As a culture we have become obsessed with “making a difference” in the lives of others Why? Is it written somewhere? Does our government demand it? Our religions? Our parents? It seems to exist as this powerfully nebulous undercurrent having the determining influence on how we value ourselves. Why? Where did it come from? There are a few points of development to look at. First, let’s take a look at where it might have come from.
To begin with, when we come into this world and as mammals we humans are the most dependent of our genus on our parents for our early survival. For a longer time than any other mammal we are totally dependent on them for our food, warmth and safety. To us, they’re gods. At that preverbal age and circumstance we know nothing and of no one else. We have no idea that there is any other choice for how we live our lives. In our considering parental training we must understand that this perception effectively trains us toward primarily looking outside of ourselves for support, direction, safety and whatever else we might need. Additionally, we do this unconsciously and as a reaction. We learn very quickly to develop an instinct that if we don’t respond in a way that is to our parents’ liking, they withhold their love, support and attention. Though we may not yet consciously have the ability to recognize the tradeoff we participate in, we most certainly have become trained into responding properly through a rudimentary form of classic conditioning. We do what our parents demand, we receive love, attention and inclusion. When we don’t, we are ignored, neglected or excluded. This basic social training 101 provides us with examples and “proof” that the external world determines if and how our needs are to be answered. This is the first experience that contributes to an eventual perspective validating our future belief that it is more important to attend the outer world than anything else that might be going on inside us.
As we grow a little older, say three or four, and with our concentration now solidly on what goes on outside of our “jurisdiction,” another layer is added pointing us toward further paying attention to an external influence independent of what we feel or think. An unchallenged demand for our obedience to an external deity is added to our dependency on what is external through an indoctrination into a larger and wider authority; religion. So now, who and what are inside the home and who and what are outside the home both confirm our newly forming belief that who and what are outside of our control determines our wellbeing and self-image. Psychology calls this an external locus of control. That is; the belief that what is outside of our will and influence determines the fate of our existence. Contrarily, the belief that we control our own fate is called having an internal locus of control. Obviously, we can’t be totally one or the other. In the larger view our belief in whether our fate is determined by inner our outer influences can vary significantly depend on the circumstances and situations that we find ourselves in. For example, we develop a very strong belief that our physical movements are almost totally determined on how we direct the muscles of our body but the love and affection we receive is perceived as being dependent on the moods and movements of others in our outer world. So you see that we can have a mix of loci of control concerning who or what concerns our fate.
The reason I’m emphasizing this perspective is because if we don’t subsequently encounter enough experiences and influences realigning us with nature in which there generally exists a balance between our ability to control or be controlled, we grow into individuals who allow ourselves to become almost solely directed by those others whom we encounter in our daily activities. Our potential in our regaining this balance rests upon the training that we might receive from our parents nurturing the parts of us that will allow us to develop trust and confidence in the effectiveness of our own efforts. In the last fifty years this re-balancing influence has occurred less and less leaving us almost exclusively with the belief that the world determines our fate, or, with our having an external locus of control. There are a whole host of causes contributing and trending toward this perspective but I think it’s safe to say that the largest contributors are the pressures our parents face in their basic support of the family leaving them little or no time for actively investing in resurrecting our inner world of feeling and Self-Trust and the concurrent rise in media affirming that they have our better interests and highest welfare at heart and tacitly asserting that our guidance must rest with them.
There is one more layer over the previous two I’d like to discuss. On top of our training to direct all our attention to the external and being indoctrinated into aligning ourselves with prevailing altruistic perspectives under the threat of exclusion, we are also faced with the potential for a type of demeaning labeling intended to notify and include others in our exclusion if we don’t. This labeling is more common within the frameworks of metaphysics and religion rather than in any secular circles. Simply put, when we attend our own issues and interests over those whom our society deems needy, less fortunate or in need of assistance we are labeled as selfish. Unfortunately, where the word selfish was originally seen as simply indicating the direction of our attention, over the last half century our contemporary culture has gradually replaced its meaning with an undesirable and derogatory flavor and coloring.
So now we have three compelling influences encouraging if not demanding that our thoughts and feelings be almost totally focused on what is external; our parental training and qualitative bonding, our second layer of complimentary religious values and our third layer of potentially derogatory social labeling. In this light, is it really any surprise why we are so obsessed with what everyone else thinks and feels about us? This combination of factors is lethal to our having any control over our emotions and self-image. The effect that the external world has on our perceived value is overwhelming. It almost literally states that the assessment of our value is totally out of our hands. This seems truly ironic since someone else’s value is to be determined by us as we become adults ourselves.
It may seem that I’ve gone pretty far afield asserting how we’ve come to perceive that our personal control has become almost solely determined by our external world but I wanted to show how deeply our looking to the outside world for love, acceptance and approval is ingrained with us. Now, let’s take a look at only one of the results of our intensive training: our obsession with needing to “make a difference.”
At this point I think it’s easy to see how we can be saddled with such a desperate need to do so. We desperately want to think well of ourselves and are petrified of being labeled selfish and ostracized through the disapproval of others. So much so that now, when we take time to do for ourselves and invest in our own thoughts, feelings and welfare, that it generates feelings of guilt and fear that we’re depriving someone less fortunate of their due from us. This combination of factors is also responsible for generating feelings of our never feeling that we’re able to be or do enough. I think you can see why our advertising media has been able to have a field day with this aspect of our psyches.
I think we can also see how deeply ingrained this message has been implanted into our psyches. So deeply, in fact, that many of us are blind to its effect on us and that we have gradually grown into accepting that self-determination is no longer a normal part of the human condition and temperament. Many of us have even gone so far as to assume that serving others must be our purpose for living in our current physical incarnation. Of course, our religious leaders gleefully accept and encourage our believing in this premise, especially since this perspective assures them of being able to direct our activities and resources.
So whom are we really making a difference for? Ourselves! Under the blind of doing for others we unconsciously feel that it fulfills the external world’s requirements of us. Why does it feel so good to do for others? Because we have been taught to believe that it fulfills and validates our exhibiting expected behavior earning us love, approval, acceptance and inclusion from the external world. Will it ever be enough? Of course not. How could it be? There are more people in the world than we could ever minister to the needs of.
Is “making a difference wrong?” Of course not. The point that I’m making is that our behavior has become so automatic, overly skewed and obsessed with the outside world that we have totally neglected to give our own feelings, thoughts and urges any consideration for fear of being labeled selfish and ostracized within our clans. Remember, in all life there always is a balance between inner and outer natures. Our contemporary child rearing and social training has effectively nullified the value and validity of our inner personal natures through applying the threat of excommunication, punishment and exile for our misbehavior and selfish attention.
So what to do? It all boils down to us asking ourselves one simple question in every encounter we have with every other person. Do I want to belong or do I want to express through choosing my own path? It takes courage to choose our own path and run against the grain risking exclusion. A deeper question might be, “Do I want personal growth or security?” This was the deeper meaning of Shakespeare’s questioning soliloquy, “To be or not to be.” Growth can be frightening. Security can be boring. We all end up struggling and attempting to strike a comfortable balance between the two. The more we let our training and social conditioning take precedence, the more we perceive life as having an external locus of control feeling safe and secure while also feeling trapped and bored. The more we let our own feelings, urges and intuition take precedence, or allow ourselves to be selfish, the more we perceive life as having an internal locus of control and feeling the excitement and freedom to express as we please.
No one who has followed the all the rules has ever had any significant effect on history except to perpetuate the status quo. The crux of these questions is that we must work toward what leads to a balance by either choosing to diminish an excess urge to conformity through forging our own path toward self-hood or choosing to diminish an attitude of anarchy through choosing a path of conforming to and sharing with our community. Our choices must work toward a balance between inner and outer perspectives. Neither extreme is sustainable. Any attempt at maintaining either extreme, conformity or anarchy, will end up drawing universal situations that will move toward restoring the natural balance. That’s simply the way of nature. Why not have the courage to give consideration to both by attempting to walk the middle path? Risk a little criticism and disapproval by acting in your own interest. Offer a little love and compassion even though you might be labeled as a wimp or weak. Keep an inner balance between you and the world. Remember, either extreme will eventually elicit a universal response anyway forcing us to adjust on the road ahead simply to reassert the natural balance.