How We Become: Four Levels of Personal Evaluation

It has been interesting these last few weeks to see how many people read my reviews for movies and other media. Little secret, my inner critic has been severely pacified over these last few years. Therefore, I have barely written any reviews. But I miss writing them and learning so much about how things are made.

I don’t want to be negative and I don’t believe there are very many things which truly deserve to be judged so harshly. So I have come up with a compromise. Rather than criticize things I watch and read, I want to reflect and write about my overall experiences with them using a system I’ve adopted over the years.

I do this because I no longer feel it is enlightening to simply criticize what I find. Rather, I want to explore better my experiences and thoughts. In the long run, what really matters isn’t how good or bad I “think” these things are, but how I changed because of them.

The name of this post comes from a Humanities class I had while attending college. It helped change my entire way of judging and finding new media and books. In this class, we discussed the four levels of experiencing music. Depending on which music we listen to, it can either encourage or discourage higher levels of thinking.

Based on research composers like Aaron Copland have done, to truly gage what we gain from our music we must reflect on how it affects us as people emotionally, physically and mentally. I would also add spiritually.

Basically, these levels were to help us as students understand the value of the music we listened to based on what manner it encouraged us to change. In my mind this method did not only apply to music but also to books, movies, theater and art. I believe it is up to us individually to evaluate what we surround ourselves with and to consciously decide what we allow to influence and change us.

Now you are probably wondering what these four levels are.

Level 1: The carnal, or that which steals away our souls into dark, forbidden paths.

I don’t like to dwell on this level very long. The reason being, there is nothing to gain from participating in this level of experience. Level one is where anything and everything beautiful and true is twisted and uglied into counterfeits . These counterfeits are designed to manipulate and turn our hearts and minds to addictive behaviors. It steals away our time, destroys our minds and stunts our potential.

The question to ask, if I feel I might have stumbled onto anything which damages my soul in such a manner is this: What is it taking from me?

Pornography and gratuitous sex lies in this level. It destroys families and love within ourselves. Graphic violence destroys our vision of the sanctity of life and our connection with humanity. The list could go on. . . but I would rather not think about it.

This level should be avoided at all cost. Participating in this level is blind enslavement. It also means abandoning or yielding our freedom to choose for the sake of entertainment and carnal pleasure. It is the dwelling place of darkness, self hatred and confusion.

Level 2: The fun, or that which steals our time.

Rather than stealing us away, this is the level where we let things wash over us. We find ourselves here more often than not when we are tired, upset or anxious and when we want to forget or check out for a little while.

This is also a level of complacency. We become comfortable with what we know and repeatedly immerse ourselves in sources which entertain, but rarely enlighten or encourage higher learning. This and level 1 are intricately connected because both are incredibly enticing and hard to resist at times. More often than not, people eventually fall back into level 1 because of their involvement here.

I am always careful to look for cleverly inserted dangerous ideas or imagery. They often disguise themselves through intriguing stories, comedies and romances.

These things in and of themselves aren’t bad. But they are very often created to shift human opinion and moral standing. Beware of anything which treats sacred things casually or callously. Sensual comedy, lustful romance, drama, and gratuitous violence numbs us and lulls us into allowing immoral principles and damaging ideas into our souls.

These lies will tell us a person is redemptive merely for the suffering they’ve endured. Or that their acts of evil are justified by their sorrow. They also tell us the loss of chastity is freedom, acts of lust are love and life is not sacred. Some will insist a man’s charisma justifies stealing and sometimes even killing. And so it goes on.

One of the greatest examples of this is the story of Fantine from Les Miserable. Though it doesn’t go into heavy detail in the musical, she and her friends became involved with a group of rich young students in Paris with very loose morals. She fell in love with a young man and started an affair with him. One day, he abandoned her with nothing but a note, leaving her with their unborn child Cosette.

Slowly but surely, forces beyond her control pushed her into extreme poverty and prostitution. As she states in her song, “I dreamed a Dream” “But the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder, as they tear your hope apart as they turn your dreams to shame. He slept a summer by my side, He filled my days with endless wonder, He took my childhood in his stride But he was gone when autumn came”

The tragedy in this story is not that she was a sinner receiving divine punishment or that she was not deserving of love because of her mistake. It was where she placed her trust. Had she remained faithful to the principles she knew were true she would not have faced the consequences which come from loving wholeheartedly someone who did not value her as a human being. She was abandoned by love’s counterfeit.

We can distract ourselves to death if we are not careful. We all know how easy it is to limit our interactions and minds with things which are of little or no worth. It is like being satisfied with a meal of bread and water in a gray room while being offered a luxurious feast under the stars.

My mother’s favorite quote comes from the movie Mame. It is this. “Life is a banquet, and most poor fools are starving to death.”

All in all, this is the doldrums of human experience and not worth as much time we usually give it.

Level 3: The intellectual, or that which enlightens our minds

Now we come to a level of progression. Level 3 is the great realm of understanding the world around us and its people. This is where we begin to acquire knowledge which inspires deeper thinking. Just as levels 1 and 2 are intricately connected, so are levels 3 and 4. It takes great courage to engage ourselves in higher learning. To seek the unknown. But it is definitely worth it. It also takes hard work and TIME.

We begin our exploration traversing classic literature, history from a myriad of perspectives, Broadway musicals, opera, astronomy, classic films, poetry, sculpture, art and ethics.

The great books, artworks and musical compositions of this world are in fact born from man’s innate capacity to become like God through small and simple means. This is because they are on the brink of reaching for godly horizons. They were more often than not inspired by God himself. Exploring these things take us one step at a time, towards a brighter, bigger world.

As Dr. Suess said in his children’s book, O the Places You’ll Go, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

This level teaches us many things about science, books and showcases the great works of many wonderful people. But it isn’t the paragon. What is missing? The answer lies within ourselves. Our hearts in creating or studying these things are the deciding factors.

It is very simple. In this level people are concerned more with being artistic then in inspiring the soul. It is knowledge which teaches but does not encourage change in ourselves. Ultimately, it removes God from the picture.

When it comes to inspirational moments or life lessons, it focuses on the do and is, but doesn’t explain the why. For example, a character may be faced with a situation where they are taught not to steal. They either go against it, or follow the advice. But as to the why stealing is wrong, there usually isn’t any clear explanation as to why it is wrong.

Science becomes an empty collection of ever changing laws, diagrams and theories. Man’s origin is no longer divine but a simple matter of genetics, animalistic tendencies and is the product of millennia of natural selection.

Philosophy becomes a flurry of ideas and theories which ever argue on what truth is but can never find it. This is because many revel in the journey and not in attaining truth.

Art, music and often literature becomes a pursuit of rebellion against constrictive, old ideas that wish to break from the confines of the past. They seek for the next exotic or bold idea, moving from the conservative in search for further enlightenment. This often leads to the loss of integrity and virtue in order to engage new sensations.

Pride is the ultimate inhibitor in this level of intellectuals. It is just like Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s famous novel, who believed he could become a God himself by stealing from God’s own creations to make a new, evolved man. In the end, Frankenstein’s pride created a truly tragic creature he himself refused to love, ending in the destruction of everything he cared for.

This is not to say, the knowledge we gain through these things is not valuable. We are meant to learn of these things to prepare us for greater things to come. But it is very limiting to ignore greater things which enlighten the soul for the sake of being knowledgeable or simple teaching a good lesson. It is because knowledge without love is a very empty thing. It is because to be truly human is to seek ways to change and become better.

Level 4: The divine, or that which enlightens the soul.

I open this final level with one of my favorite quotes from Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre “We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence.”

To seek God is to see his hand in our world. For spiritual experiences are to see true humanity. This level promotes family, the beauty of life and true love. It encourages sacrifice, forgiveness, honesty and virtue. It shows humans as they really are: imperfect but beautiful.

To participate and recognize the value of this level, we ourselves must choose to seek for it. In essence, to seek God and beautiful things.

Slowly but surely, as we seek God our vision changes. Art becomes a reflection of God’s creations. Science becomes a glimpse into God’s creative knowledge. Philosophy and literature are a doorway into man’s desire to understand and interpret life.

Level 4 is one of enlightenment, to hear and feel as musicians, to see as artists, to understand as scientists, to envision as writers and ultimately to create as God wishes us to do. We become like God himself. And to do any of these things we look to, and follow Jesus Christ. To know of Christ and to pattern our lives after him is the greatest and most irreplaceable experience we can have.

Here, in the level of the divine we choose whom we serve and with that mindset we seek him in every aspect of our lives, especially in our pursuit of knowledge and entertainment. We honestly cannot seek God in and through things which go contrary to his laws and truths. But there are enough beautiful, captivating things in this world to fill us infinitely.

Our devotion to higher learning is akin to falling in love with the light of knowledge which surrounds us. Another of my favorite quotes comes from the Young Adult novel, East by Edith Pattou “It was the difference between walking with a stranger and walking with your heartmate. It was the difference between working for duty and working for love.”

We find these things in reading classic literature and poetry, in studying scientific law, listening to the compositions of the masters and in stepping outside and viewing nature. It takes time and patience to learn with God, to allow his influencing spirit to guide us to enlightenment and beautiful things. But it is worth everything.

In Uchtdorf’s recent BYU devotional “Can you Hear the Music” he stated, “What we love determines what we seek, what we seek determines what we think and what we do. What we think and do determines who we are and become.”

Conclusion: I’d like to make a change

Thinking on myself, I am somewhat ashamed with how I treated some of my past reviews. Not because I think I was wrong, but because I gave so little back through those reviews. I talked a lot about what was right or wrong, but it was only sometimes I stopped and reflected on my true experiences.

That is the true tragedy. We connect best with other human beings when we catch a glimpse of their life and heart. We all find things which truly enlighten us and matter to us.

Our individual opinions matter but they are not always the definite rule or point of view. They are a piece.

These pieces are truly precious as we try to understand ourselves and our place in this world. I hope from this point on, I may learn more and in turn give back in small portions to any who may read these posts.

Thank you for reading.