We are what we eat… mentally. Trash in, trash out. No different than our physical diet. Enough of the wrong foods and your willie lays flaccid in your drawers (more on that in the section The Doctor Is In). Enough mental trash in—thoughts, pictures, words, attitudes—and you end up with ED: emotional dysfunction; or, if you prefer, existential dysfunction. Your man-brain lays limp in your cranial cavity. In your diet desserts are okay; but if sweets or artificial sweeteners, or hot peppers or dirt, comprise the bulk of your intake, you are going to be one sick puppy.
What goes into our minds becomes the fodder our biological computers transform into our thoughts, attitudes, actions, and identities. This is nurture exerting its sway upon nature. Over time that fodder, morphed and massaged, becomes our personal story and world view. Our story, the story we tell ourselves of ourselves, establishes the framework of our behavior. Each of us has had innumerable entries impacting the way we see ourselves; and these, in turn, impact the way we behave and the way we interact with others. Said another way, the story we tell ourselves of ourselves creates our self-image, and behavior tends to be consistent with self-image. As a man thinketh, so he shall become—his story controls his behavior. So too does ambient cultural story control cultural behavior. As story changes, individually or culturally behavior changes.
Try this. Complete the following sentence. I am a ___________________. Fill in the blank with how you describe yourself. It can be one word. I am a doctor. I am an: athlete, baker, cabinet maker, eccentric, foodie, good guy, hotdog, ideologue, joker, klutz, lawyer…sailor, skier, skydiver… Add an adjective. I am a retired doctor. I am a weekend athlete. If you filled in an athlete, isn’t that your self-image, or at least one important element of it? Do you not behave in athletic ways—play sports, climb mountains, bike, hit the gym? If you identified yourself as a baker—professional or just for fun—you bake, don’t you? From your oven comes pies, cakes, cookies, casseroles (I’m afraid I’m not a baker. What else does a baker bake?). I am a doctor. I practice medicine.
Our stories are, of course, much more complex; and cultural story is exponentially more complicated. The one word answer is only to get the ball rolling. I’m a father—I take care of my children. I’m a grandfather. (We’ll talk about relationships in the next section, and about sages when we get to retirement and legacies.) I’m a husband, a friend, a writer, a speaker. Our personal identities are built on or influenced by familial and cultural stimuli, by academic teachings, by media projections and governmental rules and definitions, plus, plus, plus… We are the story of ourselves, a composite of a million inputs. As our ‘diet’ changes, our story changes; as our story changes our self-image changes; as our self-image changes so too does the resultant effects—that is, our behavior changes. The story we tell ourselves of ourselves has ramifications. Trash in, trash out. Skewed data in, inappropriate behavior out. Positive, productive, accurate, vital honest input… you get the idea.