When I was in the cub scouts, we stood for things, like honesty, loyalty, justice, fair play. And we knew that Superman stood for “Truth, justice, and the American Way.” It was cool to stand for something, although we had no idea what it meant. All that changed in the late 1960s, when we decided that what we’d been told to stand for was someone else’s values—“the man’s,” we called it. The man’s values led to mindless conformity, empty materialism, class struggle, and war. So we embarked on a drug culture that separated feeling good from doing good.
Standing for something remains out of favor in the current age of entitlement. Our judgments and behavior generally derive from feelings and self-interests rather than values, even though we now know that behavior motivated by feelings and self-interests rarely produces long-term wellbeing. Now more than ever, we need a paraphrase of Thoreau’s famous admonition, “Feel not simply good, feel good for something.”
It’s been observed that we’re mired in an epidemic of problem anger and resentment. (Problem anger and resentment either make you do something against your long-term best interests or keep you from doing what is in your long term best interests.) I believe this is due, in no small part, to not knowing what we stand for, which turns us into powerless reactaholics. Ironically, the less we know what we stand for, the more intolerant we become, increasing the likelihood that we’ll devalue anyone who fails to validate whatever we’re feeling at the moment. In contrast, standing for our deeper humane values, e.g., compassion and kindness, moves us to tolerate those who differ from us.