The First Component of Mental Health
Robert Olsen in his book “An Introduction to Existentialism” (Dover Publications, New York, 1962, p. 17) describes what he calls “existential values.” Although these values have been the concern of philosophers, educators and religious leaders throughout the ages, examining their collective role in mental health has previously escaped attention. To rectify this, I rephrased Olsen’s existential values slightly and coined the term “inbornintentions” for easy reference to them collectively.
It is likely that there are neural correlates of inbornintentions embedded in the medulla, an area of the brain that developed long before the parts that allow us to think, reason and calculate. They may exist in that ancient region along with other metabolic controls such as those for heart rate, breathing, sleep and more. If so, inbornintentions are as essential to existence as breathing.
The four inbornintentions are:
- Human dignity. We have certain qualities that enable us to enjoy an existence far superior that of any other animal. These qualities give us human dignity.
- Freedom of choice. We do not like to have our choices restricted and will often go to extreme lengths to exercise our freedom of choice.
- Sense of accomplishment. We must accomplish tasks in order to survive. Acquiring food, clothing and shelter is only the beginning of what we are able to achieve and we will frequently make strenuous efforts to gain a sense of accomplishment.
- Love. Since living in isolation is impractical, it is in our best interest to feel and relate in positive ways towards others and towards our environment. This is the basis of love.
My hypothesis is that the medulla contains structures (neural correlates) that direct humans towards establishing a positive relationship to each of these four intrinsic behavioral goals. These neural structures are inbornintentions, the first component of mental health.
Attributes of inbornintentions
Inbornintentions are common to all humans, so they are universal. They are a part of every living person regardless of gender, race, age, creed, state of health, nationality, behavior or any other variable. Indeed, understanding inbornintentions helps understand what it means to be human.
Inbornintentions are innate, that is, they are present at birth. Logically, if any one person possesses them, everyone must. The only way something can be a part of everyone is that it is present from birth. It is not necessary to acquire them because they already exist.
Inbornintentions are immutable. As long as we live and breathe, as long as we exist as human beings, they are a part of us. They are always present regardless of our awareness of them, and their existence is impervious to change by force or any other influence. It is impossible for one individual to erase them from someone else, short of taking their life. We never lose these intrinsic and immutable intents even when insulted or restricted by self or others.
“Inborn…” means that humans are born with these qualities or characteristics, making them innate. They are present from birth; learning them is as unnecessary as learning to breathe or sleep. They are part of our makeup just as is every other bodily function.
The second part of this new word, “… intentions” implies that by nature we intend to choose behaviors consistent with these innate instructions. We are predisposed to establish a positive relationship with each of them. Of course, many influences from both previous experiences and current circumstances frequently result in behaviors contrary to them. We’ll consider how and why this occurs in the next segment.
I am frequently questioned as to why I combine the two words rather than presenting them separately or perhaps hyphenated. The purpose of combining them is to express, emphasize and strengthen one idea, the existence of four intrinsic behavioral goals, in a single, standalone word. Separating the two words would lose the essential quality of unity and thereby weaken the entire concept. This may be a subtle philosophical point, but it is important.
Questions for your consideration and comment
Write down your answers to the following questions:
- What is your self-concept? What do you think of yourself? Who are you?
- Do you make choices freely, without restriction?
- Do you have a positive view of others and of the world outside yourself?
- Do you accomplish tasks to your own satisfaction?
Be sure to do this exercise. You’ll be asked to review your answers later.
We have hypothesized the existence of inbornintentions as the first component of mental health. Next, we will consider the second and final component: basic beliefs.
For the next segment on Basic Beliefs, click here.