What is your Axiom?

Have you ever heard a word before that you recognize and probably used to know the definition, but for now it has escaped you?  That is my relationship with “Axiom.”  To the similarly minded or to those that scored a little higher on their math section of the SAT than the verbal section, the definition is:

ax·i·om – [ak-see-uhm] – noun

  1. 1.       Self-evident truth that requires no proof.
  2. 2.       Universally accepted principle or rule
  3. Logic, Mathematics – a proposition that is assumed without proof for the sake of studying the consequences that follow from it.

This is a concept I’m not unfamiliar with.  I use the concept of an Axiom all the time in my counseling here at Loyola, but perhaps not with the force that Axiom brings to bear.  Core values? Jesuit/Ignatian values?  Personal ethics?  All of these have the idea that they are principles or truths in some sense, but depending on your perspective they might not carry the idea of “assumed without proof.”  Now, I’m not arguing that we should center our lives on a set of values that are assumed without the use of our developing critical eye or living values that are unexamined.  Allow me to explain.

Developmentally, we are born as these undifferentiated masses.  Maybe we can open our eyes.  Maybe we can curl our tiny fingers around a father’s outstretched index finger (as a father, top 5 moment in life, FYI).  We depend on others to define our lives for us.  As we move into adolescents, our friends are our reference points for right and wrong, acceptance in society, up and down.  During college, this shifts.  Developmental theorists like Kohlberg assert that the final stage of development is moving from a law abiding social contract to one where morals and values are solidified within the person.  This is not to the exclusion of laws, social norms or peer acceptance, but the motivation to follow these Core Values/Ethics/Axioms shifts inward.  To wit, the concept of Civil Disobedience is difficult to communicate to a middle school aged child, but one that a college student can wrap her mind around.  Breaking laws in a peaceful way to enact change on a broken system?  It has worked in the past.  Alternatively, paying taxes to a government where you have deep philosophical differences with can be acceptable… after all, Congress has a lower approval rating than Nickelback.

What I encourage you to do as you wind your way through the college experience is to define your values.  Listen to other perspectives, try on different ones as they come, and center yourself in the ones that fit.  Make them strong, make them defensible, know them so well that they become a part of you.  Turn your values into Axioms; “a proposition that you can study the consequences that follow from it.”  Because our imperfections are the reasons why values, ethics and axioms are so useful in guiding our behavior, be willing to redefine your Axioms when your studies bring findings that have repeated painful consequences.  Through this process, you can achieve your goals and find motivation to overcome life’s hurdles.

-Logan Williamson, LPC

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