This memoir is now over five years old and I’m at the point of revisiting concepts and ideas I’ve addressed in one way or another in previous chapters. I know somewhere in these over 130 single spaced pages I’ve talked about what it means to human, but given current events, it’s worth talking about again. When I think about this polarized world we are now living in, it’s clear to me why we can’t escape this nightmare regardless of which pole you occupy.
As human beings our trouble starts when we lose our ability to make certain distinctions. Most of the time when you think of the word distinction, you assume it to mean the ability to distinguish on thing from another. For example, black from white, short from tall, big from small, and so on. But in this discussion, I’m using the word distinction in a slightly different context. In this context, I’m using the word distinction to describe the point at which something goes from being an idea or desire to becoming a reality. For example, when I was small, around 7 or 8 years old, I had the desire ride a two-wheel bicycle. At that point, riding a bicycle was just an idea or a concept I had. So I got ahold of a bicycle and began to learn how to ride it. I remember I was so small I had to find a high curb that I could lean the bicycle on and stand myself on top of to render me tall enough to mount the bicycle and straddle the seat. I would push off and wobble down the road a few feet before falling off and skinning my knees or elbows. But I would get up, roll it back to the curb and try again. Each time I’d roll a little farther before falling off. Finally, after about seven tries, I found my balance was able to ride the bicycle all the way around the block. At that point, ridding a bike went from an idea I had about ridding to a reality and something I owned and was apart of who I am. At that point if you put me on a bicycle, I couldn’t do anything but ride it. In other words, I could no longer not ride a bike, even though I was so small that I had to find a high curb to ride up to in order to safely dismount the bicycle. I call that point between not being able to ride the bike to being able to ride the bike, the point of distinction. It is no more than a second long in time, but I was literally a different person from who I was the second before I could ride a bike to who I was the second after.
So what happened in that second between not knowing how to ride a bike and knowing how to ride a bike? It has been called many things – epiphany, enlightenment and just plain ah hah to name few – but there really is no word or phrase known to humankind to accurately describe it. We do know that the only way to achieve a distinction is through commitment. You can read volumes of books on ridding a bicycle and know everything there is to know about bicycles and you still will not know how to ride the bike unless you are committed to endure the falls and scrapes inherent in learning how to do it. It is our desires that determine how committed we are to doing or achieving anything worthwhile. The problem we have as human beings is that our commitments are often in conflict with our desires. We have a desire for something to happen or for things to be a certain way, but frequently what we think we want is not what we really want. We all think we are determined and completely committed to attaining all of the distinctions necessary for us to become successful people, but in most cases, we never seem to arrive there.
What I’m about to tell you now is what I believe to be the source of all our misery in life, no matter what that means for any of us. The reason we are unable to achieve the necessary distinctions to allow us to enjoy the peace, harmony and prosperity we seek, is that as human beings we are not really committed to the things we say we want in life. What we are really committed to is being right about everything we think life is all about. Just as lion needs to chase down wildebeests, kill them and eat them to be a lion, we need to be right to be human. Being right is not just what we want or need, but what we are. It is the defining characteristic of human beings.
This need to be right is a manifestation of all the traumas and joys we experienced during our formative years. Those are the things that shaped our egos. Our egos have manufactured this personality we call ourselves to correspond to all the beliefs, convictions and ideas we have about the world we live in. It is the survival mechanism to guide us through the challenges of life. This ego or personality or whatever you want to call it, is not who we really are. It is merely a tool that we built to survive and compete in the society we live in. However, unlike most tools, that tool wants you to believe it is you and it is the boss and not you, and that’s where the trouble starts. The ego’s purpose is survival. It believes it is you and it will destroy anything that brings you closer to discovering who you really are including your heart’s desires. It will make you think that things and other people must be a certain way for things to work out for you. It will lead you seek to impose your will on other people, which at best provides you with short term satisfaction, rather than do what is necessary to cause people to give you what you really want voluntarily for a more lasting satisfaction.
To give you an example of how these things play out in your life, let’s say Joe has business that requires him the have a receptionist who’s good with people and able to cause them to like her, and by extension, Joe and his business. To fulfill that purpose, he hires Mary. Let’s say one of the principles Joe’s personality has established, as part of his survival mechanism is to avoid clumsy people at all costs. One day Mary (who has taken to her new job like a fish to water and shows signs of being able to build up his clientele in record numbers) is standing by the water cooler when she accidentally drops her pencil. That sent an alarm off in Joe’s head that gives him the thought that Mary is a clumsy person. From that point on, everything Mary does is seen as evidence that Mary is a clumsy person. She holds her coffee cup with two hands because she’s clumsy and afraid of dropping it. She ties her shoe because she was too clumsy to tie it properly before she left for work. His contempt for clumsy people shows up in all his interaction with Mary and before long she feels unwanted and begins performing poorly in her job. Eventually she tenders her resignation. Joe’s desire is to have a successful business like his father before him. In his mind, he is totally committed to that end. But is he really?
What happened in the scenario I just described are two things:
1. Something happened; Mary dropped a pencil.
2. Joe had an interpretation of that event that said Mary must be clumsy.
Joe then collapsed the reality of Mary dropping the pencil and his interpretation of the event (Mary is clumsy) as one and the same. Clearly they were not one and the same. One was reality (everyone in the office witnessed Mary dropping the pencil and all would agree she dropped the pencil) and one was an interpretation that was unique to Joe and his personality. As human beings we do this to honor our commitment to be right. We would rather honor that commitment than to be successful, loved or happy. Joe (and all the rest of us when it come to our goals in life) will tell you that he’s committed to being a successful businessman, but his real commitment is to being right about all he believes to be true in the world. We all think that we get up in the morning for the purpose practicing medicine or driving a bus or planting crops or whatever line of work we have chosen to be successful in life. But what we’re really up to is looking for evidence to prove we are right about everything we believe to be true in life. We do this all day, every day of our lives. The one distinction we must all gain to achieve our heart’s desire is called communication. Like learning to ride a bicycle, it is a painful process. It requires that we consider points of views other than our own as equally valid and above all it requires that we manage our egos. We can never rid ourselves of ego nor should we. After all, ego is what brought us to where we are today. However, we must have the good sense to ask ourselves “how’s it working”, when things we’ve always done are not giving us the results we want. Like golf, the distinction of communication can always be improved upon (though slowly and in many ways painfully), but never made perfect.
I learned the concepts I have outlined in this discussion almost 30 years ago in a personal improvement course I took given by a man named Mike Smith and a woman named Carol McCall. I lost contact with them years ago but I’ll always be grateful to them for helping me grow as a human being. Ultimately, that is the payoff provided by the communication distinction – personal growth.