Searching for inner peace leads us down many paths. From the shelves of books in the self-help section to gurus, coaches and spiritual leaders, we’re often looking for a direct line from uncertainty to calm. This isn’t about a quick-fix. Far too many are mocked for supposedly wanting that. I think the vast majority are quite willing to put in the time and effort. Unfortunately explanation and instruction often replace clarity with obfuscation, as if a struggle of understanding is required for wisdom. Mindfulness doesn’t have to be shrouded in mystery.
What is being mindful?
Mindfulness is an active mental state of reflective awareness about the present.
– While mindfulness is often looked at as meditation, too often meditation ends up being a passive behavior. To be active is to be intentional and focused. This isn’t about relaxation, though that can happen, but deliberate engagement with mental life.
– Don’t let the “mental” make you ignore the physical. Our minds are embodied. Mindfulness acknowledges our physical reality and how our bodies are the means through which we put thought into action.
– Being aware is one of those behaviors we often think we’re doing, but is not as broad as we think. To be mindfully aware is to actively seek out and allow more of your experience to be seen and known. This means having no single thing take over your mindsight to the exclusion of everything else.
– Time is, within the human experience, at least as much about our perception as it is a thing we live within. To be present is to recognize the transitory nature of our experience. Every present moment is immediately followed and replaced by the next present moment.
As Daniel Siegel, in his book “Mindsight,” puts it:
“Openness implies that we are receptive to whatever comes to our awareness and don’t cling to preconceived ideas about how things “should” be. We let go of expectations and receive things as they are, rather than trying to make them how we want them to be.” (Mindsight)
Not Getting Lost In Your Own Thoughts
There are many ways to talk about mindfulness and even more declarations of what its practice can bring into your life. The focus here is on broadening the contemplation of our lives to make room for new behavior. For that, we turn to how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) utilizes mindfulness.
ACT breaks mindfulness skills down into 3 categories:
Defusion: distancing from, and letting go of, unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and memories
Mindfulness allows us to see the transitory nature of our thoughts. Mental states do not last for long at all. We only think they do because of how they loop on themselves through attention and focus. The feeling of being stuck is due to being caught in one of those loops, where all potential action becomes fused to a narrow singular thought or story. Defusion is the process of breaking free of that narrow vision.
Acceptance: making room for painful feelings, urges and sensations, and allowing them to come and go without a struggle
Our mental states change with the speed of thought. We trick ourselves into thinking they last longer through our attention and obsessive focus. This is how pain leads to suffering. Our focus is often on ‘moving past’ or avoiding the pain, but the irony is what we avoid is what ends up running our lives. Acceptance isn’t about being a doormat to be stepped on. It’s an acknowledgment that pain is an inevitable and natural part of living, an indication of change.
Contact with the present moment: engaging fully with your here-and-now experience, with an attitude of openness and curiosity
Personal stories or narratives are how we split reality into what we call experiences. No single story can hold the entirety of reality and so there are always more to our lives to be explored. The present moment fades into the next present moment seamlessly and inevitably, a fertile ground for curiosity to find new growth.
Mindfulness: The Present is Calling
We are more than any single thought, emotion or story. No single action can or should define the whole of who we are. Our Values manifest in constantly evolving behavior. Shame ties us to a past that has already gone by, holding us to a falsely narrow vision of who we are capable of being. Mindfulness skills help us explore the present to find the inner peace of healthy questioning, the calm of accepting uncertainty and the personal growth of letting go of our thoughts.
Learning mindfulness skills can be an integral part of moving forward, contact me for more information on Coaching
Article: Forget Mindfulness, Stop Trying to Find Yourself and Start Faking It
Book: The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life
Book: Mindsight: the New Science of Personal Transformation
Website: About ACT
Just how much of yourself do you need to change to belong to a community? What are you giving over when signing on that dotted line, whether it’s an actual sheet of paper, verbal declaration or taking on the community’s label? There is much talk about tribalism and the seemingly inherent problems it creates, pitting one group against another in some form of quest for supremacy. However, tribalism does not demand such conflict, nor does it require a mentality of versus, as if a contrary perspective must be viewed through a militaristic lens. Community…
“…offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner, and creator of this place. To be welcome, even if we are strangers. As if we came to the right place and are affirmed for that choice.” (Block, 2008)
This interdependence that Block discusses is in line with the relational reality at the heart of human existence. We are driven to make sense of our lives and doing so requires determining just what is true, i.e. what beliefs we are to identify with to help us derive meaning from the behavior we put into practice. It is within community that we find the means of searching for truth and what is acceptable to believe. This starts with our families and is added onto with our peers as we grow up. Eventually it gets spread out into broader categories of political parties, religious organizations and other social identifications.
Important to be remembered is just because we’ve moved on from old communities and/or expanded into others, in no way do the ideas we held previously fade away into nothing. As a consequence we never reach a point of complete objectivity, where there exists no influence upon our minds beyond our individual thoughts/emotions. These social identities are intimately linked aspects of who we are. There is no “I” without the connections that have come before and exist now. If there’s any doubt about this, remember the next time a parent knows just what button to push, an old romantic interest gets your heart racing or thoughts of experiences past inspire new behavior.
Do We Need Conformity in Community?
Recognizing the innate and inevitable role that community plays in the building of our sense of self and the selection of our beliefs, leads to questions of our own autonomy and independence. This is where the problem of social conformity rises, when the group identity has become so pervasively powerful that to question outside the proscribed ideological box is to invite ridicule, ostracism and a fragmentation of personal identity.
“James Robertson, author of American Myth, American Reality (1980), writes that myth is not only the story itself, but also unconscious attitudes extrapolated from stories and applied to real-world events. Myth is unconsciously drawn on and handed down from generation to generation as a model for understanding human nature and the world we live in (Robertson 1980: xv). Our thoughts and actions are based on sets of assumptions, often accepted without question and transmitted to friends, acquaintances, and offspring through our deeds and expressions without the slightest bit of conscious awareness. Since many of these messages are communicated non-verbally, the recipient is left with the impression that their conclusions are self-evident and require no further inspection. Opposition to these basic truths is seen as undesirable because it challenges and subordinates our sacred world-view; the illusion that ours is the only way.” (Morris, 2016)
Block (2008) mentions that a community has the feeling of having “come to the right place and are affirmed for that choice.” Morris, utilizing Jungian archetypes, explores this further with an understanding of myth. Rather than just a story, myth includes unconscious lessons that were handed down through families, and assumptions taken from within the connections of our friends and family, with the whole structure being taken as “self-evident.” This is the power of community, the ability to form a worldview and instill it within people in such a way that it is not questioned.
Thus we come back to the question of conformity. It’s not so much that we need conformity and therefore seek it out, no, it’s that we’re driven to it by the very nature of our communal lives. This is not necessarily a bad situation. Structures for determining truth, the means of contemplating ethical behavior, customs, etc. are all part of what it is to live as human beings. Where these forms of conformity lead us astray is when such is no longer capable of holding enough of the ever-changing world to allow us the freedom to expand and seek out the near-infinite potential laden within humanity. We feel this pull every time we do that which we should and not what we desire, every time we ask a question and are told this is the way it is.
We have, then, a two-sided force focused on determining the right way to live: one that is prodding us to join and be counted, another that is wanting to be noticed from within the crowd. Neither is necessarily anti-human, only when one is ignored to the dismissal or detriment of the other does the rot of stagnation grow.
“The key to creating or transforming community, then, is to see the power in the small but important elements of being with others. The shift we seek needs to be embodied in each invitation we make, each relationship we encounter, and each meeting we attend. For at the most operational and practical level, after all the thinking about policy, strategy, mission, and milestones, it gets down to this: How are we going to be when we gather together?” (Block, 2008)
We are no more going to remove the pressure and need for community than we are going to remove completely the notion that individual voices are meaningful. Shifts in community come from a recognition that there is a coherency for a reason, to bring together disparate people in a homogenous search for a well-lived life, but that such a pressure should not quiet the voices raised in thoughtful inquiry. They too are in the same search as the rest of us and perhaps, just maybe, it will be their voice inspiring others, that together, with a newly vitalized community, will send us onto new paths of discovery.
© David Teachout
Block, P. (2008). Community: The structure of belonging. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Morris, R. B. (2016). American cultural myth and the orphan archetype. European Journal of American Culture, 35(2), 127–145. doi:10.1386/ejac.35.2.127_1
Pinkard, T. P. (1994). Hegel’s Phenomenology: The sociality of reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Traveling usually requires directions. They may be obsessively precise or they might be confusingly opaque, but whether you’re deciding to turn down such and such a street or taking a right at the end of the fence-line, there’s still some level of guided movement involved. With GPS, the history of more broadly keeping an eye on where we’re going seems to, however, have gone away. Stories litter the Internet of people who got into accidents because they followed the GPS directions without paying attention to their surroundings. A base assumption seems to be that technology cannot fail, despite almost daily reminders of the opposite.
As it is with GPS, so it is with the mind and our mental maps of experience. Part of the assumption for GPS being wholly accurate is a likely ignorance concerning just how it works. For some people, there’s some vague notion of satellites and/or cell-towers, but even there the exact mechanisms of what is going on are as obscure as getting directions from a resident of a small-town without any road signs. Thankfully our minds, much as with GPS, work well enough that the blips in their functioning rarely cause catastrophe. Unfortunately, this means they get mostly ignored or shrugged away with little further introspection into what might be missing from our view of experience.
Let’s start with a couple declarations, in agreement with Fauconnier and Turner’s (2002) book The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities:
“…Nearly all important thinking takes place outside of consciousness and is not available on introspection…” and “…the imagination is always at work…”
If true, these starting points have a great deal of explanatory power when it comes to a broader understanding of those times when the mind makes connections we find profoundly unhelpful and/or unhealthy (obsessive thoughts and feelings) and sends us down paths that fundamentally change our notions of who we are (psychosis and other pathologies).
Just What Is A Mind-Map?
A typical map is a representation of the physical world and can serve multiple purposes: directions, land contours including elevation and slope, and the locations of various items, depending on need. A mind-map is much the same, a way of representing the world of our experiences to provide structure for the selection of potential behavior, the means of justifying that behavior through fundamental schemas and Values, and organizing the relationships of our lives.
As Lakoff and Johnson (1999) note:
“Living systems must categorize. Since we are neural beings, our categories are formed through our embodiment. What that means is that the categories we form are part of our experience! They are the structures that differentiate aspects of our experience into discernible kinds. Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather, the formation and use of categories is the stuff of experience.”
Categories are more than the signs seen at a grocery aisle, they are means by which our minds differentiate the whole of our experiences into disparate parts. Fundamentally we begin with the category of Identity, as in “me and not-me.” Were we incapable of separating our bodies from everything else, we’d have a hard time determining how and whether to react to objects, indeed the very notion of “reaction” assumes the mental framing of a relationship between two objects and infers a type of cause-effect relationship as well. Also at this fundamental level there is a category of Space, as in “inside and outside,” that when connected to thoughts and emotions we describe them as happening “inside us” and their effects orchestrating reactions “outside of us.”
These categories are not simply mental constructs, they have immediate and direct effects in how we live our lives. In fact, they are the means through which we act!
“Because relations that verbal humans learn in one direction, they derive in two, they have the capacity to treat anything as a symbol for something else. The etymology of “symbol” means “to throw back as the same,” and because you are reacting to the ink on this paper symbolically, the words you just read evoked a reaction from you…” (Hayes, 2005)
Just as the words, symbols representing linguistic concepts, on a page spark reactions in us, so too do the actions we take based on our mental categories. Unfortunately these categories do not exist within the realm of experience, they are instead ways of organizing our experience. This purpose is not at all concerned with providing Truth, rather is bent towards providing a guide for the relational interactive reality of our actions.
Consider the latter category of Space and its relation to thoughts and emotions. Were this a Truth and fully accurate, then a person’s feelings and thoughts would never interact with others, thus providing justification to the idea that “I can’t make you feel something.” When we recognize that the categories are about organization instead of a fully accurate representation, then we begin to see why empathy is such a powerful experience; it is a transaction occurring at a more basic level than our categories would have us initially believe.
Categories are simply one, however basic, aspect of mind-maps. It might help to think of them as the symbols on a physical map, letting you know what is meant by the short-hand representation. There are also schemas (relationally-bound structures like Principles) to bridge our Categories and a process like Blending (Faucconier & Turner, 2002) that allows us to take aspects of one experience and help us expand our understanding of another, as in through analogy. All of these work through the broader mapping process of building associations.
A Winding River of Relational Associations
“When we think, we arbitrarily relate events. Symbols “carry back” objects and events because they are related to these events as being “the same.” These symbols enter into a vast relational network that our mind generates and expands on over the course of our lives.” (Hayes, 2005)
Consider the fact that lines and symbols on a map do not actually exist upon the land being traversed. This may bury the needle in obviousness, but such notions are often so “obvious” that the power of their effect is ignored. Lines and symbols on a map are a form of collective agreement, as a species across varying geographic locations and forms we’ve landed on a relatively universal means of organizing our planet. However, none of these things exist or have meaning outside the contours of our minds. Earthquakes, sea-level changes, erosion, etc. all routinely shift our maps at a base physical level and the political/military changes and conflicts change them at the level of ideology. Our maps are arbitrary, and sometimes capricious, not in the sense of not having any meaning, but that the meaning is quite clearly so capable of being changed at a moment’s notice.
Our mind-maps are not much different. We connect disparate data points into lines and symbols, stretching categories into schemas, living through Principles and Values as if these things have a life outside the relational bonds we live and breath through. They don’t.
As human beings, we can and do quite often engage in behavior that is contrary to stated goals, contrary to our well-being and incompatible with the goals and well-being of others. Our mind-maps are similar enough precisely because we’re all human and therefore allow us to organize ourselves enough to create societies and come to a consensus on things like the creation of physical maps. However, the associational process that supports all this is not a simple one-to-one or uni-directional.
“Humans think relationally…” and “are able to arbitrarily relate objects in our environment, thoughts, feelings, behavioral predispositions, actions (basically anything) to other objects in our environment, thoughts, feelings (basically anything else) in virtually any possible way (e.g., same as, similar to, better than, opposite of, part of, cause of, and so on).” (Hayes, 2005)
Consider that a singular social event like a protest can be looked at in almost as many ways as there were people participating within it. We each, every one of us, utilize mind-maps to organize our understanding, come to conclusions and therefore set us on a trajectory of response. Nobody does this differently, there is only variation in the information that is selected to support conclusions, the schemas being applied and the resultant behavioral response.
What allows us the freedom to grow and change is our ability to associate multiple things with one experience and build new maps guiding us into new realms of potential behavior. A childhood considered oppressive and dominating can later be looked at as supportive if perhaps ignorant; a beggar on the street-corner can be looked at as lazy and later seen as having fallen to forces outside their control; a woman’s body considered the property of a man’s can come to be seen as the source and embodiment of their independence; and those once considered “other” and open to ridicule and mockery can eventually be seen as belonging to the same great sea of humanity we all reside within.
The journeys of our mind-maps are the lines and symbols of our interactional lives.
© David Teachout
Fauconnier, G., & Turner, M. (2002). The Way we think: Conceptual blending and the mind’s hidden complexities. United States: Basic Books.
Hayes, Steven C.; Smith, Spencer (2005-11-01). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Kindle Locations 468-470). New Harbinger Publications. Kindle Edition.
Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. New York: Basic Books.
The lucky-save is a classic story, that event awash with emotional weight, in which the person survived by the merest, slightest, of chances. Were a microphone to be present at the time, the likely most common phrase after would be “Whoa! That was lucky!” though often with a great deal more cursing involved. There’s a compilation, not for the faint of heart, on YouTube, of videos showing bare misses. It’s been viewed more than 13 million times.
These stories begin as exclamations of luck, but fast-forward a period of time and when told around drinks at a social gathering, the story shifts ever so slightly into one of personal courage and skill. The focus is no longer on how the vehicle missed, but how “I” was able to get out of the way. If one were to shift the perspective to the flip-side and note just how many people aren’t lucky in similar circumstances, the response will likely not include being invited again. Yet, the reality of chance, or luck as we like to personalize it, is the storm falls where it will. The lucky-save video compilation focus is on the person saved, yet the question of what happened to everyone else involved in the accidents isn’t considered.
This tendency to personalize chance is bound within the way we tell our personal narratives. If we consider that story-telling is essentially memory-reconstruction, then, as Daniel Schacter (2002) puts it:
“…we tend to think of memories as snapshots from family albums that, if stored properly, could be retrieved in precisely the same condition in which they were put away. But we now know that we do not record our experiences the way a camera records them. Our memories work differently. We extract key elements from our experiences and store them. We then recreate or reconstruct our experiences rather than retrieve copies of them. Sometimes, in the process of reconstructing we add on feelings, beliefs, or even knowledge we obtained after the experience. In other words, we bias our memories of the past by attributing to them emotions or knowledge we acquired after the event.”
This attribution of emotions and knowledge post-event, is part of a bias spread across humanity. “…Events that work to our disadvantage are easier to recall than those that affect us positively” (Frank, 2016). This applies to a consideration of luck with a focus on the overcoming of an obstacle. The lucky-save story is not about everything that had to be in just the right order to have survived, instead it’s about one’s own activity in narrowly missing the destructive event.
Frank (2016) takes this mental gamesmanship into the realm of financial success, noting:
“According to the Pew Research Center, people in higher income brackets are much more likely than those with lower incomes to say that individuals get rich primarily because they work hard. Other surveys bear this out: Wealthy people overwhelmingly attribute their own success to hard work rather than to factors like luck or being in the right place at the right time.”
However, the core psychological feature of the studies mentioned stretches far beyond financial success. Effectively, the belief of the wealthy that hard-work rather than chance led to their success, is based on the notion of individual rightness, of having personally acted in such a way as to overcome negative events. This feeling of self-right-eousness, or pride, is based on two factors: 1) confrontation with a perceived obstacle, and 2) ignorance of supporting variables.
Pride is not limited to a connection of financial success, it is a supportive feeling in any circumstance of dealing with adversity. With the political season full upon us and the central narrative for both parties being a battle between the “Haves and the Have-Nots,” the two factors of confrontation and ignorance have a lot to work with. Combined with social media’s ability to exponentially expand the reach of ego, it is not merely leaders that have become demagogues, we all are in a mad dash to manifest our individual version with upraised fists.
Thankfully our capacity to expand our perspective doesn’t require more than being actively reminded. Rather than a focus on the rightness of one’s political identity or a belief in having successfully hit upon the right group and ideology to belong to, consider all the factors that went into the journey getting there. This is not a denial of one’s personal agency so much as a broadening recognition that where we end up, whether it be within a social movement or possessing a large bank account, has at least as much to do with factors outside of our immediate control.
We do not select which ideas to believe as if from a mental sample platter, any more than business success occurs purely from personal will and effort. Ideas and their acquisition work upon and within structures as much as any business. For every governmental and legal system in place, there is a cultural and familial background. For every road travelled and delivery system utilized, there are educational opportunities and temperament that support and direct our attention to particular ideas over others.
“Economists like to talk about scarcity, but its logic doesn’t always hold up in the realm of human emotion. Gratitude, in particular, is a currency we can spend freely without fear of bankruptcy” (Frank, 2016).
By reminding ourselves to look beyond our lucky-save stories, we can appreciate all that went into and continues to exist for us to be where we are.
© David Teachout
Frank, Robert. (2016). The Atlantic. Why Luck Matters More Than You Might Think
Schacter, Daniel L. (2002-05-07). The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers (p. 9). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
To cling to someone for support and emotional safety is only a slight shift in perception away from becoming “clingy.” The former inspires sighs of contentment, the latter of exasperation. For those curious as to how the former becomes the latter, there is no concrete answer as the behavior for both is almost identical and further, largely contingent upon the viewpoint of the recipient. All of us are driven to get our needs met, often regardless of any concern for long-term consequences. In a cosmic head-shake to the belief in a person’s ability to “go it alone,” the means of meeting those needs invariably involves interpersonal relationships.
Describing someone’s actions as “clingy” is often similar to using the term “crazy” or “insane.” The purpose is a dismissal of the whole person by highlighting carefully selected behavior outside of a concern for a broader personal context. Incidentally, this is also the tactic of the arm-chair diagnostician and Google aficionado who, armed with disparate information and a need for labels, will give everyone they disagree with some form of pathology. What is rarely considered is the role and/or effect the person doing the labelling has on the situation. That no single perspective is capable of functioning without error or ceases the need to be constantly questioned, is, well, never questioned.
To be fair, there are variations of regular human behavior that cross the line into pathology. However, such behavior (and this includes personal affect) is pervasive and “typically leads to significant distress or impairment in social, work or other areas of functioning” (Bressert, 1995). This is as true of emotional disorders as it is of personality disorders. Without the significant distress, what remains is often simply “culturally appropriate,” though it may certainly still cause concern in others.
Where pathology meets dependency, we can use Dependent Personality Disorder for exploration.
“Dependent personality disorder is characterized by a long-standing need for the person to be taken care of and a fear of being abandoned or separated from important individuals in his or her life” (Bressert, 1995).
At face-value this description is rather benign, as any of us, with some help from honest introspection, have a varying degree of fear of abandonment and separation. Thankfully for most of us, this concern doesn’t rise to the surface in any strong sense because that need is being met consistently in ways we have defined as personally helpful.
With that initial definition, Bressert adds:
“Individuals with Dependent Personality Disorder are often characterized by pessimism and self-doubt, tend to belittle their abilities and assets, and may constantly refer to themselves as “stupid.” They take criticism and disapproval as proof of their worthlessness and lose faith in themselves.”
Now, again, these characteristics are not in themselves indicative of pathology. There must still be included a consideration of whether the behavior lends itself to “significant distress” in one or more areas of the person’s life. The behavior alone is likely identifiable in many of those we may know and perhaps even in ourselves, though again to varying degrees of severity and consistency.
Avoiding the Pathological
Faced with this potentially life-altering possibility, how does one avoid it? How do the self-doubts and questions of the average, stop from becoming the destructively pervasive of the pathological? Interestingly, an answer may exist in pursuing the very dependency that seems to be at the heart of the original problem.
Research conducted by psychological scientists Catherine Shea, Gráinne Fitzsimons, and Erin Davisson of Duke University, wanted to explore the relationship between self-control and overcoming temptation. Based on the notion that self-control is a resource, one that we each have a finite supply of from day to day, the researchers conducted two experiments.
In the first experiment, two groups were tasked with watching a video, with one group told to attempt avoiding looking at the words that flashed on the screen, thus depleting their self-control. Then both groups were given stories of office managers to read, with each displaying in the story varying levels of self-control. The group with the depleted self-control rated the manager with higher self-control much more favorably than those who still had a full glass, so to speak. The study was repeated with another two groups, with similar results.
In the second study, the researchers looked at survey data from 136 romantic couples. Across the survey, those who reported having lower self-esteem also reported having a greater degree of dependence on their partners, particularly if their partner reported having a higher level of self-control.
“…this new research suggests that individuals who lack self-control may actually have a unique skill: the ability to pick up on self-control cues in others and use those cues to form adaptive relationships” (Association and Science, 2013).
Here, adaptation is not about the individual, but about what is capable of being done from within the relationship to fulfill unmet needs. Those with lower self-control seem to implicitly look for, surround themselves and become engaged with those with higher self-control. There is little stretching of the imagination required to see what possible needs those with higher self-control are getting met. We all like being wanted for who we are.
Let’s bring this back around to the issue of pathology and the human propensity to cling. It would seem that at a certain level of analysis, clinging or connecting to those with a greater degree of a quality one is felt to be lacking in, can be enormously helpful. Common wisdom is if you want to get into a new exercise or diet regimen, having people join you is beneficial for continuing success. Joseph B. Wirthlin stated:
“We know that we are often judged by the company we keep. We know how influential classmates, friends, and other peer groups can be. If any of our companions are prone to be unrighteous in their living, we are better off seeking new associations immediately.”
The truth of this statement is bound within the findings of the Duke University studies. Those we surround ourselves with reflect upon us precisely because it is their qualities we connect with in reciprocal flows of energy. We don’t make decisions alone, we do so in connection to the influences of our relational bonds. Even when alone in line at the fast-food place, or looking at the weight machines, or staring at the gambling machines, we are surrounded by others who’s actions are examples of what we would like to be doing.
Freedom is not in going down the road less-travelled, it is in carefully exploring the tread-marks of those around us. The path we choose will be in connection to those who’s strength and compassion we wrap ourselves in. Whether we expand or limit our lives will be found in how we meet our needs through the bonds of humanity we pursue. The question is not whether we will cling to our connections, but whether we will be honest with ourselves that we’re already doing so and explore the degree of influence they have upon us.
© David Teachout
Association, & Science, P. (2013, April 9). Low on self-control? Surrounding yourself with strong-willed friends may help – association for psychological science. Retrieved May 7, 2016, from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/low-on-self-control-surrounding-yourself-with-strong-willed-friends-may-help.html
Bressert, S. (1995). Dependent personality disorder symptoms. Retrieved May 7, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/disorders/dependent-personality-disorder-symptoms/
All activity demands two forms of projection from us: intention and endowment. Picture someone pushing a large empty barrel up a hill. At each step a mechanism fills the barrel with an increasing amount of water. If the person were to stop, the water would cease flowing but the barrel wouldn’t reach the goal. Consider intention as the desire to reach that goal, with endowment (the water) being increased by each step. As the weight increases so does the closeness of the goal and with it the desire to achieve.
Kahneman (1991) has described the “Endowment Effect” in its connection to human activity. We’ll sit through a terrible movie even if we want to leave after a few minutes precisely because of the weight attached to the money exchanged to sit there. At a basic level, this makes rational sense, we want to “get our money’s worth,” as the saying goes. However, endowment is controlled in no small part by the intent of the person, guided through their perception of cost. The more an action is endowed with meaning, the more costly it becomes to stop it. This is, incidentally, how online games and gambling get people hooked. A small amount of money quickly becomes a large amount and with it an increasing inability to rationally consider the relationship between cost and benefit.
If a small amount of money has the power to continue our investment past the point of personal harm, how much more will we put up with if the money in question is how we pay our bills and provide for ourselves and/or families? Consider that:
“According to a 2015 Work-Life Survey by the American Psychological Association, 37 percent of Americans report regularly experiencing significant stress on the job. With the same study showing that 48 percent of Americans report that they regularly respond to work communications after normal office hours, that job stress is increasingly bleeding into personal time” (Meyers)
Work, as it takes up a sizable portion of our lives, provides a large reservoir for the powers of intention and endowment. Whether the goal is retirement, simply getting through the day, paying bills or pursuing a career choice that an investment in education provided, the resources of Time, Money and Intent/Willpower have turned on the endowment spigot to fill that barrel up fast.
“Employees increasingly feel the pressure to be reachable by multiple means, including email, cell phone, voice mail and text, confirms Cristi Thielman, a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in Seattle. In fact, in some organizations, employees feel the need to use constant connectivity as leverage to ensure job survival, says Thielman, who draws half of her client base from EAP referrals” (Meyers)
This diffusion of work into every corner of our lives brings with it the feeling of being a commodity, an object by which the company or organization reaches its goals, not our own. Stress becomes not simply something that occurs in the workplace, but a constant companion in our home-life. As when moving an increasingly larger weight, the focus of our minds become ever more narrowed in making the next step, ignoring or stepping over any other way we could have expressed ourselves.
As Erich Fromm (1968) puts it, we have exchanged being with having:
“Many people easily confuse the identify of ego with the identity of ‘I’ or self. The difference is fundamental and unmistakable. The experience of ego, and of ego-identity, is based on the concept of having. I have ‘me’ as I have all other things which this ‘me’ owns. Identity of ‘I’ or self refers to the category of being and not of having. I am ‘I’ only to the extent to which I am alive, interested, related, active, and to which I have achieved an integration between my appearance – to others and/or to myself – and the core of my personality.”
The great error of the seeping workplace is not that work itself is a problem, nor that there isn’t good rationale in pursuing careers that pay bills. No, the error lies not in working, but in the slow creep of one area of our life coming to encompass the whole. Just as one idea cannot define the entirety of a person, so then we are each far more than any one identity.
The hope of our lives is found within the integration of our various activities, in the pursuit of ever more deeply held relational bonds. “It is expressed in the demand that life must rule over things and man over machines, that all social arrangements must have one aim – the growth of man with all his potentialities, the affirmation of life in all its forms against death and mechanization and alienation” (Fromm).
© David Teachout
Fromm, E. (1968). The revolution of hope toward A Humanized technology. United States: Joanna Cotler Books.
Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L., & Thaler, R. H. (1991). Anomalies: The endowment effect, loss aversion, and status quo bias. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5(1), 193–206. doi:10.1257/jep.5.1.193
Meyers, Laurie. Worrying for A Living. Counseling Today. January 2016