Religion & Discipline

This is something that’s been gnawing at me for some time, the notion that unwittingly, language has become my (only) moral compass. How is that even possible?

I’ve always had a strong affinity to language. True, I fancy becoming a polymath, and I’m endlessly curious about almost every subject I seem to come across. Language though, is the one thing I’m most proficient in, and of late, most passionate about. (Not bragging, but getting to a point.) But I’ve come to realise, just as language is a whip I wield, it is also the whip that tames me.

Being a grammar nazi isn’t easy. I don’t get kicks out of correcting people; in fact, I’ve mostly stopped doing that. It’s not a hobby, it’s an obsession. I’m so invested in every word and its meaning, and this isn’t just obvious when I’m using them in sentences. It’s become a fundamental part of my (moral) code. The abstract meanings of words like “good”, or “evil” – these aren’t just words anymore. Because language is so important to me, these words and their meanings are of solemn significance. This is a kind of discipline – when I say I want to live like “this”, my reverence for language demands I fully believe what I’m saying. Consequently, I am compelled to do what I say, because it is what I believe, because this is what the words I believe mean. My belief in the power of words forms the basis of my beliefs.

I mean, that sounds a lot like a religion to me. There is discipline and there is a constant meta-​​awareness of whether what I’m doing is aligned with what I believe. It’s a lifestyle in that I’m trying to emulate the qualities the words embody.

I don’t want to stop here, with a statement like “language is my religion”. Nor do I want to blindly accept that this religion gives me discipline (stop laughing Mom…). I’m compelled to question if religion imparts discipline or if discipline is the real precursor. I’m convinced of the latter, in which case, the passion (read obsession) that instills discipline is conveniently, for lack of a better word, a religion. And that passion can be anything. For me, it’s language. For a good friend of mine, I’m pretty sure she might say tennis is her passion (ergo, religion). (Passions don’t have to necessarily be my source of income. Just saying.)

This isn’t just an academic debate! The implications are huge. You see, there are qualities associated with any action or activity. From accuracy in mathematics, or strategy in chess, to elegance in physics and the sublime in art. From commitment to training and sportsmanship in sports to dogged determination in survival. (Of course there are many qualities, but these are just examples.) These qualities are in some sense mandatory; if I want to be good at these things, I have to have these qualities in abundance. They are self-​​evident axioms I should hold sacred, if I hope to succeed in these pursuits.

It’s not a matter of talent; these qualities are required on top of, and maybe, despite talent. These qualities are disciplines, if you will. To be good at my passion(s), these are the qualities I must emulate, the discipline(s) I must show. My passion, the subject matter, is then just a manifestation, just one way of performing obeisance to the discipline.

Imagine if we stopped compartmentalising these passions (and therefore these disciplines) to that one arena. What if we brought these qualities into other areas of our lives? In a way, this is exactly what religions try to tell us: emulate these qualities of these people, at all times (not just in the places of worship). But instead, you pick your own religions, your own passions – and the qualities they embody will become your qualities. Instead of taking on prescribed heroes whose qualities are good but you don’t have a personal reason to emulate, pick your own heroes. The heroes who championed your passions, whose qualities are synonymous with their (and your) chosen pursuits.

Why stop there? Let’s go one step further. Recognise that these disciplines are a choice. Talent is one thing, but only with discipline can we get anywhere with it. So if we’re in essence choosing our disciplines (initially inspired by our passions), can’t we adopt other disciplines as necessary whenever we need them?

For example, I hate leadership roles. I’d rather be in the backstage, making sure everything goes right. But if I absolutely had to be in a leadership role, all I’d have to do, is tap into the qualities of leadership, and try to emulate them. Initially, it would be a lot of “What would [insert hero here] do?” but eventually, I could get to the point where it’s second-​​nature.

Is this emulation insincere? No, in fact, it’s the very opposite – a product of my extreme reverence. Does this affect my identity, if I’m endlessly emulating someone else? Also no! What I’m emulating are qualities, not mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. Follow your dreams, by emulating your dream heroes. Make your dream your religion. Think about it.

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