-importance is vital to our continuance throughout the life we have to live. However, in reality, it also exists relative to how we find ourselves in the run of history and the domain we have chosen to fill with our own life.

3. Time heals almost everything; give time, time. Pain will be less hurting. Scars make us who we are; they explain our life and who we are; they challenge us and force us to be strong.

As stated this “rule” contends with #1 by which we are to step aside from the past and the passage of time. Does #3 mean that some happenstance of the past is too determinative, that it scars and mars us? Are we to submissively accept such a rule as working automatically or do we have to do something to wrest control for our more positive and beneficial lives? Doubtless terrible things can happen to us; sometimes we suffer horrific events or cause undue harm ourselves, and we have to pay costs or penalties. The mere passage of time may be palliative, but is passive waiting enough?

At basis, this “rule” is a bromide, a matter of sentiment and without actual guidance especially regarding what I have said above about the necessity of self-direction in our being human and further becoming a human being to the  full of potentiality.

4. No one is the reason for your own happiness, except you yourself. Waste no time and effort searching for peace and contentment and joy in the world outside.

I wonder at the word “reason” here. Perhaps use of “reason” intends something foundational – the essence, the cause, the condition, or perhaps the focus. In close relationships, one factor of our own happiness is the happiness of the other in our lives. We are not or never fully happy unless the others we value are also happy; correlatively, we have a lot to do with their happiness in these connected relationships.

Yes, happiness is an internal matter in what we find that gives us happiness, and that is not always the same thing for all people. I am happy with solitude; many require company. Intellectual and artistic pursuits delight me; they bore others. Games, sports, and violence bore me: I do not understand their attraction. We live in such a loud and noisy civilization; silence heals just as sleep does and makes us fit for another day of happiness. Still, no human being gains from total and everlasting isolation.

5. Don’t compare your life with others’; you have no idea what their journey is about. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we would grab ours back as fast as we could.

Our journeys do differ even among colleagues and close couples. These differences do not preclude comparison with one another, even with anyone. The lives of others broaden, correct, and inspire us. They shower us with reality checks. Parents, teachers, mentors, a host of professionals and other contacts made and make numerous differences in our lives. We are in the debt of so many who have gone before and contributed to our own path. To be human is to share in community; this is why we have language. We communicate, we research, we learn – all in comparison with what others do, know, think, and achieve.

By coincidence, I am currently reading Penelope Lively’s How It All Happened (2011). Her novel unravels how a incident to one person has a rippling effect on the lives of others, many of whom do not know one another. We need to realize the first sentence of the acknowledgements in Covey’s 7 Habits – “Interdependence is a higher value than independence.”

Although among close connections we may know some few as intimately as possible, we will never know them completely. So? That is not to say others have no effect upon us. Saying we might exchange problems with one another is a situation contrary to reality (though thanks for the speculative idea). How true that we have our own problems and must deal with them! Thanks be that we have the experience and ambitions of others to help us apprize ourselves and enlighten us as to our requirements and choices.

6. Stop thinking too much; it’s all right not to know all the answers.  Sometimes there is no answer, not going to be any answer, never has been an answer. That’s the answer! Just accept it, move on. Next!

Thinking – I am proud to affirm – is our chief method of living a fulfilled life, that and learning which to a large measure involves thinking of a critical manner. I doubt it is possible to think “too much.” Thinking instead is the most useful path to a productive decision unless we cannot readily reach a decision and require more thinking until we do. If “too much” means that thinking is going over the same ground again and again, then the advice to get out of a rut that is less of thinking and more of ruminating becomes helpful.  Of course, knowing “all the answers” is ipso facto impossible, but knowing, however related, remains distinct from thinking. Thinking productively in all likelihood requires reviewing what we know and if our own fund of knowledge is not sufficient, thereby seeking new information. We never have too much knowledge; rather being comfortable with only what we know or think we know is a major problem in human existence, leading to ideology, prejudice, and divisive contrariness.

True, not everything is answerable: I learn that truth as I age and have medical problems for which no answer is discovered or conclusive. We live with inexactness and uncertainties; many of our issues are dilemmas if not otherwise complex. The importance of any problem relative to an individual’s priorities causes each person to either persist in searching for an answer or quitting. As an information professional, I find too many quit too soon and persist instead in ignorance or error. Giving up on answers is nevertheless often required in the face of new concerns and the ongoing attentions demanded of us in living a fuller life. I think I am better able to accept uncertainty and ambiguity than many other people can. In my case, I retain the thought that I have knowingly made my acceptance but may return to the quest some time later. In the meantime I remain bound to keep thinking.

7. Smile; you don’t own all the problems in the world. A smile can brighten the darkest day and make life more beautiful. It is a potential curve to turn a life around and set everything straight.

Smiling or not smiling hardly relates to all the problems of the world. Rather I regard it as a personality difference. I knew someone who I found to be a continuous optimist. His profession required him to deal daily with a host of complex issues, problems, and competitive factors. Yet, he was always buoyant and wanted others to feel the same. Even when he sat alone at his desk working on the stack of papers before him, he had a smile on his face. I am not like that, primarily serious, stoical, burdened by philosophical and social issues, and retaining a low opinion of fun and all other distractions from what is important and gives meaning to our human existence.

I would like to smile more: I am even flattered that I look more attractive when I am smiling. Unfortunately, it does not come automatically to me. When I smile on demand, I have the idea that I am faking it. In pictures of me, even from childhood, I look solemn. Consequently, the advice to smile seems completely simplistic and second-hand to me. Smiling does not so much brighten the dark day or turn life beautiful. Rather it results from what is bright and beautiful: good conversation, excellent entertainment, personal achievement amid the successes of others, the promise of early morning, flowers in bloom, peanut butter cookies, and all other wonderful things, ways, people and their creativity.

These seven rules as offered appear to me to have a common hub of self-centeredness that borders on exclusion of or distancing from others, contrary to Covey’s acknowledgement of interdependence even while concerns move us to recognize our global propinquity. While it is common to be self-absorbed focused on me/my/mine, our contemporary and historic challenge is to live amicably and profitably with one another in association.

If I were to list seven essential guides to a fuller life, they would be something like this.

1. Learn all you can. Learning is our fundamental vocation as human beings and the foundation of all that we are and can become. Some learning comes autonomously by being alive; depth of learning depends upon the desire to learn and the committed drive to keep learning.

2. Practice self-examination. Develop a healthy respect for your strengths as well as needs in order to develop, improve and be open to the promises of being alive. Self-examination is a prerequisite to authentic change.

3. Think for yourself. Couple a desire to know what is true with a critical approach to pertinent evidence. Be skeptical of received “truths;” keep up a curious questioning.

4. Exercise your will. Will achieves its effectiveness through intention and attention; that is, deliberately wanting to do something and focusing on achieving it. We may be free to choose, but will entails work.

5. Make choices in your best interest as a human being. Effective choices are the best guarantee of a productive, fulfilling, and happy life. Recognize the choices for self that intrude on others.

6. Test yourself against experience living with others. Ask yourself assessment questions. Is this situation what I really want? Is this choice working for me? What life-skill could I do better?

7. Continuously relate 1-6, each to the others.  Ultimately, each practice is a deliberative aspect of pursuing life in full and of integrated consciousness.

Such is the kind of basic advice you get from an INTJ developed over a lifetime (now age 72).


© Copyright 2013 by Roger Sween

I welcome comments on this post. Personal comments to me may be made directly by email.

My Fulfillment

October 9, 2012

On the Authentic Road

According to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, The Search for Fulfillment: revolutionary new research that reveals the secret to long-term happiness (2010).

I bought this book to give away in a fund-raiser but stopped to examine it before it was out of my hands. When a young academic in psychology, Whitbourne adopted a bit of guidance for herself: Live live when young as if looking back on it when you’re old. Influenced by the work of Erik Erikson who focused on adult development through the lifespan, she began to test his theories by also studying people over time, mapping their changes, and discovering the effects of early decisions.

Can people find fulfillment at any age? After forty years of following 182 subjects, she gives her answer, albeit influenced by Erikson’s recognition of the forces of development and change in human lives. Because of human variation, people tend to follow one of five life paths into which Whitbourne grouped her subjects. Yes/no answers to a set of Eriksonian questions provide the bases for these groupings. Honest answers will fit all five points of one particular path The five pathways are Meandering Way, Straight and Narrow Way, Downward Slope, Triumphant Trail, Authentic Road.

I am of the latter. The Authentic Road is the path of those who continuously examine their life’s direction and force themselves to take a bold and honest look a whether it is truly satisfying (p.56). It’s a process of identity achievement by willing examination of alternatives without rigidity or fear of change. The result is enhanced feelings of inner authenticity that turn into generativity and ego integrity in the middle years and into later life.

In other words, as I have gotten older I think that I have become more like my true self. I focus on what has worked out well for me. And I continue considering options in my life in order to continue becoming more fulfilled. This year, I have spent major portions of time on the cause of defeating the marriage amendment in Minnesota, largely within my congregation and through the Minnesota division of the American Association of University Women. This I have done because equality, concern for the neighbor, and civil conversation are all values I prize. Nevertheless, I vow that this is my last major contribution of a civic nature. From now on I vow to intentionally focus on my reading and writing.

Being an INTJ has meant being an introspective, self-examining, rational pursuer of beneficial change.  (See My INTJ.) I did not know of these pathways, though I have read Erikson in the past. I am glad to find one more confirmation of my type that bolsters my sense of reaching out and of desire for holism.

I am not saying that at this point I am completely and finally fulfilled. But I have a very clear idea of what I want to achieve and a new reservoir of confidence to obtain at least some of it.

Copyright  2012 by Roger Sween.

I welcome all public comments to blog articles. For personal comments from those who know me, send to my email.


November 17, 2010

What I Want from My Life

A Matter of Definition

For most of my conscious life, I have wanted to know, to pursue ideas, to achieve something significant and lasting, and to write.  All these desires interrelate, weaving together.  Whether any accomplishment actually followed these desires plagues me.  Life satisfies me in its modicum of compromises at far greater measure than imagined in my romantic youth.  I have become bourgeois in habit, a likely good citizen, but not with the original creativity once craved to the point of idiosyncrasy.

Neither do I feel I accomplished much in my 40-year profession in library and information services.  I know I developed my skills and understanding and used them to give pertinent and reliable public service as a reference librarian and library director as well as learning direction and coaching in librarianship when an undergraduate and graduate instructor and professor.  Yet, I always felt myself to be the principal beneficiary of what I experienced and learned.

As a library consultant and grant administrator, I was never in alignment with the prevailing assumptions and practices of my colleagues.  Although I thought I played a pivotal role in the development of library services, I now view that nothing from those days lasts in the way I then envisioned it.

As a result, any hope for success has become a matter of personal satisfaction as though I now return to the romantic idea of egoism that had so captivated me when I was a teenager and college student.  Ideals still command my attention, and if I am to achieve any measure of success, I must to be faithful to them: the best in art, equality in life, learning as our vocation, the work in life of making the ideal into the real.  Thus far in my ideational world, I am not satisfied that I have done my part to further any of these matters.

What remains for me to do in my latter years?  I do not care for wealth, fame, notice or recognition.  I crave conversation that transcends the phatic but find it rare if not impossible.  I seek thinking that is rational, reflective, self-critical and discerning but find it not only rare and self-justifying at best, but a slave to emotion at worst and seemingly smothering amidst the distractions of contemporary life.  I find enjoyment and the reassurance of human competence in the endeavors of my creative forbearers and cumulative heritage of the past in the arts, in philosophy and science, in the expansion of knowledge and the ceaseless quest for it, and in the potentials of the human brain and mind.

Success for me is to make the most of my situation and opportunities according to my highest values.

What in Life Is Most Important?

I want to gain understanding and share it.
I want to do something good, worthwhile, and basic.
I want to leave something lasting at the end of my life.

Ten instances when I felt the most competent, confident, connected, and joyous:
(Dates are approximate.  In areas marked *, I served multiple roles as researcher, consultant, facilitator, author, editor, and publisher.)

  1. 1968 – Development of a methodology for teaching reference services based upon real questions, a core of 100 most frequently useful resources, and the practice of question negotiation to the accurate and efficient satisfaction of the questioner.
  2. 1969 – “Lyman Beecher and the Lane Seminary Controversy,” a research paper submitted in the course on Puritanism in the graduate program on intellectual history at the University of Iowa.
  3. 1980 – Completion of the novel Phaeton Flight, the story of Frederic Hanreid, an information professional, and Prince Henry Cadly (afterwards Henry II) set in early 39th century Loria.
  4. 1984 – Completion of the novel The Rodi.  Vodar (afterwards Vodarodi I) discovers his unique place in the history of the Seidonese people; he becomes in his early twenties the founder of Loria, 3000.
  5. *1988 – Completion of background and issues papers for the Minnesota Governor’s Pre-White House Conference on Library and Information Services.
  6. *1997 – Development of the criteria and application process for awarding Minnesota technology grants to library systems.
  7. *1998 – Development of the Long Range Plan and application process for federal Library Services and Technology Act funds.
  8. *1999 – Development of the document on the recommended approach to and procedures for the establishment of co-located public and school library services.
  9. 2002-2006 – Service as Administrative Assistant to the State Board of the American Association of University Women – Minnesota under two state presidents.
  10. 2007 – Completion of the story “Inheritance.”  Louisa Enders at 13 years travels with her two very different grandmothers and learns her actual ancestry as an American, the same summer WWI begins.  Intended as Chapter 1 of Progress about the life of small town public librarian through the 20th century.

Five people I most admire, and whose traits I would like to have:

  1. William Shakespeare, 1564-1616.  No one is superior to Shakespeare in the revealing poetry of language; even his “minor” plays are major to me.  He never disappoints but grows in esteem with every renewed experience of his work.
  2. Gordon Sween, 1911-1980.  My father, who led a seemingly ordinary life, has become an exemplar for me due to his self-directed learning, rationality, sense of discipline, family loyalty, and exercise of responsibility.
  3. Frederic Bolton, dates unknown.  Dr. Bolton was one of my religion professors at St. Olaf College.  A student of Reinhold Niebuhr at Princeton, Bolton influenced me with his thoughtful and rigorous approach to Christianity and Christian theology while being honestly critical, but kind and encouraging to a youngster struggling to come to grips with the intellectus quarens fidem (understanding seeking faith) issue.
  4. Ursula K. Le Guin, born 1929.  No contemporary author has written so elegantly and meaningfully for me and my interests in as consistent and beautifully articulate a fashion as has Le Guin.  I rejoice that I once heard her in person when she said in reference to The Dispossessed, “I want everyone arguing and discussing over the meaning of what I wrote,” or words to that effect.
  5. Patricia Anne Worringer Sween, born 1939.  Patty continually impresses me with her understanding of other people, her generosity, and her evenness of temper and gracious tact in dealing with all whom she encounters.

Ranking of ten value areas:

At my stage of development, 70 years old this year in a life of reflection considering what lasts and what transpires, value areas do not mean what they meant to me at earlier stages.  I cannot rank them first to last (1 – 10) appropriate to my current stage and for other various reasons; instead, I group them.

A. Faith in a higher power.  This area is by theological definition of ultimate concern, yet faith, being the work of God in us, exists without my wanting, willing, or working for it.  Ranking here perpetuates a falsity.

B. The areas harder to attain are all of equal high importance to me: Fulfilling relationships, individual accomplishments, making a difference in the lives of others, and legacy (understood as leaving some work significant and lasting).

C. The lesser areas cluster to the bottom.
7. Health I seem to have by virtue of inheritance and caution; that is, I am lucky and careful.  I do not obsess over my health and know that I will die, probably after a long time, probably soon.
8. Wealth, since I am comfortable with enough already.
9. Fame I regard as shallow and transitory.
10. Fun I regard as even more shallow and insubstantial in the ultimate scheme of things.

My plans for success in 2010:

I will attend more intentionally to how I spend my time on my primary ambitions.  I will track my time and quantify it in regards to a schedule I currently regard as ideal in order to hold myself more accountable in aiming for greater success than I have had and thereby attain my chosen ends.

My ideal schedule of a 16-hour waking day has the following areas in priority order.  I will try to sleep eight hours out of every 24 even though that is not often the case.

1. Major writing – 4 hours.  This year I will finish the first draft of At Last, I Depart.  In this novel, Lady Frivovla of Allonor grows from an innocent devotion to her sense of duty into a self-directing and successful champion of her own life.  She becomes in time the consort of Vodarodi II King Loria and the progenitor of all the following monarchs for its ensuing thousand-year history.

2. Study/Pre-writing – 3 hours.  This year I will do the work necessary to establish the bases for two controversial equity issues: one is the ministry of same-gender couples in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the other concerns mission-based membership in the American Association of University Women.

3. Reading – 3 hours.  I will read to completion more novels and other books than I finished in 2009.

4. Organization – 2 hours.  I will gain a “house cleaning” and orderly control of my book collection and other files and prepare for the likeliness of moving to a different dwelling and possibly different city.

5. Miscellaneous – 4 hours.  These four hours are the elastic cushion for all the routine and irregular instances of life that one must do or are more difficult to anticipate and control. 

Note: I assume that most weekends and holidays fall outside the ideal schedule since these days are more interruptible because they invite both travel and interaction with others, chiefly family.

Copyright © 2010 by Roger Sween.

I am indebted to Dr. Daniel G. Amen, Magnificent Mind at Any Age (2008), especially chapter 10, “Make Your Own Miracles,” for guidance in thinking through this issue.

I welcome all comments to blog articles.  For personal comments to me, send to