“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in so far as it stands ready against the accidental and the unforeseen, and is not apt to fall.” (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus)
In old Hollywood Westerns the action started when a disheveled old Gabby Hayes character would ride into camp and announce “The cavalry isn’t coming”. This cliché marked the onset of intense maneuvering and fighting. The plot was straight forward because the filmgoer understood that there were only three potential courses of action – die, run or fight. Put in the charm of our modern milieu – we keep our head down and take what’s coming to us, look for an opportunity to move on or escape, or decide to creatively engage the conflict that transforms us. This requires that we move from a reactive position where we respond to the demands of others to a proactive position where we pursue something personal that we believe to move us forward. That is, we reject the push of events and embrace the pull of our destiny.
Psychologists call this type of action “self-authorizing behavior.” It suggests that the individual who moves without outside provocation demonstrates personal ownership for their actions in pursuing their highest ideas. This pinnacle of personal behavior, self-actualization or individuation as they are sometimes called, is only achieved when we acknowledge that we have limited power to alter the dynamics of outside forces but an unlimited ability to anticipate and respond to them through purposeful thought and action. At its core, this concept is existential. We are free and responsible for how we think and act.
Our everyday conversations reveal the subtle and insidious ways in which we abdicate our power to others. What at first appears to be good judgment, critical thinking employed to discern wrong from right, good from bad and truth from deceit, is often really just a form of reactive thinking. That is, it focuses on what’s wrong and who’s at fault. It assigns culpability but no remedy. Most importantly it assumes no responsibility. The Economy, the School, the War are all someone else’s problem. This is one reason it’s so easy to dismiss politicians, executives, coaches and anyone charged with actually taking a position on a subject. Yet in return for our absolution we surrender ourselves as victims to those who take action. The simple question “What would you do?” reverses this perspective, turning the critic into an advocate. By refusing to leave critics in a reactive position where they can snipe at the greatest of ideas, and engaging them as possible advocates, we encourage them to commit to solutions.
Of course, there are those that delight in the have it your way possibilities. Remember the Mongolian Barbeque Effect: People would rather eat the awful concoctions they make for themselves than the sumptuous cuisine prepared by a master chef.
There are those who report on the inner workings of our world both seen and hidden. They suggest that we move this realm by focusing our thoughts and prayers. While this is indeed true for the heart reveals our most worthy aspirations and the mind sets them in motion, it is equally true that it is through our hands, our actions and our industry that we conjure up this transformative spirit and put it to work in the world of the living. As the old saying goes, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” In the words of Nike, “Just do it.”
- We are free and responsible for our own growth
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