From early on in our childhood, we are exposed to the norms of society. How are we expected to behave? What will earn us judgment? What is “normal”?
Norms are different from facts. The philosopher David Hume posed that we cannot distill ‘ought’ from ‘is’. He said that there’s no chain of reasoning that takes us from factual statements about the way the world is to normative statements about the way things should be. To understand what he means with this, let’s take a look at facts and morals.
A factual statement is something that we can prove scientifically. That means that it’s a statement that could be true or false, and we can determine the truth by making observations or measurements. A moral statement, on the other hand, is something that cannot be objectively tested. It’s a mental construct, and the truthfulness of a moral statement will change from person to person.
When we take a moral statement, and say that everybody in our society should follow that moral, we get a norm. Let me name a few norms we live by in western society
- You should wear clothes in public places.
- You have to bring a present to birthdays
- You are only allowed to invite somebody into sexual play when you have been dating, or when it’s after 22:00 in the evening and you meet in a bar or club
When I spell these norms out like this, they look very arbitrary to me. And that begs the question, can we construct a new set of norms that serves us better, personally?
The thing is, societal conditioning is not always in your own best interest. There is a reason they are societal norms, not personal ones. And your personal development could even be seriously limited by these rules that are imposed onto you.
If you want to become a strong character, if you want to live life to the fullest, you should probably take a closer look at the norms that are guiding your life. There is nothing stopping you from embracing your own inner truth. We are all entitled to our personal truth. To that what is right for you. You don’t need to justify or defend your own norms. You cannot get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’, remember? Just make sure that they feel right to you.
When I say that there is nothing stopping you, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any pushback from the people close to you. Your new norms might shock the people around you, or they might simply have difficulty with the idea that anybody can live a different set of norms than they do.
However, there is some good news. The negative things others say about your behavior when you do not follow their norms do not mean you need to change anything in your life. They only indicate the inner judgment from the other person. People judge you for not following their norms, because they judge themselves just the same.
But when you love yourself, when your self-love is strong, you don’t need to accept their judgment. You can remain at peace, knowing that you are living your own truth.
Just as you don’t need to accept the judgment from others, you can remain at peace without passing judgment unto others. You might experience strong emotions when others are violating your own norms. When this happens, stay in touch with your own emotions. Don’t respond with negativity or judgment. Realize that your own strong response is fueled by the parts of yourself that you have not yet managed to embrace in the warmth of self-love. And as you receive your emotions with kindness, you will slowly learn how to dismantle your fears one by one.
True self-love means letting go of both the inner judge as well as the inner victim. Allow yourself to fire them and let your love an appreciation for yourself take their place. Embrace your personal truth.