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The Good Life

The Ten Commitments
by Barry Kayton

First published at www.theatlasphere.com

What does Ayn Rand's philosophy mean to you in practice?

In the fifteen years since I began reading Rand's books - and books critical of her philosophy - few people have asked me this question. More often I have been asked, "What is her philosophy?" and I have responded with a short list of abstract concepts - concepts that usually leave the questioner thoroughly unimpressed.

I came to realize that few people want to hear a succinct statement of the structure of Rand's philosophic system. What people really want to hear is a personally meaningful statement that captures how the philosophy impacts the way I live my life.

For several years I struggled to find a way to capture my experience. Finally, a few years ago, I found a concept that draws together many of the core principles of Ayn Rand's philosophy, in a way that is personally meaningful and can be easily conveyed to others.

That concept is commitment - and the summary I developed is called simply: "The Ten Commitments."

What is commitment?

To make a commitment is to bind yourself, intellectually and emotionally, to a course of action. Thus, underpinning the concept of commitment is the concept of choice. You choose your commitments, and you choose whether or not to meet your own commitments. The idea of freely chosen values is essential to Ayn Rand's philosophy, which is in stark contrast to many religions and philosophies that impose unchosen duties, obligations, and commandments.

How do you honor an ordinary, everyday commitment? Consider these examples:

Suppose you tell some friends that you'll meet them for dinner, but you find yourself exhausted at the end of the day. To honor the commitment, you have to resist the temptation to cancel.

Suppose you commit yourself to saving ten percent of your monthly salary, but one month you see a leather jacket you particularly desire. To honor the commitment, you have to resist the temptation to spend your savings.

Suppose you commit yourself to a friendship or romantic relationship. To honor the commitment, you need to resist any temptation to behave in a way that would be disrespectful to your friend or romantic partner.

In all cases, commitment comes up against temptation. And while the word "temptation" often has a religious color - one thinks of a fasting monk tempted by a bunch of succulent grapes - if you give it some more thought, temptation is an every-day phenomenon.

Many people are continually tempted against some of their commitments by the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." Others are tempted against their commitments by frivolous interests simply because they have not developed the strength of character that enables them to obey their own deeper wishes.

Making commitments means taking life seriously, pursuing goals, and keeping promises - promises made not only to others but to yourself. Making commitments means, in part, choosing to impose limitations on your day-to-day actions in order to achieve your long-term goals. But it also means choosing ways to make life more enjoyable. Commitment does not necessarily entail Spartan discipline. It simply entails remaining loyal to your chosen values by means of chosen virtues.

Framing your virtues and values as commitments gives you an elegant way to approach some of the key concepts of Ayn Rand's philosophy. People who question you about Ayn Rand's philosophy and what it means in practice can easily grasp the concept of commitment and thereby very quickly appreciate the spirit of the philosophy.

What personal commitments describe the philosophy of Ayn Rand? And what exactly do these commitments entail in terms of the challenges you face in living your life?

1. The Commitment to Reality

The commitment to reality means honoring reality, which necessarily entails not trying to fake it. Being committed to reality means responding to life's challenges not by means of hope and a prayer, but by means of reason and action.

Life's challenges include: personal challenges such as obstacles to your goals; social challenges such as problematic relationships; career challenges such as a task that stretches one's ability to cope; and business challenges such as a decline in profitability.

In each case, being committed to reality means discovering the causes of the challenge, generating possible solutions, choosing the most likely solution, and trying it out. By committing yourself to honoring reality in your thoughts and actions, you regard reality as your final authority in all matters, thus empowering yourself to succeed in the pursuit of your goals.

Naturally, the commitment to reality is the basis of all the other commitments, and the foundation of your knowledge, skills, and personal values.

2. The Commitment to Reason

The commitment to reason means applying rational thought to the circumstances of your life, which necessarily entails making sure your thoughts and ideas correspond to reality. This is not merely a matter of applying the rules of logic, or of identifying fallacies. It is first and foremost a matter of developing a rational temperament.

You demonstrate a rational temperament when you:

develop your ability to think both critically and creatively

avoid hasty judgment

give greater regard to independently confirmed facts than to the pronouncements of any authority

consider several possible reasons underpinning an issue before choosing which are the most likely reasons

remain resilient to the charm of your own ideas that may blind you to their defects

seek out and consider evidence that may invalidate your ideas

imagine ways of testing your ideas that, if successful, would disconfirm your ideas

question your assumptions continually

The commitment to reason is thus a commitment to developing your mind and using it efficiently and effectively to make choices that further your life.

3. The Commitment to Independence

The commitment to independence means developing your capacity to be financially and psychologically self-sufficient.

Financial self-sufficiency is self-explanatory. As an independent adult you want to avoid depending on others for financial support.

But what do I mean by psychological self-sufficiency? Well, just as you want to provide the financial means to support your own physical needs, so too do you want to provide the self-esteem - self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-confidence, and self-assertiveness - to support your own psychological well-being.

Being committed to independence means responding to life's challenges not by back-sliding into the dependence typical of youth, but by relying on your strengths to meet those challenges with the initiative of a mature adult.

For example, when faced with a serious setback in a romantic relationship, your commitment to independence drives you not to run to mom or dad for sympathy, but to try to resolve the conflict with your romantic partner.

Or, when faced with financial difficulties, your commitment to independence drives you not to run to mom or dad to bail you out, but to try to draw upon your own resources or to approach business contacts for professional, commercial assistance.

Only by committing yourself to maintaining independence in your thoughts and actions do you stand to achieve independence in reality.

4. The Commitment to Purpose

The commitment to purpose means being goal-oriented, which necessarily entails not drifting aimlessly from one episode of life to the next. Being committed to purpose means responding to life's challenges not by taking a random shot in the dark, but by choosing goals and taking action to achieve your goals.

Of course, your life may be full of examples of unexpected and unwelcome obstacles to your goals. For example, you may be saving for a new computer system or for a new SUV, only to face one unexpected financial burden after another (a faulty TV needing repair, then an expensive cycling injury, then a robbery that your insurance refuses to cover, etc.). Your commitment to purpose drives you not to give up in frustration, but rather to redouble your efforts to achieve your goal.

5. The Commitment to Productiveness

The commitment to productiveness means creating value in some context. Being committed to productiveness means responding to life's challenges not by throwing your arms up in despair, but by actively seeking opportunities to create value.

For example, as an entrepreneur you may greet every new tax and new regulation with disbelief, but your commitment to productiveness drives you to find ways not only to cope with the extra burdens, but to improve the efficiency of your business and to make your products or services even more innovative.

By remaining committed to productiveness you escape the inertia that can so easily creep into the rhythm of day-to-day existence. By avoiding this inertia you remain free to identify creative ways in which you can add value to your chosen work and to other spheres of your life.

6. The Commitment to Integrity

Being committed to integrity means responding to life's challenges not by assuming an "anything goes" or "nothing is sacred" attitude, but by remaining loyal to your values and permitting no breech between your thoughts, your stated convictions, and your actions.

Suppose, for example, that you own a PC-manufacturing company, and that your partners are responsible for procuring parts from a range of suppliers. You receive an enormous order that your partners assure you your company will be able to fulfill. But you discover that your partners are procuring sub-standard parts (marginally below the specifications you promised to your customer) and that it is improbable that your customer would ever know this. Your commitment to integrity drives you not to permit the order to go through, but instead to inform your customer of the reasons why you will not be able to meet the order.

Your commitment to integrity drives you to remain loyal to your values, and to make sure that your actions speak as loudly as your words.

7. The Commitment to Honesty

The commitment to honesty means not only honesty toward others, but also honesty toward yourself. Being committed to honesty means responding to life's challenges not by means of deception, but by scrupulous fidelity to the truth.

For example, suppose you are involved in an expensive project and you discover that you have made a costly error that may go unnoticed or, if it is noticed, may remain anonymous. Your commitment to honesty drives you to identify why you made the error, how to compensate for the mistake, and finally to take responsibility for it. Your commitment to honesty makes evasion unconscionable.

8. The Commitment to Benevolence

The commitment to benevolence means living joyously and seeking out new opportunities for experiencing life's joys.

Being committed to benevolence means responding to life's challenges not by bemoaning the state of the world, your bank balance, or your health, but by finding ways to light up your life and the lives of people around you with moments of joy, humor, magic, excitement, and adventure.

The opportunities for social benevolence are everywhere, from saying a cheerful word or two at the supermarket checkout, to sending flowers or candy to a special friend, to enjoying a candle-lit dinner with your romantic partner. Your commitment to benevolence drives you not to go through life missing out on these opportunities, but rather to be on the look out for new ways to bring a smile and a sense of joy to others, especially to those people who are dear to you.

9. The Commitment to Justice

The commitment to justice means making a point of judging the character of others as objectively as possible in order to avoid dealing with individuals who might wrong you and to build relationships with those who offer potential values.

Being committed to justice means responding to life's challenges not by regarding all errors as evils, or all evils merely as errors, but learning the differences between error and evil and judging others accordingly. It also means learning how much time and effort you should invest in judging others.

Your commitment to justice would drive you to patronize only those establishments that offer good service, to spend your leisure time as much as possible with people whose company you enjoy, and to have nothing to do with people whose convictions and actions you find reprehensible. Your commitment to justice drives you to associate with people of good character, and to avoid people whose character is irredeemable.

10. The Commitment to Individual Rights

The commitment to individual rights means defending your own rights and spurning opportunities to gain advantages at the cost of violating the rights of others.

When your rights are threatened, remaining committed to individual rights means responding to that threat not by taking the law into your own hands, but by taking action that is proportional to the threat.

For example, if you are threatened by a knife-wielding maniac, you are perfectly within your rights to defend yourself by means of an equally lethal weapon - but only so far as to eliminate the threat.

Or, if you are approached with an offer to profit by violating the rights of others - for example, by copying pirated software for free or at a nominal fee - your commitment to individual rights drives you to reject the offer out of hand.

Your commitment to individual rights drives you not only to defend your own rights, but to not violate the rights of others.

These are the ten commitments that draw together some of the core virtues and values of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Of course, I could just as easily have compiled a list of fifteen or twenty commitments. But her philosophy can no more be reduced to ten or fifteen or twenty disconnected commitments, than the subject of mathematics can be reduced to a subset of numbers.

The ten commitments are merely a way of describing Ayn Rand's philosophy in terms of its meaning in your life. Indeed, the concept of commitment is intimately connected with your conception of life's meaning, for is it not your chosen commitments that give meaning to your life?

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