Stop Asking the Wrong Questions
The Hunger for Conversation

"Preying on Our Own Better Selves"

Birds of Prey

We hunger for inspiration, purpose, exhilaration — but mostly, we settle for lives of annihilating boredom, alternating with sheer panic. Perhaps we get our fix of "life" through the finely honed narratives of the hundreds of channels of reality TV and "news" we're smilingly offered night after pixelated night.

We want contracts that don't steal our future — but we're often unwilling to walk away from those that already have. Perhaps we feel a sense of moral responsibility to pay our debts — but I'd suggest the greater, perhaps greatest moral responsibility is choosing to live. . . 

We don't want the future we're getting — but most of us shrug our shoulders at the end of the day; only to wake up panicked, the next — and begin the cycle all over again.

Welcome to the Great Collision. In the aggregate, our preferences are savagely at odds with our expectations; the future we want is at odds with the present we choose.

                        --Umair Haque

A few days ago I read Umair Haque's The Great Collision on the Harvard Business Review blog. The paragraph that resonated the most for me was this one:

It's easy to construct a narrative of victimhood; and a narrative of victimhood is as easily palatable as a Big Mac. Sure, you can argue that the modern condition is a finely jawed trap: bound by the chains of debt peonage, our horizons have been ineluctably delimited. But I'd say we're equal parts victims and victimizers — preying not merely on one another, but our own better selves. When it comes to real human prosperity, in the crudest terms of political economy, "demand" is about what people have the impertinence to, well, demand — and perhaps the simple fact is that we've become a society that's simply not demanding enough.

As I go about my work day I'm struck  by how often we see ourselves as victims, at the mercy of other forces greater than ourselves. The boss who won't "let you" do what you know is right. Some other department that has tied your hands. The co-worker who holds you back. The spouse or partner or children who must be served first. It's easy to play this victim card--safer, somehow, and certainly less demanding. 

But I agree with Haque that we are equal parts victims and vicimizers. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that we are entirely victimizers, as he puts it "preying on our better selves." Many people--myself included--know in our hearts what it takes to be our better selves. Yet each day, we make small and large choices that keep us tied to being less than we could be.

I don't think it's too dramatic to say that we victimize ourselves and those around us when we choose to be less than we are, when we forfeit our best selves to hold on to what seems safe or unchallenging.  Because to be less than our best selves is to choose actions that chip away at us, that challenge our integrity and wholeness. Inevitably we feel this chipping away on a deep, often unacknowledged level, and we take out our anger and resentment and sadness on ourselves and other people.

Don't believe me? Then do something that is in alignment with your deepest sense of your best self and watch how it changes your interactions with others and what you bring to the table. Watch what it does to how you treat yourself. 

Each day we make choices. Let's make our choices so they support that future we want.  


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