|I'd be here more often.
Several years ago there was a fad among some religious folk to ask WWJD, or “What Would Jesus Do,” when faced with a decision about their own behaviour. Though much parodied ("What Would Yoda / Obama / HomerSimpson / XenaWarrierPrincess / DonDraper Do?"), it probably wasn’t a terrible idea.
The intention, as I understand it, was to provide inspirational guidance, in part to separate deliberately from what, for many of us, remains the other prime motivator: “What is my first impulse?” Or “What am I tempted to do?”
The problem with living by temptation (or, more precisely, by anticipatory desire) is that most of us are unfortunately wired to want things that don’t turn out to be satisfying, fulfilling, or useful. If we act on our impulses we will switch on the TV, pour another drink, skip work, play computer solitaire, avoid completing our taxes – and then complain that we’re bored and that we’ve wasted another evening. Impulse is a poor guide.
By asking “What would X do?” we use a nice and sharp conceptual knife to separate our impulses from other considerations. The trick, of course, is to know whom to use for “X.” Mad Men’s Don Draper is probably a bad choice. Jesus/Buddha/Ganesh may put things a bit out of reach.
Lately I’ve been encouraging people to consider what they themselves would do, if they were living the life they envisioned for themselves. In other words “What Would I Do?”
Cynics will point out the obvious concern. “If I was living the life I envision I would be waking up at 11am, walking across my gold-tile floors, and being served a 6-course breakfast while having my feet massaged.” Obviously this is not the “I” we’re talking about. But no one seems to go there.
Instead, people grasp immediately that we are talking about living by our higher values, doing the things that are truly fulfilling, and spending at least some of our time contributing to the world around us. We all have a somewhat rosier view of ourselves (either what we are, or what we should be) than our actual behaviour might merit, so the question can help point us in a positive direction – more so, at least, than “What do I feel like doing?”
An interesting aspect of the question is that we don’t have to sit and think very hard about the answers. When we ask it, we tend to know immediately what we would be doing. I’d be exercising, not sitting on the couch eating chips. I’d be working on my project, not reading Google News for the 8th time today. I’d be visiting my sick friend, not making up excuses for myself about being too busy.
The ease with which we answer the question “What Would I Do?” reveals that we have fairly constant access to guidance from within. We don’t have to capitulate to “What do other people expect of me?” or “What would a conformist do?” or “What would a dull and lifeless responsible adult do?” We can live our own lives, take our own guidance, and make the most of the time we have to embody the values we hold.
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