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By Laura A. Roser

How Our Environment Shapes Our Thoughts

In Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), John Locke writes: “We are all a sort of chameleons, that still take a tincture from things near us: nor is it to be wondered at in children, who better understand what they see, than what they hear.”

It is wise to take great care in selecting your environment. Who you are surround by is who you become. Like a chameleon that changes color to blend into its surroundings, we often change ourselves to gain acceptance or because we begin believing the views of those around us. Soon what was once strange, repulsive, or foreign becomes a part of who we are. This can be a good thing if we surround ourselves with those we respect and a bad thing if we are among those we wish to emulate.

Locke goes on to write in Section 70 of the same text: A young man before he leaves the shelter of his father’s house, and the guard of a tutor, should be fortify’d with resolution, and made acquainted with men, to secure his virtues, lest he should be led into some ruinous course, or fatal precipice, before he is sufficiently acquainted with the dangers of conversation, and his steadiness enough not to yield to every temptation.

Thus, according to Locke, one of the most important things you can do to prepare a young man or woman to leave the nest is to secure his or her virtues. This doesn’t just apply to the young. It applies to anyone who hasn’t established a solid set of principles by which to live. If there are no virtues you hold true, it is easy to “yield to every temptation.”

Locke warns us of the “dangers of conversation.” We are able to craft our own reality based on the stories we tell ourselves and the words we believe from others. This leads to our decisions and can, in turn, lead to a beautiful life or the ruinous course Locke hopes to help young ones avoid with the proper training.

In a world where political tensions are high, information is abundant, and confusion abounds, it is more important than ever to establish virtues and surround ourselves with those who are like-minded. It’s a tricky task because on the one hand, it’s bad to be narrowminded. On the other, to be swayed by the opinion of everyone who crosses our path removes one’s sense of control and ability to make decisions that are right for that specific individual.

Perhaps the best advice to combat this conundrum is found in Section 94 of Locke’s document “The only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it, into which a young gentleman should be enter’d by degrees, as he can bear it; and the earlier the better, so he be in safe and skillful hands to guide him.”

The more we learn in an environment of safety, the easier it is to navigate the world and determine which beliefs fit in with who we’d like to become.

John Locke (August 29, 1632 – October 28, 1704) is considered to be one of the most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment. His political philosophies inspired many of the ideologies reflected in the United States’ Declaration of Independence

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by Laura A. Roser
CEO and Founder of Paragon Road
#1 Expert in Meaning Legacy Planning

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