You’re going to need a shovel. You’re going to need a place to pile your compost. You’re going to need some books and to spend a good bit of time online. I recommend you pick up a Garden Weasel.
But, while these tools are important, none of them is really central to living a simpler, more self-reliant, independent life. At the core of that mission is you. The most important tool you have is your character.
Character is the habit of choosing well. It means choosing consistently in accord with the values you hold. It means choosing according to the values you hold until you see those values expressed in some real world accomplishment. Only by choosing this way over and over can you begin shaping a life outside the consumer-entertainment complex. Increased personal character is a threat to the dominant system.
Therefore, your character-building efforts are going to be attacked. Your efforts to build your character will be set upon by forces outside you and by forces within your own heart. Cultivating character means overcoming the world and, because you are part of the world, it means overcoming yourself.
The easiest challenges to overcome originate outside. The world is disciplined in its manufacturing of temptations. It never takes a break. Cultivating a character that will allow you to pursue the life you want means saying “no” again and again to all its dangerous invitations.
Sometimes these challenges come from impersonal sources: the commercial that promises a new hygiene product that will take away your loneliness, a new video game to while away your hours on. At other times, the sources will be more personal: your mother-in-law wants to know why your kids aren’t in public school, your friends think you’re weird for turning down yet another shopping trip.
These trials are simple to face in comparison to the threats that emanate from within. You will need to stay vigilant about the inner realities motivating your choices. We tend to deceive ourselves. When you think the most urgent thing you can do is watch a second hour of daytime television, that is almost certainly a self-deception. To build a life with greater independence from the dominant system, you will have to get up out of your chair and act. You will have to act again and again.
The first steps to freedom are internal. You can take them all by yourself. No one can stop you from building your character. Even if, instead of watching that second hour of daytime television, all you do is sit in silence, you have taken a step toward greater character. You have declared your independence. Much of what prevents you from stepping out toward the kind of life you are imagining has been implanted in you. You have been trained to live a life in the consumerist circus. If you are going to be free from your programming, having the character to pull the plug and sit in silence, is a good first step. In the silence, you will be able to see the weeds growing in your mind and root them up.
In fact, the more you cut yourself off from these sources of temptation, the greater opportunity you’ll have to cultivate your character. Do you have friends whose lives are headed somewhere you don’t want to go? Stop taking their calls. Are you unable to pull yourself away from the Michael and Kelly show? Unplug the TV and donate it or toss it in a landfill. Your character is your priority.
Whether from distant sources or from those close to you, the allurements and demands of our shallow, consumer-oriented cultured must be resisted. Your character is at stake. That means your opportunity to build the life you are envisioning is at stake. Realizing this is key.
Coming to grips with the reality that each choice matters, that even seemingly small choices set you on a path to freedom or keep you enslaved to the system, is crucial. Only by taking responsibility for all your choices, great and small, can you keep your character, your greatest tool for a self-reliant life, sharp, steady and ready when needed.
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